Four Things to Do Before You Update Your Resume and Start Your Job Search
I hear from moms on a weekly basis who are ready to dip their toes back into the employment waters after years spent at home raising their children. Many of them are anxious, lack confidence, or are overwhelmed. Most of them wonder what to do about the gap on their resume. Some of them talk themselves out of the job hunt before they even begin. My work as a career coach, my HR background, and my status as a mom of three kids gives me a unique perspective on what it takes to dive back into paid employment if you’ve taken years off to raise your family.
First and foremost, resist the urge to jump right to updating your resume. While dusting off your professional branding is important, there are several even more crucial steps that you should take first.
1. Start freshening up your skills – While you’ve been home changing diapers, making tiny sandwiches, and mediating sibling squabbles, the work world has marched on. Whether you’ve been home for 3 years or 13, technology has changed the face of every industry and your skills will need a reboot. To get your skills current, make it a habit to start reading industry articles, blogs or white papers every week. You can start following professional organizations related to your industry on Facebook or LinkedIn. If you have certifications or licenses that have lapsed, start figuring out what you need to do to renew them. And you may consider taking some classes as a part of your retooling plan. Check community colleges or online universities for classes that might be a fit. A secret weapon I tell all my clients about is Lynda Learning (www.lynda.com). Completely free and available through most public libraries, Lynda offers a massive open course library of video courses to help in virtually every professional and business area. Not sure what skills you need? Start perusing job boards to get a sense of what qualifications and skills hiring managers are seeking in their desired applicants. Use those job postings to help you develop a plan for how to fill in your skills gaps.
2. Network, network, network - There’s no way around it – job boards aren’t your friend right now. In fact, they’re nobody’s friend. Only a very small percentage of job seekers land a job by simply responding to a job posting. The best way to tip the scales in your favor is through networking and an easy way to start networking is by simply being curious. As you talk to people in your life or meet new people (on the soccer sidelines, at the school science fair), ask questions to learn more about where they work, what they do, and what they enjoy about their organization. Allowing conversations to unfold in a natural way like this will help you quickly get the hang of networking. As you get more comfortable, you can start asking the people in your life to introduce you to others that might help you in your job search. And you should definitely reach back out to former colleagues and bosses as a part of your networking strategy. Remember, networking doesn’t mean asking everyone you know for a job. It does mean gathering information about potential jobs and target companies and letting people know you are beginning to ponder employment outside the home.
3. Create and practice an elevator story - Moms are pretty good at storytelling, especially to help little ones drift off to sleep. But now is the time to fine tune your own professional story – who you are, what you’re good at, and what you’d like to do next. Grab a piece of paper and start brainstorming how you would succinctly tell your story to the next new person you meet. Your elevator story should always be future-oriented and focused on what you can offer to an employer. For example, “My background is in marketing and I’m particularly passionate and experienced in marketing communications. I’ve helped small and medium sized companies execute their PR campaigns and improve their brand reputations. I have spent a few years at home dedicated to my family, but I’m excited to now reenter the job market.” Commit your elevator story to memory, and be ready to share it in all of your networking interactions.
4. Think outside the box – I’m a pre-worrier. If you’re not familiar with this particular “talent”, it means I’m very skilled at fixating on future events that may or may not even happen. After years of juggling my corporate job with my three kids, I longed for more time at home and a more flexible work arrangement. The day I turned in my resignation letter, I sat on the floor of my daughter’s bedroom and fought off a panic attack. I was convinced I would never be employable again and that I had closed the door on my career forever. I didn’t know then that a year later, I would start a business doing what I love while utilizing many of my professional skills AND that I’d also land a contract gig in a related area of passion and interest. The point is, when we limit our thinking, we’re bound to panic. As you prepare for a return to work, be open to alternatives to full-time employment. You may find contract or freelance assignments are the best path forward for now. Reentry via part-time work may also be attractive to you. And don’t discount consulting or entrepreneurship either. Careers don’t always follow a linear path and your new work identity may be a combination of several different gigs. Web sites like The Mom Project (www.themomproject.com) cater to degreed moms who want to be connected to professional roles, including full-time, contract, and freelance assignments.
In closing, taking thoughtful steps to lay a good foundation before you start applying to jobs will be time very well spent. Good luck, momma – you can do it!