How Mothers Can Get Back Into the Workforce

Last Updated Sep 8, 2011 7:55 AM EDT

Dear Ron, Several years ago I left my job as a manager at a consulting company to have a baby. I wasn't sure if I was going to return to work or not, but I've finally decided to take the leap. I know I can't just pick up where I left off, and that some employers might be wary of someone who's been out of the industry for a while. How can I best manage this transition?
If you're going back to a field you know, you have to research what's changed since you left, especially the new technology that's emerged. And you're also going to need to get used to the feel and pace of work again. So you should start talking to people in your field and getting a sense for what they're talking about, what terms they're using to talk about it, and the pace at which they're functioning. This may be disconcerting at first as you start to realize how much may have changed. So the more you can talk to people in the field, and particularly to younger people (to the extent you can handle feeling like a fossil), the better off you'll be. What you're trying to do is re-immerse yourself into the business and the culture of your work world.

When it comes to interviewing, you'll really have to hone your interview skills so you sound like someone's who recently left the workforce and is in transition, rather than someone who's been focused on children for years. So be prepared to talk in a current and savvy way about business, trends, upstream issues, etc. as if you've only been away on a brief sabbatical (your research will help you with this). And certainly, don't act apologetic for being out of the workforce as a parent, which is something I've seen some women do. You don't want to betray any lack of confidence or hesitation about your decision since that will make you seem less attractive. Instead, act as if you've taken a reasonable sabbatical from work and are now excited to return.

In some industries and jobs, you can leave and come back and find that little has changed. In many others, though, the pace of change is much faster, and you'll have to talk about your ability and commitment to embrace these changes upon your return. But remember that women re-entering the work force is no longer an anomaly -- many have done this and done it well. Many employers value and even seek out women who are well-trained and are now deciding to come back to work. One client I worked with left her company for three years to have children and was able to get back to running a major division of her company within two years by showing her commitment and passion for her job upon her return. Hopefully that's something you can do as well. Good luck.

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  • Ron Brown

    Ronald B. Brown is a leading expert in the fields of leadership development and organizational change. He is the founder and president of Banks Brown, a management consulting firm that specializes in providing leading-edge skills to optimize the performance of leaders and organizations. He has served as a consultant to Fortune 100 corporations such as the Procter & Gamble Company, Avon Products, Inc., McDonald's Corporation, General Electric Plastics, Kaiser Permanente, Shell Oil Company, Eastman Kodak Company, General Mills Inc., and Motorola, Inc. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. and B.S. from Michigan State University.