Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to look for a job after spending time as a full-time mother: Helpful hints

I've been back at work almost three months now. And I'm a little surprised to say that I'm really happy. Truthfully, I thought it would be harder settling into a full-time job - and into the role of Working Mom - after eight years as a full-time at-home parent.

But it's been remarkably smooth, this transition. It's like riding a bike: I remember how to get up, take a shower, and go to an office. I remember how to talk intelligently with grownups I don't know very well. I remember how to problem-solve collaboratively and state my opinion authoritatively. It's a daily deja vu: I feel more like my pre-children 20-something self than I have in years. My kids are great and all, but I like the way this feels.

But getting a job - well, there I was lucky, and I realize it. In the early 1990s, I accidentally fell into what is now the hottest growth sector (social media) of one of the only growth industries (the Internet business) in the world. Looking for a job in January 2009 was laughable for most people. Me, I saw new jobs listed in my sweet spot every day.

Even so, there were things I learned during my job search that I wish I had known before getting back on the market. If you know women who've been at home caring for their children and are thinking about going back to work, please send them this link. I'd love to hear from them.

So - things every mom should do when looking for a job after a period at home full-time:

1. Sign up for LinkedIn (if you haven't already), or update your current LinkedIn profile. Recruiters in every industry look for candidates on LinkedIn. Even if they find a candidate through another channel, they look on LinkedIn to cross-check what's on the person's resume. Paper resumes are out; electronic "social media" resumes are hot, hot, hot, and not just when you're looking for Internet jobs. Maintaining your online presence tells employers you're modern, current and forward-thinking - especially important when you've taken time off from work and have to fight the perception that you're a dinosaur who thinks about nothing but diapers.

2. Clean up your Facebook page. Yes, recruiters will check there too. It's fine for your Facebook page to be personal, but make sure there's nothing embarrassing.

3. Find all the blogs related to your industry or area of expertise, and spend a week just reading them and following the links within them. The blogosphere is the best way to get a handle on what's going on in any corner of the business world these days. If you read something interesting, leave a comment, and link your name back to your LinkedIn public profile. That way, when something you've said catches someone's eye, they'll be able to click through to read more about you.

4. Start a blog related to your area of professional expertise. You don't have to be a professional journalist. You don't have to be ready to write a book. But you do have to prove to potential employers that you are smart; you are thoughtful about your professional niche; and you are a take-charge go-getter. It's easy to say you're an expert on your resume; it's harder, but much more valuable, to prove you're an expert by actually saying smart things in a place where people can read them. Once you have a blog and have written in it at least three or four times a week for a month, use that link when you comment on other people's blogs.

5. Join Twitter, if you haven't already, and follow all the people in your industry you can find. When you find one interesting person in your business to follow, look at the people he or she is following for more good follow ideas. Spend a few days just reading other people's Tweets. Don't worry if no one is following you back; if you like social media, by all means start tweeting, retweeting, sending @ messages, etc. But if not, you can still learn a lot from Twitter as a passive "listener."

6. Go back to your resume and your LinkedIn profile and add your blog. I had no current work experience, but a very wise woman suggested I put my blogs (I have three) front and center on my work history. That was, indeed, what I had been doing most recently - the fact that I wasn't getting paid for them made no difference.

7. For that matter, make sure your LinkedIn profile and your resume include all the volunteer jobs you were no doubt doing while at home with your children. Chairing a fundraising committee and organizing beach cleanups for the third grade are work, and you can make them sound professional. Be sure to include results. Volunteer work is still work.

8. Make a list of all the people you've ever worked with, and find them. I know this sounds daunting, but it's worth it. If you were good at your job, people will remember you and will be happy to hear from you. I had been dormant professionally for eight years, and between Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, my personal email address book, and mining friend-of-friend contacts, I had resurrected my entire professional network within two weeks.

9. Once you've found all those people, reach out to them. Don't use a form email, but it's fine to send everyone a few paragraphs saying hi, was thinking about you, been at home for X years, now it's time for me to re-enter the working world, would love to catch up. Again, if you were good at your job, the people you used to work with will be happy to hear from you and will likely be generous about making introductions, offering advice, and, in the best case, putting you in touch with the hiring manager at their firm. Don't discount anyone - you never know who knows whom. And accept all offers of help. You never know where they'll lead. Also, don't forget that the people who used to be below you organizationally may not have taken time off and thus may now be in a position to hire you.

10. Go on every interview that comes up. Ask for informational interviews - most companies are happy to take half an hour to tell you about their businesses, even if they have no open positions right that moment. Meet former colleagues for coffee. Don't be shy about talking about your dream job. And don't forget to tell the other moms you know that you're looking - they may be at home at the moment, but they have professional networks too.

11. Here, I think is the most important thing, and it's about attitude, not action. Do not discount your own experience, ability, or worth in the marketplace. Do not start every other sentence with "Well, I know I haven't been working for the past X years, but I think..." I did this. What's worse, I did it more after starting my job than during the job search process. After my second week at work, the kind, wise friend who brought me into the company took me to lunch and said: You have to stop. Get over it. You're here, you're smart, and we all know you've been out for a while. It's fine. Your opinion is just as valuable as anyone else's. Get over it. And that very moment, I did.

I hope this helps others out there. What did I forget? What helped you? Please leave a comment below - this is a topic that needs way more discussion.