Rachelle J. Canter, Ph.D.
Getting your confidence back - The emotional intelligence research shows
that women are significantly less confident than men; women out of the
workforce have added challenges of wondering if their skills and
accomplishments have a shelf life that has expired or whether they can
compete effectively once they've gotten off the treadmill.
Translating your accomplishments - Women have a harder time selling
themselves than men do even under the best of circumstances. Women are
more uncomfortable touting their accomplishments or even seeing their
accomplishments as something special. They tend to talk about "we did
this," rather than claiming credit individually and they tend to deprecate
their accomplishments, "Oh, it wasn't that big a deal." Women much more
than men believe that good work speaks for itself, and the very idea of
"selling" is unseemly. But the truth is that people speak, work doesn't.
Translating your contributions into quantifiable accomplishments is hard
for any job-seeker, but especially for someone who has been out of the
workforce. It's hard, but it's also imperative: Look for specific
contributions with quantified results on your former job, as well as with
any volunteer or part-time work you may have done while away from your
career. If you organized a successful fundraiser for your child's school,
raising 50% more than in prior years, say so. Accomplishments build your
case for your next job, no matter where you've been recently.
Dropping your self-defeating stories - Women who have been out of the
workforce and are vulnerable to the self-defeating stories that they tell
themselves and others tell them about how hard or impossible it will be to
reenter the work force. What are the most popular stories that women tell
My skills and knowledge are out of date - who is going to hire me?
I cannot market myself.
I'm not the contributor I used to be, so I'll have to settle for what I can get.
Although there are plenty of stories out there in the media about
difficulties people face in reentering the work force and all of us know
people who have experienced such difficulties, the main limitations women
face in pursuing their dreams and goals of getting back to work are
self-imposed, by stories they tell themselves about how their own skills,
knowledge, marketing abilities, and potential contributions are lacking or
less than they were, should be, or must be. All these negative stories
reinforce poor self-confidence, diminish women's professional demeanor and
self-presentation, decrease their efforts to find the right job, and lead
them to settle for jobs and salaries that are below their capabilities.
Getting your foot in the door -- When you've been out of the workforce, it
can be especially difficult to get a prospective employer's attention but
with the help of people who know how intelligent, hard-working, and
dedicated you are, you have the chance you need to show why you are the
best hire. Women executives at the top of their game have difficulty using
their networks in this way; women who have been away from the workforce
are especially hesitant to use their networks, doubting their
contributions as well as unsure about whether this is a misuse of their
Finding a good employer - The most traditional male-dominated companies
and industries are less likely to be successful targets for women
returning to the workplace. Annual lists such as "Best Companies for
Women" and publications like Working Mother are a great place to identify
companies with family-friendly policies, larger numbers of women managers
and executives - companies, in other words, more receptive to life/work
balance and emphasizing the importance of women in the workplace.
Five Top Misconceptions Women Have About Returning to the Workforce
Your new job is not on the internet -- Despite the attention given to job
websites, the fact is that the vast majority of jobs are still filled by
using your contacts not the internet. Putting your time on the highest
yield strategies is one important path to a new job.
A recruiter is not going to find a job for you - Another common
misconception is that recruiters work for job-seekers. Recruiters work for
the companies that hire them to fill vacancies and they are generally
looking for round pegs for round holes - in other words, highly
traditional candidates, NOT a woman who has been out of the workforce. Put
your emphasis on your network where people can provide endorsements and
introductions that can open doors for you. Recruiters are highly unlikely
to open doors for women returning to the workforce.
Updating your old resume is pointless -- Updating your resume is not the
goal, transforming it is. The traditional resume filled with job
descriptions is not what will catch an employer's eye, certainly not with
a gap in employment. If you can present your work achievements in
hard-hitting terms, your achievements will impress an employer, not any
gaps in your employment.
Using your network is not unseemly, it's essential - There is plenty of
evidence that women don't do a good job of professional networking. Why is
this so, when women are excellent at building friendships? Because women
believe that using a relationship for a business purpose, like an
introduction to an employer, information about an industry or company, or
endorsement is a misuse of a relationship. Women need to learn what men
have always known: that your network is your most powerful asset in
landing a new job, a source of introductions, information, and
endorsements that can be invaluable in helping you back into the
Luck has nothing to do with it - effort does. The evidence shows that the
more time you devote to your job search, the faster you are likely to be
reemployed. If you think reentering the workforce is a matter of luck, you
have less incentive to work at it. If you are waiting for a lucky break,
you could be waiting a very long time. By getting out there with your
network (which includes the husbands and partners of your women friends,
many of whom are employed and likely to be good sources of contacts,
referrals, and jobs), you take the first important steps to getting back
Five First Steps for Women Reentering the Workforce
Determine your "right job right now" -- what makes for the right job for
you at this stage of your life and career? Define your target precisely.
Build your strongest case for your target job with an
accomplishment-oriented resume. You need your "A" game to reenter the
workforce and you can do this with a resume that emphasizes specific
contributions and results you've made on the job or in the community. It
will also build your self-confidence as your accomplishments remind you of
what you have to offer.
Define the facts about your career (competitive advantages) that show why
you are the right person for a particular employer or opportunity.
Focus your job search on your network (not the internet or recruiters).
Act self-confidently to build self-confidence. The psychological evidence
shows that the best way to build self-confidence is behave in a
self-confident manner and your beliefs about yourself will change in line
with your behavior. If you are afraid to get out there, take the advice of
an female executive client of mine whose career had known many ups and
downs and who was a mentor to other women. If you are afraid to get out
there, then do it afraid. Your behavior will change your attitudes.