9 Lives for Women Blog

Back to Work After 20 Years: Serendipity and the Volunteer | April 7th, 2017

One of my blog readers sent me this note—inspiration for any woman who thinks she has been out of the workforce too long to land a significant job…

“After more than 20 years at home, with a long resume of volunteering at my children’s schools and at three non-profits, I am about to start my first full-time job since I left work to have my first child.

In the past three years I have had a bout with cancer, major surgery and post-surgical complications. Despite these obstacles, I landed my first part-time paid job in a field that was new to me.

After this part-time job ended, I spent several months at home anchoring my family while my husband engaged in a major job search. I wrote multiple versions of my resume and posted one on LinkedIn, thinking “no one will EVER look at this.” Then I heard from the hiring manager at one of the non-profits where I had volunteered. I was invited to run a four-month project, and the hiring manager said, “I saw your profile on LinkedIn and you are the perfect candidate!” I laughed to myself and had to run home to see which resume version I had posted.

Now that four-month project has turned into a full-time job with enormous flexibility.

My view of the time I spent volunteering has evolved. I focus less on the fact that it was “volunteering”, and more on the actual work and accomplishments I had in that period. My change of attitude has been helpful in getting me out into the paid working world again.

I know that the advice to stay-at-home moms is to get back into the working world incrementally, to use your connections and to build on your volunteer experience. I’ve heard that if you volunteer in the right place at the right time, you’ll be the first in line for a paid job opening.

I’m still amazed that it worked for me. I know I have worked hard to get here, but I also didn’t stress about it along the way. The pieces seem to have fallen into place.

Thank you for encouraging us to get back in the game in a way that works for each of us…”


This is a great story that shows:

  • There is no time when your career ship has sailed. Don’t get tripped up by your age, number of years out of the workforce or any other perceived obstacle.
  • There’s a strategy to professional-value volunteering. It’s great to lend a hand to your child’s school, but focus on projects that require solid business skills. Even better: spend the bulk of your time volunteering for non-profits or community organizations that offer defined resume-building projects.
  • Life is full of “you never knows”. This woman was lucky to overcome health problems and begin a new career. You never know when a life challenge will emerge…illness, job loss, divorce, the need to support an aging parent or adult child financially, etc. The smart money is on working in some even small way (finding the work that fits your life) from college to retirement.
  • Linkedin is a hotbed of recruiting activity. If you’re not on Linkedin (with a photo and a complete, well-written profile), you are truly missing out on opportunities that could indeed fall on your lap.

What’s your back-to-work story? Hope you, too, will share and inspire. —KAS

Kathryn Sollmann of 9 Lives for Women advises current and returning professional women, wealth management firms and corporate HR, diversity and wellness teams on work+life issues. A frequent speaker, she offers workshops and online courses to help women make work fit life at every age/life stage for long-term financial security. Follow her on Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook.


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