Commitment: What are some factors a woman should consider when selecting her new career or job?
Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin: You want to find work you are passionate about and are excellent at doing, or have the potential to be excellent at doing.
To find out, use the Job Building Blocks Worksheet in Back on the Career Track to break down each of your prior, significant, work and volunteer experiences into components. Then extract the components you love doing and are excellent at and put them together in a group.
If you do this exercise for each of your prior, significant work and volunteer experiences, then you will be able to build back up a new career path for yourself.
Consider testing a career by proposing a consulting project in the field rather than immediately taking a conventional full time job. That makes it a lower risk proposition for both you and your employer to test out the match.
Commitment: What are some of the most common mistakes women make who want to relaunch their careers?
Carol and Vivian:
1) Focusing on WHERE and HOW you will work before the WHAT: Remember the career assessment piece is the most important – WHAT you want to do. After you determine the WHAT, then think about what we call the “3 C’s of Relaunching: Content, Control and Compensation”. Relaunchers who do not want to work conventional full time jobs often end up trading Control for Compensation – they are willing to take less than they think they are worth or is fair in order to get the schedule they want.
Note to employers: plenty of relaunchers are interested in returning to conventional full time jobs. It is a misconception that all relaunchers are interested in returning to a half time schedule.
2) Spending too much time on resume prep and not enough time on interview prep: when you interview, the most important thing you can do is to convince the interviewer of not only your ability to do the job but your commitment and passion for doing so. You don’t have to hide the fact that you have children, but neither should you spend much time talking about them or their needs. Be matter of fact and non-apologetic about your career break: “I took a career break to spend time at home with my kids and now I can’t wait to get back to work” is a good response.
3) Continuing to accept extraneous volunteer assignments and other demands on your time. Learn to say “no” to new volunteer commitments and demands on your time not critical to your job search effort.
Commitment: What are the biggest challenges women face who want to return to work after taking time off to be with their children?
Carol and Vivian:
a) Regaining confidence; even the most accomplished women who take extended leaves face confidence issues the longer they are away. We spend an entire chapter on confidence building activities.
One tidbit: Get in touch with People from Your Past. These people have a “frozen in time” view of you, so even if your view of yourself may have diminished over time, those with whom you went to school or worked remember you as you were. Their enthusiasm about your return to work will be a confidence booster.
b) Getting back up to date in your field or in a new field: Resubscribe to general and specific publications, attend professional and networking events, volunteer with your professional association to organize these events – you will meet people at employers and universities who may then become important contacts when you relaunch, take on a small consulting project, either for pay or even pro bono, to get recent, relevant experience on your resume.
c) Understanding tech developments: Take a course, get a tutor, hire your teenager, or teach yourself the basics of PowerPoint, Excel, and Word. Sign up on Linked In to understand how it works and to look up people at companies in which you are interested.
Sign up for Twitter so you can follow the Twitter feed on companies and people of interest. Even if you don’t create a single “Tweet”, just following relevant people and companies can be a great source of information prior to interviewing. Plus you should mention in an interview that you follow them on Twitter so they know you know about it.
d) Figuring out exactly what you want to return to: A thorough career assessment is a must – you must determine whether your interests and skills have changed or have not changed while you were on career break. We spend an entire chapter on Assessing Your Career Options in Back on the Career Track. See the next question for the lesson Carol learned about assessing career options when she relaunched.
Commitment: Can you each share with us your own personal experiences of relaunching your careers. What were your greatest challenges?
Carol and Vivian: Fundamentally, we believe that staying connected to your previous professional life or developing a new one is the best way to avoid becoming completely "professionally disconnected"—as so many of us do during our career breaks.
We think you can be creative about how you do that. You can do volunteer work in your field, you can attend the occasional professional conference, you can keep up with publications in your field, or you can use the time away from work to personally reflect about whether you were on the right career path to begin with.
But we are also realistic. We have nine kids between us, and there were long periods during our career breaks when we were completely overwhelmed with our mothering responsibilities and there was no way we could have kept our toes in the water professionally. Everyone's situation is different.
Carol: I’ll tell you my two biggest mistakes, not successes. I failed to do a complete career assessment, which we believe is such a crucial part of the process. I decided to return to a finance career simply because that’s what I had left before my career break. It wasn’t until I was well into my new job that I realized I didn’t want to do financial analysis anymore. I involved a very progressive employer who was willing to hire me after 11 years out of the full time workforce, and I could have avoided that if I assessed my career options first.
My other error was that I viewed my 25-30 hours per week of volunteer work as equivalent to a part time job, which is why I thought I could dive right into a demanding full time job.
But I forgot that my volunteer work was essentially invisible to my four kids who were all in elementary school. So from their perspective I was home all the time, and then suddenly, I was just home evenings and weekends.
If I had been working full time since they were born, then this would have been their world and there would be no issue. Same if I decided to stay home full time since they were born. But since I was switching from one situation to the other, it would have been better if I had pursued a gradual relaunch, volunteering or consulting for a full day, at least one day a week, for a period of time to let them get used to what I put in place to cover for my absence. Then they would have been adjusted when I made the switch to full time.
As for my family’s support, they knew I was unhappy the last two years I was home full time and were supportive of me going back to work. I talked about it with them all the time, discussing my frustrations in figuring out what to do, how to prepare myself and then actually getting a job. Remember this was back in 2000. Back on the Career Track was not out yet (hardcover was published 2007, paperback 2008), and there were no formal career reentry programs. So I had to navigate the process completely on my own. I didn’t know anyone else interested in returning to work when I was relaunching. Everyone I knew was either committed to staying home full time, or had been working full time without a break.
Vivian: I faced different challenges from Carol. I knew my career interests had changed, and I knew exactly the kind of work I wanted to do. My problem was that I had five kids ages 3-11 at the time, so I needed flexibility and either zero or a minimal commute. I decided, therefore, to focus on finding very small companies in my geographical area that did the kind of work I was interested in. I figured small companies would hopefully overlook my resume gap and be impressed enough by my prior experience and educational credentials that they would be more open to me and to flexible work arrangements. I based this assumption on my knowledge that, in general, small companies do not get bombarded by job seekers.
Also, I was seeking to return to work back in late 2000, when the economy had turned south, and I knew that smaller companies were more likely to hire than large ones, which were constantly announcing cutbacks.
To implement my strategy, I either tried to network my way to the heads of the companies in which I was interested, or wrote the President of the company cold, telling him/her what I thought I could do for them and including my resume. Although I was achieving some success with these tactics, I ended up getting a job with a neighbor who had his own small executive search firm and needed some help. He started me at a low hourly rate, but I had complete flexibility and no commute. I could work from home, basically as much or as little as I liked. I decided to accept his offer, not only because it dovetailed so well with my family situation, but also because I knew executive search could be very lucrative, and I intended to “ramp up my game” once I learned the business and had more work time available.
In fact, within two years I started to get my own clients and earn nice fees for myself and, within three years, I had to hire someone to work for me. (Of course, it was another relaunching mom.)
The two big lessons I learned from my experience that I think are very relevant for today’s economy, are
1) target smaller employers and look for project work or consulting assignments, not just “jobs.” That way, you can get your foot in the door and prove yourself at minimal risk to either party; and
2) consider taking a job with low starting pay if you believe it can lead to higher earnings in the reasonably near future.
Commitment: Why did you write this book?
Carol and Vivian: Back in 2000 and 2001 when we resumed our careers, we felt alone and without a game plan. At that time, no one was talking about going back to work – not in our neighborhoods, not on the Internet, and not in the mainstream media. In fact the conversation about opting out was just gaining traction, and no one was talking about opting-in.
So our major motivation in writing Back on the Career Track was our feeling that no other mom should have to go through what we went through when trying to relaunch her career. We have culled the wisdom gained from our own experiences and those of over 100 women who have made the transition from home to work into our 7 Steps to Relaunch Success, the strategic plan for resuming a career after a hiatus featured in Back on the Career Track.
We've noticed a surge of interest among employers, universities and organizations in creating career reentry programs for their alums and members on career break. There has been such explosive growth in formal career reentry programming since 2004 that we compiled iRelaunch’s Comprehensive List of Career Reentry Programs Worldwide. Take a look.
Commitment: How can a woman successfully return to work, if perhaps she enjoyed being home with her children and wants to maintain some of the freedom and extra time she had as a stay-at-home Mom? What are some things she can do to honor her own conflicting needs?
Carol and Vivian: When you are not at work, you want to maximize meaningful time with the kids and your significant other, if you have one, and time for yourself.
Lower your standards for levels of house cleanliness and general order!
There are some great examples of how moms got creative with dinner in Back on the Career Track:
One relauncher mom has “Sonoma night” every week, with cheese, fruit, hard boiled eggs, cold veggies, and leftovers.
Also, use some of your extra income to outsource as much of the housework as you can afford that neither you nor your significant other wants to do.
If you haven’t already, get to know your stay-at-home neighbors so they can help you in a pinch. And make sure you nurture these relationships by doing favors for them whenever you can. For example, when you’re heading out to the supermarket or the dry cleaner, ask a neighbor if you can pick up something for her as well.
Or bank up extra carpool drives so you can ask a neighbor to drive for you when you can’t make it.
On the babysitting front, one woman we interviewed found two local teens who agreed that one of them would always be at her house in the late afternoons. The two teens, who were friends, worked out a rotation system between themselves. The mother never had to scramble to find a replacement babysitter.
Commitment: How can a mother help her children adjust to her new career and work schedule?
Carol and Vivian: Be prepared to talk early and often with your family about your return to work, adjusting the conversation to the ages of your kids. Make sure you let your family know that your desire to return to work is not a rejection of your life at home with them, but rather an opportunity for you to develop a part of yourself that has been on the back burner for a while.
Your attitude about the impending change is critical. If you go around saying “woe is me, I’m starting work in two weeks, and things are going to be mess around here,” obviously you’re going to have a disaster on your hands. But if you’re upbeat and organized, things will go a lot more smoothly. The older your kids, the earlier you want to tell them about changes in your and their daily routines.
Ideally, try them out in advance to work out the kinks, for example, make sure that new afternoon sitter really is as great as the references say.
Reinforce planning the night before for the next day’s activities. Mom won’t be available to drop off a forgotten musical instrument at school once she’s working again.
Delegate as much as possible to your kids. Again, it’s all in the marketing. Saying, “Thursday night Sarah gets to make dinner,” sounds a lot better than, “Sarah, on Thursday night, you have to make dinner.” Instead of feeling guilty, revel in the fact that your kids are becoming more responsible and learning, from your example, about how to work and parent at the same time.
One mom we interviewed who reinforced this exact arrangement found that her 7th grade son initially balked at his Tuesday night dinner responsibility, but later became quite possessive about it. Getting that dinner on the table (and the planning involved in having his ingredient list ready for Sunday’s scheduled grocery shopping trip) became a source of pride and accomplishment.
If you still have elementary school aged children (or younger) underfoot and can afford to work part-time rather than fulltime, we think a gradual relaunch works better than jumping with both feet into a demanding full time job like Carol and some of our interviewees did. But not everyone can afford to do this, and sometimes a fulltime opportunity comes along that is too good to pass up.
Also, those facing immediate financial need to due to divorce or a significant other who is now unemployed might need to opt for a less than perfect job to pay the bills while they are strategizing for the perfect match for their next job.
Commitment: How can a woman who feels very rusty and out-of-tune with the rhythms of the workplace after being home with her children for several years gain her confidence back?
Carol and Vivian: See answer to question 2. Also, TALK! Conversations with non-judgmental friends and family function as interview rehearsals! The more you talk about what you are interested in doing and why you are a good fit for that role, the better you will sound when it counts, in the interview itself.
Practice interviewing with friends and family. Don’t be self-conscious about describing a project that you worked on ten years ago. If you can describe it substantively now, that can be just as meaningful to an interviewer as telling them about a project you completed last week. In fact, it’s even more impressive because you’re recalling details that are ancient history.
Make sure you know everything on your resume cold. Try not to ever have to say “oh, it was so long ago, I barely remember.” Professional updating by reading general and specific publications in your field and attending professional updating events (discussed in question 2) will help build confidence and self esteem. Finally, don’t forget to wear something that makes you look professional and that you feel confident in.
Join iRelaunch! It’s free and you can take advantage of our Members Only Resources, read about relaunch success stories and get our newsletters with tips, news and advice on Relaunching. Also check out our weekly Back on the Career Track blog which is a regular feature on Yahoo Shine, Yahoo’s Women’s portal.
On our iRelaunch site, we trumpet the success stories, because we believe women are relaunching careers all the time and no one knows about it. When moms at home hear about how other moms relaunched careers, they become inspired to do so themselves. Equally as important, when employers hear how other employers have successfully tapped the pool of talent on career break, they then have a successful employer model to emulate.
Commitment: What are some of the best ways a woman can find a job after years of not working outside of the home?
Carol and Vivian: Relaunchers are rarely successful sending out 100 resumes on line, hoping for a response. Networking is really the key to a successful relaunch – the first contact a relauncher must have with a potential hiring manager or to someone who refers you to a potential hiring manager should be personal.
So what does “networking” mean for the relauncher? Everyone has networks. Your neighbors, the mothers you carpool or volunteer with, the people you went to school with 20 years ago—they’re all part of your network, and they may well be helpful. The husband of the woman you work with on a PTO committee may work for a company of interest to you and may be able to introduce you. Your college roommate’s current best friend may have an opening in her department.
Don’t be shy about reaching out, and don’t underestimate the help you can offer someone in return, such as information on tutors and pediatricians, or even an extra carpool drive in exchange for some market intelligence.
In Back on the Career Track we look at networking in terms of what we call “Contact Pools”. We divide these pools up into three categories: People from Your Past, People from Your Present and People from your future. We give examples of each in the book and this is a good starting point for identifying exactly who is in your network.
Commitment: How can a Mom get her family's support as she transitions back into the workplace?
Carol and Vivian: Talk about your plans early and often. Involve your significant other, if you have one, and your kids, in the process, from asking for recommendations on what you should wear to an interview, to asking them to review a resume or cover letter for typos, to helping you look at companies on line. Of course, adjust appropriateness to age levels of your kids.
Talk to your significant other about changes to expect in the household, whether to outsource them, not do them at all, share these tasks more equally, or delegate some of them to the kids. Explain to the kids that every family member needs to help with the transition and “owes” the family and household a certain amount of time each day, maybe 30 minutes, to pitch in.
Keep a positive attitude, a sense of humor, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Bring your kids to your new workplace so they can visualize where you are when they are home and you are away. Relaunch gradually if you can and bring in whatever you have arranged to cover for your absence early so kids can adjust before the arrangement becomes full time.
About the Authors: Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin are cofounders of www.iRelaunch.com, a career break connections company for mid-career professionals in all stages of career break and the employers, universities, and organizations interested in updating and recruiting them. Carol and Vivian are internally recognized experts on career reentry and speak frequently on the topic. Visit www.iRelaunch.com.
To purchase Back on the Career Track click here.