This post is courtesy of guest blogger, Jennifer Healy. Every summer in my time as a stay-at-home parent, going to the pool was a little less work than it had been the previous year. As toddlers, there’s the swim diaper, sunscreen for babies, and the nap to consider. As my kids started school, and swim lessons, they could both be counted on to pack their own goggles and towel. The summer my younger son went off the high dive and safely and easily swam to the side was the summer I decided to get my resume together. He was starting first grade and I’d been out of the workforce — aside from a few project-based gigs — for nearly ten years. The idea of contributing to our families’ income was something that had nagged at me since my second son was an infant. Even if my nonprofit background wasn’t exactly going to buy us a ski condo in Vail, it would help fund our vacation plans and contribute to their 529s.
Narrowing My Focus
I‘d always worked in nonprofit communications. There were openings in my field, but nothing grabbed my attention. I applied and interviewed with “that money would be nice to have,” thoughts running through my head instead of, “this sounds like me!”
I asked myself what it was that truly interested me: reading and geeking out on history. My third interest was watching The Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. I didn’t live in the Hamptons, I had no celebrity friends, and truthfully, I’d rather be Jeffrey, Ina’s husband who gets dinner and cocktails made for him every Friday night, than Ina, who does all the cooking. So, that passion for cooking shows set in the Hamptons was just going to have to be a hobby.
I quickly realized that there wasn’t a magical organization centered on historic preservation in the next suburb over who actually had the funding to pay for a communications pro. So, I turned my focus to books. Working in a bookstore or owning one always looked appealing, but having worked retail in my 20s, I knew I would just spend my paycheck on their product and most likely walk out owing my employer money. Then I thought of my other favorite place: libraries. Every suburb has one, right? Someone must be hiring.
Getting My Online Act Together
Before I applied anywhere, I started by asking a favor of a local expert who specialized in getting people back to work — the editor and publisher of this blog, Tami Palmer. She met me for coffee, talked to me about my background and looked at my resume that hadn’t been touched in at least five years. She encouraged me to think about what I wanted in my next job and shared some great tips about how a resume should look in this decade. I updated my LinkedIn profile, tweaked my resume per her suggestions and got a headshot taken by a local photographer.
I also Googled myself. My name isn’t that uncommon, but fortunately none of them have been arrested for cooking meth or involved in a political scandal. When I felt ready, I put myself out there on social media, sharing on my Facebook page that I was starting a job search.
The Full Time Dilemma
The other thing to consider was time. If I went back full time, I’d need childcare after work. Part-time work in my field wasn’t unheard of, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t find the perfect schedule and the perfect commute in one position. Talking with friends, family, and my husband, I decided I could still look at full-time jobs and, if I was the right fit, possibly talk them down to 35 hours a week and not need as much help after school.
Finding My People
I reached out to my former director, who had taken the same path I had in starting a family and who was also rebooting her career. She was happy to take my fresh resume and serve as a reference.
Now, who could I connect with that I’d worked with professionally in this decade? I’d done a little pro bono PR work for a local arts organization when my kids were babies. Thankfully, I’d stayed in touch with the former executive director and some of the other volunteers over the years. All graciously agreed to take my resume and wished me well.
Narrowing my focus made the actual job search less daunting. I applied for a few jobs that were so close to home I thought I could tolerate working there even if their cause was, to me, boring. Living in such a central location, near a huge airport, means there are a ton of professional associations and corporate headquarters within a reasonable distance. But as I applied, I also asked myself, “Do I really want to write and speak about life insurance/dermatology/medical equipment every day at work?”
The Golden Ticket
After a few months and a few interviews, I spotted the golden ticket of job openings. A library in a nearby suburb was hiring a part-time communications manager. I tweaked my resume a little, drafted a cover letter and dropped it off. While waiting to hear back from them, I reached out to a friend who was connected with our local library and asked if she knew anything about that neighboring suburb’s library. She said she didn’t, but that our own library was about to post a similar job opening that very week. (Meanwhile, the job I’d applied for in the neighboring suburb had just been filled that same day I’d dropped off my resume.) Long story short, I applied.
Interviewing for a job that you believe to be perfect for you is both exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because you have so much to say — I believed wholeheartedly in the organization’s mission and I knew and loved the community that it served. The terrifying part – what if I didn’t get the job? I am not great at interviews. What if I forgot my point mid-answer, or started sweating profusely, or second guessed my skills and experience in the middle of the interview? What if they asked that stupid question about my strengths and weaknesses and I accidentally said, “I care too much?”
None of that happened. The interview didn’t even feel like an interview. My future bosses put me at ease and seemed to actually want me to work there. Shouldn’t all interviewers give that impression, that they want you to answer the questions well because they need a qualified person in the role, whom they like? I got the offer and started my job in mid-March after about six months of official searching. They even accommodated my request to shave off a few hours from my full-time week, so I didn’t have to worry as much about childcare.
Lessons Learned for Other Stay at Home Moms (SAHM)
- Narrow Your Focus: I’m glad I focused on a field I’m passionate about. It has made the transition so much easier knowing I love what I do and why I’m there.
- Support from the Family Matters: My husband was supportive from the start, although he seemed to know that it might be an adjustment for all of us. My kids were divided in their support of my return to work. My older son loves reading and loves the library, so to him it was like I’d gotten a job at the coolest place possible. My younger one was not thrilled with having a sitter during that first summer, but he’s gotten used to it.
- Shorter the Commute, the Better: My 5-minute commute is rare, but if you’re transitioning back into the working world after being a SAHM, you might consider making your commute a priority. Knowing I can get to their school so quickly gave me peace of mind in those first weeks and months.
- Timing is everything: I had the luxury of going back when I was ready and was able to take my time with my search. If you’re even remotely interested in going back someday, I recommend putting some thought into it now. Start talking to friends.
Bio: Jennifer Healy is a nonprofit communications pro recently returned to the workforce full time. She lives in Park Ridge, Ill., with her husband, Brian, and their two boys.