Tips for Stay-at-Home Moms Returning to Work
Taking a break from the workforce, whether for a few months or a few years, can leave you a bit disoriented. Many stay-at-home moms think about going back to work but don’t know where to start.
Plotting a return to work after a break can be both scary and exciting. But, taking the time to plan your return to work will make the process smoother for your entire family. Here are some tips to help you plan accordingly.
Tips for Stay-at-Home Moms Returning to Work
Make the time find work.
“Returning to work is something that may take time—a lot of time—to do,” says Brie Reynolds, career development manager and career coach at FlexJobs. “Set realistic expectations going in that this process may take many weeks or, more likely, months, to go through fully. Too often, moms burn brightly at the beginning of the journey but quickly extinguish because it’s a longer process than they realized.”
There’s research to back this advice up. A 2018 study found that parents who take time off of work to care for their families were about half as likely to get called in for an interview as people who had been working but were unemployed for other reasons.
While those statistics may be disheartening, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to transition from full-time mom to full-time employee. There are plenty of parents who took time off from work to raise a family and successfully returned to work after years at home.
Get in the right frame of mind.
“Start practicing as if you’re already returning to work,” Reynolds advises. “Talk openly about your career and the work you either used to do or the work you want to do (if they’re different). Practice talking about yourself as a professional, rather than a mom. These small mindset changes, along with a lot of practice talking out loud about work and being a woman who works, will set you up to speak confidently when you’re interacting with potential employers.”
Get some advice.
If most of your friends are fellow stay-at-home moms, you may need to look outside your circle for some advice and inspiration. Try to connect with other working moms to see how they balance work life and family life.
Reynolds adds, “Even if you don’t know many working moms personally, you can use online groups on Facebook and LinkedIn to connect virtually with other moms who’ve either made the return to work or are in the middle of it. Their insights, advice, and camaraderie will be a huge source of support, energy, and inspiration as you make your return.”
Ask them how they conducted their job searches, what they wish someone had told them when they were looking for a job and returning to work, and any job search strategies for success they may have.
Determine what you really want to do.
You know you want to work, but you’re not sure what you want to do. You’re thinking about going back to your old career because it’s easier than starting over. But, maybe, you want to try something new.
Sit down and think about the things that have brought you joy while you were raising your children. Maybe you discovered a passion for pastries and want to be a pastry chef. Determine what you truly want to do, and then figure out the steps you need to take to make it happen.
Make a job search plan.
After contemplating the above questions and having a firm grasp on your and your family’s needs, create a job search plan. While it may seem a bit over the top, knowing what you need to do and when you need to do it will help keep you on track, and give you actionable tasks to work on if you start getting frustrated.
Set up your job search and networking goals, then mark the dates on your calendar. This could include taking classes to learn (or update) skills, volunteering, or even looking for internships.
Update your social profiles.
Many people have more than one social media account. But, even if you have only one account, make sure it’s up to date and doesn’t contain anything questionable.
You likely don’t have any pictures of you breaking the law on your accounts (right?). But, what about that last vacation to the beach? Maybe you don’t want your potential employer seeing you in your swimsuit, margarita in hand. While there’s nothing wrong with the picture, it may be better to take it down for a while.
If there are pictures or opinions you don’t want employers to see, consider changing your privacy settings so only people you approve can see your profile.
While you’re at it, set up a LinkedIn account if you don’t already have one. Even if it isn’t your favorite social media site, it may be the most important one to have. Not only does it give you a chance to showcase your relevant skills, but it’s also a great way to show you’re involved and active in your subject area.
Answering Tough Questions About Going Back to Work
Congratulations! They want to interview you. As nervous as that might make you, there are plenty of ways to explain your employment gap in a professional and reassuring manner.
Don’t hide your time off raising a family. Any future employer that does not respect your past choices may not respect your future ones.
That time was not blank or a vacation, but rather a skill-building experience—treat it as such. Employers are going to get the value of the skills you gained, and you might as well be front and center with them. When going back to work, don’t minimize the experience you have gained at home.
Make a list of the activities you do as the primary caretaker— many of them translate to the business world. Do you pay bills and budget? Are you a key volunteer at school? Chair a fundraiser? These are all skills that can translate into the workplace.
Dealing with curveballs.
Whether or not it’s legal and whether or not it’s fair, there’s a chance someone might ask you questions that they shouldn’t. It’s important to be prepared not only to hear the questions but to have a perfect answer ready to go.
Some of the less-than-ideal questions can include:
- Is your career more important than your family?
- How do you let someone else raise your children?
- Who cooks for your kids?
- Do you have to work?
There are, of course, many more like this. But, for the most part, when it comes to answering these curveball interview questions, you’ve got a few options.
The most important thing to do is to remain calm. Losing your cool and pointing out how unfair and biased the question is will only lose you the job. Take a deep breath, and try one of these techniques to answer the question.
First, you could answer the question directly. “Who cooks for my kids? My husband, because I’m terrible at it, so the deal is he cooks, and I clean the dishes.”
Second, you can try a humorous answer to redirect the question and deflect the answer. “Who cooks for my kids? Anyone I can con into it because I am a terrible cook. Seriously. I can’t even boil water correctly!”
Third, you could ask the interviewer how the question relates to the job duties. “Who cooks for my kids? Can I ask why this is important? I want to understand the job and all of its duties. If I’m going to cook and be your account manager, I’d like to know that information.”
In the end, consider it a good thing that the interviewer asked this question. It gives you valuable insight into the company and its culture.
What Are Other Options For Stay-at-Home Moms Returning to Work?
If you didn’t get the job, don’t give up! There are still things you can do that will help you return to work.
Part-Time and Temp Work
Consider part-time or even temporary work as a transition step to regular, full-time employment. It may not be ideal, but it’s something to help you and your family get used to you working. It’s also a great way for you to test the waters and figure out what kind of balance works best for you and your family.
It’s also a great way to reintroduce yourself to technology. If the last time you were in an office was when Windows 7 was all the rage, you’re going to have to learn Windows 10. While it’s not that different, it’s not the same, either.
You Got the Job!
That’s great! But, once you start thinking about it, you start getting cold feet. Who’s going to take care of the kids when they get home from school? What about taking them to soccer practice? What if someone gets sick?
Test run the child care.
In almost every case, you’ll have about two weeks before you report for your first day of work. In that time, you should find child care for your kids.
Once you’ve got it set up, do a test run so the kids can get used to the situation and the new person or people helping you out. It’s also a great chance for you to figure out what works best in terms of schedule and routine and for you to gain trust and confidence in your helpers.
Once you get back to work, you may find yourself doing everything you can to prove you can do it all. But in reality that isn’t healthy and will only set you up to fail.
Set boundaries and make sure you enforce them—which may mean learning how to say “no” to things you can’t say “yes” to.
That means if you have to leave at 5:00 to get to daycare before 6:00, make sure you leave at 5:00 no matter what. That may mean working a little bit at home as a trade-off, but don’t let anyone schedule a meeting for 4:45 and expect you to stay.
Offer to have the meeting at a different time. Or have a virtual meeting instead. There are plenty of tools out there that allow you to meet with coworkers anytime and anyplace with an Internet connection.
Going Back to Work as a Mom Takes Time
The transition back to work isn’t easy for anyone. Ask for all the help you can get. Reynolds says, “It can also help to work with a career coach who can work with you to find clarity on your goals, get your resume back in shape, practice interviewing, and determine the best return-to-work strategies for you. Through FlexJobs’ career coaching service, we’ve worked with a lot of moms who are returning to work, after months, years, or even decades away from the workforce. The more support you have in your return, the better!”
If you’re just starting on your journey back to work, check out our “Mom’s Guide for Returning to Work.” It’s free and has valuable tips and advice for moms returning to work at every stage of motherhood.
This is a version of an article that was originally published May 17, 2014 and last updated March 28, 2018.
Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com
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