You had a rising and successful career and deemed a top performer. Then, you started a family and took a break from the workforce. Now, some years later you are ready to return to the professional workforce, but you are unsure of (1) who will hire you with a gap on your resume and (2) where you fit in.
Let’s first agree on this – no apologies.
Never apologize or appear apologetic to an employer for the decision to stay home with your kids and take a break. Time and time again, I watch women wince when asked about the gap on their resume. You stayed home with your kids for a few years. Let’s not be overdramatic about this. You did not lose your brain or your work experience, only your paycheck. Your education and prior work experience still hold value. However, no one is going to believe that if you don’t. So, if you don’t have any regrets about the decision, do not appear regretful when asked. Plus, I am willing to bet you are returning with quite a few new skills.
Start networking! Better yet, start networking with other working Moms. Why? Because working moms get it. They get that just because for the last five years you have been towing a stroller to your fully loaded minivan, you unquestionably still hold professional value. Start scheduling coffees with other working moms around you. If a professional woman is doing something you are interested in, find out her story. Ask for professional advice.
Be prepared to talk about your past professional experience. Maybe this mom knows you from soccer practice, but she has no idea you used to be a Marketing Director for a Fortune 500 company. Be sure to capture your professional story before you polish off that latte. You should identify five skills, experiences, or accomplishments you want her to know about you professionally.
Have all the tools in the toolkit. (1) Dust off your resume and get it in shape. (2) Create a polished LinkedIn profile. (3) A professional headshot is a must! If no one has seen you in professional attire for a while, you need to remind them what that looks like. Collectively this sets the stage for how someone will view you. The worst thing that can happen is if you have a fantastic networking coffee and someone asks for your resume or goes to connect with you on LinkedIn and you don’t have them ready – or they are done poorly.
Start thinking strategically about your next step. Your first job back doesn’t have to be the forever plan, but it does have to be a smart one. It is not likely you will step into your dream job after time off. So, be sure you select an opportunity that is a building block to what comes next, whether that is one or five years from now. Ask yourself, does this opportunity provide skills and create career options for me down the road?
Worried an employer will deem you “uncommitted” because you took a break? Here’s the bad news. Someone will. This does not mean the entire company or industry thinks you are somehow unworthy. It means a single person thinks it. Big difference. Don’t become discouraged if some feedback is less than receptive. Most of all, keep it in perspective. Look around the room at the next school function. You are surrounded by working parents, many of which took a break at some point in time. Start reaching out. You will soon find that your commitment – is just fine.