A career change can be daunting for anybody. It can be an especially intimidating task for women who have been out of the workforce for five, 10 or 20 years to care for children or aging parents.
About 43 percent of highly qualified women take a career break at some point. Many find it difficult to relaunch that career, said Katie Dunn, founder of this week's Back to Business Women's Conference, but it's not impossible.
More than 100 of those highly qualified women are gathering at a Research Triangle Park conference center this week to get tips, advice and strategies for getting back to work. WRAL.com was among the sponsors for the conference, which I had the opportunity to attend on Thursday. I met some great women who all are ready to work.
"You guys are the leader moms," said Dunn, a Cary mom who recently went back to work full-time as an associate director at the MBA Career Management Center at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. "Start seeing yourself that way. It will change the way that others see you and, more importantly, the way you see yourself."
During the conference, attendees had their pictures taken for their LinkedIn pages, sat through resume or interview critiques, met with recruiters from local companies and learned about everything from how to market themselves to how four local women got back to work after long breaks.
There was some great information and advice. Dunn, who I featured last month, hopes to keep the participants connected as their job searches continue. She plans to organize the conference again next fall.
For the moms out there who couldn't make it, but are ready to get back to work, here are some tips and advice gleaned from Thursday's sessions.
1. Update your LinkedIn page now.
Maybe LinkedIn didn't even exist the last time you were looking for a job, but it is critical for anybody looking for one now. More than 90 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to look for candidates and vet them, career coach Linda Conklin told the crowd Thursday. The site lets job seekers post a full resume with details and experiences for potential employers to see.
It's also an easy way to connect with old colleagues, neighbors and friends, who might know somebody who is looking for the skills that you offer. LinkedIn groups allow you to meet up with alumni from your alma mater, professionals in your industry and others. Once you connect with old contacts, you can then set up one-on-one meetings to learn more about how the industry has changed since you left the workforce or what career decisions they've made for themselves.
But don't immediately launch these conversations with requests for a job, said Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of iRelaunch, which helps those who have taken career breaks. Instead, write that you're in "information gathering mode," she said, to show that you're going through a thoughtful and deliberate process as you look for work.
2. Learn something new.
Even if you're not ready to get back to work, it's always a good idea to keep up your skills. Look for certification programs that might be useful in your industry or focus on something that you're interested in. Check out courses offered by professional associations. Take classes at a community college. Scan the vast number of online courses offered on sites such as Lynda.com, Udemy.com and CodeAcademy.com to update technical skills.
Cohen even recommends what she calls "self-directed study," which she did when she was looking to return to a career in finance. She poured over her old textbooks and work projects and subscribed to the "Wall Street Journal."
When looking for a certification program, Cohen recommends looking for ones that include a final project or field study. They can offer great hands-on experience for job seekers to add to a resume in addition to a new certification.
3. Tell the world.
Nobody is too small. Conklin, the career coach, told the story about how a fourth grader helped one father get back to work. When the grade schooler learned that the man was driving the kids to school because he was looking for a job, the boy told his father. That connection led to a job offer.
"Get your story out there," she said.
Just plastering your resume to online job boards likely won't get you far. But telling everybody you know - from the fellow mom at the swim meet to acquaintances at school functions - can only help build your network. You never know: The person you're talking to might have the perfect job for you ... or at least the connections to help you get one.
"Don't be discouraged by dead ends," said Cohen, who told the story of one mom, who spent months posting her resume online and getting no response. It was a conversation with another dad at a soccer game, however, that eventually got her a job.
If your network isn't big, speakers at the conference recommended getting involved in groups like Toastmasters, local chapters of professional groups in your field or local Meetup.com groups in areas that you're interested in.
4. Address your career break.
If you've taken some time off, it's fair that recruiters will want to know what you've been up to, but you don't need to dwell on it.
In an interview, Cohen suggests job seekers quickly say that they were out of the workforce to care for their children, but that they are excited to get back to work. Then, she said, launch into why you're excited about the particular position that you're interviewing for.
On your resume, instead of listing "work experience," speakers recommended listing "experience." Then, include any skills that you've honed while volunteering at your child's school or for a non-profit group, for instance, that also are important for the job that you're seeking.
5. You can do it.
Thursday's session included a panel discussion with four Triangle moms who all had taken off big chunks of time to stay home with their kids. All four have been able to restart their careers.
It requires some perseverance and support, they said. Charlotte Post, who now works for Cisco and also is involved in Connected Women of North Carolina, recommended job seekers build their own board of directors with people you can ask for advice about everything from salary to wardrobe.
And it's not like you've spent the last many years out of the workforce doing nothing. You've been raising human beings, running carpools, balancing home finances, cooking dinners, organizing school fundraisers and more - sometimes at the same time.
"As a mom, you can do so much," said Beth Granai, who recently returned to work. "All that time as a mom, don't discount all those things that you do."
Conklin, who took 14 years off to raise her two daughters, said she, at first, wondered if employers would be interested in her. Then she realized that she had all sorts of experience to bring to the table.
"I had been working the whole time," she said. "I just hadn't been paid for it."