Going Back to Work

Tips for Returning to the Workplace

USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Mother with baby boy (2-5 months) working from home
••• Jamie Grill / Getty Images

According to an analysis of Census data by Pew Research, 11 million parents—18 percent of the U.S. workforce—did not work outside the home in 2016, the most recent year for which this information is available. (Livingston, Gretchen. Stay-at-Home Moms and Dads Account for About One-in-Five U.S. Parents. Pew Research: FactTank, September 24, 2018). At some point, many people who take time away from work to be stay-at-home parents return to the workforce. Going back to work means dealing with issues like arranging childcare and balancing work and family.

These are the things with which all working parents must deal. Parents who are returning to the workforce after an extended absence also have concerns unique to their situation.

Once all the practicalities of going back to work have been addressed, it will be time to make significant career-related decisions. For example, you will have to decide whether to go back to doing what you were before your kids were born or try something new. And if you want to do something new, you will have to figure out what it will be.

Is a Career Change in Order?

There are several reasons for making a career change. If your career involved working excessively long hours or frequent travel, for example, you might anticipate that it will be too difficult to balance that with having a family.

Your desire to change careers may have nothing to do with your role as a parent. Your interests may have changed during the hiatus you took from the workforce or perhaps you weren't in the right career to begin with. This juncture presents the opportunity to find something more suitable. Changes in your career field or industry during recent years, for instance, a weak job outlook, may also necessitate finding a different occupation. 

It will take time to figure out what to do next. If possible, extend your time off to focus on choosing a career. If it is urgent to begin making money as soon as possible, consider looking for temporary employment until you can make a decision and get any required training for your new occupation. Temping can also ease your transition back to work.

How Do You Make Up For Time Away From Your Field?

Even if there are still job opportunities in your old field, it won't be easy to return to it. Many things could have changed during your absence, even if it only lasted a short time. Read up on your career field and industry and talk to people who are currently working in it. If you let your professional network lapse, now is a good time to revive it. Find out what you have to do to get ready to become a competitive job candidate.

Consider doing a returnship. Returnships are internships geared toward people like you— experienced professionals who have been out of the workforce for an extended absence and are now planning to return. They can be in one's current career field or a new one. A returnship can help you update your skills and provide networking opportunities and may even lead to a permanent position upon completion.

Explaining the Gap in Your Employment History

A returnship can also help bridge the gap in your employment history. If you use a chronological resume, it will otherwise end after your last job, which may have been several years ago. Many employers don't look favorably upon gaps in employment, and it will be incumbent on you to explain why your resume shows one.

Don't make any apologies for the time you spent away from work. Instead, highlight your skills, especially any acquired during your absence from the workforce. Include any volunteer experiences and organizations in which you played an active role, such as the parent-teacher association at your child's school. While employers may not regard skills gained from volunteer work as highly as they do those that come from employment, it is a way of showing that you made good use of your time.

Many career development specialists suggest using a functional resume rather than a chronological, one. It places the emphasis on skills rather than employment history.

In your cover letter, explain that you are returning to the workforce and highlight your current skills. Do the same on job interviews. Many people shy away from talking about their employment gap, but since it is impossible to hide it, be straightforward and honest instead.