I’ve been home with my kids since they were babies. They’re older now and I’d like to go back to work, but I feel like Rumpelstiltskin, like I’ve been asleep for years and years, and now I’m waking up and the world has changed. I’ve changed, too. I don’t exactly have a beard, but I am definitely not the 30-something that I used to be. I’m older and fatter and nothing fits any more. And just thinking about job interviews makes me want to cry.
All the same, I’m not rethinking my decision. Even though I’m starting at square zero, I know that working again would make me happier. I also want to set a good example for my daughters. There aren’t that many stay-at-home moms these days, and I don’t want them to grow up thinking that’s the norm, or to feel guilty if they make a different choice.
How do I get back in the game?
Yay you!!! You are where so many of us want to be, with a confident decision in hand and the courage to embrace it. So take a minute to breathe deeply and feel relieved. The hard part is over. It’s no longer a question of what or why. Now it’s just how.
There’s a reason women like us are called “on-ramp moms.” You can see the highway and you want to get there. But first you need to repair the car and get up to speed.
Step 1: Declutter your life. You’ll need several hours a week to hunt for a job. Look at your calendar for the last month and find things that sucked time and energy without giving much in return. Are they one-time events or are they recurring? Can you quit any of them altogether, even if it’s hard on other people? (I’ll take my own advice here and confess to a ginormous and ongoing volunteer act for my son’s school that does neither of us any good, overly generous carpooling, and editing a local newsletter for free.)
Step 2: Write your resume, and take a moment to realize how awesome you are. And don’t let your inner critic stop you. Writing a resume can seem scary at first, especially with that ten-year gap called “Homemaker.” But in the 10 years you were asleep a new kind of resume became popular: the “hybrid” resume. Instead of listing your work experience chronologically or by skills, it lists your key accomplishments early, backed up by your experience. It will hide your recent fallow period and at the same time highlight your abilities. For an excellent example, see http://www.careerplanner.com/perfect-resume/Hybrid-Resume-Format.cfm.
Step 3: List every member of your network. They might be former coworkers who still remember how amazing you are, people you’ve done volunteer work for, old friends you’ve connected with through social media, or influential mom friends who are also “on hiatus.” Now list the ways each one of those people might help you. Do they have access to people you’d like to hire you? Or people you’d like to work with? Can they line up interviews for you, whether they’re simple but informational coffee talks or actual job interviews? Would it be helpful to talk with any of them about their experiences in the industry you’re targeting?
Step 4: Gussy up. For me, a good haircut is the first step toward feeling ten pounds lighter and ten pounds younger. If you’re into manicures, skip the DIY polish and get a professional one (tip: spend the extra $10 for shellac, which lasts two or three weeks without chipping). And buy one professional outfit—including shoes—that’s a little nicer than what you would wear in the job you’re looking for. Don’t waste time boo-hooing over old work clothes that are too small. Buy clothes that fit and flatter the body you have now.
Step 5: Sharpen your tools. If your skills are outdated, think about taking a continuing ed or an online course. Buy a book. Practice. Anything that brings you up to date and gives you confidence.
Step 6: Visualize being calm and confident during interviews. Prepare for the moment when a hiring manager asks what you’ve been doing for the last 10 years. Practice explaining that you chose to stay home with your children while they were young, and mention any relevant volunteer experience. (Note the word “chose,” and don’t wince or roll your eyes or apologize for it.) Then quickly steer the conversation back to the position and your qualifications.
Step 7: Tap your network. Now that you look good and feel good, get in touch with the people you’ve listed and start moving forward. Don’t be discouraged if a hundred informational interviews is all you can score. Think of job hunting as a part-time job itself, and plan to spend 10-15 hours a week doing that job.
Tapping your network isn’t always about asking for help. It’s also about giving. If you see a news bit that might interest someone, email them with a friendly note and the link. If someone gets a job themselves, call or email to congratulate them. Ditto for LinkedIn announcements or Facebook posts.
The final step? Remember this, Rusty: You already know that going back to work will make you happier, and possibly a better mother to your daughters. Draw confidence from that, and leave behind the sadness of feeling outdated and outmoded. Your future is a giant YES that’s just waiting for you to walk toward it, step by step.