Reentering the Workforce After Kids – Tips & Ideas

reentering the workforceJust as there are many reasons to leave your job to become a stay-at-home parent, there are many reasons why you may choose to go back to work. Many stay-at-home parents go back to work once the kids are in school or have left the nest.

For other families, there are financial reasons driving the decision to return to the workforce. Others still may find the life of a stay-at-home parent to be challenging and isolating. Whatever the reason, going back to work is often easier than it sounds.

Steps to Reenter the Workforce

Finding a new job can be intimidating for anyone, but it is particularly intimidating for someone who has been out of the workforce for years. Normal fears of a stay-at-home parent may include seeming out of touch or behind in skill level. You may even worry that a potential employer won’t be able to relate to you or understand how hard you have worked to take care of your home and children over the years.

Don’t waste time trying to eradicate these fears. Instead, focus your energy on finding a job. Use this step-by-step process to get back into the workforce with confidence.

1. Know Why You Want to Work

There may be an obvious and direct answer to this question, but you need to search a little deeper for an answer that will appeal to potential employers. When an employer figures out that you have been out of the workforce for a number of years, the first thing they will want to know is why you are returning. If you tell them it is simply because you need money, forget ever working for them – you need to give them a reason why they should employ you.

Furthermore, you also need to understand that there are reasons to go back to work beyond financial need, so find out what they are for you. By having a solid reason, you’ll have the motivation to work hard at finding the right job and the motivation to be a good employee. Consider reasons such as:

  • Contributing to society to make the world a better place
  • Using and developing your unique skill-set
  • Having more responsibilities
  • Learning more and sharing your knowledge
  • Interacting with and helping other people

woman workforce

2. Know What You Want to Do

Knowing why you want to go back to work may help you figure out what you want to do in the workforce. This will increase your passion for finding a job, which employers will notice. If you are returning to work after an extended absence, you also have the unique opportunity to decide if you want to go back to your previous industry or if you would like to try a new career.

Here are some things to consider when getting back into the workforce:

  • What do I want to do?
  • What industries do I want to enter?
  • Is it important for me to get a job at my previous level, or am I okay with getting an entry-level position?
  • Is it necessary for me to have a part-time or flexible schedule?
  • In which geographic locations am I willing to work?
  • Would I like to telecommute or work on location?
  • How do I feel about travel?

It’s important to know what you’re looking for, but it’s equally important to be flexible. For example, you may desire part-time work, but such positions can be hard to find. Therefore, it may be more practical to look for a family-friendly employer that will allow you to have a flexible schedule.

3. Update Your Experience

When you haven’t been employed as a professional for a while, it’s normal for some of your skills to slip. When I left my career in Industrial Engineering to become a stay-at-home mom, I noticed that I was no longer an expert with some computer applications, such as Microsoft Excel. When you are not practicing your skills regularly, you will eventually lose them.

So how do you overcome this obstacle and prove to potential employers that you are just as strong in your field now as you were when you left?

  • Volunteer. This may be the easiest, cheapest, and most fulfilling way to get your abilities up to par. Depending on your career field and industry, consider contacting a hospital, vet, school, local business, or church to see if you can offer your services or be part of a volunteer program. If you are in a more technical career field, target the skills you would like to regain. For instance, if you want to improve your computer programming skills, volunteer to build a website for a business in need. If you want to relearn your Excel skills, find someone who needs a spreadsheet. There are no rules about volunteering and working for free to gain experience, so be creative.
  • Take a Class. Take a class, or get a degree or certificate if that will help you take the next step in your career. Keep in mind how long it will take to complete your training in order to plan out a timeline as to when you’ll need to start your job search.
  • Attend a Conference in Your Industry. Another disadvantage of being out of the workforce is not being up-to-date in the latest happenings and trends in your field. A quick way to get caught up – and to also make some professional connections – is to attend a conference for your industry or career field. Professional conferences are usually held annually, so be sure to plan ahead if you want to attend before your job search.
  • Research. If you are unable to attend a conference or lack the funds to attend, you can still do your own research from home. Hop on the Internet and look at reliable sources in your industry. Subscribe to professional journals to learn about the latest research and discoveries in your field. Your timely knowledge would be highly impressive to potential employers.
  • Schedule Time. If you do not schedule the time to improve your skills, you’ll constantly be telling yourself that you’ll do it tomorrow. Make it a priority, and you’ll reap the benefits.

woman resume

4. Strategically Organize Your Resume

When recruiters look at your resume, the time gap in your work experience is going to be a red flag. To ease the impact of this gap in professional work, organize your resume in a way that downplays that fact but emphasizes your skills.

Here are some resume tips:

  • Use the Combination Format for Your Resume. Put your skills toward the top of your resume and your professional experience toward the bottom – this is known as the combination format. Most recruiters will glance at your resume from top to bottom and note your skills first. Otherwise, they may toss it once they notice the experience gap.
  • Forget Reverse-Chronological Order. Typically, resumes list experience in reverse-chronological order in order to showcase your most recent work experience first. However, if this is not to your benefit, showcase your most impressive work experience by listing it first.
  • List Transferable Skills. While this is always important, it is especially important when you are trying to break back into the workforce. In addition to listing all transferable skills, make sure to mention any leadership experience; for example, if you were the PTA president.
  • Be Honest. Never lie or exaggerate on your resume. Sell yourself while being completely honest.
  • Check for Errors. It may have been a while since you last put together a resume, so make sure to avoid common resume mistakes, such as grammatical errors. Have friends or even a professional proofread your work to ensure that you have a great resume.

5. Practice Interviewing

If it has been a long time since you have written a resume, it has probably been years since you’ve been interviewed. The best way to prepare is to go online and write out your answers to sample interview questions. Then, get a friend or family member to perform a mock interview with you. Be thorough yet concise with your answers, and practice until you are able to accurately respond to the most common interview questions in 90 seconds or less.

Remember, you should also be prepared for a phone interview at all times since this is how many companies screen before doing an in-person interview.

woman job interview

6. Network

Often, when it comes to finding a job, it ultimately comes down to who you know, not what you know. Here are some excellent ways to network:

  • Join a Professional Organization. You may have already done this as a way to reeducate yourself about your career field or industry, but if you haven’t, find a group that you can join. This can be especially useful if you have a local chapter that has meetings that you can attend. If not, use information on the web to let others know you are looking for a job. When I was in college, I was able to land an amazing job working as an industrial engineer at a hospital by emailing members of the Institute of Industrial Engineers and inquiring about job openings.
  • Reach Out to Your Alumni Association. If you are a college graduate, get in touch with your alumni association. People enjoy working with those who attended the same college as they did. It’s a fun way to relate to your co-workers or employees.
  • Attend Networking Events Regularly. Networking events are very common, unlike job fairs, which only happen occasionally. Many churches hold networking meetings for those on the job hunt as well. Attend as many of these events as you can. You never know who you might meet.
  • Get a LinkedIn Account. Although online sites have typically been known as a non-traditional way to find employment, more people are finding jobs though social networking. In fact, in a recent survey, 15% of people found their most recent job through sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. While that percentage is small, as someone returning to the workforce after a long absence, online networking is only to your advantage.

Final Word

Know that it will be tough going back to work after years of being a stay-at-home parent, not only in finding a job but also in readjusting to the working lifestyle. Also, if you are reentering the workforce after a long absence, such a 10 or more years, and you are in your fifties or older, it may be even more challenging to find a job due to age related bias. Being aware of the realities and the challenges of the task you are undertaking will help you have the courage to  keep going and be fully satisfied when you succeed.

Have you ever reentered the workforce after being a stay-at-home parent?

  • Jeff


    Well organized article for those that want to reenter the workplace but also some great tips for those out of a job and looking for employment. Networking is the key and staying in the hunt at least 5 days a week. Nice job!!


    • Casey Slide

      Thanks, Jeff! I appreciate your feedback!

  • Momoftwo

    After being out of the Physical Therapy field for 15 years, I wasn’t sure how to get back into it…I called recruiters and family members and most told me to just forget about it since I had been out too long… I didn’t want to give up, despite the negativity. I admit that my desire to going back into the field was two-fold in the sense that it would bring in better income and have me do what I originally trained for…SO, I offered to work for free at a location and did that for 2 months. I then looked into state requirements regarding a license. After a TON of money spent on classes/testing that had to be taken, I FINALLY got my license !! WOOHOO! I am currently interviewing for jobs and guess what? I have an offer!! It’s been a total turnaround from when I started but I’m glad I accomplished my goal. The only thing that I’m not loving about the job search is that alot of places do not want to offer benefits, so they are looking for “on call” employees or “part-time” employees. Since my family needs benefits, I have to be very choosey with jobs. But it’s a start to my career!

    • Casey Slide

      Congratulations! Good for you for making it happen! And thank you for sharing your story!

  • geno

    I lost my job in IT in 2008 when the economy tanked and at the same time our daughter was 1. There were no jobs in 08 and 09 so I stayed home to take care of the kid and Mom got a PT job. Now our daughter just started school so I feel it is a good time to go back to work. I am finding it very difficult. Alot of male recruiters look at that 4 yr gap and come right out and say it is a problem. Funny, the female reps I talk to think it was great that I decided to be home to raise my child. First of all I make a great employee – I was with my last 2 firms (fortune 500) for 10 years each. Yeah my skills are a little rusty but it takes like 5 minutes to research an item that I dont have on the tip of my tongue. I know I really could have helped one company that turned me down – 3 months later I still see that job posted. Too bad for them – they missed out on a great employee for really dumb reasons….

    • Casey Slide

      You definitely bring up an interesting thought. I applaud you for becoming a stay at home parent, but would those male recruiters looked at you differently if you were a woman coming back to work? It’s expected that women stay at home, but not as many men do. Good luck to you!

    • Loretta

      I always thought that staying home and raising your own children was a thing to be proud of and something people would respect. After being a stay at home mom for approximately 15 years and recently graduating college with an AS Degree (3.76 GPA) I am finding out how wrong I was. Although I have updated my skills, they still don’t seem to be marketable anymore. I never thought in a million years, when the kids didn’t need me anymore, that I would have such a difficult time re-entering into the workforce. I am with Geno, a lot of companies are missing out on a dependable, knowledgeable, personable, employee. Now after my divorce (married for 20 years) I am looking at foreclosure and losing everything. I can’t even get a job at Staples…(just one example). It’s just crazy nobody will even give me the time of day to meet me!

  • Kate

    yes but how if you dont have any references?

  • j.listing

    My problem is, I no longer have professional references. Most of the people I had worked with have moved on or died! How to handle when one does not have professional references?