Taking Care of Business: The Essential Playlist To Guide Your Return To Work

Whether you have a child in diapers or driver’s ed., it’s a pretty safe bet that you struggle to achieve the right career balance in your life. This is the first post in my new Careers in Progress blog for New York Family. I am a career advisor and I specialize in helping women make the leap from parenting back into the workforce. Each month I will focus on one aspect of career development. I’ll do my best to anticipate your interests, but it will be a lot more informative if this becomes dialogue. So please email me ([email protected]) your questions, thoughts, fears, and comments so that I can address them (anonymously, if you prefer) in my blog. I look forward to getting to know you and the rest of the New York Family community.

Fall is a time when many stay-at-home moms start to consider the right time to go back to work. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Whether you’re ready now or in three years, returning to the workforce after an extended leave takes planning and preparation. Here’s my essential playlist to help navigate the process:

Don’t Stop Believing by Journey

All life transitions are unsettling, but returning to work often exposes nagging self-doubts that you must address. Potential employers are looking for confidence and enthusiasm. In order to retrain your brain, focus on the positive: Make a list of your successes and strengths; write a paragraph about two professional accomplishments you’re proud of; ask the people closest to you to describe your strengths . Finally, know that you’re not the first person to go through this. In fact, 75% of those who want to return to work after a parenting break succeed. You can too.

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2

If you’re like most of my clients who return to work after a parenting break, you may not want to resume your prior occupation. That means you have to invest time and a lot of thought to decide on your next career. An experienced career counselor can help, or you can accomplish this yourself by using reference books (such as Do What You Are Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger) or online tools (such as helpguide.org/life/finding_career.htm) to help identify the right career path. Your old career could be a starting point. Make a list of your skills and the attributes of your prior job that you enjoyed and see if they lead you in a new direction. I valued the advising aspect of my former law career—knowing that helped redirect my interest to career coaching.

Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones

As all parents know, days turn into weeks which turn into months which turn into years…all in the blink of an eye. Often we feel like failures when we set personal goals that we don’t achieve, like when we try to commit to a stringent diet. Develop a specific plan for your career reentry and make it realistic. Break it down into achievable segments: What major steps have to be taken (decision-making, resume, childcare, networking), and in what time frame will they reasonably be accomplished? Put these goals in your calendar the way you would any other appointment. Then stick to it.

What’s New, Pussycat? by Tom Jones

If you’ve been out of the workforce for several years or if you’re pursuing a new career, you may need to update or acquire new knowledge and skills. Building skills is a triple threat: It will boost your confidence, make you more marketable, and expose you to others in your field. Fortunately, New York has many continuing education programs (NYU’s School for Continuing and Professional Studies, where I teach, is one example) and often the trade associations in your field will offer workshops. Use listorious.com and technorati.com to identify and follow the thought leaders your field. Strategic volunteering is another way to gain experience, knowledge, and mentors.

Express Yourself by Madonna

Once you identify a career path and refresh your skills, you’re ready to revamp your resume and broadcast your career goals. If resources permit, work with an experienced resume consultant who can adapt your experience for the search engine software that employers and recruiters now use. If that’s not possible, consult resume books and look at sample resumes in your field on LinkedIn. You can make the most of your prior career and downplay your parenting gap by using a skills-based resume that focuses on transferable skills rather than chronological employment history. Now is also the time to prepare an “elevator speech,” which is a two-minute pitch describing your career goals. Make it succinct and strong, and practice it many, many times before you use it. A good elevator pitch incorporates your strengths and focuses on your professional accomplishments and aspirations. Resist the temptation to describe your parenting situation.

Express Yourself, The Remix

It goes without saying, there’s danger in expressing yourself too much. Professional contacts and prospective employers will Google you. Approximately 70% of employers have rejected a candidate because of information they found about that person online. So if you haven’t already, clean up your online presence by adjusting the privacy settings on Facebook, photo-sharing sites, and the like. Depending on your field, consider building a web site or blog to establish your career identity.

You’ve Got a Friend by James Taylor

Networking is the single most effective job search strategy. Personal contact and strategic use of the professional networking tool LinkedIn is a powerful one-two combo. Study LinkedIn, develop a 100% complete profile, amass as many “connections” as you can, follow and research companies, and use that knowledge to reach out to people for “informational interviews,” one-on-one opportunities to learn about peoples’ jobs, companies, and experience. The key to successful networking is to ask for information, not a job, and to keep branching out. When you learn about a job prospect, cultivate a contact to help guide your resume to the right person.

No Apologies by Eminem

SAHMs (that’s, stay at home moms) often feel that their parenting break is a big elephant in the room that they need to explain. Speaking from experience, in most cases it isn’t. Most contacts and prospective employers are more interested in what you’ve done and what you’re capable of professionally than what you’ve been up to personally (and labor laws inhibit them from discussing your family circumstances). When they ask what you’ve done, they’re not expecting you to summarize your personal childrearing decisions—and you shouldn’t. My advice is to only address your parenting break if asked, and to do so matter-of-factly: “I was fortunate to be able to focus on my children’s early years, and now I’m looking forward to resuming my career.”

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad by Meat Loaf

Finally, keep expectations realistic. Jobs that meet every single one of your criteria are rare. The interview experience itself will be beneficial. Know what your top two or three priorities are and recognize that they may involve compromises in other areas. Don’t shy away from applying for jobs that involve trade-offs.

Barri Waltcher is a New York City-based career advisor who helps women navigate the transition from parenting back to a satisfying career. She is the co-founder of Mind Your Own Business Moms (MYOBmoms.com) and a frequent speaker on career topics. Barri has two teenaged children and, like her clients, she has made her own transitions, from lawyer to full-time parent (with some excessive volunteering on the side), to a career she is passionate about. Please send your career questions and topic suggestions to [email protected].