Land the JobSome of the smartest, most capable and efficient women I know decided to take some time off from their careers to raise their children - as did I. At some point in our wine-and-whine playgroups, the discussion always turned to our phantom work identities. Many expressed a desire to return to work in some capacity, but couldn't find the route back. Hearing more and more of these impressive women - doctors, lawyers, and executives alike - discuss their fear of being "un-hireable," I realized it all boiled down to one thing: a lack of confidence. Without the regular paycheck and reviews, there hadn't been much feedback telling them how capable they were. As a former law school career counselor (and lawyer before that), I counseled hundreds of people on how to make the most of their past accomplishments. Now, as a career coach, I focus on the future with women who are in transition, either between careers or after an absence from the workforce. Here are some of the 7 most important ways that women can reestablish their careers and their professional selves.
1. Assess thyself
Whether you've been on a break for two years or ten, it's going to be a big transition for you and your family when you go back to work. You need to make sure that you know what you want before you start looking. Think about what's most important to you - responsibilities, income, or flexibility? What matters now might not be the same as it was before you birthed a baby or four. Amy Gewirtz, the Director of Pace Law School's New Directions for Attorneys program, encourages the process of self-assessment in her students. "We give our participants exercises that prompt them to think both about what they like doing and what they are good at. Then we encourage them to look at those components critically, as they might realize that even though they may have particular skills, they may not want to utilize them in their next career move."
2. Stay in touch
Even if you haven't worked in years, you should still be meeting with your former colleagues, supervisors, and those you supervised (these individuals may very well be running the show by the time you want to return). When searching for a legal position two years after leaving a big law firm to raise her daughter, Lori McMullan, an attorney in the San Francisco area, found that "some of the most promising leads were from my former colleagues and classmates, who often had information about jobs that weren't advertised anywhere." It's so easy these days to get in front of someone's face through Facebook or LinkedIn, so use social networking to your advantage. Let family, friends, and professional peers know you're looking! After all, you can't expect anyone to think of you if they don't know you're in the market again.
Related: 11 reasons I'm happy my husband is unemployed
3. Put yourself out there
This is an exploratory time to consider the type of work you want to seek, which may be different in both form and content than your former positions. The goal is to meet as many people from as many industries as possible. Use this time to look for volunteer opportunities that have real meaning for you and could be valuable in your job search. For example, lawyers who want to go back into practice can take on pro bono projects through local bar associations, or those seeking marketing or development work can look for fundraising programs to expand their skills and network. After a year of playdates with my son, I chose to volunteer at an organization that provides career development strategies to at-risk youth. Committing to this organization convinced me to develop my own career- coaching practice.
4. Stay in the loop
Revise your resume and LinkedIn profile, making sure you include recent roles and activities. To make yourself a competitive candidate, take classes to keep up with technological developments, and consider getting a new certification or license. Read as much as you can! Set Google alerts for industries or topics so that you have a constant stream of current information. Write an article for a blog, magazine, or newsletter to get your name out there. Conferences, such as the iRelaunch conference, are another great way to meet relevant people and cram in knowledge in a condensed setting.
5. Respect your unpaid work
I am always shocked by the women who raise tens of thousands of dollars for their children's schools but completely brush off that achievement because it was voluntary. Serving on a board or executing a large-scale community event allows for the development of marketing, time-management, and numerous other skills. Rather than downplay that experience, use it as a selling point for your ability to succeed in any role. Emily Salmon, a fundraising executive in Tahoe, California, credits her role on a non-profit board of directors with providing the confidence and contacts to get a new job. "I had 4-5 line items of volunteer and leadership [positions] - girl scout leader, jazzercise instructor. My boss figured if I could get grown women to exercise, I could get them to donate money."
6. Know how to ask and answer questions
Informational interviewing is an excellent way to get yourself back in the serve-and-volley game. You might be more comfortable asking frank and candid questions from someone in this advisor role than from someone who is deciding on your future employment. The more you prepare for an interview, the more you will know what to ask. Plus, informational interviews allow you to tap into a hidden job-market, as someone is a lot more likely to dish about the inner workings of a company or an unadvertised job opening to a friend-of-a-friend or fellow alumni.
7. Follow up
Keeping in touch with your contacts sounds simple, but it can actually become a bit complex once you've reached out to former colleagues, college alumni, and your neighbor's cousin's wife all in the name of networking. Always, always send a thank-you note. As you continue refining your search, you want to stay in touch with all of these contacts for different reasons, whether it's a leg up in a new industry or someone who can put in a good word. Sending someone a relevant article is a great way to reestablish communications. Organizational apps like JibberJobber and Gist are great ways to keep track of your network outreach.
By Elena Konstrant
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