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20 Years Out of the Workforce & Into A Great Job: 4 Lessons Learned

If you are in life stage: Itching to Work Again Posted September 28th, 2016
By Kathryn Sollmann

ID-10088168One of my blog readers wrote to me recently to share her success story. I, in turn, have to share it with all of you because it’s proof positive that women can find the work that fits their lives—whether they’ve been climbing the corporate ladder for decades or volunteering for 20 years.

Here’s her note:

“After more than 20 years at home, with a long resume of volunteering at my children’s schools and at three non-profits, I am about to land my first full-time job since I left work to have my first child.

In the past three years I have had a bout with cancer, major surgery and post-surgical complications; landed my first part-time paid job in a field that was new to me; completed a very successful four-month project at one of the above mentioned non-profits; and now have a job offer from them with enormous flexibility because they want me to come back.

After the part-time job came to an end last May, I spent the summer at home anchoring my family while my husband had a major job search.

I wrote multiple updated versions of my resume and posted one on LinkedIn, thinking “no one will EVER look at this.” In January when I was invited to run the four-month project, the hiring manager said, “I saw your profile on LinkedIn and you are perfect for this project!” I laughed and had to run home to see which resume version I had posted. 

There has been an evolution in how I view the time I spent volunteering. I focus less on the “volunteering” part, and more on the work and accomplishments I had in that period.

My change of attitude has been helpful in getting me out into the paid working world again.

I know that the advice to stay-at-home moms is to get back into the working world incrementally, to use your connections and volunteer experience to network, and sometimes, if you are in the right place at the right time when a job opens up, you’ll be the first in line for it. 

I’m still amazed that it worked for me. I know that I have worked hard to get here but I also didn’t angst about it along the way. The pieces seem to have fallen into place.

Thank you for encouraging us to get back in the game in a way that works for each of us…”

Indeed it is a great case study that defies all cynics who say it’s not possible to return to paid work after a very long hiatus. But this woman’s happy ending to her time at home is not just luck. There are three major lessons learned from her story:

  1. If you must be out of the workforce (9 Lives for Women is focused on helping women find some kind of flexible work at every age and life stage for long-term financial security), volunteering is a great way to keep your resume current. Choose volunteer projects that require business skills (e.g., book fair treasurer, not field trip driver) and give you the opportunity to assume leadership roles.
  2. Don’t assume that you can always return to work “later”. Hundreds of women have told me they left the workforce for what they said would be “a couple of years” to get things organized at home. That couple of years turns into an average of 12. And there are lots of life “you never knows” that can make the hiatus even longer. This woman always had an eye to the future—and she always found a way to use her business skills through part-time work or volunteer projects. Even in the midst of her own health issues she was well-positioned to capitalize on her skills.
  3. Get on Linkedin before you’re truly left out. It’s not some crazy social media thing. Linkedin is trolled by thousands of professionals looking to fill positions every day. It’s a powerful networking engine that allows you to connect with people you would rarely encounter in everyday life. Make sure your profile is complete, professional and compelling.

And #4? As we move to a freelance economy, more women than ever are starting second careers on their own professional and family terms. You can do it, too. —KAS



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