September is one of our favorite months at FlexProfessionals. It is a time when we experience a quiet surge in registrants and our candidate pool fills with talented stay-at-home moms (and dads) who decide, “This is the year!” This is the year when the kids are independent enough, when the professional restlessness is strong enough, and when the thought of another year with a career on hold is unnerving enough. Is this your year to re-enter the professional workforce?
Sounds exciting, but if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, it can also be unsettling. You may feel disconnected from the latest technologies, tools, workforce trends and even dress styles. You may have lost command of your former industry or functional area of expertise and lingo. Your memories of your accomplishments and professional strengths may have become fuzzy. You may wonder if you and your family are really ready for you to go back to work. These are all real concerns that can quickly derail a job search if not earnestly addressed.
The first step in feeling bullish again about getting back into the contemporary workforce is to figure out what your anxieties are and to put a specific plan of action in place to address each area. Make a list – then make a plan. It may take a few months to work through it all, so plan ahead, but do not jump back in until you are armed and confident to hit the interview trail.
Here are five tips we’ve learned from our candidates for making sure the transition is a smooth one. In addition to these tips, you can find many other helpful articles, assessment tools, training resources and resume and interview guides on the FlexProfessionals’ Resources page or you may want to attend our “Strategies for Re-entering the Workforce After a Career Break” workshop in the fall (date to be announced).
1. Refresh Your Industry and Functional Knowledge
It is your responsibility to be as current as possible in the industry or area of expertise you are pursuing. So put a plan in place to bring yourself up to speed. Read up on trends and major developments. Have lunch with colleagues or friends in the industry and pick their brains about the most significant changes they have seen while you have been away. If there are specific areas in which you are behind, sign up to take a course to refresh your knowledge or gain new knowledge. And by all means, for the fundamental infrastructure tools such as MS Office, internet communications and social networking that are ubiquitous in the workplace, make sure you know the latest (see list on our website for the tools we recommend our candidates brush up on and/or learn before re-entering the workforce).
2. Get Intimate with Your Resume
Once you are happy with your written resume, rediscover and relive it. Go round up old deliverables, writing samples, performance reviews from past jobs and experience them again. Reminisce with former bosses and colleagues with whom you worked. Brainstorm chronologically the challenges you faced, lessons you learned and value you added to each job along the way. Step back and think about how you matured in your professional career and how that experience can bring value in a current job. These exercises go such a long way in boosting your belief in yourself and being able to convince an employer that your knowledge and experience are still fresh and relevant and ready to be deployed. We recently interviewed a candidate who had been out of the mainstream workforce for over seven years, but when asked about the former jobs she had held, she talked about them in detail, recalling leadership styles of bosses, reporting structures, industry climate, project pressures, challenges and major accomplishments, as if they were yesterday. It was so impressive.
3. Practice Telling Your Story
Armed with your resume and refreshed knowledge of your industry, qualifications, and workforce trends, you are now ready to tell your story. But do not tell it to an employer yet. Practice it first and test your ability to communicate it effectively. Have a friend or spouse or former work peer do practice interviews with you and ask them for honest feedback. Then make adjustments. Have them ask you questions and formulate your responses in a way that capitalizes on you story. A list of common interview questions is available on our website. Practice your responses on your own until you feel confident and proud of sharing your experience.
Another way to practice your story is to get out and network. Some job seekers even create personal business cards to shop themselves in networking groups. Nothing works better than networking to refine your personal sales pitch and gauge reactions. You also get the opportunity to learn more about what is happening in the current working world, resources that may be available to you, and potential employers. There are many opportunities to network in this area including chambers of commerce, industry/functional groups, women’s groups, tradeshows and seminars. Find some in your geographic, industry and/or functional areas and make yourself known.
4. Make Sure You Have Support & Reinforcements
Make sure you are actually ready to go back to work. Have you thought through how you will deal with the potential impact and complications your work will create in yours and your family’s life? If it is a house of cards, where a snow day, sick day, summer schedule or vacation plans threaten to collapse it, this will rapidly become apparent during the interview process. We have had candidates who have waited to explore these issues until their interviews – major mistake. The back peddling when asked if they could work weekends during the busy season or stay late if required did not make a good first impression. Interviewers will almost certainly ask these questions, especially of candidates who have taken time out of the workforce. Make sure you can honestly answer them with the conviction of having done your homework and knowing how you will handle both predictable and unpredictable events that may interfere with work.
5. Polish Your Image
Put the finishing touches on your readiness to re-enter the workforce by creating a refreshed professional image that makes you feel good about yourself and excited to get out and meet prospective employers. Check yourself out. Do you look like a mom who has put herself on hold while putting everyone else’s needs first? Is your closet full of professional suits, blazers and slacks that are a decade old? Do you even own a set of heels? Well you know what the workforce expects to see, so make it happen before you meet them. Spruce yourself up and go shopping for some updated professional basics. Just a few pieces can go a long way during the interview process and then you can figure out exactly what you need based on the job you land. This is the FUN part of getting ready to go back to work, so enjoy it, enjoy getting back in touch with your former professional self, and be proud of showing off your new image as you head out the door. It is amazing the power a positive self-image can have on your confidence and on the first impression you make during an interview. It is worth the investment.
The working world has been going fast and hard while you have been out, so just like the on-ramp to a highway, you have to get yourself back up to speed, be equipped with the right tools and self-confidence to get back on the work track. It can be daunting – but no one can really make it happen but you. If you were once part of the professional world, you can be there again and you have to believe you can. Make the list, prepare and practice and convince yourself you are ready to re-engage. Then you will be ready to convince potential employers.
Leanne Rodd and Gwenn Rosener lead the Boston office of FlexProfessionals, LLC, a niche staffing company that specializes in sourcing professionals for part-time, project-based and flexible work arrangements at a fraction of traditional employee costs. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org