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Career Planning for Parents Returning to Work

It was probably difficult making the decision to either stay home with your children or return to work after they were born. And it can be an equally tough decision about when and if it’s right to return to the workforce. If you’ve decided this is the best path for you and your family, you’ll have to clear some unique hurdles that others vying for a limited number of open jobs aren’t facing.

Here’s how to craft an effective career plan for any parent—mom or dad—turning to work after months or years spent at home, parenting full time.

Decide if you should or want to change careers

Step one: decide if you’d like to return to the career you left, or if you want to start in a new direction.

There are many reasons you may choose to leave the field you previously worked in: your interests may have changed, you may have found new skills and strengths you’d like to apply in the work world, the industry you left have may have changed, or your old job may not be compatible with family life (long or unusual hours, frequent travel, etc.).

Whether you’re looking for a change in your career or hoping to return to the same job, it’s important to spend time researching industry changes and trends, possibly taking online classes, and reading professional articles to get you up to speed. If you can afford it, consider temporary or part-time employment while you get your feet wet as an employed parent and as you fill out your resume.

When considering which career direction to pursue, see if one path offers options for telecommuting, flexible schedule in-office work, or freelancing as these may offer you the perfect mix of full-time employment and schedule flexibility.

Getting an interview

Step two: structure your resume and conduct networking like a pro to get job interviews.

One of the biggest challenges that parents returning to the workforce face is combating the perception—however incorrect it may be—that they are less reliable, less committed to work, and less deserving of the job than other applicants. This perception by employers is called the “mommy gap bias” (although it can happen to returning dads, too). According to a study by Kate Weisshar, an assistant professor of sociology at UNC Chapel Hill, only 4.9 percent of stay-at-home moms received a callback from potential employers, compared to 9.7 percent of unemployed mothers and 15.3 percent of working mothers. A properly updated resume, relentless networking, and prepared interview answers can go a long way in overcoming these statistics.

The worn adage “it’s not what you know but who you know that gets you the job” still holds true for parents returning to work, which is why networking is crucial to landing your next job.

A corporate job posting receives an average of 250 applications, but only four of those applicants receive callbacks—and you can bet those four are likely to have used networking to get them that far. Don’t rely on blindly submitting resumes online—you must get out of the house and start talking about your return to work with everyone.

Use your existing network to get your name out and see if anyone knows of an open position somewhere that would be right for you. Ask around at church, at play groups, at the kids’ soccer practice and piano recitals, at your favorite coffee shop, at the gym, on alumni boards, on LinkedIn, at your stylist—see potential connections everywhere and you’re more likely to find one!

These connections can also help you freshen up your resume and prepare you for a stellar interview. Take friends or former colleagues out to lunch and ask them what’s new in the industry, what trends are making waves, and what they think you need to know. These same connections—former colleagues, bosses, and clients—know your work ethic, work quality, experience and can vouch for you as references or personal connections to hiring managers. They can speak to your character as an employee, which can help hiring managers focus on the skills listed on your resume instead of the years between your last job and now.

Speaking of resumes, there are a few things you can do to minimize focus on your time out of the office and highlight your relevant strengths:

Whatever your path to an interview, enter it with confidence. Being able to confidently answer why you decided to stay home and why you chose to return to work shows commitment and serious thought!

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