How to Re-enter the Workforce
“Dig your well before you’re thirsty.”
- Harvey Mackay
I was asked to speak to a local Mom’s group, Mothers of Preschoolers (aka MOPS), about tips and tricks for returning to work. Since I have had experience interviewing and hiring many people, am a firm believer in the concept of developing your personal brand, and ran my own resume writing service with 100% placement while in college, I jumped at the chance to go deep on the topic and see what I could put together.
My research led me to many places, from the bold essay in Atlantic Magazine by Anne-Marie Slaughter “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” to the recent news in the Wall Street Journal of McKinsey and Co. luring back women workers they lost, to Accenture’s latest research showing 70% of men and women believe they can have a successful career as well as a full life outside of work, and finally at the concept of “Returnships,” detailed in the Harvard Business Review’s “40-Year-Old Intern.”
This article will focus on tips anyone can use to prepare for a job search, find a job, learn about new types of work, resumes, and interviewing. My goal is to help those who have been out of the workforce for 2 to 5 years, or more. Consider this a “what’s changed and what to do about it” guide.
Preparing for a Job Search
Know Your Strengths
This is a great time to do an assessment of your values, goals, and life’s direction overall. I highly recommend Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect book and especially the companion worksheets from the book’s website. I’ve found Darren’s approach to be highly valuable when evaluating where I’m at and re-focusing my efforts and goals.
I also recommend picking up a copy of the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Strengths Finder 2.0. By purchasing the book, you also gain access to take the assessment on their website where they will create a personalized strengths report and action guide for you.
Here are some other Dot Connector resources that can help too: How to Set Better Goals, How to Create a Personal Development Plan, and How to Create New Year’s Resolutions. If you’d like a more structured, university-offered back-to-work education, check out the programs listed on irelaunch’s Career Reentry Programs list.
If you’re planning to go back to work, you need to do a personal review of your social media accounts. For each account (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.) review the content you’ve posted or shared and ensure it’s something you’re OK with a potential employer seeing. If it’s not, you can edit, delete the content, or change the access to it. For example, on Facebook there are several privacy settings you can alter to address this. See LifeHacker’s Always Up-to-Date Guide to Managing Your Facebook Privacy for everything you need to know.
Next, it’s time to update your LinkedIn profile (or create one if you haven’t yet). Think of LinkedIn as your online resume, portfolio, and business rolodex all in one. See my guide, How to Grow Your Business and Network with LinkedIn to learn more.
Credit Report and Score
Employers are checking credit histories and scores on an increasingly more frequent basis. In addition, in certain industries and companies, it’s a requirement that a credit check be conducted as part of a background check process. This means its a great time to review your credit report and score, and deal with any discrepancies you find. Quizzle is a free online service where you can get a free credit report and score when you sign up, and every 6 months thereafter. I highly recommend doing this now, as the process of disputing and correcting issues on your credit report can take some time.
Research, Research, Research
As my father-in-law likes to say, proper planning prevents poor performance! Doing research on potential industries, companies, and organizations is an important first step in your job hunt. Not only is it great to be knowledgeable about industry and organization-specific news and trends for the interviews you’ll have, it’s indispensable when you’re on the job too. See my article How to Monitor Industry Trends for some simple ways to do this.
Are you passionate about a particular issue, hobby, or interest? Start a blog. Blogging helps you do two things: think about how you think and meet amazing people. I started Dot Connector because I wanted to share things I was learning, and have a place to reference them myself! In doing so, my articles have been translated into other languages, used for university-level lectures, and integrated into corporate training programs for the Fortune 500. The people I have met because I decided to put myself out there has been nothing less than amazing too. Not sure where to start? You can learn more about the world’s most popular blogging software, WordPress, right here on Dot Connector.
Knowing your industry and organization’s technology use is critical. If you never spent the time to really learn apps like Outlook and Excel, this is the time to do so. The time you invest now will certainly pay off when you are on the job. Of course, the various technologies you use will be dependent on your career choice, but an advanced understanding of Microsoft Office, internet browsers, social media, and mobile apps can only help you succeed sooner.
Finding a Job
When the time is right, discuss your intentions for returning to work with family, friends, and former colleagues (try using LinkedIn to find them). While job searches and resume submissions are easier than ever online, effective job placement still happens based on who you know. See what you can do to help those you talk to, knowing that we give in order to get!
Professional Associations and Conferences
Connecting with people in local professional associations, and LinkedIn groups, related to your field is another way to find opportunities. Join these groups and participate in them through volunteering or adding to the online discussion. Doing so will help you meet people and learn more about the industry at the same time.
I also recommend finding a key conference in the industry you wish to enter and attending it. Keith Ferazzi, in his national bestseller, Never Eat Alone, has an excellent chapter called “Be a Conference Commando.” In it, he outlines ways to connect with important keynote speakers, conduct your own “conference within a conference” and other great tips you can put to use.
Online Job Search
I highly recommend finding potential employers you want to work for and monitoring their own websites for job postings. If you’re unsure if you want to work for a particular employer, use Glassdoor to see what people who have worked there think.
In addition to that, here are the top job search websites and a short reason for each:
- Monster – Most popular job search site on the web
- CareerBuilder – Partners with newspapers to provide local and national listings
- Indeed – Combines listings from thousands of websites into one search
- LinkedIn – Matches postions based on your profile and network contacts
- The Ladders – Great source for higher paying, executive-level positions
Note: some companies/organizations post jobs on their own websites before they show up on these recommended sites, so be sure to tune into what your target companies do.
Types of Work
Working for an organization of any size is one way to re-enter the workforce. And with new opportunities in flex time and returnships, there are more benefits than ever before. However, this is not for everyone, and many parents find other opportunities to make money and set their own schedule.
The web makes freelancing easier than ever before. Sites like elance.com can quickly and easily connect you with people who need projects done. This is also a great way to “test the waters” of returning to work, without making the full-time commitment. Other benefits include learning how to managing your own part-time business, and take advantage of the tax benefits available to small businesses. *As always, consult your tax professional, I am not one.
Crowdsourcing is where companies and organizations hire many people to do work at the same time. Crowdflower and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, the leading crowdsourcing sites, let businesses instantly hire millions of people waiting to work on an assignment. Most of the projects are data-intensive computer work, but if you can do that, you can be one of the crowd. Just like freelancing, this is another great way to “test the waters” of returning to work, without making the full-time commitment.
Start a Business
If you have an idea for a business, there has never been a better time to start one. From selling things on Etsy, to creating an e-commerce store on Shopify, the technology exists to help you do it yourself, in record time. The Company Corporation is a great resource for starting a LLC or other business model too.
My favorite book for the concept of starting your own business online is the 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. Packed with ideas and techniques to start a part-time business from home, Tim’s book is a must read. To get inspiration, check out this list of case studies on Tim’s blog too.
Preparing Your Resume
Today, most organizations rely on some form of “applicant tracking system” to collect, review, and distribute resumes to recruiters and hiring leaders. Conventional wisdom used to be you write a resume for ease of reading. While this is still true, WHO is doing the reading has changed. These systems accept resumes and scan their contents relative to the position being filled, to find the best matches. This means a few things:
- You have to write your resume for a computer to review and process it. Here are some great resources from CIO Magazine, “5 Secrets to Beat Applicant Tracking Systems,” and Salary.com “How to Beat Resume Filtering Software.”
- You still need to correctly format your resume, as it will likely be stored as an attachment for distribution internally.
- You have to customize every resume you submit to match the job you applied to.
For more resume writing advice in your profession, check out this Google search, and change “marketing” to your profession.
Be sure to think deeply about the experience you have. Any position can and should be explained to its full potential, using accomplishments, awards, reviews and other information to support your case. Forbes reports that research by Universum concluded that employers are looking for these top 3 personality traits, so make sure they are reflected in your work experience:
- Professionalism (86%)
- High Energy (76%)
- Confidence (61%)
- Self-monitoring (58%)
- Intellectual Curiosity (57%)
Don’t be overly concerned with gaps of time in the work experience section of your resume. Instead, focus on what else you did during that time that may be of value to an employer. Did you volunteer, sit on a board, run a committee, travel the world, lead a group, etc? Maybe you only focused on raising a family, in which case you became an expert in multi-tasking, patience, scheduling, dealing with adversity, and more. While not literally “work experience” per se, any of those activities and skills can and should be shown on a resume.
Every organization handles interviewing in a slightly different way, depending on their hiring practices and the position that is being filled. In general, you can count on an initial interview with a recruiter, a second interview with the hiring manager, and potentially third and fourth interviews with executives or the team(s) you will be working with. Some of these interviews may be phone interviews, some may be over video conference, some will be one-on-one and some will be one-to-many.
Whether conducting an interview over video conference or in person, it’s key to look professional for the interview. I recommend reviewing outfits in Fast Company magazine, as well as other mens and women’s fashion magazines to brush up on your business professional style. While you can get away with matching the dress of your prospective employer, it’s always best to look your best for the interview.
Typical and Not-so Typical Questions
As you prepare for the interview, review each section of your resume and be able to provide examples of everything you mention in it. Remember: no one knows you better than you (that’s a great mantra to repeat to yourself pre-interview too!). Make sure you think about what your interviewers want to get out of the interview, and be certain you know everything possible about them.
For help with the questions you may encounter, try 333 Helpful Interview Questions, a reference used by many. I also highly recommend reading Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? by William Poundstone. In it, you’ll see how the great recession mainstreamed bizarre interview questions, what types of questions and interviewing techniques are gaining popularity, and how to see and react to them during the interview.
Hopefully this article delivered on my goal of providing tips you can use to prepare for a job search, find a job, learn about new types of work, resumes, and interviewing. To stay connected with the latest trends in working smarter, personal development, and leadership, subscribe to Dot Connector via email.