As much as you may want to believe that quitting your job to parent won’t affect your career long term, the unfortunate reality is that landing a job after a gap can be a challenge. You may have to learn new skills to stay current and the longer you have been out of work, the harder it can be. You will also be competing against applicants who haven’t left the marketplace and other parents looking to restart. According to Après Group, a career platform connecting employers with parents returning to the workforce, there are more than three million women in the U.S. with college or advanced degrees looking to get back in.
So how do you make yourself more marketable, boost your profile and get the job you want? Lauren Smith Brody, author and founder of Fifth Trimester Consulting, which helps workplaces improve their culture for new parents, and Jennifer Gefsky, the cofounder of Après, share their advice on how to avoid common mistakes and land an amazing job.
Mistake #1: Sending Out Your Resume Too Soon
Once the decision is made go back to work, the instinct is to immediately start applying for jobs. Don’t. Start by taking steps to make yourself relevant in the current market. “ You can’t go into an interview and say, “I haven’t worked in five or ten years, but here I am!” says Jennifer Gefsky. Do an internship, take an online course, or update your tech skills first. “I’m a huge fan of taking an in-person class and just being around people other than your social networks at home,” reveals Gefsky. “It’s putting yourself in a different world. It’s getting yourself ready to go.”
Mistake #2: Only Applying For Part-Time Openings
Part-time jobs can seem like a less jarring way to ease back into the workforce, however, Gefsky advises against limiting your search: To close off that majority of available jobs is a mistake. You will be excluding potentially great jobs that might ultimately be able to offer part-time down the road, but maybe aren’t going to offer it for a new employee.
Mistake #3: Not Leveraging Social Media
“The number one piece of advice I give people who have been out for a period of time is get on LinkedIn as soon as possible,” says Gefsky. Not only should you update your profile to include relevant skills, classes or internships, Gefsky suggests writing short articles on topics related to the career you want. This will build up your digital presence, personal brand, and show your expertise. “That advice surprises a lot of people because they think, ‘I’m not a writer!’ But that’s the amazing thing about LinkedIn, you can publish articles on your page,” says Gefsky. “Then, when people look you up, it’s, ‘Oh, wow, this person is totally up to speed on what’s going on in our industry.’”
Mistake #4: Not Asking For Help
Once you have established your digital presence and updated your skills and resume, you are ready to network. The key is to leverage all of the relationships you have. “There are all kinds of things we can learn from our personal relationships that apply to work,” explains Brody. Her advice? Ask a friend currently in the workforce to run through a mock interview with you or find out what qualities they look for with new employees. Even if they are in a different industry you can gain valuable insight and direction.
Mistake #5: Discounting The Skills You Learned As A Full-Time Parent
It’s easy to see your work life and home life as two totally separate arenas, but the skills learned in parenthood can definitely be a boost to any career. “You are probably better than ever at managing your time, your budget, your goals. You pivot more quickly between tasks. You know what’s worth saying yes to, and what’s not. Feel that empowerment when you enter into negotiations,” advises Brody. Also any volunteer work you did around your child—helping to organize events for school, leading committees, etc. Those should be added to your resume too. They can provide examples of your leadership, organization, finance, and management skills.
Mistake #6: Only Submitting Your Resume Online
One way to get noticed by recruiters who might overlook applicants with parenting gaps is to ask friends, family, or former co-workers to hand-deliver your resume to higher ups or their company’s HR reps. “It’s very hard to submit your resume and get noticed, especially when you’re competing against people who haven’t had a break,” says Gefsky. “The way you’re going to get hired is by people who know you. Networking is critical.”
Mistake #7: Revealing Your Previous Salary
Women are underpaid compared to their male counterparts in the same roles. They also undervalue themselves when they return to the workforce. A common mistake? Revealing your previous salary. “There are actually a number of states, including New York, that have passed laws recently that do not allow employers to ask about your previous salary. The thinking there is that it perpetuates the wage gap,” explains Brody. “If you were underpaid five years ago, don’t tell them that salary, because you are going to continue to be underpaid.” Instead, do your homework and research what going rates are for the role you are applying for.
Mistake #8: Rejecting A Step Back
The hard truth is that in some careers like law and finance, the longer your gap, the more likely you will have to take a more junior role when you return. Gefsky works with a lot of women who left managing director roles in finance when they had children, who then are surprised to only be offered jobs with Vice President titles upon their return. “Being humble, reasonable, and realistic is really important,” explains Gefsky. “You have to be cognizant of the fact that the world has continued to evolve while you’ve been out.”
Mistake #9: Underestimating Millennial Change
Back when you left the work force, millennials were the 20 year-old interns who seemed to push the envelope in the workplace. Well, fast forward to now, and that envelope pushing has led to real change and real integration of work and life that will benefit you as you adjust back to work, explains Brody. Discounting millennial colleagues is a mistake. Millennials will be 75% of the workforce by 2025 and Brody believes they are leading us toward more flexible and meaningful workplaces that will make it easier for working parents to stay balanced and connected to their families.
Mistake # 10: Not Using A Gap As An Opportunity To Pivot
“When you are working, you don’t have that time or ability to step back and say, “Is this really what I want to do?’” says Gefsky. Taking a career break offers the chance to reset your financial, work, and personal goals and find a career that can help you achieve them. You will have to prepare yourself for a new career by interning or taking a class, but you might also be doing those things to stay current in your former career. So why not use your gap as a chance to go for the career you really want?
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