Tips for mothers returning to work
Kate Southam, Editor
Returning to work after years as a full time home manager and mum can be intimidating. What is the best way to market yourself? How do you find a job? Do employers understand the demands on a working mum? Should you update your skills?
Here are some answers to the most common questions received by our Editor, Kate Southam.
How do I present the gap on my cover letter and resume?
Cover letters should be a few paragraphs long and be used only to show how your specific skills and experience match what is being specifically asked for in the job ad. In my opinion, the cover letter is NOT the place to explain the gap in your career history. See tips and samples Cover Letters in our secton of that How to write a cover letter
Instead, use the last line of your Career Profile to explain your absence or my preference, or explain the gap as the first item in the Work History section in your resume. We have a great article providing step-by-step advice on writing a resume Resume writing Australian style, which is in our Resumes section. You will also find samples of Resumes under the link Resume Templates.
Career Profile method
It's good to start your resume with a Career Profile. This is a long paragraph (four or five sentences) that provides the reader with a snap shot of your strengths. It can include a bit of work experience, education and some of your skills and attributes. Whether you were an IT project manager, a Chartered Accountant or an Executive Assistant before having children, using a Career Profile at the top of your resume will help to "position you" to recruiters and or employers and encourage them to read your whole resume. For example:
A retail sales professional with seven years' experience in the white goods and kitchenware areas, I have worked for both a department store and an specialty kitchen ware store. I have a proven track record of exceeding sales targets, delivering excellent customer service and team work. I am returning to sales after spending four years as a full time mother and stayed up to date with the latest product offerings on the market today.
Work History method
Work History (you can also call use the heading Employment History if you prefer) should list your employment record in reverse chronological order. As well as the dates you were at home, cover off on the key skills or any community work you may have done in this time. So, for a mum returning to work it could look like this:
Home manager/full time mum - January 2006 - September 2009
Skills acquired: Excellent organisational skills, communication skills and the ability to multi task. During this time I completed both a MYOB course and a first aid certificate. I managed the books for my husband's plumbing business and I created and managed the roster for volunteer aides at my daughter's child care centre.
Marketing Manager - XYZ company - February 2001 - December 2005
About XYZ company: One line if the company is not well known.
Responsibilities: A few dot point lines
Key Achievements: At least three dots points detailing not what you were paid to do but how you went beyond that.
And the rest of your history in reverse date order.
Researching the job market
Use several methods simultaneously.
Don't be shy. You cannot afford to be. Let friends and family know that you are returning to work and what sort of role you are looking for. Do a call around or email around of former colleagues and managers. Don't ask for a job. Ask for job leads. People want to be asked questions they can say 'yes' to. Many companies pay staff to refer successful candidates so you are not putting anyone out by just asking people to pass on any job leads.
Search online and in newspapers making particular note of the software (eg Microsoft Office, MYOB or whatever) and other specific skills being asked for in job ads for the type of roles that interest you. Also see which recruitment companies handle which types of jobs.
Get in touch with women you have met through childcare and mother's groups who have returned ahead of you to get their input on what they did when they returned to work. People are usually happy to pass on their advice.
Investigate joining an industry or professional group. Some organisations like the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Australia actively provide help to members returning to work. Other examples would be the Australian Computer Society, Public Relations Institute of Australia and the Australian Human Resources Institute but there is pretty much an association for every sector.
Read the trade press relating to your sector as well as the business pages of newspapers. Do a bit of web surfing too. Generally research what is going on out there.
The research methods double as job hunting methods so you can find work as you are re-introducing yourself to your sector.
Consider temping first as a way of building up some fresh experience without committing to a workplace. This will help understand the sort of work place culture that suits you.
Also, take a look at the Equal Opportunity for Women for Workplace Agency website. Of particular interest to you is reading up on the employers who have family friendly policies. This might help you to target ads posted on the web by these employers. You will find many big employers mentioned on this site so do take a look and read about the sort of family friendly policies they offer.
You can also visit the websites of those companies who you will interview with. Make sure you read up on their policies on training, flexibility, work place culture, values and community work. It will tell you a lot about them.
Should you do a refresher course?
The answer to this question will be revealed during your research. In addition to short courses offered by professional and industry associations, you can find courses in software like Microsoft Office or MYOB through TAFE, private colleges and learn online courses. Surf the web, look at ads in the career sections of newspapers and look online.
Temp agencies will let you go in and use their self-taught computer programs to refresh basic admin skills such as typing and how to use different types of admin software.
Some TAFEs also offer "return to work" courses. A guide to TAFE courses is available from your local newsagency or see our article Return to work courses
In Queensland, you can also contact Women at Work International- www.womenatworkinternational.com who run the Re-entry to Work Association.
The organisation also has a "Return to Work Workbook", which they will mail out to anyone no matter where you are in Australia. Contact them via the website or phone: 07 55611 477.
Another resource is the 12 Career Information Centres dotted throughout Australia. The centres can connect you to any course or resources especially tailored to return to work mums.
If you are registered with Centrelink, then tell them you are a return to work mum so you can be referred to a Job Services agency to see if they have an up skilling option for you.
You can also look at private providers through the Career Development Association of Australia. You can go to the website and click on "Find a practitioner link" at the top of the home page.
We have already looked at a few self marketing methods including Cover Letter and Resume writing, joining a professional association and letting your network know you are out there.
It is also important to brush up on your interview technique. Again, we have an entire Interviews section for you to visit.
Here you will find separate stories on topics including How to handle the "strength/weakness" question; and "Behavioural interviewing explained" - a story about the most popular method of interviewing, which involves you using real life examples to answer questions.
You will also read advice on how to handle "intrusive questions" such as those asking if you have children, their ages and even your age.
The most important thing you can do to prepare for the job market is research, which we have covered, and rehearse for job interviews. I recommend people rehearse at least three times before each interview. It is a fantastic way to soothe nerves, build confidence and really hear yourself promoting you!
Good luck, Kate.