This article was first shared on careforkids.com.au.
Going back to work after maternity leave, or an extended period while raising your family, can be daunting and overwhelming… and, well, a little bit terrifying. It’s been three-and-a-half years since I returned to work and at the time, I had an 18-month-old (now nearly five), and I have a second son who has just turned one.
For me, returning to work was about as much of a blur as first bringing my first newborn home (clueless, discombobulated and head spinning the whole time). It was a decision made out of necessity with my husband’s job becoming redundant while I was on maternity leave, and we needed an income. Fast.
Luckily, through my own experience of returning to work and as a Certified Advanced Resume Writer, I have three (ok, maybe a few) tips, tools and advice to share with you so you can prepare and manage your return to work like an absolute pro.
1. Know what you want, what you can bring to the table, and go for it.
It probably comes as no surprise to know that women are far more likely than men to undersell and underestimate their capabilities. Hewlett Packard’s research found that men will apply for a job when they meet only 60 per cent of the requirements, but women will only apply if they meet 100 per cent of them.
I can’t understate how important it is for you not to set your sights too low. You might be inclined to think “I’ve only been a stay-at-home mum”, or “I’ve been out of the workforce for a while, I’ve got nothing worthwhile to offer”. I’m here to tell you that you couldn’t be more wrong. Research, including studies from Ernst & Young, prove that working mothers—and in particular, part-time—are the most productive in the workforce and significantly improve the financial, economic, social, and sales performance of their workplaces.
Define your goals
Before you even begin looking for a job, take a good hard think about what it is you’d like to do. What are your job goals? Are you going back for a long-term career, or to simply supplement the household income?
Taking the first job that comes along (one that doesn’t match or grow your skill set) might be tempting, but you’ll likely fall out of love with it quickly when you master the job, and you’ll be at square one and on the hunt again. Be strategic about your choices, ensuring that the role you accept is justified by the enjoyment and wages you receive for it.
What skills do you have? What skills do you need to get the role you’d ideally like? What jobs realistically match your skill set but will afford you what you are looking for in a position? If you need to refresh or learn some new skills, then training is a fantastic step to take to build your competence and confidence before re-entering the workforce. There are on-the-job traineeships options in certain industries including aged care, and there are lots of on-campus and online training options available at TAFE, university or other RTOs, in addition to cheap or free online training and professional development from leading institutes from Australia and overseas.
Talk to someone who knows how to write a jaw-dropping resume. In today’s job search, it’s vital that your transferable skills, expertise and achievements are showcased; your resume is your sales tool and is the key to unlocking interview opportunities for you, so it deserves proper care and attention. If you’d like to learn how to create your own killer resume, cover letter and job strategy, The Resume Writing for Return to Work Parents course could be exactly the support you’re looking for.
2. Know where to invest your time looking for new opportunities.
Once you’ve sorted out your job goals, training and resume, it’s time to look for work. Many mums become frustrated by the job search process. It can feel like a time-consuming game of chance at times, however there are some strategies you can use to make job searching a far more time effective and less stressful process.
Have you ever heard of the ‘hidden job market’? This is a term used to describe the one-third of jobs which are vacant but not publicly advertised. If the word ‘networking’ sends chills up your spine, try thinking of it as ‘relationship building’, and if you can’t bear to pick up the phone, a friendly but professional email will work too.
Networking isn’t something just for business people or those with corporate backgrounds, networking includes contacting or re/establishing relationships with:
- Past employers, managers and colleagues
- Former business contacts, acquaintances, clients with whom you had a good relationship
- Friends on your social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.)
- Past lecturers, teachers or peers from TAFE or university
- Connections with your social, sporting, community or church groups, and
- Contacting new employer or industry connections through cold calling or emailing
Let your connections know that you’re looking for a job, what roles you’re open to and ask if they’d kindly let you know of any opportunities that arise, or if they could introduce you to people who may connect you with job leads. Networking has a higher return on your time investment and may lead to a quicker path to work as you may be able to uncover jobs before they would otherwise normally be advertised.
You might be tempted to only look for jobs using traditional online job boards such as Seek, you can find a round-up of job boards in the free Ultimate Resource Guide for Return to Work Mums, however jobs advertised in Australia attract on average over 130+ applicants. It can be very competitive, but have heart, because with a great resume and leveraging your network of contacts, you can fast track your path to work much quicker.
If you’re on a job board site, don’t stop at dropping your resume and running out the door! There are major benefits to completing your online job seeker profile. Sites like Seek aren’t cheap for employers to utilise, so often they will peruse the active job seeker database for suitable candidates first. If you have a Seek, LinkedIn (Jobs) or other job site account, make sure you complete your profile. You never know who might look you up and potentially secure an interview without having to apply for it!
3. Know things will work out fine.
Returning to work can be a challenging period but be kind to yourself and give your family time to adjust. You don’t have to have it all worked out straight away! Possibly the biggest challenge for me when I returned to work was letting go of trying to control the small things, and accepting that things won’t run like clockwork on day one. It. Just. Won’t. Happen!
Ask family to help
Get your older children more involved in housework in an age-appropriate way such as picking up toys, sorting or folding clothes, sweeping and vacuuming, washing and putting away dishes, cooking or prepping meals, or getting ready for school. You might also become best friends with your slow cooker – there’s not much you can’t cook in a slow cooker! Not only is this helpful for those super busy work and school days, but in those early weeks of returning to work that seem like unbridled chaos. Set the timer or cook a few days or week worth of meals in advance and freeze them. Whether you’re full-time or part-time, a home cooked meal ready for your family when you get home from work will make you feel like a winner!
If you’re in a position to, hire some help! CareforKids.com.au is the perfect place to find a child care service that suits your family and work arrangements. A meal delivery service may ease the pressure of having a healthy dinner on the table on the day’s where it’s nearly impossible. A cleaner will keep you from tackling the bombsite when you could otherwise be spending time with your family. You might also be helping another working mum by hiring her!
Reassess your commitments
Remember to not overcommit to yourself! As mums, we usually are first to throw our hands up and say “yes I’ll help!” to sports, school, community groups or our friends and family. Just remember, it’s ok to say no (at least for a little while!) while you get a handle on your new routine and life, and ask for help too if you need it. It’s ok to pass on or reduce your (and your children’s) extra-curricular load – you can always come back to it when you are ready to. Schedule in a few nights a week to do nothing – it’s important to give yourself and your family time to find a new groove.
Accept that there will be teething problems (we’re well versed in those!), and just like those nightmare molars, it was a phase that passed – in much the same way when you are first returning to work. Things will get easier with time and you’ll work out your new normal as you go. Find support and accept help from your partner, family, friends and online communities of working mothers – you aren’t alone! You’ve got this.
You can grab your FREE Ultimate Resource Guide for Return to Work Mums here. It’s stacked with some of Australia’s best tools and resources to help you sail back into the workplace!