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Going Back to Work

Tips for transitioning from stay-at-home mom to career professional

She’d been a stay-at-home mom for about a decade and a half. Her life was rich, full, and demanding. But now that she was ready to return to the workforce, Linda was at a loss.

As she stared at her resume on the computer screen, she saw parts that looked really strong, but also what seemed like a lot of “blank space.” How could she describe her career break in a way that would help—rather than hurt—her job prospects?

Linda knew those years away from the workforce and focusing on her kids weren’t a waste. The time she spent raising her kids had challenged her in multiple ways, testing and honing her creativity, efficiency, and people skills. But how was she supposed to account for that in a job application? She certainly couldn’t put this on her resume:

CEO, COO, CFO & HR Manager, Mommy, Inc. (1994-2014). Executive in charge of human being development, including socialization, quality controls, and logistics. Undertook comprehensive team-building and motivational program. Oversaw complex trade negotiations (valued at up to 1.5 million Legos).

Would potential employers even give her serious consideration after so much “time off?”

The new, professional you

How could she describe her career break in a way that would help—rather than hurt—her job prospects?

As Linda shared her concerns with me over coffee, we both winced knowingly over this common terminology. Describing those years as “time off” makes raising kids sound like some sort of extended vacation. Linda and I both knew that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I encouraged Linda to approach those years on her resume with confidence, beginning with a compelling mission statement. I pointed out to Linda that she was not the same person, personally or professionally, as she had been when she’d left her corporate job years ago. Nor should she be! Her skills and perspectives had changed and developed over the years in significant and valuable ways.

Instead of focusing on the career she’d left behind, my suggestion for Linda was to take some time reassessing her current professional goals and passions. Doing so would allow her to focus her job search and be able to clearly articulate how her particular skills and interests translated back into the working world.

I did my best to advise Linda, but the real expert is my friend Carol Fishman Cohen. Her book Back On the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work and her organization iRelaunch both aim to guide women in Linda’s exact position as they launch back into the corporate world after time away.

Planning a relaunch

Are you planning a career relaunch?

Carol was kind enough to share with me these recommendations specifically related to resume writing and handling interview questions about your stay-at-home years:

• Start the “Experience” section of your resume with your last paid position, even if it ended years ago. But if you’ve done even occasional consulting projects during your career break, some for pay and some for free, you could list those at the top of the experience section. For example, list “Carol Fishman Cohen Consulting” and use bullet points to describe your engagements.

• If your primary activities during your career break have been school-related or other volunteer work, list them in a “Community Leadership” section of your resume. Describe the volunteer experiences just like you would a paid job, using business terms and quantifying results whenever possible. The only exception would be if your “career-break experience” is especially relevant to your career goals. In that case, you might want to lead with it in the Experience section (discussed above) even though it was unpaid.

Describing those years as 'time off' makes raising kids sound like some sort of extended vacation. Linda and I both knew that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

• Regarding the years you’ve been out of the workforce, you can either 1) include the years in the Experience section on your resume under the sub-heading “Career Break”; or 2) leave the years unaccounted for in the Experience section but add a “Personal” section at the end including “Career break, 2008–2014, to care for children.” Remember that, ideally, the resume will be the second point of contact a hiring manager has with you; their first point of contact should be a personal hand-off of some kind. If you’ve interacted personally, it is likely that the person will already know that you have taken a career break based on your initial conversation.

• If an interviewer is very focused on questioning you about your career break, here is a suggested response: “Yes, I took a career break to care for my children, and now I can’t wait to get back to work. In fact, the reason I am so interested in this particular position is because of the work experience I had at ABC Company where we faced very similar customer challenges. One of the most difficult situations was X, and this is what we did.” The main idea is for you to acknowledge the career break briefly and without apology, and then move on immediately to why you are the best person for the job.

If you’re looking to relaunch a career in the workforce after time as a stay-at-home mom, I encourage you to check out Carol’s book and website for more detailed and in-depth advice on this topic. As for Linda? She eventually found an amazing job working for a non-profit women’s initiative. It looks almost nothing like the traditional corporate positions she started her career in, but it’s perfectly suited for the person Linda is today.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Diane Paddison

Diane Paddison is a business professional and founder of 4wordwomen.org, local groups of professional working women committed to faith, family, work, and each other.

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