Making Mommy-hood a Marketable Skill

My company's Web site features a tool that allows visitors to build a resume online. It includes all the standard fields that you'd imagine -- from contact information and employment history to professional skills and education. Nobody has ever questioned the format, until last week.

I received an e-mail that forced me to pause and reflect. "I started to fill out the resume form, and I came to the skills page and I drew a blank, not because I don't have skills," wrote a woman from Iowa. "But the problem is, they're life skills, not office skills."

She went on to tell me that as a college-educated, stay-at-home mom for more than 25 years she has developed -- and perfected -- a skill set that is varied and plentiful. She describes herself as a punctual, organizational whiz, who can deal with a sick child, fix dinner, answer the phone and feed the dog all at the same time. If that's not multi-tasking, I don't know what is.

But, she wrote, "Companies don't care about those things." She's right, but only to an extent.

Smart Networking Helps the Transition

Employers do value the soft skills she and millions of moms like her bring to the workplace. Who among us wouldn't want our staffers to successfully juggle lots of balls while always being organized and on time?

However, there's a big disconnect between a mom's ability to pitch herself effectively and a manager's willingness to see her as more than a caregiver. With the high cost of turnover, employers worry about giving a chance to someone who doesn't fit the specific mold they're looking for.

The challenges with such a transition are great, but they're not insurmountable. Smart networking is the best strategy to secure a job. Instead of applying cold to openings, I encourage moms wishing to re-enter the work force to connect first with their own network.

Whether it's a neighbor who has seen you raise great kids or a principal who's watched you hustle to raise money for the school, there are countless people to turn to for advice and assistance as you explore career opportunities. A referral from them can help pave the way for you to receive more open-minded consideration. You might not get the job, but there's a better chance that you'll land the interview.

Make a list of the personal contacts you can approach: neighbors, clergy, spouses of other stay-at-home moms, family members with professional careers, coaches, working parents whose kids go to school with your children, hairdressers, dentists, doctors and other people with their own networks.

Be clear that you're ready to get back to work and you're excited about the possibilities that exist. Ask what they think of you, and make sure to be specific in your request: "As I set out to determine the best career path for me, I'd welcome your take on what you think I'd be great at. Since I value your professional opinion, I'm hoping you'd be willing to offer some specific suggestions and contacts for me to pursue."

A few other important tips to remember:

Create a functional, not chronological resume. Focus on your key skills and life accomplishments. Just because you weren't paid for something doesn't mean it's not valuable experience.

Leave any personal frustrations side. If you're looking for a job because you're now divorced and finances are dictating this return to work, keep that information private. You don't want sympathy, you want a job.

Prepare for a long haul. Even with a stellar resume, job searching takes time. Nothing happens overnight, so cut yourself some slack. If you're expecting immediate results, you'll likely be disappointed, and your pessimism will get the best of you.

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