When Kyle Pelletier, a Vancouver-based mom of three (Nathan, 14, Matthew, 12, and Brooke, 6), created a new resume five months ago, there were many gaps—the result of three maternity leaves and several positions that didn’t work out and left her out of work for six months to a year each time.
Unsure how to proceed, Pelletier says she turned to a career coach who advised her to highlight her skills, rather than chronologically listing her jobs. Going this route helped her realize that along with her sales experience, her volunteer stint at a counselling agency had also given her key skills. “She just sort of opened up my world,” says Pelletier of her experience with the career coach. “I’m not only skilled for one job.” She recently landed a social services role with the B.C. government.
Finding a job after you’ve been out of the workforce for a while can be particularly challenging. And the more time you’ve spent ferrying kids around, organizing playdates, and doing mountains of laundry, the further away your days as an accomplished professional may feel. But it is possible to reconnect with that side of you and make a smooth transition to a paid position.
Robin Altman, an executive business leadership coach with Radiate Coaching in Toronto says her clients often get bogged down with their inner critics, and begin to forget they once were skilled at their jobs. Her advice? “Remember what you did two years ago in that project, with all your strengths and talents,” says Altman. The most important thing to remember is that you’re “still the same person.”
“The key thing for someone who’s been out of the workforce is to show accomplishments,” she says. “That shows ‘My head was in it all the time.’”
That’s definitely something Kristie Obright, a former HR exec from Toronto can demonstrate. Despite a five-year hiatus to care for her two kids (Katie, 5, and Abbie, 20 months), Obright has kept her skills sharp. She’s been volunteering at two organizations: a hospital and an industry association. She’s also attended networking events, volunteer recognition nights and has stayed up on industry developments. And she stays connected to colleagues in the industry who may have information about possible jobs. “I’m on LinkedIn every night.”
Staying current in a field you want to return to can go a long way to keeping your confidence up. “Even if you’re out of work, there’s no reason you can’t be brushing up on your skills,” says Jennifer Chandler, a career consultant based in South Surrey, B.C. For example, if social media is now a big part of your job, sign up for a course on how to use social networking sites like Twitter. Ditto if there’s a new computer program that you need to learn.
Warren Orlans, a Toronto-based tax consultant, knew he’d have to change more than diapers after his first son, now nine, was born. Orlans decided to pursue an online MBA. “It was to go in a new direction,” says the father of three who used to work for the Canada Revenue Agency as a senior resource officer. “I was always in the business headspace.”
He also started networking like crazy with other parents. “You meet people you might otherwise never meet,” he says. “It taught me to open up and just walk up and talk to someone.”
His tricky juggling act—daddy by day, MBA student by night—paid off. Orlans started his own business nine months ago.
Take stock of all your accomplishments over the duration of your time away. “Don’t worry about apologizing or hiding or being embarrassed—look through the lens of your strengths and competencies,” says Nora Spinks, CEO of the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa, a think-tank that promotes awareness of family issues. She says you shouldn’t be afraid to say in your resume “that you managed a household, that you managed finances, that you advocated for a stoplight at a local park.”
A resume that shines a spotlight on your abilities rather than one that lists your positions chronologically works well this type of approach. “You’re creating a summary of your skills,” notes Chandler. “Really highlight and tailor it to what the employer is looking for.”
If you’ve scored an interview, keep things professional, says Shilo Davis, a partner with DF Consulting, a recruiting and HR consulting firm in Calgary. “So many new parents love to talk about their families, but quite honestly that can be damaging to their case.” Some employers are great and it won’t be an issue, says Davis. But others may view you as less committed to the role if you share, for example, that you have a two-year-old and are still looking for childcare.
In addition to researching the company to show you’ve done your homework (and to know what you’re getting into), be sure to sell what you’ve done on your leave, says Davis. “Employers worry when you’ve taken an extended period of time off work that you’re not ready to come back, or that you’ll need a heck of a lot of training and investment to bring you up to speed.” If you’ve done volunteering or retraining, be sure to stress this.
If you’re seeking a more flexible arrangement, Davis saves leave that discussion for another day. “I typically recommend waiting until an offer comes through before you start negotiating, because at that point you know the employer wants you and they know it too—so they’re more willing to negotiate,” says Davis.
She suggests working with the employer to come to an agreement rather than giving them a laundry list of your flex needs (such as Fridays off, shortened workdays, etc). “Be willing to compromise.” And if you’re asking for a modified work schedule, sell it. “Prepare a valuable proposal as to why this would be of value to them as well as you,” says Chandler.
Ultimately, Davis says that you should be honest about your intentions, especially if the job requires lots of overtime and you know you can’t make it work. “It’s better to pass on a job that won’t be accommodating enough for your family than it is to over-promise and over-commit, and not be able to live up to those expectations,” she says.
A wardrobe overhaul can go a long way to helping you look—and feel—like a professional again. Chandler says your best investment is a well-tailored blouse or shirt, along with good-quality pants that are up-to-date. She also suggests keeping jewelry and makeup conservative and skipping the perfume and cologne.
Consider hiring a stylist or enlisting a stylish—and employed—friend to help you figure out what clothes to replace. A sales associate at a clothing store you may also be able to recommend a few pieces that will work in a variety of work settings, says Chandler. Carmen Brimo, a Barrie Ont.-based sales and marketing professional, hit the stores after 13-year hiatus from the workforce.
New clothes may give you just the confidence boost you need. “You can start to see yourself differently,” says Chandler. “That comes across in the interview.”
Times change. And so might your job prospects. You might find that you can’t return to the same level you left at—or that your lifestyle, full of piano lessons and hockey tryouts, doesn’t allow for it.
After job hunting for the past four months, Obright has realized that “perfect” job—one that will mesh with her career plan, salary expectations and family’s needs—may be tough to find. “Coming into the job search, you have a vision of what you need to balance everything,” she says. “It takes four to five months to realize it doesn’t exist.”
Keeping your spirits up is critical during your job hunt. But Obright says that can be difficult, after sending out between 35 to 40 resumes and not finding a job that works for her family. “It’s a very humbling experience.”
Chandler says mental health breaks are key to keeping your mood and confidence up when the phone isn’t ringing and job leads don’t materialize. “Get outside before you start spinning your wheels.” Pelletier agrees. “Eat healthy. Go for a walk. People can get down and depressed.”
But remember, this won’t last forever. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been out for one year or nine years,” says Altman. “Everyone has something to contribute.”