Best Practices in Working with Women Returning to the Workplace after a Career Break
By Pamela Weinberg
Searching for a new job can be an arduous process for anyone, but for the cohort of women who have taken time off from the workplace, the job search process is typically even more challenging. The process for this population is almost always longer due to a variety of hurdles including acquiring new skills, redeveloping their network, and building confidence. Typically, the more time women are out of the workplace the longer it takes to gain re-employment. The good news is that those determined to return to work ultimately succeed and make wonderful employees.
Some of the common roadblocks women encounter include:
- Readiness/motivation: on occasion clients believe they are ready to go back to work, but once they embark on the journey, they find that they are not ready for a variety of reasons (e.g., young children at home, lack of affordable child care, lack of focus)
- Time management: setting goals and keeping them can be difficult when looking for a job, especially when working from home where so many distractions abound.
- Lack of support/network: looking for a job can be lonely,
- Age discrimination: while illegal, this does exist and many of my clients have faced this unfortunate situation.
- Fear of technology: technology has made the workplace vastly different than it was 10 years ago. For those out of the workplace for a while, the fear of new technology can often hold them back.
I have been working with this population of women for a dozen years, and have developed some strategies, tactics and tips to help ease the back-to-work transition. I have outlined a three-step process below that I have utilized with my return-to-work clients both as individuals and in group settings. In my experience, following this course of action with clients will help to organize and create a “back to work” road map for them to follow with your guidance.
Step I. Work with Clients to Assess and Analyze Their Current Status:
- Assist clients in defining their career objectives: reviewing their skills and interests; determining their priorities and values.
- Administer or recommend assessment tools and resources (www.cliftonstrengths.com is user-friendly and one that I have used with many of my clients with good results) Other suggestions include: MBTI, Strong Interest Inventory, Myplan.com)
- Urge clients to assemble a Personal Board of Directors who will provide additional support, feedback and accountability throughout their search; for example someone on the Board can be a technology whiz to help with upgrading older skills
- Steer clients to research industries and occupations utilizing available tools such as (www.NCDA.org, www.onetonline.org, www.vault.com, www.glassdoor.com)
Step II. Help to Align Client’s Values, Skills and Interests with Careers:
- Once skills assessments are completed, work with clients to build skills and competencies where needed: classes/lectures in interest area; update certifications; upgrade technology skills
- Once assessments are completed it is a good time to think about goal setting with an eye toward the job search process (examples include: re-doing resume, joining a professional association, reaching out to network). Accountability should be built into this piece to ensure good time management. Work with clients to set goals: goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timely)
- If additional experience is needed before launching into a job search, clients may want to consider strategic volunteer work to gain experience and fill-in gaps: (two good resources are www.idealist.com and www.taprootfoundation.org)
- Work with clients to create a Career Action Plan and build in accountability (see sample Career Action Plan )
Step III. Take Action:
- Work with clients on networking: Help them create their elevator pitch and to solidify their “ask” in preparation for informational interviews.; work with them on the etiquette for setting up informational interviews (i.e. email, phone, LinkedIn); have them print and carry business cards; suggest that they join professional organizations to provide additional networking and career education opportunities.
- Interview prep: Practice and role play with clients (utilize InterviewStream); help them update LinkedIn profile and resume; work with them to line up references
- Clients should strategically update other social media to utilize for job search (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram); Having clients take a class or webinar to learn new tech skills will help them be able to be successful in today’s workplace and will build confidence as well.
Following the steps listed above will set a clear course of action for helping your clients return to work, with your guidance. For some women, the career coach is the best resource. When time-management is the challenge, working with a coach may help provide the accountability needed to manage time more effectively. Other women benefit from the coach's invitation to join networking groups or career clubs at career services centers so as to gain support throughout the process. Coaching women to utilize their years of experience as a strength is a tool to mitigate concerns about age discrimination.
Key factors in their success after a career break include: developing skills (especially in technology) which helps to build confidence; time spent networking; and good time management and goal setting. There are challenges with this population as outlined above, but with hands-on coaching, the large majority of these women will successfully re-enter the workplace.
Pamela Weinberg is a Founding Partner of Mind Your Own Business Moms www.myobmoms.com, and works with women in various stages of career development both privately and in groups. In addition, she maintains a career coaching practice working with clients helping with job searches, career advancement, social media and more. Pamela was an adjunct instructor at NYU-SCPS in the field of Career Management, offering a variety of seminars and workshops there. Through her work at the Wasserman Center for Career Development at New York University and the Office of Career Management at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, Pamela has gained valuable experience counseling a diverse population from undergraduate students to career changers. At both institutions, Pamela worked with clients on resume development, interview techniques, networking tips and job search strategies. She can be reached at Pamela@pamelaweinberg.com