THE BLOG
10/17/2013 06:01 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

How to Be A 40 Carat Gem in the Workforce

For many women who have been at home for a long hiatus, it won't be possible to achieve the peace and well-being of long-term financial security without returning to the workforce. Perhaps for you and others you know, this may appear easier said than done.

"Who would want me now?" is the question I've been asked by hundreds of women -- stay-at-home Moms for 10 years or more -- who have fear and trepidation about transitioning to a paid job. The answer is simple and often surprising: many, many employers want your life experience, educational credentials, early career accomplishments and volunteer leadership that have kept your business acumen humming along.

All women who attended the October 2nd iRelaunch Back to Work Conference in New York City could not help but feel that a huge welcome sign was blinking in neon lights. Opening speaker Edith Cooper, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs, called returning professional women "gems of the workforce." It would be hard to find a more resounding affirmation that time at home is not the death of your professional life.

So, why are women who think they lack any professional sparkle actually 40 carat gems? As iRelaunch co-founder Carol Fishman Cohen explained, returning professional women (presumably those out of their 20s and 30s) have more life experience, less need for maternity leaves, fewer spousal job relocations and a more mature perspective. In a nutshell, these women are often more grounded, less mobile and more predictable than women trying to juggle young families and work.

Despite any encouraging words, I know well that the majority of returning professional women look at their outdated resumes and see only diamonds in the rough. They are often skeptical that women can actually return to the kind of work they once left behind. Though I can cite many a good return to work example, it's hard not to think the impossible is possible when you read the more than 200 "case study" success stories that can be found on www.irelaunch.com.

The iRelaunch conference steered away from superficial "you can do it" cheerleading and delivered instead specific resources and action steps to get your return to work zipping along on a positive track. Here are 10 to pounce on whenever your confidence begins to dip:

  1. Read up on current return to work advice. iRelaunch co-founders have a seminal guide, Back on the Career Track. Build your confidence through books like Kiss Your BUT Good-Bye. Narrow your job search with a book like Finding Your Element.
  2. Learn the computer lingo. Quickly ramp up to speed with today's technology through online courses such as those found on www.lynda.com or continuing education classes right in your hometown.
  3. Aim for a clear job search target. An "I'll Do Anything" attitude is the job seeker's kiss of death. Do a career assessment and see how your skills and interests have changed. Use resources like the iRelaunch Building Blocks Worksheet (in their book) or seek out help from the career center at your alma mater.
  4. Take a side trip "back to school" before you venture back to work. Look into programs that will help you brush up on the skills now required in your industry. New York University, for example, has more than 100 certificate programs--and even as a part-time student you're eligible to participate in campus career fairs and recruiter visits.
  5. Get an executive re-education. Many academic institutions offer in-depth re-training programs for returning professionals. Harvard Business School's highly acclaimed program helps women follow "A New Path", and programs like Pace Law School's "New Directions for Attorneys" includes a 10-week externship placement to ease your transition to paid work.
  6. Start your work engine with an internship (or its equivalent). Goldman Sachs, for example, has a great returnship program that helps women ramp up current skills and knowledge. Bliss Lawyers offers temporary assignments called "secondments". Whatever the name, any short-term work can get you back on a professional path.
  7. Volunteer with passion and precision. Look beyond the typical school committees and check out resume-building opportunities on sites like www.idealist.org, www.volunteermatch.org and www.catchafire.org. (Also look for organizations that help their volunteers hone professional skills--like Save the Children.)
  8. Socialize on social media. Participate in important conversations and connect with people who can help you get back to work. Today, recruiters won't even interview people who are not active on Linkedin. Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and Youtube are all great places to research companies and view open jobs.
  9. Step away from your computer. The least intimidating way to look for a job is to hide behind your computer. That's how you get lost in the internet black hole where thousands of resumes flood the job search market. Get out of your house and meet people in the flesh who could connect you to a job. Toastmasters, university lecture series that often feature employers and professional associations are all good options. Seize opportunities to plan industry events to increase your exposure.
  10. Get ready for prime time. Dust off your interviewing skills, and learn tips and techniques for the now more common conversations that happen via phone and Skype. Some colleges offer mock interviewing programs -- see what you can find locally or through your alma mater.
All these tips make you a more informed and well-prepared job seeker after a paid work hiatus of any length. It's all about confidence -- and, as Carol Fishman Cohen pointed out, the ability to realize that your professional reputation is frozen in time. You may see yourself as a harried Mom focused on carpools, homework and endless meals--but remember you're still the person who got that great degree, held those great jobs and wowed that long ago boss with your skills and strengths.

This post was originally published on Kathryn Sollmann's blog, 9 Lives for Women, where she helps women navigate 9 stages of work and life from college through retirement years. Follow her practical advice on "Finding the Work that Fits Your Life".

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