How to find a job after years of parental leave
As a parent, you already know that role is one of the most important jobs out there. Creating and nurturing a tiny human is hard work—work that’s both challenging and rewarding. Some parents return to the workforce after a short leave, either by choice or necessity, while others return after years of being a stay-at-home parent.
If you’re not returning to your pre-kid job, how do you negotiate that return to the workforce when you’re ready to head back? Let’s look at some tips and strategies for jumpstarting your career after pausing it for kids.
Think hard about what you want next.
Think of this transition as an opportunity. Do you want to go back into the same field as you were in before? Or would you rather try something new? One of my friends was an engineer by training and had worked in the field for a few years before having kids. Once her kids were in school, she re-evaluated what she wanted to do—and ended up starting her own cake decorating business because it aligned better with her passions and talents in the updated version of her life. This is your chance to consider what you want to do next.
Some questions to ask yourself up front:
- What are your career goals now? They may be different than they were before.
- What kind of schedule will you need to accommodate your family? Will you need a certain amount of flexibility in your hours?
- Do you want a full-time job, or maybe something part-time to start?
Knowing what you want and going after it can help ease the transition. If you’re leaping at the first opportunity that presents itself without really considering whether it’s what you want long-term, that may make the transition more difficult and make you less satisfied with your decision to go back to work.
Build (or rebuild) your network.
As you’re ramping up your job search, make sure you’re reactivating your professional network as well. If your current social media presence amounts to sharing pictures of the kids on Facebook, it’s time to branch out and focus on your professional brand as well. Plus this has the added benefit of helping you zoom in on any trends or changes in your field that might not have been there when you were last working.
And don’t be shy: it’s a good idea to start reaching out to old colleagues or mentors to let them know that you’re looking to get back to work after a break. Word of mouth opportunities can be crucial to any job search—if they come from people who knew you in your former work life and can vouch for your skills, all the better.
Finding a “mom mentor” can also help in your transition. Finding someone in your network (or in an online group) who has already gone through this can really help you as you get ready to go back to work.
Reinvent your resume.
Your resume may seem like a pretty rigid document (dates, experience bullet points, verifiable work history), but in reality it can be flexible in saying what you want it to say. Facts are facts, but you have the chance to use your resume to set a narrative.
The traditional experience-forward resume format might not be the best choice for a long absence from the workforce. So if you don’t want your last job (whenever that was) at the top with dates staring the reader in the face, consider a skills-based resume format where you start with a section emphasizing your skills, also commonly known as a “qualifications summary.” This presents the information you most want the reader to see—what you have, not necessarily where you’ve applied it. Once you established the key skills and qualifications, you can include your work experience further down, with dates downplayed.
Other ways to downplay employment gaps on your resume:
- Summarize whenever possible. If you can make general statements about what you did and when, that can help avoid the finer details of when things actually happened. For example: mention years, not months.
- Focus on your most recent jobs, or the most relevant ones. Don’t worry about including every job you’ve ever had. Based on the job you’re applying for, play up the jobs and skills that relate directly to the job description, and downplay others. If everything isn’t weighted equally to begin with, gaps may not be as prominent.
- Find a theme. If you have a “through-line” that defines your career, emphasize it in every part of your resume and tailor it to the job for which you’re applying. Doing this can help overcome doubts about how you would fit in to this new job, if you have a solid history of performance.
- Be honest. Don’t try to hide what you’ve been doing. If you’ve been out of the workplace, it’s okay to say that you took time off to raise a family. This is something that people understand on a human level. But once you’ve let them know why you were out, use specific points to show how ready you are to get back in.
Build your skills.
Everyone can use a little brushing-up on the skills front, and that’s especially true if you’ve been out of the game for a while. It’s important to know what skills are most valuable to the field you want to re-enter (or break into for the first time). Are the software apps you used to use at work still in use, or have they been replaced by a different set of programs and tools? Online research and/or classes and tutorials can help you get familiar with the tech you’ll need to jump back in. It also helps on your resume if you can list expertise and skills in the latest tech, showing that despite your absence you’ve been keeping up with the industry.
And the good news: there’s a tutorial for just about everything on YouTube, if you feel like you don’t have time for an online class or that community center seminar on public speaking. And if you’re not sure what skills you should be building, here’s a cheat sheet of some of the top skills employers are looking for right now.
Consider freelancing/going part-time first.
Before you start hunting for a full-time job to get back into the workforce, think about whether you can start with some freelancing or part-time gigs. It’s not only a good experience builder if you’re trying to bulk up your resume, but it can also give you a more flexible schedule to balance work and life stuff.
And it also helps with a fact of life: getting back to anything full-time after not doing it for a while is hard. Easing back in with a modified schedule or workload can lessen the shock of going back to work if you’re used to an entirely different lifestyle.
You may feel less-than-confident about getting back into the workforce with a resume gap and skills and experience that feel a little out of date. But don’t focus on that—focus on what you have, and what you would bring to your new job. That’s what your new employer is going to want to know and what will get you the job offer. Your skills and experience are valuable, even if they feel a little 2013 in a 2018 world. If you spend the time and care to figure out how they fit into the new landscape and what you can do to keep evolving, you’ve already done one of the hardest parts of taking this huge career step.