Time for Mom to go back to Work?

If you quit work or scaled back your schedule after the kids came along, you may have reached a point where it is time to reassess your needs. Perhaps you need the money, or you fear your skills are becoming outdated, or you are ready to have a grown-up persona again. There are natural inflection points when moms seem to have to review their situation:

  • After youngest child starts school
  • Oldest kid can drive and transport the others
  • Need to buy cars and insurance for kids over 16
  • College tuition
  • 401(k) and retirement need shoring up

If you’re evaluating your options, the current economy may seem like a crummy time to be rejoining the work force. However, that shouldn’t deter you from preparing so that you are ready for an opportunity. Heed the advice of a recruiter and mom (yours truly):

1. Get motivated about going to work. Candidates who are insincere about working unwittingly signal their reluctance. They lack enthusiasm and answer questions as if they were just being polite instead of eager and engaged. Any employer wants to see a candidate demonstrate enthusiasm; how else will she be motivated enough to learn, let alone do, the job?

If you would prefer to be at home but the numbers simply won’t work, there’s no use lamenting the situation. Instead, think about what your income will do for your family. You may be eliminating the strain on the household budget or making it possible to build a savings cushion. If you need benefits, imagine how you’ll be providing more health coverage or greater security, such as life insurance in case something were to happen to you.

2. Eliminate obvious weaknesses. If you haven’t used Excel in eight years or your last Powerpoint presentation was in grad school, it won’t take much for you to bone up on the software. Of course you will pick it back up in a few days on a job, but that’s still a gamble to an employer. Sign up for a FREE course at the library (Hoover and Vestavia offer courses, among others) and you’ll be able to demonstrate that you’ve already been polishing your skills.

You reassure an employer when you can say, “I used Excel in my last job, and I recently completed a course to refresh my knowledge and get familiar with some of the new features. I found that the essentials of the program were unchanged and it came back easily with practice.” Note: Managing the family budget via Excel is NOT a sufficient comparison to work unless you are managing a substantial family trust.

3. Anticipate the obvious questions. Have an answer prepared for questions like, “Why are you interested in this job?” or anything related to your absence from the workforce. Gaps concern employers because they could indicate a hidden part of your history, such as a bad ending (embezzlement or incarceration – it happens!) or an loss of skills during that time.  Raising a family is a perfectly good reason for an employment gap, but don’t act as if the party’s over and you’re going back to work. Employers are looking for assurance that you are serious about contributing and that you are up on your game. They want to know that you will perform well in the job (so hopefully you like and excel at the tasks involved) and that you have realistic expectations, so show that you and are excited about a new chapter in your career.

4. Know your rights. You are protected from employment discrimination based on gender or pregnancy, among other things. Managers who haven’t been trained may not know that they can’t ask questions about your family plans or how you will arrange childcare. Here are the two tests I recommend to managers for interview questions: 1) Is the question clearly job related?  and 2) Would this question be asked of any applicant, regardless of gender, age, etc.?

Avoid letting the conversation drift to your family, the age of your children, or your husband’s vocation. Although you may think this is small talk, some hiring managers can’t help speculating about how you will manage childcare or whether you “have to work.” Simply respond that you have considered the specifics of the job and will be able to arrive on time consistently and work the hours as required.

Above all, don’t be intimidated by the fact that you haven’t interviewed in awhile. The working girl you were before kids is still there, she’s just gained a greater perspective on life…and work.