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How to Jump Back into the Workforce

How to Jump Back into the Workforce

By Christine Condon

If your career looks like a cardiograph--starting out in life with a normal beat, spiking with excitement when you get promoted and then at some point flatlining, you are not alone--and it can be revived.

Today, the American career has many phases. This is the new reality of our workforce. For mothers who are ready to return to work, what does a career look like when you've been away for two years--or five or ten?

Ellevate Network recently hosted an NYC event, “The Career Zigzag,” led by moderator Kathryn Sollmann, Founder of 9 Lives for Women. Panelists included Sophie WadeAllison O’Kelly and Carol Fishman-Cohen, who are all in the business of helping women figure out their next step as they move in and out of the job market.

Perhaps the best way to return after an absence is to know something of the culture you are entering into. "Millennials will make up 50% of the workforce by 2020...and 50% of Americans will be freelancers by 2020--that's 80 million people," stated Sophie Wade, founder of Flexcel Network which helps people work towards a self-directed career. “Millennials are drivers of change. They look at the structures we work in and say it doesn't work.” Also, technology enables people to work from anywhere. With these two influencers at work, companies won't hold fast to the traditional work structure.

The 30-year career at a single company is practically as rare as a unicorn. In the future, the norm will be for people to become their own talent managers, leading a self-directed career. People will come to have “portfolio careers,” in which they take their skills and apply them in different areas.

Allison O’Kelly, founder of Mom Corps, places women in flexible positions. If you are planning to re-enter the workforce after a long period of time, she recommends targeting contract roles, not part-time, because that's what's in demand for most companies. Set your sights on mid-size companies of 50-100 employees and get something new on your resume.

Carol Fishman-Cohen, a mother of four who paused her career for 11 years while she focused on family, is the CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch. She said that more and more companies are providing internship programs for career re-entry--such as Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan--and she views this as a milestone. Companies are recognizing that they have a high-quality pool of candidates in returning mothers.

Fishman-Cohen advises to get your foot in the door with a contract position or special project--and use this as a stepping stone to permanent placement later.

Seventy percent of women say they want a full-time role after a break. Some may want a more junior role with no travel. The panelists advised us to think about how to sell this idea to an interviewer, such as, “It might appear I'm overqualified, but I gave this deliberate thought. It's the right role at this stage in my life.”

Another approach is to make a professional case for flexibility. What's in it for the employer? Don't make the request all about you. Build a history of performance and assure your manager that quality won't change.

Give your employer an out; suggest trying it for a couple of months and be clear that you want to know how it's working for them.

Recognize for yourself that you will need to work harder at communicating if you’re not there in person. Be available on the days you're not in the office.Flexible hours require give and take. Own that communication and own that flexibility for your employer.

Another thing that can really help you re-enter the workforce is to do a career assessment. And, volunteer in roles relevant to your career goals--or leverage this to get into a completely different role.

Most of all, stay confident. As moms, the amount of things you can accomplish is phenomenal, so take action by volunteering or doing special projects to build up your confidence. You’ll find it much easier to find your niche and return to a fulfilling career.