You never feel more like a stay-at-home mom than when you decide to go back to work. It doesn’t matter if your hiatus has been three years or 13. You know you’re ready, willing, and able to get back in the game.
Unfortunately, most of the time, you quickly find the working world thinks otherwise.
“You’re great, but we’re looking for someone with more digital experience…”
“You certainly had a lot of achievements. But the job you did doesn’t really exist anymore…”
Breaking your way back in is hard to do. Make that very hard to do.
But it’s certainly not impossible, and in my experience working with women who’ve made the transition successfully, four strategies in particular are effective. The first, with apologies, is a little tough love.
1. Reset your expectations
When you made the decision to stay home with your kids, you knew there would be professional consequences. And if you’ve started a job search, you’re probably facing the worst of them right now, namely the fact that you may have to go backwards to go forward again. The culprit is technology, which has transformed whole industries while you were away, rendering some skills meaningless and others imperative. Unless you’ve kept abreast of every such change, you most likely will not re-enter the workforce at the level at which you exited. Demoralizing? It can be. But maybe it’s better to think of it as a small price to pay for the priceless years you spent with your kids.
2. Fill your deficit holes
We all know you cannot talk your way around a missing skill set on your resume, or promise a hiring manager that you’ll learn quickly on the job. It doesn’t work. Fortunately, there are literally thousands of online courses, offered by universities, tech schools, and companies like Lynda.com, not to mention articles and books and videos, that can help you play catch up. Some such classes are free, others costly. Regardless, education is an investment in your brave new future, and one you must make.
3. Establish the brand of you
You know your brain didn’t shrivel up while you were at home, but the multi-year hole in your resume still shouts, “out of the loop” to most hiring managers, especially if they search for you online and come up empty-handed. The best antidote is to immediately become the CEO of your own brand, and aggressively market that brand in the digital space, especially on Twitter and LinkedIn. Demonstrate that you’re fully engaged intellectually with the people, news events, and ideas central to your field of employment. In other words, create a digital footprint that shows you know and care about the professional sphere you hope to enter.
4. Tackle the elephant in the room
Too often, hiring managers look at mothers re-entering the workforce, and they wonder, “Is she ready? Will she regret coming back? Can she manage?” I’m not saying they’re not empathetic. Many are. But they’re scared. Your task in any interview is to relieve them of that fear. Make it clear you’ve carefully considered the decision to return to work, and you have the mechanisms to make it possible. Your capacity to fully commit to the job is the elephant in the room — tackle it to the ground before it squashes you.
If these strategies sound daunting, remember something: You learned how to juggle flaming swords in those years you were home, managing a thousand moving pieces with a baby on your hip. Leaving your career wasn’t easy. Starting it again won’t be either. But you’re older and wiser and stronger now. The world awaits your re-entrance, it just doesn’t know it yet.
Suzy Welch is the co-author, with her husband, Jack Welch, of the international bestsellers "Winning" and "The Real-Life MBA." On her own, she is the author of the New York Times bestseller about decision-making, "10-10-10: A Life-Transforming Idea." Connect with Suzy on Twitter and on Instagram.