This past Sunday I was featured in the IndyStar on an article geared towards rookie job seekers. If you missed it or care to read that article – just click here.
A side bar to that article touched on the topic of re-entering the workforce after an extended leave. I think the writer, Lori Darvas, did a fantastic job and I was so glad she included this sidebar. Given that space is limited and I was not the only Career Coach featured I wanted to further expand on my comments in that piece.
The first thing that was attributed to me in the sidebar was “Don’t apologize.”
I stand by that and continue to say that to ay of my clients who are struggling with re-entering the workforce. I have worked with many clients who made a choice to leave the professional workforce and concentrate on their families.
From rearing children to caring for loved ones – our family obligations took center stage – as they should. Reason number one for not apologizing.
Let me take a moment here and get personal – for those of you who know me I heard that sarcastic comment you just made – I was a stay at home mom at one point so I know of which I speak.
When my ex-husband and I discovered we were going to be parents we made the joint, conscious decision that I would stay home to take care of our son. I have a great deal of respect for women who do this for the entire span of their kid’s childhood, even more so for parents of more than one child.
When it came time to re-enter the workforce I was terrified. I felt I had lost touch, I didn’t have any professional skills to offer and worst of all that I wouldn’t be able to talk to an adult without sounding like an idiot making baby talk.
Needless to say I was hired and it was the first step in a wonderful, crazy career path.
I also know about taking care of a relative during critical illness. My son’s father was diagnosed years later with advanced, aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphatic cancer. For the next several months I was at the hospital every night and every weekend while juggling a full-time new job and full time single-motherhood responsibilities. At that point we were divorced so I could not afford to leave my job.
We often get to pick out the next steps in our career path but do not always have the same fortune for our life path. It is not the twists and turns that determine our success but the actions we take in moving forward. For re-entering the workforce the actions are how you present yourself and that time away.
When we begin to explore re-entering the workforce we get hit with an ugly truth, which is most often written on the faces of those standing right in front of us or in the voices on the other end of the phone.
It is the “Oh.”
Here is the set up of the “Oh.”
Person A: “So, what do you do?”
You: “I was an award winning scientist who saved countless lives in third world countries by developing a way to turn dirt into healthy, clean water.”
Person A: “Wow! How long have you been doing that?”
You: “Well I did that for 20 years then took time off to raise my three children and now I am ready to get back to saving lives.”
Person A: *pause* “Oh” *uncomfortable silence*
Okay, a little extreme, I know; but my point is as soon as you say you were a stay at home mom or primary care giver people shut down. The look comes across their face and the tone comes in their voice.
I really think they expect you to then do something motherly or caregiver-like. Something like saying, “You have dirt on your face, let me get that off” while licking your thumb and using super-mom spit to remove it and any freckles they might have had since childhood.
The point is people do not know how to react to you. Reason number two for not apologizing. At the core their ineptitude is not your issue.
If you were a caregiver it might hit too close to home that they don’t want to think about the very real possibility that we can all be struck down in a moments notice; if it is child rearing and they are not personally exposed to staying at home then they cannot relate to the entire experience.
They cannot relate.
That being said, however, it is yours to manage before the “Oh.”
And remember, you are re-entering a business world.
Therefore you need to adjust your mindset to business. I am the first to congratulate you and admire you for what you did; however, as a possible networking connection or employer I don’t care unless it directly contributes to what is important to me: what you can do for the company.
Cold, yes; reality, double yes.
What did you do while rearing children or providing primary care that would correlate to the business world? What additional value did you gain during that time? Did you continue education or did you volunteer?
While I was at home I finished my Bachelor’s Degree, earning honors. I also managed and completed two moves of my family from organizing the finances; determining the locations; securing all the approvals and engagement of all vendors and stakeholders while completing both within specific timeframes and budgets.
While my ex-husband was battling cancer I became the driver of all areas – managing complicated finances; conferring with hospitals, outside agencies, family, friends and other providers; arranging appointments, travel and accommodations; and communicating with and engaged all members of his health care team to ensure everyone was on the same page and goals were met.
In describing these things in the above way it gives the other person a different perspective of what I did – a business perspective.
How are you presenting yourself?
Depending on your audience adjust your elevator speech. For job interviews approach your recent past from a business perspective. If they want someone who has strong organizational and communication skills then emphasizing the caretaker role similar to how I explained it above emphasizes these points.
If you are in a very relaxed setting you can even present it in a way that encourages a reaction or question. Perhaps, “I think the most accurate description for I did over the past X years is wrangling cats and giving them baths every day. I raised three kids.”
Just do NOT APOLOGIZE.
Do not downplay what you have done or the choices you made. I will never apologize for being a stay at home mom. If I were able to do so I would have been a stay at home caregiver as well.
You did what was best for you and your family – there is no apology for that.
I have emphasized that over and over, I know; however it gets so engrained in our minds based upon the actual and assumed reactions that it becomes an unconscious event.
Look at your resume. Have you downplayed it to the point that when someone reads your resume that section sounds like an apology? Something like: “Sorry to have checked out of the professional world to just do this….”
Just is a bad word.
You are never just a stay at home mom or just a caregiver. If you have been placed in that role did you sit around and eat bon-bons all day? Heck no!
If you see yourself as a just than others will, too. Reason number three for not apologizing.
How you see yourself is how others will see you. If you present yourself as a confident, prepared and exceptional candidate than that is the impression you will leave on others.
Change your attitude, change your approach and don’t use the super-mom spit and you should be well on your way to securing that next professional position.
Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW
Certified Professional Resume Writer
Career Polish, Inc.