Laid Off While Pregnant or on Maternity Leave? Consider Volunteer Work

The decision to leave the workforce and raise a child isn't always voluntary, especially during this recession. I personally know a handful of women, including myself, who were laid off while pregnant or on maternity leave. While all of us initially looked for full-time employment, job hunting gets tricky when you have a visible "bump" or need to breastfeed every couple of hours. As a result, many of my friends have temporarily stopped their searches and are settling into their unexpected roles as stay-at-home moms.

Anytime parents stay at home with children they face the reality that reentering the workforce can be difficult. Like it or not, some employers have a bias against hiring people they feel "opted out". Many job candidates also find their skills and networks get rusty rather quickly.

Before you panic, consider a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. In Sue Shellenbarger's Work & Family column, she tells the story of three stay-at-home moms who successfully returned to the workforce after a hiatus, despite the lousy economy.

One woman's story was particularly encouraging and offers a road map any stay-at-home parent can follow. The key to success for a former design manager was that she took on volunteer work that kept her skills sharp. She chaired a $115,000-a-year scholarship program and co-headed a 60-parent school group with a $65,000 budget. The new boss says she was attracted to the designer's resume because the volunteer work showed she could manage a lot of complexity.

So does this mean a mom shouldn't waste her time helping out in her daughter's classroom? Or teaching an art class at the local playground? Of course not. But it shouldn't be the only volunteer work you do, especially in the year or two before you decide to start looking for paid work. It's better to find something that uses your professional skills. In fact, this is often good advice even for parents who are working. In my case, I'm helping out my daughter's preschool this Fall by giving a financial seminar based on my book, The Wall Street Journal. Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Volunteer work that utilizes some of your work-based experience also serves another purpose. It gives you an opportunity to network with other professionals in a more formal setting than a child's birthday party. You'll also get the chance to show off some of your job-related skills.

Do you volunteer? If so, have you thought about how the experience could boost your resume? Please share your thoughts with me.

Celebrate Your Love image by lepiaf.geo, CC 2.0.