Picture it. You’re getting ready to clean the house. What do you do? Well, you don’t really jump into cleaning, right? You prepare the house first— you put away the clothes and toys lying around, strip the beds, throw away old papers, etc. Then you move on to dusting shelves, wiping down furniture and eventually vacuuming and mopping— in other words, you work inside out and top to bottom. And you do much more of course. You manage the house, the bills, the car and everything that involves the children— scheduling doctor’s appointments, daycare, activities, trips, shopping, meals and so on. As a homemaker, you’ve made a science and an art out of this daily madness.
And from your success as a parent, you’ve built amazing organizational and time management skills (not to mention patience). That’s great news! Because if you’re thinking about stepping out of the house and into the workforce, you need these skills to survive the madness of job searching in today’s employment market. So, before you take the plunge into the job search, take that baby step first.
Step ½: Stop and Think
Sit down quietly somewhere and ask yourself, Why do I want to reenter the workforce, now? Why do I ‘need’ to reenter the workforce now? Have I been parenting for awhile and want to do something else, too? Would I like my own money, truly my ‘own’ money? Do I miss working with people? Do I miss crunching numbers or working with computers? Would I like to do something artistic or sporty? Although it might be cute at times, would I like to wear something other than a child-stained t-shirt? Would I like to have any part of a previous life again and be a contributing co-worker or member of a team, company or community? Do I just want to get out of the house?
Whatever the reason, it’s important. It’s important to figure out the ‘why’. Then it’s equally important to figure out the ‘what.’ What kind of jobs do I want? (and I say ‘jobs’ because you’ll want to keep your options open). Do I want to help people, make a product, offer a service? Where and for whom do I want to work? How close to home? How many hours a week? How much do I want (or need) to earn? Do I need flexible scheduling or daycare services and health benefits?
Step 1: Recognize your challenges
Just considering reentering the workforce after being absent for any length of time can cause high anxiety— and lots of questions. What will I be considered ‘qualified’ to do after all this time? Do I have marketable skills? What skills are they even looking for today? Does my background match what I’m looking to do now? How do I even start looking for a job? Who will employers see when they look at my resume? Wait a minute, where is my resume? Can I really send it out like this? Is one page enough, two pages too long? Can I act the part on interview day? What questions will they ask? Will they consider my age ‘out of date’, education archaic and experience too far gone? These are critical questions worth your time in answering.
Oh, and whatever your personal situation, know that everyone shares one particular challenge— today’s highly competitive job market. Just the sheer increase in the number of people in your neighborhood makes any job search more competitive. Then, consider the continuous speedy introduction of new industries, organizations, technologies and education, and you have a whole new world to enter.
No matter what you want, finding it is a process— a process that doesn’t happen overnight.
In fact, job searching has hit a 19-year high average of five months. Today you must be prepared to enter the race, have the tools to run the race and the commitment to win the race. There’s lots of work involved and you’ll want to determine how you can squeeze ‘job search’ into your daily list of chores.
Step 2: Prepare the house
Literally. Set a quiet place in the house where you can concentrate on the job search. Create a ‘work station’ equipped with a computer, notepads, folders, pens/pencils, phone and calendar. It is recommended that one spend 40 hours a week on job searching when unemployed and 15 hours if employed. Since you are a parent (a full time job), let’s go with the latter. Now consider setting a schedule of how many hours per day/week you can physically commit to the job search. You’ll be performing such chores as reading, Internet searching, letter writing and phone calling. So, you’ll want to choose times that you (not your surroundings) are most energized to do so.
Step 3: Prepare your tools
Your tools consist of (a)industry/job ‘research’, (b)list of personal/professional networks and (c)a stand-out ‘career change’ resume.
Why? Because industries, job titles, responsibilities and requirements have changed, many considerably in recent years. You’ll want to know some facts before you begin applying for jobs. Start with reviewing printed versions of industry publications and trade journals for updated news. If you prefer the Internet, try visiting www.google.com and type in ‘(field of interest) industry news.’ This will provide a host of site listings for publications, article archives, member organizations, etc. with up-to-the-minute information on companies, products, practices and more. Another great site is www.bls.gov/oco which leads to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (also offered in print), providing an A-Z industry index with trends, employment numbers, job descriptions, educational requirements, working conditions and salaries.
In addition, great resources for ‘job research’ are actual job search engines, like Monster.com, Careerbuilders.com and Hotjobs.com. To find industry-specific job search engines, such as accountingjobs.com and tvjobs.com, do another google search. When you arrive at any of these search engines, you will be prompted to enter your job criteria (i.e. industry, location, position level, salary range, etc.). Each site operates differently and depending on the listings outcome, you may have to adjust your criteria to broaden or tailor your search.
If you have a particular company you are interested in, advance your search by checking out their home site to gather direct company data. And most medium to large-sized firms have their own ‘careers’ section to apply.
Not only will all this research help you identify and find the jobs you’re interested in, it will help you understand and plan for what you might need to pursue such jobs, like taking a computer class, industry seminar or training course, as well as acquiring a professional certificate.
Make a list of family, friends, previous co-workers and people in your neighborhood (these people know more people— perhaps in your field of interest). If you’ve conducted the research suggested above, you will be able to put your list into action by bringing information to the table and discussing with confidence your background as it relates to your career objectives. While networking remains the number one method of finding ‘leads’ to job openings, networking does not mean calling your contacts and asking “Do you know of any job openings at your company?” Not only is this uncomfortable to ask outright, if there are none, your conversation is over. Instead, call your contacts to arrange a phone/in-person meeting to discuss your career ideas. Networking creates visibility for your campaign and can lead to more contacts and meetings— and ultimately, opportunities to position yourself as a ‘recommended candidate.’
(c) Stand-out Resume and Letters
It is imperative that your self-marketing tool be ready for the 30-second challenge (that’s the going rate recruiters and hiring managers spend on reviewing resumes). And be aware, even if you’re planning on reentering a previous career, you are coming from your ‘parental’ role and will have to translate this history to your present job goal.
If you are equipped to write a stand-out ‘career change ’resume, start your engines. If you’re not sure, there are numerous resume writing tutorial books and Web sites available. However, in the interest of time and competitive quality, working with a professional resume writer is worth the investment. A professional writer has the training and expertise to draw out experience and skills from your ‘parental job’ and develop content that speaks the language (and fits the format) of today’s recruiters. In addition, through probing objective questions you would not ask yourself, they are able to uncover unique skills and accomplishments you didn’t even know you had and recapture experience from years prior— while filling in time gaps honestly and with reason.
Step 4: Commit to the Race
From here on it’s a matter of persistence, follow-through, patience and support. And I stress support. The job search process is hard work, technically challenging and often times confusing. And it will lead to interviews— which are nerve wracking to say the least. Take the time to research, talk with your family and friends, consult with professional coaches and/or join a networking group. The answers to your smallest questions can make all the difference between being stuck and moving with purpose.