Bottles to Briefcases: How to Return to the Workforce
After spending 15 years as a stay-at-home mom to her now 18-year-old daughter, Susan Lane, 53, of Oceanside was forced to return to work after her divorce. Lane, a former school teacher with a Master’s degree and a teaching certification couldn’t find a teaching job. She knew she had to change her career goals. While sitting on the sidelines at her daughter’s tennis lesson, she met a board member of a not-for-profit school. He asked her if she’d like to help out with an upcoming gala.
The experience was a life-changer: Lane decided she wanted to be a fundraiser. She found the Association of Fundraising Professionals and took classes to get her certification in development and fundraising management. Through the organization and volunteer efforts she was able to network and find herself a position as director of development for Hope for Youth, a not-for-profit organization in Amityville. Her hard-earned advice to other parents is: “Open the doors and windows of your mind and use your eyes to see new opportunities to further your new career.”
Find Your Way
Lane is just one story. In the midst of the worst recession in 20 years many stay-at-home moms are being forced to return to the workforce due to their spouses’ unemployment, salary cuts or lost assets. Women in this situation find they face self-esteem issues, technology gaps and decreased networking skills.
Fortunately, there are many services to help women find their way in a world where competition is fierce. Women who have been home raising their kids are in a situation where they must compete with people that have recently been laid off and have never been out of the work force.
The United Jewish Appeal of New York –UJA-offers workshops and individual counseling services through its Connect to Care program that’s available at synagogues throughout the New York area. In Suffolk, women can connect with the Displaced Homemaker Resource Center, a program offered through the Suffolk County Department of Labor. The program is open to people – usually women – who have been supported by another family member who has lost their income. In Nassau women can take a career workshop series offered by Hempstead Works – a federally funded organization that partners with the Department of Labor. The workshop series includes resume writing, interviewing skills, job search correspondence and Internet for the job seeker.
“The first step for a stay-at-home mom is to convince an employer that you’re serious about going back to work,” says Nancy Collamer, founder of Jobs & Moms Career Center in Connecticut, an on-line center connecting women returning to the workforce and employers.
“You must take steps to bring your skills up-to-date,” Collamer says. “[Next] there’s a technology gap. Things are changing so quickly. People who never took time off have to keep up and so do you. You need to find out what technology is needed in your field and be sure to be familiar with it.”
The good news is there are lots of options in the world of training. You can find training courses on-line. Computer classes are also offered at local libraries and training centers. You can also attend a university or a community college.
“People hear college and get nervous,” Collamer says. “There are certificate programs that are less expensive and offered in a shorter period of time. “
Attending classes gives you the opportunity to meet people who are actively involved in the field and gives you the chance to find out about opportunities. Gaining skills also increases confidence.
For people that don’t have time to attend classes the temporary employee route may be the way to go.
“It gives companies the opportunity to get to know you,” Collamer says. “While most temporary jobs are entry-level administrative positions they give you the opportunity to meet people and show how bright and eager you are. Don’t trumpet your skills on the first day, but [as time goes on] let them know what you are capable of.”
Networking and Resume-Building
When you’re ready to compete in your chosen field, networking is the key to finding a new position.
“It’s not a resume that will get you an interview, it’s that person you met who refers you,” said Valentina Janek, founder of the Long Island Breakfast Club, a networking organization that has 855 members.
Experts recommend that women join organizations in their field. Volunteer work is also very important.
“Don’t sit home in front of the computer answering want ads,” says Lane. “Jobs won’t come that way.
“[When networking] you must be clear about your objective,” says Vivian Rabin, founder of Irelaunch.com, an on-line networking organization for women returning to the workforce and co-author of Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work (Warner Business Book, $14). “You must have a well-developed, 30-second pitch about what you’re looking for and what you can bring to the table. [Remember that] employers look for passion and enthusiasm. A person that just got laid off might be bitter. A person returning to the work force isn’t burnt out.”
Of course once you find the right person, a well-worded resume is extremely important to land that job.
“If you don’t have work history in the last five years I don’t recommend a traditional resume,” said Ana-Maria Hurtado, commissioner of the Department of Occupational Resources in Hempstead, who runs Hempstead Works. Instead of a chronological resume write a skills- based resume. State your goals, your skills and educational background. Include any volunteer work you may have, like working in your church or synagogue, PTA and not-for-profits. List your work history at the bottom.
Make sure you have keywords on your resume. Keywords are different for every field. In the field of sales, for example, key words would be “hunter,” “trade show” and “ad manager.”
“Remember your resume is scanned by a computer first,” says Nancy, of Rockville Center (who asked that her full name be withheld) a single mom who was home with her kids for four years, then was forced to go back to work for financial reasons. “You can find key words by looking at the job description. List a few words that describe what they’re looking for and what you do.”
Re-entering the working world can seem daunting. But taken in small steps anything is possible.
“Being home isn’t something to be ashamed and embarrassed about,” said Bob Simmons, founder of Career Transition Associates, a career coaching company in Plainview. “You’ve done something meaningful. You’ve raised a child.”
Dana Klosner-Wehner is a mom of two who has successfully juggled her freelance career with raising her kids. Her work has appeared in Newsday, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun and Maryland Life magazine.