National Edition

How to relaunch a career after being a stay-at-home parent

Published: Saturday, July 13 2013 8:20 a.m. MDT

But there are ways to address this challenge, according to experts who make a living helping women transition from staying at home with kids to entering (or re-entering) the work force. Maintaining social networks, staying on top of developments in your industry and understanding how to respond effectively to prospective employer concerns about hiring a mother can all help make the transition more seamless, if and when a woman might need to make it.

Stay in the loop

Carol Fishman Cohen of Boston earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and worked as an investment banker before she and her husband started their family. In six years the couple had four children. Between family obligations, volunteering at the school and in the community, and taking care of things around the house, Fishman Cohen felt like she didn’t have the bandwidth to open the newspaper, much less return to work.

After more than a decade at home with her kids, Fishmann Cohen began to toy with the idea of returning to work. But she didn’t have the first clue what was going on in her industry. She subscribed to the Wall Street Journal and for six months she read that paper cover to cover. The information gave Cohen the confidence to speak with people who might be able to help her find work.

“I wasn’t going to embarrass myself by talking about a company that didn’t even exist anymore,” she said.

Fishman Cohen worked in finance for several years before co-founding a company called iRelaunch, which helps men and women transition from being stay-at-home parents to working outside the home. She cautions her clients not to check out the way she did. Just keep on top of changes in your industry, Fishman Cohen said. The habit will keep your mind engaged and your perspectives fresh, she said.

Know your network

Because social and professional networks are the primary way people find jobs, it is important to maintain and develop connections with people. While thinking about returning to work, Fishman Cohen received an invitation to attend the 15th year reunion of her Harvard Business School class. The idea didn’t appeal to her. She worried about being out of place as a stay-at-home parent among CEOs and entrepreneurs. But she went.

“In some ways it is more important for people like us to go to these functions,” said Fishman Cohen. Reunions and alumni functions are a way of developing and maintaining social and professional relationships that can be invaluable when it comes time to actually find a job.

It was at the reunion, the one she really didn’t want to go to, that Fishman Cohen reconnected with a classmate who, several months later, gave her a lead on a job.

Overcoming bias

“The bias (against mothers) is real,” said Whitney Johnson, a Boston-based life coach and author, “but when we encounter it we need to realize that it both is and is not about us.”

“The barriers we perceive can paralyze us,” said Fishman Cohen.

This is why both say that it is essential that anyone returning to the work force (or entering for the first time) has a strategy for asking employers to take a chance on them.

Fishman Cohen’s favorite technique is to offer to work on a short-term contract arrangement. This can be especially effective for people with little or no work history. “It gives the employer an opportunity to evaluate your skills without having to make a commitment to you,” said Cohen. If it works out, you get a job, and if it doesn’t, it is another experience to add to your resume, she said.

What will you do?

Johnson and Fishman Cohen agree that the most important thing is for people to know what they want to do. Both acknowledge that this process of discovery can be difficult. “You can’t assume that because you liked something in college 20 years ago you will enjoy it now,” Fishman Cohen said.

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