You CAN return to work. Here’s what it takes.

15 August 2018Job Search Skills • Susan Rietano Davey



One of my earliest and all-time favorite clients is a woman named Carol.

Carol left her job as a senior corporate trainer for a national retailer to stay home and raise three sons. Her youngest was just entering kindergarten when we met.

Warm, animated and excited about going back to work, Carol impressed me instantly. But she’d been out for over ten years, her company no longer existed, and the only recent job on her résumé was part-time spritzer – the person who indiscriminately “samples” perfume on you as you enter a large department store. (I don’t think stores employ them anymore, but they were big in the ‘80s and ‘90s).

I was new to the coaching and placement world, Carol’s skills were narrow and dated, her experience didn’t align with the industries in our area, and that spritzing job she’d taken just to get out of the house was no asset. I wasn’t optimistic.

Then, not long after we’d met, a client from a major power company called. Mark needed a one-year project manager to establish a college recruitment program and take it on the road. My partners and I had two candidates with skills and industry experience well aligned with the position. But I couldn’t stop thinking of Carol. She had run her company’s college internship program; she had trained the college recruits; she had the chutzpah necessary for a job like this. And, even though she didn’t have the ideal skill fit that the other two did, I actually thought she’d be the better overall fit for the team, the manager (Mark), and the company.

So, I picked up the phone. “Mark, I have two ideal candidates for the position,” I explained, “and one who doesn’t look as good on paper but who I think could be an even better fit. I hope you’ll interview all three.” Mark called back after receiving Carol’s résumé and my cover note: “I don’t think so, Susan. I’m just not seeing it. Just send me the two.” He was right. He wouldn’t see it until he saw Carol. Now, Mark was a very busy senior HR professional and we didn’t have much of a history yet, so I was risking wasting his time (and losing his confidence) when I implored: “Humor me, Mark. Please just invite her in.”

And he did, and he loved her, and he hired her, and she won the top contractor award, and she was hired full-time, etc. etc. Now, 20+ years and a couple of moves later, Carol is one of the top HR executives at a global telecommunications conglomerate – and still going strong at 60.

I tell this story frequently because it demonstrates my belief that 80% of every hiring decision comes down to some variation of “do we want to work with this person?”

But I tell it most often because many of the aspiring women-returners I meet are defeated – fully expecting rejection as ‘punishment’ for taking years off to raise their children – when the reality is that they, like Carol, are unquestionably employable. I’ve personally witnessed hundreds – probably over 1,000 – of them find fulfilling work in my small corner of the world (Connecticut).

Some things make it easier, of course, like keeping up with industry trends, staying current with certifications and licensure, and maintaining relationships with old clients and co-workers. But what I saw, over two decades of placing women-returners, is that even women with skill deficiencies and lapsed credentials can successfully return to work if they have these five things:

1 – realistic expectations based on thorough research and honest self-assessment

2 – a compelling résumé (print + digital, i.e. LinkedIn) that meaningfully accounts for their opt-out years

3 – a commitment to remediating skill gaps on the job or through inexpensive means like online or local continuing education courses

4 – an aggressive (not a popular word among women, but spot-on here) networking plan to get in front of connectors and hiring managers

5 – flexibility and the willingness to consider unconventional offerings like temporary projects or low-paying internships as a way to get a foot in the door.

The economy is improving. The labor market is tight. The voluntary quit rate is at a 17-year high. Employers are competing to hire good people. And, these days, you don’t have to be perfect to be ‘good people’.

Your gapped résumé, your ‘not entirely perfect’ experience, your application that meets only 60% of the job criteria, are all plenty good enough now. Take advantage of the timing and start preparing your re-launch.

Carol spritzed her way into the C-suite at a Fortune 40 company.

There’s no telling where you can go.

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