The Challenge of “Opting Back In”

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I was several months pregnant when we moved to Los Angeles. I left behind a 20 year career in marketing, an extensive business network and a reputation as a trusted consultant and advisor who “makes things happen” for clients.When I arrived in LA, I was excited to embark upon the next journey of my work life – that of a stay at home mom. I spent months overseeing the renovation of our recently acquired beach bungalow, got everything ready for the arrival of our child and settled into focusing on my family.

Three years later, I decided to return to work.

Not so easy as it would seem. Once you “Opt Out,” it’s tough to Opt Back In. I polished up my resume, met with recruiters, worked my network and proudly displayed my new digital marketing skills as a mom blogger to prospective hiring managers. No takers.

A year went by. I kept blogging and I kept applying for jobs. I realized in the process that my network in LA consisted of stay at home moms. And I had no idea what they did before becoming moms, so I started asking them. Not surprisingly they were all accomplished, career women  – attorneys, fashion buyers, accountants, marketing executives, commercial directors, art consultants, the list went on and on. As our children starting getting older we all starting talking more and more about whether or not we would return to work and the challenges that involved. How would it be possible to find a job that challenged our intellect, paid well, but was flexible enough to allow us to drop the kids at school, volunteer periodically, take them to doctor appointments and not be a total absentee parent at after school activities?

There is no easy answer.

In a recent article on CNN Parent, Kelly Wallace, CNN’s digital correspondent made the following point:

“Two of my biggest pet peeves continue to be why companies don’t do more to help women and men, moms and dads, balance work and family, and why corporate America doesn’t recognize the potential of moms looking to return to the workforce and make it easier for them to get back in. Both issues were illuminated in last weekend’s “New York Times Magazine,” with an updated story, ten years after the first article set off a nationwide debate. The article titled “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In” profiled women who left their jobs and were now trying to return to the workforce.”

And then I got a call from a recruiting firm to come join them as a recruiter. Genius!  A paying job that was challenging and would allow me to help other moms return to work. I was full of hope and determination embarking on this new aspect of my career. And I loved it. It was a fast-paced, high energy environment with phones ringing constantly, It was like being in a scene from the Boiler Room. 

Here’s what I learned as a recruiter: It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, if you left work by choice or were laid-off, returning to the workforce after any length of absence is difficult for everyone because many hiring managers want to hire people who are currently employed and excelling at the specific job that the hiring manager is looking to fill.

So now what?

Moms, there is no easy answer. But there are options. Obviously we can’t fit the bill for every hiring manager – but there are plenty out there looking for the right talent.

Try and stay “relevant” during your SAHM years – consult or do project work periodically, become a columnist, speak on your industry topic at events, read industry publications, stay active on LinkedIn, go to business networking events periodically. Be open to ideas. Your Opt Back In career may be different than what you did before. You might continue to consult, launch your own business or take a job doing something different that still utilizes your skill set.

And don’t just assume no one will hire you. There are more flexible work environments out there. Many employers are recognizing the value of experienced women with years of training and expertise and wants to make them part of their team. Start-ups are often a good place to go. The pay is lower but it gives you a chance to get back in the game and have a little schedule flexibility. Also finding the right recruiter to work with can help. Established recruiters who have been placing people for a long time can sometimes be more convincing with hiring managers about taking a longer look at the resume of a SAHM returning to the workforce. There are also recruiters out there who can help you find more flexible work solutions, like MomCorps, a talent placement firm that specializes in placing Moms.

As for me, for now I’ll keep blogging in my journey to Opt Back In.

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