Juggling the responsibilities of a job and of a family is challenging enough.
But an unexpected and additional challenge can come when it’s time to go back to work after taking time off to raise children.
Carolyn Thompson, managing principal at the Merito Group, works regularly with women looking to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to focus on their families.
She says there are several crucial things all parents going back to work should consider.
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1. Structure your resume appropriately — and be prepared to explain any employment gaps
“It’s okay to have a gap on your resume, but be prepared to explain — confidently — why you took time away from the workforce,” says Thompson. “Explain that it was important for you to be home with your children while they were young, for example, and don’t apologize for that decision. Instead of being apologetic, express confidence in your readiness to rejoin the working world.”
The ordering of experience on your resume is also important, according to Thompson. “Make sure that your most relevant work experience is positioned prominently on the page,” she says. “You want to demonstrate to a potential employer that, despite having taken time off to focus on your family, you do have the background and the skills needed for the position for which they’re hiring.”
2. Get caught up quickly
Once you’ve been offered and have accepted a new position, Thompson says it’s important to get caught up on anything new to you, and quickly.
“If you’ve only taken a few months off, you likely won’t have too much to get caught up on. But, if you’ve been out of the workforce for several years, technologies, systems, regulations, and processes are all likely to have changed significantly,” says Thompson.
“Read trade journals, ask friends or family — or others in your industry — for help learning new computer programs, and, as appropriate, ask your new colleagues for guidance as you gain your footing. The faster you can get up to speed, the more of a positive impression you can make in your new workplace – and the more comfortable you’ll feel being back at work.”
3. Set up systems
Keeping up with work responsibilities as well as with family or household duties, says Thompson, can be challenging for anyone — and this is particularly true for employees who have gone back to work after months or years focused solely on the home.
“In the initial months after going back to work, juggling your work and home responsibilities can feel altogether overwhelming,” says Thompson. “Set up systems to help keep you on track and prevent things falling through the cracks,” she advises. “Rely on calendars, lists, reminders on your phone — anything that will help you keep on top of everything you need to do, by when, and for whom.”
4. Be prepared for the unexpected
As a new employee, you might not be able to take time off for several months. In fact, needing to take time off more than once a month may be considered excessive in some work environments. In this case, Thompson advises the newly re-employed to come to work prepared with a back-up plan for the unexpected.
“If your child needs to stay home sick from school, for instance, will your employer allow you to work from home? Discuss these types of situations and allowances with your employer during your final negotiations, as you’re accepting the job — and come to work on day one with a mutually agreed-upon plan for how to deal with the unexpected curveballs that family life can throw at you.”
5. If you can’t find a full-time position, consider temporary work
“Though your goal might be to hit the ground running in a new, full-time position, it may be a challenge to find the right full-time job for you,” says Thompson. “If faced with this hurdle, consider temporary employment instead. A temporary position in a relevant field can give you something to add to your resume while you continue your full-time job search, and temporary positions can often lead to full-time work.”
Going back to work can be an intimidating prospect for many, regardless of how much time you’ve spent away from the office. But, by being prepared and taking these steps, you’ll help to set yourself up for a smooth re-entry into the workforce.