9 Lives for Women Blog

Confident Relaunchers, Safe Landings | November 19th, 2012

What are the current job prospects for returning professionals?  If you’ve been out of the workforce for many years, can you expect to find a job in this very difficult market? My guess is that many of you anticipate negative answers to these questions and accept defeat much too soon.

One woman who really knows the returning professional market is Vivian Rabin, a co-founder of  iRelaunch. This is a company that started in 2007 to help women transition from home to work, usually after long absences from professional roles. Their iRelaunch Conferences, held all over the US and in London, have helped over 2,500 women (and men) package their skills and experience for career reentry. The bottom line? In a survey iRelaunch conducted in 2011, half the women who attended one of their Conferences relaunched within a year.

That impressive statistic is due not only to the able coaching of the iRelaunch team. According to Vivian, it has generally become easier for women to return to work in the five years since her company began. It used to be that companies hired only a token returning professional, but the numbers are steadily increasing. Vivian says companies finally realize they need many more women in the mid to senior-level ranks, and it’s wise to fill these diversity gaps now—not when today’s new college grads make their way up the corporate ladder.

When I told Vivian about my experience as a recruiter—and the fact that large companies had always seemed impenetrable for returning professionals—she agreed that they have traditionally been the most inflexible. But she quickly noted that many large companies now have big initiatives to hire returning professionals—and she named Accenture, Bloomberg, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and PriceWaterhouseCoopers as several who are taking the lead.

It was good to hear that these prestigious companies are trying to accommodate women who want to restart their careers, but I raised my suspicion that the jobs they offer are full-time. Vivian acknowledged that most are full-time, and that part-time jobs—at least at larger companies—tend not to be advertised.  They don’t need to be advertised, because they are often granted to employees who have proven themselves, have a long relationship with the company and now want to downsize their careers.

This was a big problem when I was helping returning professionals find jobs. I always found that about 95% wanted a part-time schedule. A very small number of women were looking for full-time—but it was usually due to a recent divorce or the loss of a husband’s job. Vivian says the number of returning professional women looking for full-time jobs has increased significantly–due in part to the poor economy. More women are looking beyond part-time not only due to hardship—Vivian sees many older, “empty nester” women willing to resume a full-time schedule as well.

Since empty nesters tend to be in their late 40s and 50s, it’s also a good sign that women past their 30s are getting a warm welcome back to companies overall. As I coach women I often hear “I’m too old to work…no employer would want me now”, and with the exception of some industries filled with millennials, that’s a misconception to discard.

Though iRelaunch is proof that big companies are courting returning professionals, I still believe smaller companies are the way to go. Vivian did not disagree that with less bureaucracy small companies can more easily give women the latitude to ramp up once dormant careers. Large companies have so many layers of decision-making—and so many busy hiring managers biased toward candidates who have had never left a corporate desk.

Whether you look for a job with a company or non-profit that is large or small, Vivian and I agree that networking is your sharpest strategic tool. This is especially true if you want to find those unadvertised part-time jobs. A personal connection—or a collegial networking connection—can really help an employer look past resume gaps and see the benefits of life—not just work—experience.

Decades of interesting life experience are irrelevant though, if employers read ambivalence in your eyes. Unless you exude the conviction that now is truly the time for you to return to work, Vivian knows you will not be a serious candidate in any employer’s view. I’ve seen this problem with many unsuccessful  returning professionals who did not do their homework before they started looking for a job. That homework is really thinking through all the professional, logistical, psychological and financial issues that surround a return to work. Working through all the emotions, concerns and questions gets you to a point of conviction—or an informed decision to wait.

Despite the fact that companies are much more open now to returning professionals, Vivian says you need to turn your conviction about returning into confidence and professional packaging. If you’re not confident in yourself, employers will not be confident you can do the job. And if you don’t consider a job search a serious project that requires strategic selling of your skills and experience, you’ll be without a job for a long, long time.

The best information I gleaned from Vivian is this: the length of time a woman has been out of the workforce does not determine her job search success. It might seem logical that a woman out 20 years would take longer to find a job than a woman out for five. That’s not the case in Vivian’s experience or in mine:  the woman who creates a professional, disciplined and strategic job search always wins hands down.  —KAS

On 11/29 at Bentley University in Waltham, MA, iRelaunch will hold their Return to Work Conference–the only large scale gathering of high-caliber professionals who want to return to work after a career break and the employers interested in hiring them. Focused on career reentry strategy, tactics, and targeted networking, the Conference is held four times a year and has attracted over 2,500 attendees in the U.S. and London since 2008. iRelaunch founders Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin are Harvard Business School alumnae and authors of the acclaimed career reentry strategy book, Back on the Career Track. Conference sponsors include Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Sun Life Financial, Wellington Management, U.S. Trust, Massachusetts Port Authority, TeenLife Media, PowerHouse Assets, J. Hilburn, and Stella & Dot.  Register here and use Coupon Code GROUP for 9 Lives for Women reader discount of $20 off the regular registration fee. 

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