Many professional women intend to ramp their careers back up after taking a planned break from the workforce to raise their children. If you're one of these "sequencing" moms, how can you ease your transition back to the world of meetings and memos after you've spent the last year -- or the last 10 -- reading more Dr. Seuss than Wall Street Journal? Experts offer these tips for keeping yourself marketable during your planned downshift and getting back in gear after your hiatus.
Don't Drop Out Completely
Women who make the most seamless transitions back into the workforce are those who don't ever leave it completely. "If you think work is part of your personal reality, find a way to keep your toe in the water," says Cali Williams Yost, president and CEO of the Madison, New Jersey-based consultancy Work+Life and author of Work + Life: Finding the Fit That's Right for You. This could mean that during your "break," you work part-time or take occasional projects from your former employer. At the very least, keep up with what's happening in your industry by reading trade publications or staying in touch with former colleagues.
Volunteering not only feels good, but it can also bulk up your resume. Do "resume-quality" volunteer work that is applicable to your field or expands your skills, recommends Kathryn Sollmann, cofounder of Wilton, Connecticut-based Women@Work Network, a networking and recruiting organization.
Toot Your Own Horn
Don't undervalue your volunteer and other unpaid work, Yost says. If you were head of the PTO, you can tell a potential employer that you managed a nonprofit with a budget of X dollars. If you sold Tupperware or helped your husband run his business, you could bill yourself as an entrepreneur.
Network, Network, Network
Create an elevator pitch about what you want to do, and give it to everyone you meet, from other parents at your kids' school to strangers in the supermarket line, Sollmann says. Your college alumni association and professional organizations also provide valuable networking opportunities, says Kristin Maschka, president of Mothers & More, a nonprofit networking, education and support group for mothers with chapters nationwide.
Package Yourself Properly
As with any job seeker, a well-written resume and professional demeanor during interviews are keys to a successful return. A skills-based rather than a chronology-based resume may make the perceived gap in your work history less obvious, Maschka says.
Maschka also recommends you prepare for and practice answering the "what do you do?" question. Illegal interview questions include those asking about your marital status and whether you have children. But if it comes up indirectly in an interview, make sure you feel comfortable and confident describing your current role and responsibilities. To anyone who asks what she does, Maschka responds, "Right now, I have two unpaid jobs, a volunteer management position with a nonprofit organization and the unpaid job of caring for my child." And don't apologize for a gap in paid work on your resume. "Taking care of kids is not a break or vacation," she adds.
You probably will not immediately regain the pay and prestige you had before you got off the fast track, and you might not want to if your pre-kids job required long hours and travel. But don't be discouraged. As a returning professional, you have a chance for a second career that will probably be longer and may be more interesting than what you did before your hiatus, Sollmann says. "You've got maybe 25 [working] years ahead of you," she says. "You can really dig into something."
People 45 to 64 comprise the fastest-growing segment of workers in the US, Sollmann notes. This is good news for sequencing moms. "Employers not only want you, but need you," she says. A can-do attitude, paired with the growing demand for older workers, will land you back in the workforce. "If you present yourself as a returning professional, you will be perceived as a working professional," she says. "If you present yourself as a soccer mom, you'll be perceived as a soccer mom."