Answering the Work-Life Balance Question
By Jill Ater
Recently I received an email from a super-educated stay-at-home mom who wrote that she wanted to reenter the workforce part-time to maintain work-life balance, but without a 10 til 2 office in her state, she was uncertain of how to approach her job search.
She asked about my secret recipe to finding that elusive work-life balance and how to prepare a resume when the old one is dusty.
Here’s my response:
Oh, I wish I had a magic wand to make this all easy for you. It is not easy in the slightest to find that (almost mythical) flexible work-life balance.
When will business and society truly see the value of smart women who choose to parent well, yet who still desire part-time paid career work… and the significant talent they bring to the marketplace? Today women dominate enrollment in undergraduate programs and are closing in on most master’s programs. Yet, ten years after graduation, a good portion of this incredibly educated workforce simply opts out of the rat race.
Where did all these talented women go? They went home to raise the next generation of productive members of society. They’re the ones that refuse to dump their kid at the feet of teachers and care providers. They’re the ones that show up to school performances, drive carpool every morning, and try to bridge the gap in education funding by volunteering at the classroom.
And volunteer they do! When their kids are in school they chair committees, run programs and raise funds for organizations big and small.
These women bolster the economy with their purchasing power. They make sure meals are prepared, homework is done, the sick are cared for and the clothes are clean. They do a lot; and that is why there is nothing that saddens me more than when a mom says to me, “I haven’t done anything in the last five years.” Holy cow, oh yes you have! So stand up on your soapbox, pat yourself on the back and yell, “Yeah, me!”
And maybe, in the near future, business will finally understand our value.
In the meantime, let’s get back to the initial challenge; how to turn those experiences and skills into a resume a recruiter or HR specialist will marvel at (heck, even just looks at).
Start with the proverbial soap box. You’re smart. Say so. Boost up that ego. Pat yourself on the back for what you’ve accomplished. On your resume, don’t write “Volunteer Positions,” and nicely list the groups you’ve worked with. Instead make those volunteer positions read like jobs. Yes, JOBS, as if you were paid by them. Give yourself a title for each volunteer position and show the tangible results for which you were responsible. Make it quantitative… include numbers, dollars, and percentages. Don’t simply write “Responsible for…” Instead say, “Achieved…” Show that you’re good at everything you take on and that you will be a valuable addition to any future employer.
Most importantly (and I can’t tell you how many times I see this), do not, I repeat, DO NOT include Mom, Mother, Domestic Engineer, Family Trainer or any other mommy euphemism as a job title reflecting the time you’ve been away from the paid workforce. In fact, don’t even mention that you’re female much less have children of any age. Kids are great, but they belong in school or on a playground, not in a resume.
But what about that dreaded mommy gap in your resume? Easy. Instead of creating a chronological resume, consider that a skills-based resume is a great alternative for moms who have taken some time away from the office. First include what you’re good at and why and then later list your jobs and dates. And if an interviewer asks about that mommy gap, simply answer, “I took time out to raise my family.” Period, end of story. Anyone with a clue knows that women of a certain age most likely have had kids; they can’t legally ask about your family, so don’t volunteer that info.
We recommend that you do not use an Objective section in your resume. Objective is about what YOU want and these days, honestly, employers don’t care. Instead start with a section called “Summary” which highlights in a couple sentences what you do and why you are good. For example;
Mature executive administrative assistant with strengths in accounting and customer service. Core competencies include: AP/AR, accounting, taxes, bookkeeping, finance, QuickBooks, Word, Excel, customer service, sales, marketing, and general office.
Versatile, highly motivated professional with more than eighteen years project management experience in leading media positions, plus recent work in the financial industry. Proven leader with extensive, hands on experience in all aspects of global communications. Organized and detail-oriented with excellent written and oral communications skills. Accustomed to working in dynamic, fast-paced environment under daily deadline pressure.
But, you’re telling me that business doesn’t want part-time employees. Why not? Because they just don’t get it… yet. So pull up those high school debate team skills and present your case to a potential employer. Let them know that you’re a value-add and that you’re ready to hit the ground running. Use the economy to support your goal… since you are seeking part-time, you don’t expect paid vacation or sick leave and since you would be working less than 30 hours a week, the employer wouldn’t be obligated to count your employment in his employee numbers for the your Affordable Care Act. You’re a bargain!
But once again, DO NOT mention that you have kids; an employer can’t ask you, so don’t volunteer it. One woman I worked with told me that in her interview she mentioned that she had five kids and they were the “most important thing in her life.” I explained to her that the only thing this tells an employer is the job he intended to pay her to do, at best, ranks sixth in her book.
But how do you get the word out on your hunt for part-time? First, let your connections know you’re available. Start with old employers and supervisors; they already know you and how great you are and you can probably find them on LinkedIn. Speaking of which, did you know your LinkedIn profile IS your resume? So make it strong! Right now you have only 13 connections, you haven’t expanded on what you did at your past jobs and you don’t even list your MBA! Now, while I happen to have more than 700 connections, you could and should have at least 100.
So, now your resume is updated. Your LinkedIn profile sparkles. You’ve spread the word on your part-time ambitions and you’re prepped for interviewing. What’s left? There are still a few more things to consider.
Let’s start with technology. If you aren’t up to speed on the technology currently used in your field, hone up on those skills. Take an online class, watch tutorials (you might even find some on YouTube), or ask a teenager for help (even odds they know it like the back of their hand). For any career, at minimum you need to know the following (and make sure to include them on your resume under a Technology Skills heading):
- Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Outlook)
- Internet Browsers (Google, Internet Explorer, Firefox)
- Cloud backups (Dropbox, iCloud, iBackup or others)
- Search Engines (Bing, Google)
Certain careers may require other specific tech skills:
- Sales: Familiarity with ACT, SalesForce
- Design or marketing: Familiarity with InDesign, Photoshop, Mac
- Finance: Strong QuickBooks and Excel skills
It is also important to know what’s happening in the world. Read the Wall Street Journal and The Economist. Scour your industry association website to see what’s new and being talked about. Watch the evening and Sunday morning news shows. Listen to NPR.
Make sure that your image is up to date. Get a haircut, make sure the grays are covered, throw away the ten year old business clothes and get a fresh look. You need to feel good about yourself for others to feel good about you.
Can this work? Absolutely. Will it work? Depends on a few things, like if your family is on board with you going back to work. Are you really wanting to go back to work or are you just feeling like you should? There is no law that states just because you have an impressive degree that you should be using it in a paid position. Everything you’ve learned in life, both inside and outside the classroom, is valuable and adds up to the person you are today.
Each family is different. Each kid is different. Each mom is different. You must truly evaluate what you want and what is best for you and your family at this moment (and keep in mind that this can, and most likely will, change over time). I recommend looking at life plans in five year blocks. Don’t worry about what will happen when your now eight year old kid goes to college in ten years; instead, plan only for the time between now and maybe the seventh grade.
On a final note, be prepared for speed bumps and roadblocks along the way. Kids get sick. Husbands get transferred. Parents become elderly. Life doesn’t always go according to plan, so be prepared to be flexible and roll with the punches.
But hey, you’re a mom. Flexibility is your middle name!
Jill Ater is Founder and COO of 10 til 2, a Denver-based staffing agency that specializes in professional, part-time staffing. Although it’s neither on her resume nor her LinkedIn profile, Jill is mom to two red-headed teenage boys.