Every professional career woman knows that taking an extended career pause, no matter the reason, will likely result in a challenging re-entry. It’s an unfortunate reality, and it’s even more frustrating if you’re over 40 years old and simultaneously battling ageism. This transition can be a tough one to make, but it is by no means hopeless.
Just like anyone else going on a job hunt, you’ll need to come up with a plan, rely on your network, and put your best foot forward, but you’ll also probably need a little more strategy and outside help this time around. It’s especially true if you’re a mom who has to find a way to fit in a job search while also doing all of the things around the house that make up a full workweek on their own. You can’t go into this blind. Preparation and focus will be essential in your job search so you can be as effective and efficient as possible.
Here are some steps you can take to help you re-enter the workforce, find an age-inclusive employer, and manage motherhood without totally losing your mind.
Coming Up With A Plan
Knowing you want to re-enter the workforce is great, but that’s a pretty broad, vague statement. Do you know what you want to do? How many hours do you like to work in a day or a week? What would an ideal situation look like for you and your family? There may have been a time where you could easily accept a 40-hour a week job without a second thought, but if your kids are older and rely on you for transportation to/from school, practices, or other commitments, does a traditional job setup still work for you?
These questions are essential, but the first one to answer is what job do you want? Do you want to re-enter an industry you previously worked in, or are you trying to re-enter the workforce and make a career pivot simultaneously? Have you gained skills during your career pause that you think would help you qualify for something different? There are so many jobs out there that if you were just to pull up a job board and start applying to things at random, you’d inevitably end up applying for positions that you probably wouldn’t enjoy doing. Not to mention, this will likely feel overwhelming and challenging to manage at first. So come up with an area you want to focus on for now. Then, if you’re going to expand that focus (later on), that is always an option.
Next, determine what your ideal work situation would be. If you’re confident you can take on a 40-hour a week job on site, then you’re all set to move forward in your job hunt. If that is too much of a commitment right now (which is understandable), you’ll need to have a rough idea of what would work for you so that you can take a targeted approach to your job search. Ask yourself, what would work best:
On-site, 100% remote, or a hybrid setup
A standard schedule or a flex schedule
10, 20, 30-hours per week, or somewhere in between
Traditional employment or contracting/freelancing
Working every day or a few days a week
💡Pro Tip: Once you get to the point where you’re ready to start actively applying to jobs, submit your application for full-time roles even if you’re looking for something part-time. A lot of companies are willing to compromise on schedule for the right candidate.
Finding Support Groups & Looking For Employers
You’re, of course, welcome to start applying to jobs blindly, and you may end up finding the right fit for you this way. However, taking a little extra time to research and make connections now on the front end can help save you some wasted time once you get to the interview stage.
First, rekindle connections with people in your existing network. Your network can always be a massive help in landing a good job, but you have to keep the relationships healthy and let people know that you are actively job searching. Send a few hellos, engage with people on LinkedIn, and start getting the word out that you’re ready to re-enter the workforce.
Next, expand your network by joining groups, communities, and organizations that aim to connect and advocate for working moms of all ages. Ask fellow moms what they did to help them successfully re-enter the workforce and find out if they’d be willing to share notes on companies that took them seriously and treated them with respect regarding their situation and age.
Finally, start doing a little research into companies you’d be interested in applying for roles. Workplace ageism continues to be an issue in many industries and companies, so if you can spot this behavior before you even apply to a job, you can save yourself a lot of time down the road. You can do this by reading employee reviews (or outright asking current or former employees if you’re able to) and looking into the company’s leadership and diversity. Of course, there is no hard and fast rule for spotting a company with an ageism problem, but it can be glaringly apparent from the outside with some organizations, so it’s best to eliminate them from the start.
Updating Your Resume & Cover Letter
Now that you know what you want to do and have a good idea of the kinds of companies you’d like to work for, start updating your resume and create a cover letter outline that will help you stand out as a candidate. You don’t have to shy away from the length of your work history or your career pause by any means, but when you’re revising your resume, emphasize your accomplishments and career highlights without attaching a date to them. It will ensure that recruiters and hiring managers see what you’re capable of first instead of creating an age bias (whether consciously or not).
Another thing you’ll want to do is make sure you add in any new relevant skills, accomplishments, and experience you’ve gained during your career pause, regardless of where they came from. For instance, managing a complex, multi-person calendar is a highly desirable skill for many administration jobs. It doesn’t matter if you learned how to do this in an office setting or for your family of five. If you feel like you don’t have enough to bulk up your resume at this time, see if there are any short-term online courses or workshops you can participate in that will help you master a skill or earn you a certificate for something that will help you get ahead in your desired career.
You will also want to develop a draft outline for cover letters (because, like it or not, many companies still require them). If you’re comfortable, you can address your career pause in the letter to just get it out there from the start, but don’t feel obligated to do so. Likewise, you don’t have to include anything detailing how many years of experience you have in certain areas if you feel like it will instantly age you.
Balancing Motherhood While Job Searching
If you’re a mom re-entering the workforce, you are likely already prepared to find childcare once you land a job, but you may need it when you’re in the job searching and interviewing stages as well. It takes a bit of time and concentration to revise a resume, research companies, tailor your applications and cover letters to each job you apply for. Plus, sending networking emails is time-consuming while having the distraction-free time you’ll need for a phone, video, or in-person interviews.
Depending on your kids’ ages, you may be able to get a lot of this done without any issue while they’re at school. However, even if you don’t plan to work past 3 p.m. throughout the week, a hiring manager may still ask you to interview around that time because that’s what works for their schedule. If your kids are younger and not in school, finding childcare isn’t even in question. So, try to line something up with a family member, babysitter, or a part-time daycare to give you a few hours (or more) throughout the week where you can focus on your job search.
Another thing you can do to free up some of your time is to outsource specific household tasks if you have some wiggle room in your budget. Hire a team to come to clean the house once or twice a month, have your groceries delivered or order them online to pick up to save you some time, pay a neighbor kid to mow your lawn, or plan on doing take-out for dinner two or three nights a week to free up your evenings if that would help. Anything you can do to help you get a couple of hours to yourself during the day to focus on job searching will be well worth the investment in the end.
Re-entering the workforce after a career pause and a certain age is possible, but the chances are high that it won’t happen overnight and that you’ll need to take a break now and then to keep your spirits up and avoid job search burnout. It is perfectly okay. It’s normal. It’s important to go into the situation with realistic expectations to avoid becoming discouraged early on. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how long you’ve been on a career pause, or if you gained your most marketable skills while serving on the PTA. You are an asset and will bring value to the business that is ultimately smart enough to get you on board.
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