When you’ve taken time off from your career to raise children, making the transition back to work can be a challenge. Jackie Gaines, M.S., R.N. shares insights to help you re-enter the workforce with ease.
Pensacola, FL (September 2020)—Like many professional women, you’ve chosen to “pause” your career for motherhood. You love being a mom but you also love being a leader. And whether you’ve been home a few months, a year, or even longer, you know that at some point in the not-too-distant future you’re going to return to the workforce.
That’s great says Jackie Gaines—we’re fortunate to live at a time when women can achieve their professional goals and fulfill their dreams of motherhood. But it’s important to stay sharp and prepared for the challenge ahead.
“When women think about re-entering the workforce, all kinds of questions race through their minds,” says Gaines, author of Wearing the Yellow Suit: A Guide for Women in Leadership (Huron|Studer Group Publishing, 2020, ISBN: 978-1-62218-110-0, $24.00). “Is it too late to hit the restart button? Have I lost my edge? Can I convince prospective employers that I can hit the ground running in a fast-paced business environment?”
The ease of re-entry is directly correlated to the length of time away from your field of interest, says Gaines. The landscape could look totally different from how you remember it. Organization cultures evolve, new technologies emerge, and the general pace of change is high. But don’t worry, says Gaines, you’ve got this! Leaders of today are constantly challenged to stay current and relevant. This too is a challenge of a leader who is ready to re-enter the workforce.
Read on for some tips for getting interview ready.
Be an information sponge! During your time away from your career, absorb as much current information as possible. Have self-discipline in your approach to learning. Schedule a date with yourself at least once a month to review an article, read a book, take a class, or chat with a mentor about hot topics in your field. It’s also a great time for self-reflection. Grab a pad and a pencil and make a list of all the things you’ve done in the last six months to enhance your job knowledge and skills. Then, candidly evaluate your list. Would you feel comfortable showing it to your employer as an example of a good continuous learning plan? If yes, stay at it! If no…change it!
Build transferrable skills with volunteer roles. Volunteering is a great way to keep your skills sharp and even learn new ones while you aren’t working,” says Gaines. “Find organizations you care about and lend them your skills and abilities. Remember, this experience will look great on your résumé alongside your work history.
Update your résumé. Lead with your strengths, says Gaines. Don’t forget about “transferrable skills.” For many employers, soft skills, such as reliability, positive attitude, and an eagerness to learn is just as important as technical skills, often more so. Do not underestimate the skills we use in our everyday lives. Skills honed as a homemaker and community member can open doors and serve as the foundation of a rewarding career. For instance, homemaking skills require the ability to make decisions, handle responsibility, and work with others. Share your résumé with a mentor or peer in your field for an honest critique.
Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for work. Spread the word that you’re ready to relaunch your career. Don’t be afraid to ask friends, relatives, former colleagues, and acquaintances to refer you at their companies. This is a great way to get interviews, and it usually works far better than applying to posted listings. Remember, people like to help out when they can.
Find the right match. As we take on new roles in our personal life, we may find that our interests or passions in our professional life may change. Re-evaluate where you stand in the present. What are your “absolutes” for a leadership role and what are your “negotiables”? Write them down. Now assess the leadership opportunities available to you. Do they match your current interests and personal boundaries? Remember, when you align your passion with the right organization, results for both are exceptional.
Decide up front not to apologize for your decision to stay home with your kids. Don’t back away from this tricky question if it’s asked, and don’t seem tentative or apologetic. Confidently own your decision. Also, be very clear about a) what has changed to make you ready to come back to work and b) how committed you are to return full force. Even if the interviewer doesn’t bring it up, they’re probably wondering, so address this topic head-on.
Prepare for the interview. Try to anticipate questions a prospective employer may want to ask. Write down your answers. Practice with a colleague or friend. Some usual suspects include:
- Why do you want to work for us?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- As a new leader for our organization, what’s your vision for the next year? (This one requires prework on current corporate culture and strategic priorities. Make sure to check their website, public corporate documents like annual reports or financial statements, and current employees you may know for intelligence. Google the company leaders.)
- Tell us about a time that you made a bad decision or mistake and its outcome. (The wrong answer is “this has never happened to me.”)
- Know the job you are interviewing for! There will be questions that relate to that job. It is okay to request copies of the job description and even the tool that will be used to evaluate your performance before you are hired. Be prepared to address your strengths and areas of vulnerability.
Be ready for some curveball interview questions as well. Here are some questions you may not have considered:
- Describe a time in which you had to adjust quickly to changes over which you had no control. What was the impact on you and your team? What was your response?
- Describe a time when you communicated effectively, even when the person did not agree with you or your approach.
- As leaders, managing conflict is an essential competency. Can you tell us about a time you had to resolve a conflict? Describe your approach and the result.
- What techniques do you use to relieve stress?
- How do you decide what goals are established for your area(s) of responsibility? As a leader, how do you assure successful execution from the members of your team?
- Describe a time when you had to deal with competing priorities? What was your approach and outcome?
- Describe your approach in leading a diverse organization. This may be of particular interest, if you are the sole woman of an all-male leadership team; or, if you are not of the same ethnic or racial group as majority of the organization or leadership team. In this instance, use terms that align more with a culture of inclusion than diversity. It is more palatable for most.
Prepare questions for the interview panel. Here are some areas of focus to consider:
- Corporate culture/strategic priorities
- Healthcare and other benefits
- Financial planning and retirement
- Onboarding/expectations for the first 90 days
- Continuing your education
- Ongoing career path
Consider contract work or part time jobs. These positions are a good way to ease back into the workforce. Contract and part time jobs are generally much lower risk for employers, so you’re more likely to land the position. Once you’re there you can prove yourself.
Try a “returnship.” Many companies now offer “returnships,” paid internships that help adults who have taken a break (to raise children, or to care for a sick relative, or for any other reason) from their careers and are ready to return to work. Returnships help you learn the latest skills and technology used in modern workplaces, build valuable networks, and feel into whether you would like a permanent position in the company.
Keep communicating with your family. When you return to work, make sure you keep the lines of communication open with your partner and children. Your role and schedule are changing, and that impacts everyone in the family. Spell out to your children how things will be different and what you expect from them. Also, remind them that you love and support them 100 percent, and that you are still there for them like always. “Openness and honesty will make the transition easier for everyone,” says Gaines.
Find a working mom mentor to guide you through. Being a working mother is tough, so when you do land a job seek out mentoring from a woman who has been there and knows what you’re experiencing. She can help you navigate stumbling blocks, allow you a safe place to vent frustrations, and give you support as you adjust to the often-competing demands of work and parenthood.
Believe in yourself. Hitting the pause button did not negate all that has prepared you for this next leadership role. But it will if you present yourself that way. Speak with confidence that you are ready, willing, and able.
“Taking a career break for your kids doesn’t mean you’re out of the running for a job you love,” concludes Gaines. “The gap in your resume isn’t nearly as important as the skills, passion, and experience you bring to the table.”
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About the Author:
Jackie Gaines is the author of Wearing the Yellow Suit: A Guide for Women in Leadership. She is an award-winning senior executive with more than 40 years of sustained leadership experience. She dedicated most of her career to the advancement of quality health care programs throughout the U.S., helping organizations improve their leadership skills and performance. Today, Jackie works for Studer Group|Huron as an executive-level coach, senior director, national speaker, and best-selling author.
About the Book:
Wearing the Yellow Suit: A Guide for Women in Leadership (Huron|Studer Group Publishing, 2020, ISBN: 978-1-62218-110-0, $24.00) is available directly from the publisher at publishing.studergroup.com, at bookstores nationwide, and from major online booksellers.
About Studer Group:
Studer Group works with healthcare organizations in the United States, Canada, Australia, and beyond, to help them achieve and sustain exceptional improvement in organizational and operational results. A Huron Healthcare solution, Studer Group partners with organizations to build a sustainable culture that promotes accountability, fosters innovation, and consistently delivers a great patient experience and the best quality outcomes over time. Learn more at www.studergroup.com.