For working daughters, taking a career break is often the only option we see for finding the time and energy to care for an aging and/or ill parent or family member. In fact, nearly 70 percent of caregivers experience work-related interruptions and many of us stop work as a result.
But remaining unemployed after caregiving ends isn’t always viable. As women, there is a good chance we’re making somewhere between 50 and 80 cents on the dollar depending on the color of our skin. Plus, we may have suffered a loss of wages earlier in our careers if we took a break to have and raise children. As a result, our retirement accounts suffer and yet we’re expected to live longer than men. We need to work in order to pay for our own retirement and long term care needs.
Returning to the workforce after an extended period of time can be a challenge – especially for women in their 40s and 50s – the average age of a family caregiver. Here are some tips for returning to work after a career break due to eldercare no matter your age or how long you’ve been out.
Do your homework
Identify what you want to do and how much you want and/or need to make. Before you start sending resumes or calling on your network for leads, create a clear picture of what you are looking for. What kind of work do you want to do? Where do you want to work? How many hours would you prefer? What skills would you like to utilize? How much do you need and want to earn?
Next, do your research. Assume that things have changed in your industry or field. Read trade magazines. Listen to podcasts about the industry. Figure out who you know. And very important – what do you need to learn that may not have been relevant before you left the workforce?
Hone your skills. If, in doing your research, you identified a critical skill that you don’t yet have, start learning it! Is the accounting department using new software? Has the marketing focus shifted to affiliate networking? Is the content team creating TikTok videos? Have the processes changed for the operations team? Luckily, there are lots of places you can sharpen your skills online. Checkout these great sites where you can learn everything from branding to UX design.
Now it’s time to network. Tell everyone you are looking to get back to work and what you are looking to do. Specifically, reach out to former colleagues. Ask for informational interviews with people in the industry and companies you want to return to. This is a good way to find out what has changed and what is most valued today. While you can reach out to people on LinkedIn with a polite and specific introductory email and simple request, in-person is still the best way to build meaningful connections. Find local conferences and professional meet ups and get out there! And then supplement your in real life networking by joining an organization like Ellevate or Women In Tech International (WITI) or Women Who Code and then taking advantage of the events they host.
Package your leave. While there are always going to be some hiring managers who view a career break negatively, there are more and more who have come to understand that they are normal, and, can be a positive. According to LinkedIn, “Fifty-one percent of hiring managers believe people who take career breaks can restart their careers at any time.” Own your break. Give some thought to how you will characterize it, and, how you will use it as a positive. What skills did you use/learn during your time away from the paid work world? Also, read this to remind yourself how great you are.
Prepare your tools
Refresh your LinkedIn profile. Is your LinkedIn up to date? It must be. Update your picture with a professional headshot or as close as you can get to that with a photo from your iPhone. Do not take a Facebook pic and crop out your best friend. Put on some business attire, find good lighting and smile! Next, update your LinkedIn headline. Let people know what you do and that you are open to work in one line. Ex. Accounting manager with 15 years experience available for work. Fill out the Career Break section. This is a new feature from LinkedIn – use it. Here’s how: Add Career Breaks to your Profile.
The Career Break category allows individuals who have taken time away from the traditional workforce not only to call out their career breaks on their LinkedIn profiles, but to describe the highlights of their career break experiences — including travel, family responsibilities, or volunteer work — just as they would a traditional work experience.
Update and optimize your resume. Most companies these days use an applicant tracking system software or ATS to scan and sort resumes. Make sure your resume will pass through this filter. How? First, use keywords. Look at the requirement sin the job posting and then include them in your resume IF they are applicable. Second, use a Word doc or PDF format. Third, create your resume in chronological order or use a combo approach. The combination resume should include a section at the top highlighting your relevant skills, followed by a chronological work history with detail.
Practice interviewing. Go ahead, sit down in front of the mirror and practice your interview skills. How will you introduce yourself? How do you describe your break? Why do you want this job? Run through your answers to these questions, before your first meeting.
Check out these resources
Check out these reentry resources. Good news. More and more companies are creating return to work programs to recruit mid-level job seekers back to work. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, approximately 40% of the Fortune 50 have an in-house career reentry program. Here are some great resources to help you reenter:
If you are looking for remote, part-time, freelance, and otherwise flexible job listings, check out FlexJobs. Use Promo code FLEXLIFE to save up to 30% off a membership.
And finally, before your next networking coffee or job interview, read this and boost your confidence.