For some time now I have been obsessing about going back to work. I have ruminated on my misgivings about being a stay-at-home mom to anyone who will listen and then spilled my guts on national television. While I have been spouting off, a number of my friends have been listening, sending out resumes and have actually returned to the working world. All were excited, none were without trepidations. They were good enough to share their thoughts with me because they are very kind people, have all been thrilled with the transition back to the workplace and they hope to kick me into action.
While the demands of a SAHM are many and, at times, overwhelming, there is the opportunity to set some of one’s own priorities and schedule. Back to work and someone else is the boss, your time is in their hands and your schedule is not longer your own. The trade-off between time and money is rarely perfect in our lives and at no time is that clearer than when returning to work. But here is the cold hard truth, nobody juggles better than a mom, so while it may be daunting at first to cede your calendar to your new boss, moms have got the skills to make it work.
The first time through the workplace we tended to work for bosses who were older and, in truth, male. Going back to work there is good news and bad news. Your boss might well be a woman, but if she is, she is probably 28. Just once allow yourself to think, “Oh my God she is (technically) young enough to be my daughter,” and then banish that thought forever. Young bosses might seem callow, but they have much to teach about the working world, and, in return, we have much to teach them about the real world.
There are a great many reasons to go reenter the job market, but back to work experts, iRelaunch, say that earning money is the number one motivator. The first time through the job market you may have just been supporting yourself and words like “retirement income” and “tuition” were meaningless. This time your budget needs may be far more concrete, or conversely, with a second income in the family, more flexible. Either way, face those money needs and understand that they may be traded for time and job flexibility.
Women are hired back often because of their past accomplishments and the belief that these can be repeated. While employers may admire our skills, one of the first stumbling blocks is a body of knowledge that can be out of date. As one returning friend noted, “The learning curve is so steep. The good news is we have the Internet to get a lot of answers but there isn’t enough time in a day. As moms, we have two jobs and the other one doesn’t quit as we sit at our desks!“
5. Younger Colleagues
And it is not only your boss who could have had play dates with your kids. Colleagues may be from a different generation. One friend returning to the same industry she had left observed that the value of “experienced wisdom” isn’t initially seen by young colleagues. Returners may need to tread carefully to avoid incurring the resentment of new colleagues who may only see someone with less relevant recent experience.
The last time some of my returning friends worked, they had only one job, now they have two. This has been an adjustment for everyone I spoke with. One returning friend in finance said she sometimes has to leave early because her kids get out of school early and, while that has caused her some real anxiety, no one around her seems to care. There are enough real things to worry about in this transition, she noted, without taking on perceived ones.
7. What to wear?
While on the face of it this question may sound superficial, as any woman knows, dressing inappropriately is no laughing matter. Each industry and each company has its dress code and, for women, these can be quite subtle and suggest a great deal about experience, seniority and confidence. Dresses, suits, pants? Sweaters, blazers or suit jackets? Do you wear stockings? Heels, do they suggest confidence or insecurity? How much makeup or jewelry? God, men have it easy!
My returnee friends all found that it took a little time to read the subtext and get it right and that this was one of the concerns that felt big, but quickly faded.
This looms very large for anyone returning to work. Even women who have been gone for only a few years cite this as a concern. Advice from women who have been there? Don’t go it alone. Before you return, find out as much as you can about the technological demands of the job and get some help in honing your skills. Every position has some learn-on-the-job elements, but this is one where homework helps.
No one goes back to work who doesn’t have ambition, but now, a few years on, does it matter if that ambition is the same white-hot force it was when we were 30? One friend returning to work ponders her new position,
I am not looking to ‘make’ my career. I have already had one. So what does that mean in terms of drive? Will I still try to excel when doing so probably doesn’t mean much in terms of a next job as there isn’t a lot of runway left? I think I will be driven to do well out of personal pride but we have always had the ‘what is next’ goal as a driver. There probably isn’t a ‘next.’
My first job out of graduate school was as a management consultant. I walked in the first day with eight other newly-minted MBAs, a social unit unto ourselves. We were all in our 20s and single and were fast friends and a great business network. Next job, the same thing, a trading desk with 11 other twenty-somethings and, through drinks after work and late nights at the office, I learned much. But for those who are out of synch, returning with a demanding family life and with few peers of the same age, this type of networking is far more challenging.