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June 7, 2023

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Comeback Careers

Looking for a job can be a daunting task for anyone, but it’s especially scary for many adults who haven’t worked outside their homes in years. If you’re not Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts or even Britney Spears, it’s no picnic making a career comeback after time out of the workplace.

Those returning to the workforce worry about lacking the latest skills, competing against candidates with current experience, and learning the politics of interviewing. If this sounds like you, rest assured you’re not alone. Here are some of the hesitations and concerns on the minds of employers:

  • Are you really ready to reenter the job market?
  • Have you kept up with the trends and issues impacting your industry?
  • Are your skills current and up to date?
  • Do you have realistic expectations of today’s workplace?
  • Can you articulate how your time off will benefit your future career endeavors?

Make sure you can answer those questions and issues before embarking on a job search. Bounce your responses off trusted friends, especially those who are currently working in demanding positions. The silver lining is that a looming labor shortage means that many employers will be willing to look at nontraditional candidates. That, coupled with several key steps on your part, could help you hear “You’re hired.”

Focus on face time instead of Net time. Get off the Internet and get out of the house. When you have a gap in your resume, scouring job boards and relying on posting your resume online will not help. Recruiters admit that when looking at two resumes – one with current experience, one with a gap – they always went for the current one. You have to be in the room with the recruiter to turn that missing time into something interesting and positive. It’s your personality and passion that can help overcome the gap, and that can only be accomplished in person.

Get in the door. You must focus on meeting people the same way you do in other aspects of life: through mutual friends and contacts. Connect with former colleagues and working friends. Ask for leads on jobs and ask for other contacts. Another great way to meet people in your industry is to join a professional group. You’ll find associations in every field as well as working women support groups. Even your alumni association – no matter how long ago you graduated – is a stellar resource.

Networking Know-How Quick Tip: Celebrate…Throw a Networking Party

Yes, have a party. This is hard-core networking disguised as fun. You don’t need anything fancy or expensive; it could be a Saturday afternoon of cocoa and cookies. Since people are your best source of job leads, invite friends, family, neighbors — reach out to the parents of your kid’s friends, the people you go to church with. Instead of asking them to bring a dish like they would do for a potluck, ask them to bring an idea, connection, resource or job lead.

Ask them to cheer you on as you embark on this exciting new journey. Make it fun so everyone wants to rally around and support your efforts. Nobody likes a pity party, but they certainly like rooting for someone who’s facing a challenge with great gusto and determination. And since these people know, like and trust you and your character, and like you and trust you, they’ll be a big help in making introductions and even serving as references.

Want more information? Visit our Professional Networking section HERE.

Arrange face-to-face meetings. With all of your networking, you’re looking for face-to-face meetings, so offer to buy the person coffee or to meet them at their office for 15 to 20 minutes. These are busy people, so be very clear about your goals and what you hope they can do to help you. Convince them that you’re recommitting yourself to your career, so sitting down with you will not be a waste of their time. Tell them you’re hoping they’ll connect you with some key contacts because you know you’ll be a great asset to any team. The general rule for informational meetings of this kind: walk away with at least three contacts or referrals. It’s the way to rebuild your professional database. And then be sure to follow up on those leads in a timely manner.

Turn time out into time well spent. Be ready to articulate what you’ve been doing and why it’s relevant to what you want to do next. If you were smart, you kept your skills and contacts up while you were out of the job market. If that eluded you, you still developed and maintained many transferable skills. You’ll need to package them in a way that shows you are ready, willing and qualified to handle anything that comes your way. Break down all your skills and put them on a functional resume, one that focuses on your skills and abilities, not a chronological resume that focuses on work history. Then, once you are face-to-face with an employer figure out ways to showcase your skills and successes through meaningful and relatable anecdotes. If you’ve renovated your home, explain that enormous undertaking and your role in managing it. If you’ve had to put your parent in a nursing home, talk about how you’ve managed that care. If you’ve navigated the college admissions process for your kids, discuss that process and your organized approach to completing it. You don’t have to explain what you did quite literally every single day; instead focus on these big picture examples:

Did You…

Manage a household budget? That translates to fiscal responsibility, financial planning and reconciliation.

Raise three kids? Interpersonal skills, problem solving, decision-making, and supervision are a few of the skills you’ve perfected as a mom.

Participate as a parent/teacher organization team or class mother? Think about the scheduling, organizing events, transportation, parties, and fundraising. Team mothers should be considered for sainthood…or at least leadership positions in the workplace.

Run the book fair for your child’s school? Or maybe you volunteered to run the lunchroom, science fair, or a field day. Every skill you used for those tasks translates into a marketable job asset. Don’t sell yourself short just because you gave away your talents and took no salary in return. Every task you did required skill – and that’s talk potential employers can understand. Setting goals, solving problems, providing support and delegating are all transferable skills.

Serve as president of a charitable organization? That deserves at least a few positive lines on your résumé. Think about everything you did from juggling schedules to motivating volunteers to meeting quotas and deadlines. You had to be a salesperson to get others involved and contributing. You had to soothe feelings and deal with disparate personalities. You had to try to please everybody, which is fabulous experience for reentering the work-for-pay world.

Chair a committee? You delegated, steered, implemented, set and achieved goals, and hustled.

Serve as a volunteer? Long-term commitments matter most, not writing a check or spending a day at the recycling center. You want to show that you’re focused and can follow through on a project over the long haul. Be able to demonstrate a meaningful contribution with a positive outcome.

Take catch-up courses. Once you know where the obvious gaps are, figure out how you’ll fill them. If you’re looking to work in an office, but you don’t know how to type or you’ve never used Microsoft Word or Excel, take a class. You can check with your state’s unemployment office, displaced homemakers’ programs at community colleges or with a local YMCA for free or inexpensive courses. If you worked previously in an industry that you want to get back into, now is the time to brush up on the trends, leading employers and key players in that field. Join professional associations and women’s groups, and look at Web sites and trade journals too. This helps you to talk the talk knowledgeably, and it can let you in on not only what’s happening but also who’s hiring.

Face employer concerns head-on. It’s important to be able to read the room, to recognize those subconscious cues. And just as with everyone sitting down with a prospective employer, you have to face any doubts head-on. If you sense that the employer is uncertain of your commitment, make it clear that you’ve considered all the factors that go into rejoining the work force and you’ve already made the necessary arrangements at home. Remember that for an employer, new hires are costly – in time and money. They really need to know that you’re committed and serious. Another concern for employers is that some comeback workers don’t keep up to date on technology or the latest news in their field. If you’re serious about jumping back in, make sure that you are ready to go on day one.

If they say you’re overqualified, which is often code for “too old,” don’t walk away. Instead say, “I’m wise enough to know not to pursue anything that would bore me. I’ve really researched this position and while I might be more qualified than the average candidate, by hiring me you get more bang for your buck and I get to make an immediate contribution to the company.”

Be realistic about money. Maybe you really want $35,000, but you’re only offered positions that pay $30,000, so you turn them down flat. Then months and months go by and you’re still not making a penny. If you had taken the job – even at the lower salary – there’s a good chance that you’d be on your way to a promotion. Or at the very least, during that time, you wouldn’t have accumulated more debt. Instead you’d have accumulated current experience. Obviously, you want to negotiate for as much as possible, but even if the opportunity isn’t exactly what you want, think about how you might be able to use it as a stepping stone to something better, especially while you’re building current work history. Just because you take one job doesn’t mean you must be wedded to it forever.

Focus on confidence, not criticism. Attitude is even more important than skills. If you’ve recently been through a divorce, don’t tell me an interviewer, “I wouldn’t be in this situation if that jerk hadn’t left me high and dry.” No employer wants to hear that you’re bringing bitterness and baggage to the workplace. It’s also a turnoff to show any sense of financial desperation. Instead of focusing on the negative reasons why you’re returning to work, focus on the positive. “After a few years at home devoted to my family, I’m now ready to recommit myself to my career.”

Know what you want. It’s critical to really know what you want. If you’re looking for a comeback but tell the prospective employer that you have time restrictions – “I can only work four hours on Monday and I need Friday afternoons off” – you’re actually feeding into the concerns they already have, such as their anticipation that you don’t have the time and devotion your new career needs to thrive. Instead, think long term. Instead of holding out for the dream corporate job, take a part-time job as a sales associate and work your way up. When you’ve proved your worth to the company, you will no doubt be promoted to where you want to be. You may also want to consider easing yourself back into the market. One really easy way is through temping or consulting arrangements – taking temporary jobs at a variety of companies in a range of capacities, many of which have the possibility to turn into permanent positions. This does two things: it gets you acclimated without a major commitment, and it allows you to sample the climate and get a taste of different environments and different positions before you’re forced to decide what it is you want to do. Not only does the company get to try before they buy, so do you.

Thinking of making a comeback?

Keep an eye on your skills and affiliations. We buy life insurance not because we think we’re going to die tomorrow, but because we want to secure our financial future in the event of the unthinkable. The same theory applies to married women who don’t work outside their homes. It’s not that housewives should anticipate divorce as an inevitable fate for their marriage, but it helps to be prepared. In retrospect, many divorced women wish they had kept their hand in something professional while they were married. Consider attending a monthly meeting in your industry, reading trade papers, having an occasional lunch with a former colleague, and taking on freelance or part-time projects to maintain somewhat-current experience.

A New You

The world around us is constantly in a state of reinvention. Just look at your toothpaste-whiter, brighter. Cars are safer and more luxurious these days, with better fuel economy. Reinvention is another word for change. Women are always changing – whether it’s our hair, clothing style, favorite haunts, political attitudes or even friendships.

But reinvention is not just change. Reinventing yourself means change with a twist, with a new face, a new outlook on life or a new career. Reinvention is the process by which you take everything you are and everything you’ve learned, and switch direction to head off on a new path. Sometimes it’s a fork in your road: you stay in the same field, but fill a new capacity, or you stay with your company but take on a completely different role. Sometimes, however, you take a detour onto a brand new highway by entering a totally new line of work.

Sometimes you have to reinvent yourself to accommodate a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Sometimes, the need for change comes from within. Which of these apply to you?

  • Your interests have changed.
  • The market for your current skills has dried up.
  • You’ve figured out your passion.
  • You’ve discovered that your college major really isn’t what you want to do.
  • You’ve uncovered new talents you never knew you had.
  • You’re tired of the rut you’re in.
  • Your life’s circumstances have changed.
  • You have more time to devote to work.
  • You need more money.
  • You could do with less money and more free time.
  • You need flexibility in your schedule.
  • You want to be your own boss.
  • You want to change the world.

Reinvention is not always a choice. Sometimes we’re hit with a sledgehammer and we have to make a u-turn. Was your world suddenly flipped upside down? A baby can do that to you, but so can a heart attack or other illness – yours or someone close to you. You’re widowed or divorced, the bottom fell out of your husband’s job, and the bank account is awash in bright red. Your company phased out your job, a new boss brings in her pick to take your place, or your partner was transferred to a new city. Sometimes life forces you to assess your situation and begin to search for a new career.

Once you have pinned down your new industry or career choice, you can begin packaging yourself for your new target market. You don’t have to start over from scratch. What you’ve learned in one job can serve you well elsewhere, in ways you may not ever have considered. Instead of discounting your previous work history, look at it in a different light. Highlighting different aspects of your skills and experiences will give your work history the makeover it needs to attract employers in your new industry.

  • Learn everything you can about your new field. Before you even consider your skills, you have to know what will be valued in your new career. Have you decided to go into human resources? Make a list of all the skills, experience, training, certification or education human resource professionals should have. What is the job description of the position you are looking for? If you don’t know what is essential in your new career path, ask a professional in that field. Look at positions in your field advertised in the classifieds or online job databases. What are employers asking for? Conduct a search online for the title of your desired position, and you’ll retrieve valuable information and resources.
  • Compare the essential job skills with your experience. First take a look at your general skills, such as computer or communication skills. Many skills are widely transferable and valued in several industries. Dig a little. If you were an accountant and want to be a news reporter, your number crunching has given you great attention to detail and accuracy – two highly valued skills in journalism. Now think more about your specific experiences, such as organizations you belonged to, companies you worked for, and titles you held. They probably don’t line up exactly with your new industry, but how have they prepared you? For example, your position as a social worker taught you how to handle disagreements and evaluate clients’ well-being. Use specific experiences or anecdotes to illustrate how efficient you will be as a customer service representative.

With all the information you gathered from your self-assessments, tweak your resume to include your transferable skills. When switching careers, it is often beneficial to use a functional resume format, rather than the traditional chronological resume style. A functional resume focuses on specific skills, not necessarily based on a progression of specific jobs you’ve held. A chronological resume includes a run down of your employment history starting with the most recent. In either version, you’ll want to include your previous experiences, but with a twist. Rewrite your resume with an emphasis on your new career goal. The most important point here is to make potential employers see the you that you want to be, not the you that you used to be.

Make sure your personal appearance matches the new you. If that needs repackaging too, start early, so all your face-to-face contacts see the new you. If you were a sales clerk in a funky retail boutique, and you’re going into corporate life, check out what women are wearing in the boardroom before showing up in a mini skirt and fishnet hose. Visit our Professional Dress and Appearance section for more tips HERE.

With your goals set and your resume in hand, you also have to determine how you’re going to make the leap.

  • Try to make an internal transfer. If your ideal job is right under your nose, build your skills and network effectively to make a transition right in your company. This kind of reinvention has the advantage of comfort level. You already know the people, they know you, and you probably won’t lose benefits or seniority. The key here is to ask – to find out what’s available and what you have to know to get it. Large companies sometimes offer an intranet of available internal opportunities.
  • Attend job fairs. If you are taking a plunge into a completely different career, chances are you don’t know a lot of contacts in that field. Job fairs can provide a great opportunity to network and meet people in your new industry. Learn more about Women For Hire job fairs HERE.
  • Volunteer. Forget the old maxim about never giving it away for free. Your talents and skills are your strongest selling point, and strategic sampling is a wonderful way to let people know about you. If you’re starting a career as a fundraiser, offer your services to local schools and charities on a volunteer basis. If you want to work for an art gallery, work with local restaurants and lounges and offer to coordinate art shows with paintings from local artists.
  • Ease yourself into a new career. If you’re a nurse, but you want to be in sales, take a part time job as a salesperson. Try an industry, like pharmaceuticals, that values your nursing knowledge and experience. Don’t burn yourself out, but try a taste of what seems like the ideal job before abandoning a sure thing.
  • Go for it! If you’re at your wits end, be prepared to quit and jump cold turkey into a new career. But don’t expect instant success, tons of money or a quick ride to the top. This is often the least effective way to make a successful transition, unless you have financial security or something lined up.
  • Network. Let your network of personal and professional contacts know that you are looking for a new position. Explain what field you are looking into, and why you’ve decided to make the leap. If you’re launching a new career, hold an “expert” party to introduce yourself to those who can help you. If you just got your massage therapy license, for instance, invite salon managers, gym trainers, or facialists who work in nearby spas. If you’re looking for a position as a paralegal, invite your cousin whose wife is a lawyer to a family barbeque and then casually pick her brain – without being invasive – at the event. For more about networking, visit our special section entirely devoted tothis challenging process HERE .