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Karen Dwyer: 5 Tips to Help Stay-at-Home Parents Return to the Workforce

Here's what you can do to get yourself ready to go back to work — that other work.

Every day parents make the decision of whether to stay at home with their children or continue working, and less than half as many parents choose to stay at home today compared to 50 years ago. In 2006, nearly 5.8 million parents stayed at home with their children, according to the Census Bureau. Many of those parents return to the workforce after their children are older, but making the transition from being a stay-at-home parent to an employee can be an overwhelming task. Parents face changing routines, worrying about their children, juggling family responsibilities and reporting to someone else. Whether you’ve been at home for one year or 20 years, you can take several steps to prepare for the change.

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Karen Dwyer

» Investigate your options. Decide what type of position will work best for you and your family, financially and emotionally. Consider factors such as schedule, stress level, salary range and career development opportunities. Some experts recommend going back to work full-time, because part-time jobs with flexible schedules are harder to find. But, part-time jobs are out there, too. You may just have to look harder. If your children are school age and you want to be home when they get home, a part-time job or flexible schedule may work best. Or, you may prefer to work full-time to earn a salary that would help you better provide for your family financially.

Figure out what is most important to you and what you want to gain by rejoining the workforce. This will help you decide which option is right for you. If you want to re-enter the workforce to rebuild a strong career, a full-time position may suit you best. This is also the time to decide whether you want to change your career path and try something new, especially if your interests and skills have changed while you were at home.

» Build your knowledge. If you haven’t stayed current on your field of expertise, make every effort to update your skills to ensure a successful return to the workforce. You may need to acquire new knowledge of technology, processes and trends related to your industry that have changed since you last worked.

You can update your skills in many ways throughout your time at home. Volunteer for a position in your community or at your children’s school that relates to your field and uses important skills related to the type of job you’re seeking. Books, magazines and the Internet are great sources for information to expand your knowledge. You can also take a class at a community college or online to receive specialized training in the latest techniques and trends. If you’re up-to-date on your industry, you’ll have a better chance of qualifying for positions and landing an interview.

» Update your résumé. Writing a current résumé is an important first step because this process will help you mentally prepare for your job search. If you fear your résumé-writing skills are rusty, career service centers, former co-workers and friends in your field can lend guidance on what to include and how to arrange your information. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

An employment gap, or lack of work history, will be evident on a chronological résumé, so use a functional one instead to emphasize your skills and qualifications. Include volunteer positions you’ve held while at home, such as serving on the Parent Teacher Association. Then, provide examples of ways those positions gave you relevant experience. Also, think of the skills you used to care for your children, help with school activities and volunteer in the community. List the skills you used as a parent that would be helpful in the job you’re seeking, such as time management, multitasking and patience.

» Network. Get in touch with old friends, colleagues and former bosses. Let them and anyone you’ve stayed in contact with know you’re preparing to re-enter the workforce. Networking is one of the top ways to land an interview, and it’s particularly critical for workers competing with applications who have not experienced a work history gap. Previous co-workers, customers and clients provide great connections to job openings. Getting involved in local organizations, activities and alumni groups that relate to your field can also provide you with great job leads.

Other networking opportunities are available to you as a stay-at-home parent. You can network with other stay-at-home parents or working parents at your children’s school. Some might be the hiring managers themselves, and others just might know about job openings at their spouse’s company.

» Practice interviewing. Before you’re invited to interview with a company, practice your interviewing skills. Chances are you might be a little rusty, but you can easily brush up on your skills. Ask a friend to role play with you, and have them ask tough questions, such as “Why is there an employment gap on your résumé?” and “How have you prepared yourself to return to work?” Also, write down several questions to ask the interviewers. If you need your schedule to be flexible in case you need time for family commitments or if you require certain benefits for you and your family, be sure to wait and ask about these concerns after a job offer has been extended.

When you’re preparing for an interview, make sure you also plan to dress appropriately and arrive on time. Interviewers will know you’re serious about returning to the workforce if you’re properly prepared and are assured about your decision to return to work.

Preparation is key to successfully landing any job, and that’s also true for stay-at-home parents. The big difference is how you prepare. So, use these five steps and gain the confidence you need to make a smooth transition from stay-at-home parent to employee.

Karen Dwyer is owner of Express Employment Professionals, 9 W. Figueroa St. Click here to contact her or call 805.965.6900.

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