Many professional women take time off of work for child-rearing responsibilities. For any professional who has taken time off from work for family responsibilities, making the transition from homemaker back to career professional is complex and challenging. Depending on how long it has been since these women were employed outside the home, they may have to deal not only with their emotional barriers (e.g., “Am I too old?” “Will anyone want to hire me?”), but also with logistical concerns, such as updating their skills, presenting their time off in a positive light, and jump-starting their network of fellow professionals.
Spending time out of the workforce for child-rearing responsibilities is not considered “real work,” and women often experience great challenges when they decide to return to the paid labor market. Fear can limit their progress. There is simply no clear route to reentering the workforce and establishing oneself as a valuable contributor in business. Some women start a family in their teen years while others begin over the age of 40. Several choose to take time off (typically 5–10 years) and others go back to work immediately.
Women hold varying positions in the world of work, from marketing executives to teachers to program managers. Some will be from dual-career families, others will be going through a recent divorce, and some will be widowers or “empty nesters.” Making the move to reenter the workforce requires the right preparation, strategic thinking, and planning. Whether women seek full- or part-time work, Career Coaches will be required to provide the guidance in the following areas.
Deciding to reenter the workforce raises a host of fears and doubt for women. Some of the fears expressed by women include:
- Not fitting into the workplace
- Having outdated skills
- Finding good after-school child care
- Not having enough time for family obligations or personal time
- Entering at the right level
- Taking a step backwards
- Being too old
- Not having the right clothes to wear, and more
These fears are real and can limit progress toward getting a job and integrating into the workforce with ease.
Formulating a Plan of Action
Once a decision is made to reenter the workforce and their fears are put to rest, many women get stuck at how to go about finding the right job. Several women add a few changes to their “old” résumé and submit it for jobs. It does not take long for these women to become frustrated and disillusioned with the workforce. A better approach is to put together a game plan. The game plan includes a thorough discussion about the process of finding work, including how to go about recognizing their competencies and interests, building a network, revising their résumé, developing direct mail campaigns, attending lots of meetings, doing industry research, and more.
Recognizing Their Competencies and Interests
The assessment of competence and interests is necessary because it helps women focus on highlighting specific skills, identifying occupations, or pointing out job functions that interest them. Since competence is usually the basis of any job appointment, understanding their strengths and weaknesses goes a long way to improving women’s self-confidence and understanding of what skills will be required for certain jobs.
Coming up to Speed on the Latest Happenings in the Industry
Many professional women fear that they do not have the industry insight to be effective in the workplace and believe it will take months to come up to speed on the latest happenings. Within a few days of doing solid research online or in the library, they quickly figure out that it is fairly easy to find information and will take no time to become proficient enough to speak intelligently in an interview. Women with access to the Internet can usually be directed to specific Web sites. Those without Internet access should be advised to purchase journals at a book store or told where to spend their time in the library doing research.
Updating Their Résumé
Many women wonder how they should present time off from the workforce on their résumé and in the interview. They also have concerns about what skills to present as a result of being a full-time mother and/or community volunteer. Studies (for example Arvey and Begalla, 1975; Consumer Contact, 1996; Ekstrom, Beier, Davis and Gruenberg, 1981; Hilton, 1993) suggest that many women acquire valuable skills through their unpaid work in the home and the community. Career Coaches should spend time with women to understand what they gained from their volunteer and stay-at-home experiences. They should also look for projects or activities performed by these women that require specific skills and could make them more attractive to potential employers.
Building a Network
Professional women who take time off for family duties notice that over time their professional network is replaced by a more social “mommy” network. Instead of scheduling lunch with a business associate, mothers find themselves scheduling lunch dates for the kids and tagging along. To get women comfortable with networking, coaches might work with them on how to talk about themselves and what they have been doing. This is usually the most comfortable process for people if they have never been a networker. For those who experience great difficulty in this area, coaches may need to attend a few networking meetings with them to show them how it works.
Creating a Professional Image
Some women need assistance updating their image because they feel their wardrobe or hairstyle is outdated. When coaches encounter women who need this service, they should give honest feedback about their attire and style. For those who need assistance, coaches should be prepared to offer up examples of appropriate business attire. They may also want to recommend a new hairstylist, makeup artist, or image consultant. The goal is to help these women feel like million-dollar professionals and help them control their fear so that they can make a positive addition to the workforce.