Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tips for transitioning from a stay-at-home parent into a career-track professional

I took about five months of maternity leave after my daughter was born. It felt more like five years when I returned. 

In my first few months back on the job, I could barely manage to get to work without yogurt smeared on my clothes. Report breaking-news stories? Write on deadline? Yeesh.

Now imagine returning after taking off years to raise a family.

I talked with Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder of iRelaunch and co-author of Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work, which came out in 2007. What tips, I asked her, can you give someone who is looking to rejoin the workforce after taking time off to spend with family?

She offers seven tips for styling your own personal relaunch, as she calls it: (And you can also keep up on advice from Fishman Cohen and her co-author, Vivian Steir Rabin, at the Back on the Career Track blog here.

Relaunch or not -- you decide. Basically, you need to fully think through your feelings, needs and issues about whether you are ready to return to the work force. What are your childcare needs? Do you have family and spousal support? Are there other issues, such as a recent move or a spouse that's just changed jobs that can complicate returning to work?

Learn confidence. Your co-workers from the past remember you as you were, she said. It can be a "huge confidence builder" to get back in touch with co-workers from the past and hear their enthusiasm about your decision to return to work, she said.

Another way to help build that up? Start talking. Talk first with your nonjudgmental friends and family about your interest in returning to work and what you want to do. At first, you might not sound so polished. But talking it out lets you practice and get feedback on what you're saying or how you're saying it. Broaden the audience to people you know more casually. All of this is a kind of rehearsal for an interview down the road. The more you rehearse ahead of time, the better you will sound.
Assess your career options. You need to figure out if your skills and interests have changed. You want to look at each of your prior significant work and volunteer experiences, look at all the pieces of those jobs and identify the ones that you love doing and think you're best at. You might find that you were exactly on the right career path to begin with, she said, and want to return. Or you might find that your old career is no longer compatible with your lifestyle.

Update your professional and job-search skills. Subscribe to industry journals, attend conferences, get back in touch with your alma mater which may offer alumni career services.
Consider whether you need to update your training by taking classes at a community college or enrolling in a certificate program. For some people, schooling provides a networking or internship opportunity that may translate into a full-time job.
Volunteering with nonprofits can often provide relevant experiences that are resume-worthy, she said.
Network and market yourself. Set up an online professional profile on LinkedIn. Join professional organizations, alumni groups and other associations through your LinkedIn profile.

"Nothing beats getting out of your house," she said. "We hear over and over, 'I sent out 100 resumes and I'm not getting any responses,'" Fishman Cohen said. "You can do that if you want, but your most productive networking is going to be in person.

That means going to parent-teacher organization meetings or soccer games or political committee meetings, she said. Have conversations with people about their work -- and once in a while, you'll connect with someone whose interests are similar to yours.

Channel family support. Make sure you talk with them and strategize how you're going to handle child-care, pick-ups, housework or other needs that will arise with your absence.

Handle the job -- or find another. Be strategic about your relaunch, but if you end up having to take a job that's not your ideal, work on a plan B. Don't necessarily turn down a contractor position or one that offers less responsibility because you can show your skills and earn more responsibility over time.

Those are the official seven tips. But she has a few other pieces of advice to keep on track.

Be relentless. Keep going and keep moving forward. If you land a job interview and it doesn't turn into an offer, don't give up.

Pair up with a relaunch buddy. Find someone who is also interested in returning to work. Then set up a regular time to check in with that friend about how your week's efforts are going. This provides you with a scheduled check-in, so that you keep making progress, as well as gives you a sounding board.    

And one more tip -- how do you discuss the years that you took off to stay at home?
One reason the networking piece is so important, she said, is because that information will already be out there before you get to an interview. At that point, she said, don't apologize. "Be very brief about it and move on. For example, you might say "I took a career break to take care of my kids, but I can't wait to come back to work. One reason I was so excited about this job is...." and move the conversation on to talk about your qualifications and skills.   
IRelaunch has several online resources, including a readiness quiz and a resume guide on its website. It also has compiled a list of dozens of career re-entry programs -- including some free ones -- that people can look into as well. 

-- Helen Jung

Original Article

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