How do I get back into the workforce after so many years? That’s a question I’ve been asked hundreds of times over the last decade. It’s also a question that is perennially asked in the fall, when children go back to school and mothers have the time to think about major life changes.
Recently I spoke with Pricscilla Thors of Wilton, Connecticut, a woman who meets the typical profile of a woman “itching to get back to work”. She’s in her 40s and she’s been out of the workforce for 15 years (during my recruiting years I found the average time out to be about 12 years), she has a great resume with big name companies like Ralph Lauren and Eddie Bauer, and a B.A.degree from a top 50 liberal arts college. During her time out of the workforce she has been a hard-working “mega-volunteer”—and she was just singled out for full-page recognition in her town magazine.
And she talks to me honestly, as so many women have in the past, about the fact that she feels a little less confident about her current qualifications for work than taking on another volunteer role. She’s wary of being rejected and not completely sure how to approach a job search after so many years.
So I’ll tell you what I told Priscilla and many women in the past. Stop. Take a deep breath. Realize you’re still the same person who left the workforce all those years ago. Only a little older and wiser…with many more life experiences.
I also told Priscilla that she has continued to develop her business skills through all her volunteer endeavors—and that she needs to make that clear in her resume. (For guidance on how to do that, see “Get Your Biz Skills Out of Hiding”.)
On the road back to work, Priscilla, and so many other women like her, need to consult a simple map. When you have some direction, and you know the general path you have to take, it all seems a little less scary. To help Priscilla and all the women who are thinking “back to work” in this “back to school” season, I offer this short-cut to the job search highway:
- Fuel up by zeroing in on what you want to do. You can’t drive in multiple directions simultaneously. If you’re not sure what you want to do, talk to friends or networking connections in fields of interest to shape your ideas and possibilities. Finding a job is filling a need—a specific gap—for an employer. “I’ll do anything” is not a positive. It’s the kiss of job search death.
- Go straight to your resume. Make sure you have about a 50-word summary statement at the top of your resume (not an objective!) that describes who you are and the hard core, unique skills (not soft, universal attributes like “team player”) you offer employers. Don’t include the type of job you’re seeking—save that for networking communications and cover letters. Fill your all paid and unpaid job descriptions with “size and scope” detail and metrics that prove you were successful. You’ve got two full pages to work with—fill it up and sell, sell, sell!
- Stop and take a long, hard look at your summary statement. Refine, refine and refine. This is your major sales pitch that you will use and tweak for your Linkedin profile, networking emails and conversations, cover letters and interviews.
- Take a sharp right at www.linkedin.com. Employers of every shape and size are sourcing candidates at every level from Linkedin. Create a complete profile, which is largely a cut and paste from your resume. Most important: choose a compelling sales headline—what people will see first when you come up in a Linkedin search. Priscilla’s headline might be “Returning Professional with Prestige Retail Management Experience”.
- Merge your summary statement into your networking process. Networking is now your job. If you’re looking to work 20 hours, then devote a full 20 hours a week to networking. Pick and choose in person events carefully. Spend the majority of your networking time sending emails (with your summary statement as a base) to former colleagues—and people from all parts of your life—to let them know what you’re looking for and ask for specific help—such as more networking connections, job leads or info about companies that interest you. No need to meet in person unless they offer. You can ask especially good contacts for a 15-minute phone conversation—but generally speaking, a lot of very busy contacts will be able to help you just as well via email. Don’t ever say you don’t have enough networking connections. Not possible. Don’t forget your college alumni association and, of course, Linkedin!
When you follow these straightforward directions, you’ll be cruising on the job search highway. How long before you exit to a job? It depends on how well you sell your skills and experience and how thoroughly you penetrate a truly never-ending network. Drive carefully–with confidence and clarity.
Need help returning to work after a long hiatus and getting on the job search highway? I spent 10 years focused on returning professionals: contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want practical, quick help figuring out what you want to do, writing your resume and Linkedin profile, expanding networking circles or creating an overall job search strategy. Even just one hour-long session will rev your job search engine.
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