Considering a return to work? That’s smart thinking. Most women need to generate even a small income at every age and stage to boost savings for a retirement that could last 30 years or more—and fund all of life’s you never knows. But even though you know there are many benefits to a return to work, it’s not surprising if you feel stalled by multiple concerns.
In my more than a decade of coaching returning professional women, here are the concerns I always hear—and the suggestions I have to move through obstacles and calm your fears…
- You’re afraid of diving back in to what you remember as an all-consuming commitment. Paid work definitely eats up many hours in your week, but you don’t necessarily have to return to a “sell your soul” job. Women still tend to define a “job” as the traditional, more than full-time, chained-to-your-desk occupation they once held. There are many more possibilities via part-time positions, occasional freelance work and even your own very flexible entrepreneurial venture.
- Your spouse says you won’t earn enough money to make a return to work “worth it”. More than a few partners have the narrow view that only big salaries warrant a return to work. Very few women who have been out of the workforce for many years command immediate high salaries. But even relatively small “get your feet wet again” salaries can make a big difference with your savings over time.
- Or…you just can’t figure out how to generate the income you need. Due to many life twists and turns (e.g., divorce or the premature death, disability or job loss of a spouse) many women find themselves in a precarious financial position that requires an income now. Too many waste valuable income-producing months trying to find the one job that will cover all their expenses. Sometimes you need to consider more than one job—for example, a part-time job supplemented by freelance projects or a small entrepreneurial venture.
- Because of your large resume gap you don’t have any current skills. This is a familiar misconception of women who have been out of the workforce for a decade or more. The fact is that most women have continued to develop their business skills in volunteer settings. It’s a resume wording issue…you didn’t just “chair the book fair”. You managed 10 committees and 100 volunteers, wrote 30 articles for an extensive PR campaign, cultivated 50 new vendors, led 10 event workshops, and generated 35% more revenue than the previous year.
- Your resume has gathered dust and you don’t know what to list as recent experience. A good place to start is with a new heading, “Non-Profit Experience”. All that volunteer work has likely been for non-profits where you have indeed learned a lot about how to make these organizations run well on often limited budgets. Weed out the smaller, less business-oriented jobs like room mother, and zero in on the skills you used and results you achieved in key volunteer roles. Once you’ve fleshed out this recent volunteer experience, move into the “Professional Experience” section where you list previous paid roles.
- You want a job not a career. Maybe back when you didn’t have a family you worked diligently toward a career, but now you’re more drawn to a fairly stress-free job where you’re an indian, not a chief. If you have impressive educational credentials and higher-level work on your early resume, you have to make it very clear to potential employers that your ambitions have changed, you have many proven nuts and bolts skills and that you won’t be looking to run the company in month #2.
- Or…you’ve got your professional mojo back, and you don’t want to settle for anything other than the kind of job you had before. It is definitely possible to get back to your former career level—but which rung you’re qualified for on the ladder today depends on how active you’ve been in your time out. If you’ve stayed current in your field, you’ve kept in touch with old colleagues, you know all the latest trends and jargon—and you’ve kept your hand in the business through part-time work or freelance projects–you have a good shot at titles and salaries you left behind. But if you’ve been fully out of the professional realm for many years, you may need to put your ego aside and start at a more junior level. (And you’ll likely progress faster than you did at age 23.)
- Childcare will take too big of a chunk out of your back to work salary. Babies become schoolchildren before you know it, so the big babysitting bills eventually subside. In the meantime, though, even if all your work expenses eat up most of your paycheck, it still makes sense to invest the time in building your resume and portfolio of skills. When your children are in school you will be farther along in your career and well positioned for higher earnings. Generally speaking though, mothers need to think outside of the box to find alternatives to the typical child care options like expensive day care and nannies. If a full-time job is not a financial necessity, mothers can find a lot more flexibility through part-time jobs (many employers are more open to part-timers because of new health care coverage laws) and independent work (the workforce is moving more and more to self-directed freelance assignments). These options offer many possible ways to contain work during school hours or do smaller projects while children are napping or asleep for the night.
- Or, you can’t shake the feeling that you should be 100% focused on your motherhood role. If you’re thinking about returning to work, you’re feeling the need for more personal fulfillment or financial security. Professional work does not jeopardize your motherhood role—it could, in fact, be a plus, enhancing the relationships you have with your children and their later success in life. “Good mothers” are role models of integrity and caring—and also examples of professional competence and financial independence.
- You see 20-somethings heading off to the business world, and worry that your career ship has sailed. There’s no age limit on the work you can do on your own or for an employer. It’s all about the energy and enthusiasm you bring to the job. Stop thinking about who you used to be back in the day and focus on all the interesting professional paths you can take now. Creative thinking will be your biggest asset—as well as the confidence to dive in and get to next, next and next. —KAS
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