I frequently interview candidates for open positions in my organization and am often asked what advice I have for women returning to the workforce. The most important piece of advice I can give you is to not apologize for leaving your career to raise your children. Be confident in presenting your skills and be assertive about what you have to offer a prospective employer. Finding a job is not easy right now but the market is slowly getting better and there is more opportunity now than there has been in the last two years. Before you launch your job search, consider these steps:
Decide if you are going back to your industry or starting over. Get clear on what kind of job you are looking for. This will help you focus your job search and help others in your network be on the look out for opportunities for you. Make sure you develop your elevator speech for the kind of job you are looking for and what skills you have to offer.
Take stock of your skills and upgrade if necessary. If you’ve been out of the job market for awhile, you may find that your skills are outdated. Review job descriptions of jobs you are interested in and determine if you have those skills or will need to take a few classes to brush up. These days junior colleges are offering a wide variety of affordable classes for job changers and people looking to become more marketable.
Tighten up your resume. If you haven’t worked for awhile yours will probably need some work. Get a working friend or former colleague to review yours. Keep it short, focused and under two pages. Typos and grammatical errors will get your resume thrown out faster than you can blink so have a trusted friend proof yours – or better yet hire someone to help you put a professional resume together. If you are applying for jobs in different industries, you’ll probably need more than one resume. Don’t discount volunteer work you’ve done as valuable experience you can market to your future employer. Even if you’ve not been paid, work such as organizing events, political campaign management and fundraising are all highly transferable skills if you are able to articulate what you accomplished. Make sure you also update (or create) a good LinkedIn profile for prospective employers to find you. Finally, put together a small portfolio of your work. This should include writing samples, plans you’ve developed and anything else that exemplifies your work.
Consider temporary, freelance and contract jobs. Even if your wish is to land a full-time gig, don’t overlook contract positions. Most companies downsized during the recession and are trying to keep their staffs lean to control fixed costs. I’m seeing contract, temp and freelance work becoming more and more the norm in my own company and those of my colleagues. Contract and temp positions are also a great way to get your foot in the door. Case in point, I’ve had a number of women go out on maternity leave in my group and have backfilled their positions with contractors during their time off. I’m still employing many of these contractors and plan to offer at least one of them a full-time position later this year.
Sign up with a temp agency. On a related note, I know people have mixed feelings about temp agencies but I think temp work is a lot less stigmatized than it used to be. More importantly, companies are using these firms to find professionals with all kinds of backgrounds. Certified project managers, lawyers and accountants and certain licensed medical professionals seem to be faring pretty well these days in the temp market so do consider this source of short-term job possibilities.
Work your network. Now is not the time to be shy about your job search goals. Reach out to former employers, colleagues, friends and associates and let them know you are looking. Help them to help y0u by being as specific as possible about the kind of job you are looking for. Follow up on every lead no matter how small. Send a thank you note after every interaction. Never forget there are many other people like you out there looking for jobs and so you must be as aggressive and persistent as possible.
Take stock of your image. Presenting a polished, professional image is vital to job search success. Invest in a fresh haircut, new makeup and well groomed nails. Take an inventory in your closet. You may find you need to invest in one or two sharp interview suits (or well-tailored dresses) along with smart accessories to make your look more current. Personal shopping services at fine department stores like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue are often free of charge and can save you time and money. Finally, (and this is a touchy subject) if you are a bit overweight, I strongly advise trimming down. It’s unfair, but many employers have a bias against heavier people. You want to bring your “A” game to every interview. You don’t need to be a Skinny Minny, but you will present a more positive image if you are fit and healthy looking.
Develop an exercise routine. And speaking of health, if you don’t have a regular fitness routine, I suggest getting one going. Searching for a job is stressful, grueling work. Building in regular exercise a few days a week will not only have you looking great, it will reduce your stress and help you cope with the ups and downs of a job search.
Be persistent and develop a support network. Finally, this is one of the toughest job markets there has been in decades so mentally prepare yourself. Don’t despair if you don’t land something right away – chances are you won’t. Stay positive and develop a support network of people who can give you feedback, cheer you up and encourage you as you search for your dream job.
Are you a mother returning to the workforce? What advice would you share with others looking to go back to work? What are your biggest challenges in trying to re-enter the workforce?