If you have been out of the workplace for a significant period of time, restarting your career can be frustrating and disillusioning. Only about 30 percent of the highly qualified women who want to resume a full-time executive or professional career are able to do so. This is a sobering statistic, but you can significantly increase your chances of a successful career reentry with proper planning and preparation.
Prepare To Reenter Before You Exit
Before you leave full-time employment, you should start building three distinct networks. The first is with senior business or professional people who can provide advice and support when you are ready for reentry. The second is with co-workers, customers, clients, suppliers, collaborators, and competitors. These are the people you can use to stay current with trends and developments in your fields of interest. The third network is with women who are not now working full-time or who have recently returned to full-time careers. These are the people with whom you will want to compare experiences, brainstorm about ways to stay engaged, and devise strategies for when and how to make the transition back.
Staying in touch with these three groups and keeping them informed about your plans will keep you focused on your reentry. If you are like 90 percent of highly qualified women who have left full-time careers, at some point you will want to resume yours. Staying in touch with these groups — and as many other working people as you can manage — will prevent you from losing sight of your future objective.
Decide Early What You Want to Do
Of the women who want to resume a full-time career more than half want to change their field or profession. A successful second career depends on your being fully committed to it, so it is never too soon to decide what you want to do next and start preparing for that career. Use your various networks to help you identify where your greatest opportunities — and interests — lie.
Hone Your Skills
You will need to keep your skills up to date. Participate in workshops and educational programs; do career-relevant volunteer work; undertake individual study; and be sure your computer skills are as good as they would have been — if not better — than if you had never left the workplace. You will also want to stay current with recent developments in your field: read trade journals and attend relevant conventions, trade shows, and conferences.
You are at home, not marooned on a desert island. Arrange to participate in at least one career-related event every month: lunch with a former business colleague, attend a networking event, seek out consulting opportunities, present a talk or write an article on a relevant topic. Get to know and get known by as many people in your chosen field as possible.
When you are highly energized, full of ambition, and ready for a new chapter in your life, the time has come to prepare your résumé. It should be functional, not chronological. It should present you in terms of what you have accomplished, what your skills are, and what your career objectives are. Highlight the key talents and traits valued in your targeted field. Develop a powerful but accurate account of your career-relevant activities during your time out of the workforce: the volunteer work you have done, courses you have taken, consulting assignments you have performed, and so forth. Make clear you are not rusty or out of touch because of your time at home.
Your résumé is likely to be your first chance to tell your story to a prospective employer. It should be sufficiently powerful and intriguing that you get to tell your story a second time — this time in person.
Your LinkedIn profile and Facebook page should also be carefully updated to present your talents, strengths, and achievements. Ask former colleagues and supervisors to write positive things about you to be included on your LinkedIn profile.
Don’t mass mail your résumé. You have been networking, attending industry events, and meeting with senior leaders to sharply focus your job search. Direct your résumé to people likely to be interested in you. Your cover letter should say something like, “Barbara Smith highly recommended that I contact you.” And follow that up with insightful comments about the company, its products, and financial situation.
When you are invited to an interview, dress in a way that makes you feel confident; power pose and mind prime before you begin; and be ready with at least three engaging stories about your accomplishments, reasons for being out of the workplace, and potential contributions. If there was ever a time to use attuned gender communication it is now. You are on stage with the spotlight directly on you. Your successful reentry depends on the impressions your interviewers have of you; make sure those impressions are the ones you want them to have.