Each Monday, BND staff writer Brittney M. Helmrich will answer your questions about careers, leadership, office life and social media in her advice column, "Dear Brittney." Got a professional problem you just can't figure out? Send your conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Dear Brittney" to have your questions featured.
I'm returning to work after a few years of being a stay-at-home mom. I'm looking for some great ways to get a pulse on the job market, current résumé formatting, updates to office technologies, the best sites to look for jobs and anything else I need to know. Also, I'm not fresh out of college, so I'm looking for ways to make myself marketable to companies that may be looking for someone with less experience.
- Ready to Return
Dear Ready to Return,
It can be difficult to get back into the swing of things after a few years off, but it may not be as difficult as you think. It'll take time and dedication, but there are a lot of little steps you can take every day to catch up on what you've missed and make yourself more marketable to potential employers.
The most important thing you can do when you're looking for a job — regardless of whether you've taken time off from working — is to network. If you can get in touch with any contacts from past jobs, reach out to them. Let them know you're looking to get back into working, and ask them to keep you in mind if they hear of any jobs that might be a good fit, or if they have any advice.
If not (or even if you do — more contacts can't hurt), look into attending networking events. These can be specific to your industry, or maybe even hosted by alumni from your alma mater. Try to attend as many networking mixers and talks given by people in your chosen industry as you can, and use them as a way to meet your peers and test the waters. You never know who you could meet and who will be valuable to you in your career search.
In the meantime, start catching up on developments in your industry. There are plenty of ways you can do this, but a simple and effective way is to follow companies and thought leaders in your industry online. Read posts from companies you want to work for and successful people in those industries on their blogs and on LinkedIn, and see what they're saying on Twitter. Checking these things daily will help you stay up to speed. Plus, it's a good habit to get into even when you've already started at your new job. [See Related Story: Heading Back to Work? 3 Steps to Ease the Transition]
Speaking of social media, if you're not already using social networks, you may want to start. Having an active, professional presence that shows off your skills, interests and personality can help you a lot when you're looking for jobs. You don't have to be on every network, but Twitter and LinkedIn are great places to start — especially if you really take the time to beef up your LinkedIn profile and interact with others. This is also a great way to network with others in your industry from the comfort of your own home, to supplement the contacts you already have and those you're making when you attend networking events. Contacts like these may tweet job postings you wouldn't have found out about otherwise, exposing you to more jobs to look into.
Aside from reading up on industry news and working on your online presence, you'll need to make sure you have the right skills for the jobs you're applying for. Whether you're looking to get into the same industry you were in before, or moving into a new industry and career path, the skills you'll need may have evolved or changed. A great way to figure out what you need to know is to look at job postings — even if you're not ready to apply yet.
Look for the kinds of jobs you plan to apply for, and then read the descriptions carefully. Look for technical skills (software, etc.) and soft skills, such as communication and the ability to work independently. Evaluate your own skills and compare them to those in the job postings, and focus on improving those you need work on. If you need to improve your technical skills, for example, try looking for online classes that you can take to familiarize yourself with the necessary platforms. For soft skills, work on incorporating those things into your everyday life. The good news is, although you may not have realized it, as a stay-at-home parent, you've likely been developing soft skills that will impress employers.
When you actually do start applying for jobs and going to interviews, be sure to explain the gaps in your résumé, but don't dwell on them too much. Focus less on the past and more on the future, by discussing why you want to get back into the workforce and what you can bring to the company. That's what employers care about: It's not about what they can do for you, but what you can do for them.
Most employers will understand that you took time off from working to raise your kids, and you'll still be considered for the jobs you want — as long as you show that you have the same skills and passion as other qualified candidates. And if any employers don't understand, I think it's safe to say you wouldn't want to work for them anyway.
Why not? Think about it this way: A company that doesn't understand your past won't be understanding of your family commitments in the future. If you really feel like you're being judged for the gap in your employment, just move on to the next opportunity. You deserve to work somewhere that appreciates you for what you have to offer — you're valuable both personally and professionally, and taking time off to raise a family doesn't change that. You and I both know that, so take a job with a company that knows it, too.