Whether you've been out of the workforce because you were laid off or because you decided to be a stay-at-home mother, our advice will help you get back in the game.
Theresa Hornberger began her career straight out of college as a mutual fund accountant, then left in 1999 to raise her two children. Now that her children are in school and her father is able to care for them in the afternoons, the Williston Park mom has decided it's an ideal time for her to return to work. And although her husband (who is also an accountant) has been the primary breadwinner, they're presently facing financial pressures. "We're able to pay our bills, but saving money and planning for the future is a little difficult right now," she says. Hornberger hopes to find a position by September.
In the time she's been out of work, Hornberger says the method for finding a position has changed dramatically. Then, she had headhunters calling constantly. Today, although she has applied to two temporary agencies, she hasn't received a single call. "I'm not actively in the field and speaking with the professionals. I wish I knew what my plan was going to be."
Last February, Takisha Sexton of Brooklyn was laid off from her position as an account coordinator for an advertising agency. She started looking for another job during the summer, but when her 8-year-old's camp plans didn't work out, Sexton decided she would spend the summer with her daughter. "I was working so much, but when I was laid off, I had a lot of time and my family became closer," she explains. When Sexton's unemployment and severance started running out, however, she needed to resume her job search. She began looking in September-and has been looking ever since.
Sexton says that while she would like to return to advertising, she realizes that she may have to take a different job at a lower salary. She has taken computer classes to freshen up her skills and decided to return to college to finish her degree. She also works with a counselor at the Department of Unemployment, has attended job fairs, and says she applies to 25-30 jobs a week she finds on sites like Monster, Careerbuilder and LinkedIn. "It's so difficult because I send out so many resumes and I don't even get a call for an interview-I fear that I'll never get to that next step," she says. In terms of making new contacts and networking, Sexton knows her introverted personality holds her back.
"I really need to get out there, but I wouldn't know the first thing about that," she says. And when it comes to social media, she admits that Generation Y candidates seem less fearful about using these tools. "They're more technologically advanced. I'm just not as savvy as some of them are."
Moms like Theresa Hornberger and Takisha Sexton are not alone in their experiences. In a study conducted by The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, half of moms looking to return to work said they were frustrated by the job search, and 18 percent described the process as depressing.
A 2005 report by the Harvard Business Review and the Center for Work-Life Policy found that most moms who took time off to raise their children wanted to return to the workforce-yet only 74 percent of women succeed, and only 40 percent return to full time positions. In what is considered to be one of the worst job markets in recent history (the national unemployment rate at press time was 9.7 percent), being out of the workforce for 11 years as Hornberger has been can make an already daunting job search seem impossible.
If these experiences sound all too familiar, read on for the best advice we could find on making your own search manageable, and upping your chances of finding work after mommyhood.
You, the Business
Gone are the days when you send your resume via snail mail, have an interview and start work the following week. "The 'job search' is no longer just that. It's a marketing and outreach process- and the product is you," says Donna Sweidan, founder of Careerfolk, LLC.
"You have to cast a really wide net because you never know which job search method is going to lead to an opportunity," explains Lindsey Pollak, a career expert and LinkedIn spokesperson. One of the most relevant ways to market yourself and your brand is on the web. "If you don't have an online presence, you're essentially invisible," she says. It is vital to not only be "google-able," but to be active, since employers are recruiting heavily online. Pollak suggests setting up a LinkedIn profile, making quality contacts that you know and trust, and using the site to research your industry and keep up with the trends. "It's that visibility that's so crucial."
Tory Johnson, CEO of Women for Hire, notes that LinkedIn is also an easy way to reconnect with former colleagues. Although an online presence is important, applying to jobs online is not usually enough. "The emphasis on online applications can lead to a false sense of accomplishment," she says. Networking is the crucial next step. Find someone who works at the company where you are applying, then "make a connection and get your foot in the door."
Other ways moms can market themselves online? "Twitter is probably one of the most powerful and misunderstood tools today, but it's crucial for the job seeker and those who are changing industries," according to Sweidan, who says that there are 400,000 jobs that come through Twitter each month. She suggests taking a class to learn how to optimize it for job searching. "It's the easiest way to directly connect with someone without any barriers." And as for Facebook-use your status updates to tell your family and friends that you're looking for a job or to tell them about a class you're taking. You can also ask them for contacts and suggestions and join professional groups and fan pages. Remember, though, that it's best to keep your settings private if you're posting personal information.
Network, Network, Network
According to CareerXroads's annual Source of Hire study, more than 26 percent of external hires are made by referrals, and experts agree that personal connections are key to landing that coveted position. "One of the biggest mistakes a lot of moms make is that they think their network only consists of other moms, when they really need to think of all these other moms as their network," according to Johnson. After all, just because these other moms are not working, they have family, friends, and neighbors who are. Attending industry events, informational interviews, and even telling everyone you know and meet that you're looking are all great ways to network your way to a job. "If someone can vouch for you, your work ethic and work style, that counts for a lot more than looking at a resume," she says. Joining professional associations that are appropriate for your industry and volunteering for their committees is a valuable way to expand your network, too. "By joining a group, you're now surrounded by the people in your industry and you can start to engage with all of them online too," says Sweidan.
Enlist a Pro?
Whether you haven't worked in five or 15 years, you still have skills-but it's necessary to take an honest and thorough assessment of what you're good at and what you enjoy. "Moms who haven't worked for many years will have a hard time recognizing their value and being able to articulate it," explains Sweidan. A career coach can help you identify your skill sets, find a way to make them relevant again, and package everything in a compelling way. Recognize, of course, that "you're not hiring someone to get you a job, you're hiring them to help you become a better, more strategic job seeker," explains Johnson. She suggests finding a career coach who specializes in women reentering the workforce. If that isn't in your budget, many job seekers are returning to their colleges' career centers for some guidance. By talking to people in the industry you may decide that you need to return to school, take a class or get a new certification.
Fill The Gap
It's crucial to be very strategic and demonstrate how active you were during your time away and how your experience is a good fit for a given position. Johnson says seeking out temporary positions through an agency should be a part of every candidate's strategy, and her organization has seen recent growth in this area. Being creative and flexible is key. Consider becoming a consultant or working at simultaneous part-time jobs, an internship, or as a volunteer at a place where you can strengthen your skills set. "It's these opportunities along with other types of short-term paid ones where you get to showcase your skills. They can provide you with the most access to the job market," says Sweidan. If volunteer experience fills the gap, make sure you can convey your accomplishments as transferrable skills. "Use the language of the professional world to describe what you've done," says Pollak. And when you get the interview, don't dismiss your experience. "Just because you didn't get paid, doesn't mean it's not just as valid. And never apologize for the fact that you took time out to be with your kids."
Brand Yourself an Expert
Immerse yourself in your industry in order to be recognized as an expert. "Act as if you're already in that field. Your goal is to sound like an insider," says Pollak. Join professional organizations and participate in their communities, read e-newsletters, comment on blogs, follow industry leaders on Twitter, and review books on Amazon. "Be in that world as much as you can without actually getting a paycheck from it yet," she says.
Looking for new opportunities can be frustrating but setting realistic goals can make the process a little less intimidating. "Recognize that even people without a gap are having a difficult time. You have to set realistic expectations," explains Johnson. "The dream scenario may not be your reality." You may have to explore a different industry, take a lower starting salary or consider freelance work.
Setting aside enough time for both your job search and for yourself go hand in hand. Pollak suggests joining a mastermind group to get support from other job seekers, or simply making time to exercise, see a movie or read a book. "The worst thing you can do is sit in your house and be depressed. You have to get out and do something because any step you take is taking you a step closer to a job."