My mom was a “stay-at-home” mom. Back in the dark ages (the 20th century) this was the societal norm for women after they had been carried through the door of marriage; it was an assumption taken for granted by family, friends, prospective employers and most women themselves.
But even if current society has opened up a bit, it hasn’t progressed as far as we’d like to think. Women returning to work after a two-, five-, or ten- year absence still have to face the BIG QUESTION during a typical job interview: “What have you been doing for the past N years?”
And though, “Well…I’ve been raising my children!” may be the honest answer, it is not the best one.
So to make sure that your return to the workplace is a successful one, you should oblige yourself to “stay involved” during your time away. Just as importantly, you should list such activities on your resume or (more commonly) your cover letter. Here are a number of doable, flexible suggestions you might consider:
Join a professional association. Industry-specific professional associations offer a range of opportunities (training, social events, workshops) that enable one to keep up-to-date with that particular industry’s trends. If you are able to take up a leadership position (this could take up as little as five hours of your time per week), such will provide an especially noteworthy way to demonstrate your commitment to the field, as well as expanding your professional network. Contacts made during this time will regard your contributions as 100% legitimate—not as a side-act while you raised your child.
Complete a part-time or temporary work assignment. Yes, I know…you’ve left your full-time job so as to devote more time to the care of your child. But if you can find just five or ten hours per week (even for a short period) to take on consulting or freelance work, it will help to rectify employment gaps on your resume and attest to your dedication to the field.
Blog! Do you like to compose captivating text like I do? J Blogs give you a great opportunity to develop and demonstrate your writing chops and flex a little intellectual muscle in the bargain. It provides a way to maintain connections to your industry and expand your following of professional contacts that have the same interests as you do. Don’t want to start your own blog? Consider contributing to the chatter on others, or on relevant Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups and Twitter feeds.
Take an online course. Completing a course in a functional or technical area related to your work is a great way to stay connected while you’re out on maternity or unpaid leave. When you do return to work, you’ll radiate with the confidence that comes with being up to speed (such a glow always comes in handy during a job interview). Don’t have the money to take a course? Consider learning some new job-related software on your own; perhaps find relevant ways to apply it to industry-specific challenges.
Write an article. Contribute a research or opinion piece to a reputable news source or industry newsletter. As with blog posts, you’ll grow smarter in the process…and you’ll get noticed.
Not Any ‘Ol Work
It’s important to remember that simply taking on any activity is not going to cut it. It’s got to be something that’s industry-relevant. Working part-time at your husband’s electrical supply company or helping your friend coordinate her church fundraiser or volunteering at a local non-profit…while commendable activities…won’t provide the necessary oomph that will distinguish your resume from those of others. In 90% of cases with my clients returning to work from a self-imposed respite, I suggest that they remove irrelevant jobs from their resumes because it can wind up doing more harm than good.
Should you share the fact that you’ve been a full-time mom on your resume or cover letter (note: typically your cover letter is the better bet)? It all depends on how long you’ve been away from full-time employment, how much relevant activity you can boast about during your time away and your target industry/sector (some are more progressive than others!).
The best course, obviously, is to plan ahead. Don’t put yourself out of work for two years and then scramble to find something pertinent to add to your resume or cover letter or LinkedIn profile. If you foresee an extended period away from work, seek out part-time or short-term experiences in order to have a foundation to build upon once junior is born.
Finally, do not assume an apologetic tone in your cover letter or during interviews. By staying involved during your time away from full-time employment you proclaim yourself strongly allied to your particular field—almost as if you never left! And this will make you more confident and prepared when you re-launch your job search.