Maybe your kids are older, even heading off to college, and you’re thinking about returning to work. Maybe you’d really love to stay home longer but you need to supplement your husband’s income. No matter the reason, returning to work after taking time as a stay-at-home mom — whether it’s been two years or 12 — is a surprisingly difficult transition for most women. It’s even hard for moms with previously successful careers, impressive degrees, or beautiful craftsmanship skills. There are résumé gaps and lifestyle adjustments that make the path bumpy.
How do you even find a job? How do you know if it’s the right job — one that works for your family and for you personally? How will you fitback into a workforce you’ve been absent from for years? Or, in short: How the heck are you going to do this?
Fortunately, plenty of women have navigated these waters, and a few simple rules (and some deep breaths) can certainly help you gain the confidence and know-how you’ll need to get you back to business:
1. Rejigger your résumé
Once upon a time your résumé was filled with cutting-edge, impressive achievements, but now there’s just huge, empty space with no work-related accomplishments for the last however many years. (Sadly, perfecting the perfect crustless tuna sandwich doesn’t count.) So how do we explain the time gone by and what we’ve been up to?
To draw attention away from the gaps in your work history, career expert Nicole Williams suggests creating “a résumé that is functional rather than chronological: focus on your skills and successes rather than the precise dates of your employment. Create headings like ‘marketing experience,’ ‘sales successes’ or ‘benchmarks met’ and then list your achievements accordingly.”
This allows you to incorporate your formal career-work experience as well any other consulting, freelance, or volunteer projects you may have worked on during your time away.
Rick Gills, a writer for Salary.com, says women who’ve stepped out of the workforce to stay home need to “take stock” of their accomplishments.
“Take a long minute and dwell on all that you have accomplished in terms of guiding your children through all those before, during and after school programs,” Gills writes. “How many of you ended up becoming a soccer or T-ball coach simply because no one else would step up to the plate? Do you think that might show initiative, a take charge, self-starter mentality? Do you realize how many employers are looking for you?!”
2. Know your worth
Yes, you should know your worth in terms of what you should be paid — a dollar amount — but there’s also value in knowing exactly whatyou bring to the table as a woman and a mother.
Carla Barnhill, senior editor of Sparkhouse Family in Minneapolis, says, “One of the great advantages of being a working mom is that we are the target audience for just about everything being produced, bought, or sold, so the point of view we gain in our experiences as mothers can be a huge asset in our work lives. Don’t be afraid to bring those experiences and opinions with you!”
3. Be open to “returnships”
Although it’s tempting to imagine you’ll just pick up where you left off — in a similar job at a similar pay range — that doesn’t always happen. As a moms re-entering the workforce, you may need to change your view of what your next job should be.
When Susan Corvino tried to go back to work, for example, she opened her mind to a new way of thinking, “less like a midlife professional, and more like a midlife intern.” This opened up possibilities for her that she might not otherwise have considered taking on: short-term projects for friends, at first, which turned into longer-term temporary, then finally full-time, positions.
Though the move may not be as glamorous, or as fast, as we’d like, it does provide opportunities to bolster our résumés and decide just what we want to do. Letting friends and former co-workers know we are interested and available for consulting or project-based work can be the perfect first step.
4. Nurture your networks
Luckily, new online resources exist for women looking to get back into the workforce. Après, a “LinkedIn” for women who stepped out of the workforce, was developed with the goal of giving “at home” moms re-entry opportunities. The website offers “inspiring content, tools to successfully navigate your transition, a roster of the very best career coaches and a diverse job market where you’ll find full-time, part-time and project-based positions.”
“I’d also say that whatever your field, make sure you’ve stayed at least a bit tuned in to the buzz about that field,” Carla Barnhill says. “Know who the main players are, stay aware of changes in technology or systems, noticing trends, that kind of thing. It really helped me step back in to full-time work to have been dabbling in the industry while I was home, along with exploring some other tangential interests.”
5. Change your expectations
Returning to work is not going to be easy — there will be some tough times ahead. “Be prepared for chaos,” Barnhill says. “I had to let a lot of things go — a clean house, cooking most dinners, volunteering at the school, just being home when my youngest gets home from school. I wasn’t completely prepared for how those little changes would affect my sense of feeling capable and competent.”
To get the whole family on board for those changes — big and small — Barnhill suggests talking to everyone ahead of time in order to retool the household flow.
“This could be anything from renegotiating some tasks and roles to setting new expectations about screen time,” Barnhill says.
It helps to remember that no matter how prepared you are, going back to work will be a big change, and that change will take time to adjust to. Cut yourself some slack, and do you best to stay positive (even if the sink is full of dirty dishes and no one picked up the dry cleaning). Remember that even if you’ve been out of the workforce for a few years, you’re still you. And you have a lot to offer, both at the office and at home.