Looking for a job can be a daunting task for anyone, but it's especially scary for many adults who haven't worked outside their homes in years. They worry about lacking the latest skills, competing against candidates with current experience and learning the politics of interviewing.
If this sounds like you, rest assured you're not alone. The silver lining is that a looming labor shortage and low unemployment means that many employers are more willing to look at nontraditional candidates. That, coupled with several key steps on your part, could help you hear "You're hired."
Assess your skills. Just because you haven't been paid for your work, doesn't mean you've been sitting around doing nothing all day. Chances are you've been responsible for cooking, cleaning, shopping, raising kids, volunteering -- in essence, making the trains run on time. Break down those skills and put them on a functional resume, one that focuses on your skills and abilities, not a chronological resume that focuses on work history. Did you run bake sales? Then you know about organizing volunteers, promoting events and selling.
Take catch-up courses. Once you know where the obvious gaps are, figure out how you'll fill them. If you're looking to work in an office, but you don't know how to type or you've never used Microsoft Word or Excel, take a class. You can check with your state's unemployment office, displaced homemakers' programs at community colleges or with a local YMCA for free or inexpensive courses.
If you worked previously in an industry that you want to get back into, now is the time to brush up on the trends, leading employers and key players in that field. Join professional associations and women's groups, and look at Web sites and trade journals too. This helps you to talk the talk knowledgeably, and it can let you in on not only what's happening but also who's hiring.
Focus on confidence, not criticism. Attitude is even more important than skills. I interview women all the time who've been through a divorce, and within the first few minutes I inevitably hear, "I wouldn't be in this situation if that jerk hadn't left me high and dry." And while I can certainly appreciate that, no employer wants to hear that you're bringing bitterness and baggage to the workplace. It's also a turnoff to show any sense of financial desperation. Instead of focusing on the negative reasons as to why you're returning to work, tell me the positive. "After a few years at home devoted to my family, I'm now ready to recommit myself to my career."