Women put their careers on hold for a variety of reasons including the birth of a child, to take care of an ailing family member or even because of a spouse’s relocation. However, this time off can be detrimental to a woman’s future career prospects. When a prospective employer sees a gap in employment on a resume, it can be a red flag. The good news is that there are several ways that women can ramp up their careers after time out of the workforce.
Allison O’Kelly, founder and CEO of Mom Corps, shares three tips for women who are preparing to reenter the workforce after taking time off.
1. Put yourself out there
“The definition of networking has changed substantially over the years; it’s about networking creatively and strategically. You don’t have to put on a power suit and attend a sometimes awkward business luncheon or cocktail reception in order to collect business cards and contacts anymore,” said O’Kelly. “Some of today’s best networking takes place at the soccer field with parents of your children’s friends, over Twitter and Facebook with other working parents' groups, and while volunteering in your community. Cast a wide net in order to set yourself up for as many leads as possible, and let your network know what you’re looking for with a prepared elevator speech.”
I can personally attest to O’Kelly’s suggestion of putting yourself out there. I started blogging after a fellow member of a car enthusiast club asked if anyone in the group was a writer. I responded that I had a background in writing and so he hired me to write for his "American Idol"-themed blog. I never would have thought that a writing job would have come from my association with a car club, but my first paid blogging job did.
2. Stay current with a professional association.
O’Kelly explains that staying current helps ease the transition back into the workforce, “Almost every career field has a professional association that holds meetings, conferences, training sessions, etc. Getting involved in these organizations often requires little commitment, since it is on a volunteer basis. However, you can stay relevant in your field by attending and speaking at these events, writing for the association newsletter, or representing the local chapter at national events. This provides something to fill in the resume gap, as well as allows you to market yourself to others in the field.”
A survey conducted by Work+Life+Fit, Inc. shows that, “61 percent of hiring managers said that an updated, current skill set was the most important success factor for hiring employees who had led the company or workforce.” Staying current on your skill set, in addition to staying current with a professional association, will help set you apart from others, even if you have a resume gap.
3. Don’t apologize!
“The biggest challenge we see for women reentering the workforce is projecting confidence during interviews for what they have accomplished professionally. It’s not about defending your time out of the workforce, it’s about focusing on the impressive work you've done and the initiatives you’ve taken since then,” explained O’Kelly. “Talk with a former colleague and ask how they would describe you in a professional environment. Ditch the last suit you wore on the job and dress for success with a new outfit. It can really give you a boost.”
While O’Kelly’s tips are great for women who are planning to reenter the workforce after an employment break, there are also steps that employers can make to minimize the need for breaks in the first place – specifically workplace flexibility.
I asked Cali Williams Yost, CEO and founder of Flex+Strategy Group and Work+Life+Fit, Inc., if more flexibility in the workplace would reduce the need for women to leave the workforce for non-childbirth reasons. Yost explained, “With alternatives that would allow them to work differently for a period of time, people would be less likely to see 'quitting' as their only option to staying."
Flexibility in the workplace also benefits women reentering the workforce, “Having the flexibility to transition back into your job on a reduced schedule or even working from home a couple of days a week for a period of time, does make it much easier,” said Yost.
This topic is near and dear to my heart. I made the decision to leave the workforce in 2001 after my son was born. Although I didn’t plan on returning to work, I had no way of knowing if I’d need to get a job one day in the future so I focused on keeping my skill set fresh. In my opinion, it is important that women who take time off from work taks the necessary steps to keep their resumes up-to-date because you never know when you may have to return to work.
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