From dirty diapers to scraped knees, you’ve done the hard part of raising a family. Now you are ready to return to the world of work. Depending on the length of your career break, you will have to do a fair amount or preparation to make the transition as efficient and hassle-free as possible. This article will help you re-enter the job hunt and workplace with the confidence and strategies to excel in the next stage of your career.
Explaining your career break
During your job hunt, applications and interviews you are going to have to address your time off work. Taking a career break due to starting a family and deciding to invest your time in raising children is commonplace; however, that does not mean you don’t have to be careful about the way you approach the topic. Here are the key things to consider when explaining your hiatus as a parent...
There is no sense in trying to hide your hiatus, and to do so will come across as dishonest. Raising children is likely to have helped you develop vital skills that are transferable, to some degree, in the workplace. Plus, the time off work may have meant you had a chance to keep up with industry news and developments, and volunteer or work on a career-related side project. However, there is more than one way to address your career break...
The most obvious approach is to confirm you took a career break to stay at home and raise your children. Explain how it was the best option at the time, but you always knew it was temporary and now you feel it’s the appropriate time to focus on your professional development.
The potential disadvantage of this approach is facing prejudice due to your situation, as having children can sometimes mean you will require more time off. However, any reasonable employer should completely understand your situation which is after all something most parents choose to do to some degree.
Legally you are not required to divulge personal information about yourself and you could choose to keep your reasons for a career break a secret, answering simply ‘I took time away for personal reasons’. However, this approach can peak the suspicions of an interviewer and hold you back. Afterall, there are plenty of much worse reasons why you might have had to take extended time off work.
Whichever approach you choose, the important thing is to keep the explanation brief and always return the conversation back to the role and how your skills and experience make you the best candidate for the job.
Dealing with difficult questions
Regardless of whether it’s legal or not, there is a high probability that some interviewers may ask you personal questions. To avoid being taken advantage of like this, it is important to consider how to deal with difficult and rude questions like the following:
- ‘Who cooks for your kids?’
- ‘Do you have to return to work due to financial reasons?’
- ‘Is your career more important than your family?’
- ‘How can you let someone else raise your children?’
As you can probably imagine, there are plenty more questions that you could be asked by the more impertinent interviewers. When asked a question like the above, the best technique is to stay calm, take a deep breath and use one of the following strategies...
Humour: It’s easy enough to laugh your way out of a question like ‘Who cooks for your kids?’ with something like ‘Anyone but me, I can barely boil water correctly’. Some difficult questions might test your nerve and wit, often this is the exact reason for the question, but joking self-depreciation is usually a good way to go.
Direct: You could go for the direct approach and simply explain the situation in such a way that won’t put them off. This may require preparation, here are examples of how you could reply to the questions above: ‘My partner is a better cook’, ‘Yes, if I want to give my children the best opportunities possible’, ‘Yes, I am proud of my work and want to continue to enjoy a successful career’, and ‘I have someone I trust helping me to raise my children’.
Blunt: When faced with any off-topic question, like those above, you could choose to address their irrelevance head on with a more challenging approach to your interviewers questions: ‘Can you explain why this is important for the job?’ is a good place to start.
Whichever way you respond, take careful note of how the interviewer takes it. This will provide vital insights to the management style and company culture.
This article on re-entry after a hiatus contains more tips on explaining your career break that apply for any type of career break.
Tips for rejoining the job hunt
As a parent you probably have a busy lifestyle that leaves little time to start your job hunt. It is for this reason that you will need to create and implement a solid re-entry plan and timeline...
Timeline - be realistic with your timeline to finding a job. The process can take weeks or months to be completed and managing your expectations will help you with the emotional toll the job hunt can have on you.
Search plan - to keep track of the process it is essential to plan the tasks you need to complete and what you need to achieve to have success in your job hunt. For example, you could include the following tasks: learning skills, volunteering/job shadowing, networking goals, industry research, informational interviews, and connecting with recruiters.
In addition, it is important to put yourself in a professional frame of mind before throwing yourself into interview situations. You may have heard of the phrase ‘baby brain’ and if you have been spending a lot of time with young children it is important to adjust your speech and mindset. Luckily, this is easily achieved with a few practice conversations with professional friends, ex-colleagues or family members.
Also see our article on re-entry after a hiatus for more tips on rejoining the job hunt that apply for any type of career break.
Preparing to return to work
You secured a new job but now you need to follow through with your commitment. Before that first day, you need to take steps to ensure a smooth transition for you and your family. This means contingency childcare plans, managing expectations with your new managers and establishing a network of support from other parents in similar positions.
Communicate with your family
For adult family members it is easy to explain your return to work, but it also important to explain the situation to young children. You will need to clearly explain your motives and how things will change for them when you start working and are no longer able to spend as much time with them. This way you will manage their expectations, avoid any confused feelings of neglect or resentment, and make the adjustment period as smooth as possible.
Trial childcare options
Usually you will have around 2 weeks to get your affairs in order before you start a new job. For parents, the most important thing to plan is usually childcare.
Regardless of whether you are signing up for a daycare or having a family member or friend take care of your kids, it is important to do a trial run for everyone involved to gain trust and confidence in the new situation.
In addition, make sure to carefully consider the times when you will need help with your childcare so there are no last-minute surprises that stop you being able to get to work.
As part of your work and home life planning, it is always a good idea to connect with parents in a similar situation. Ask working parents how they manage to create a positive home and work life balance. Or, if you don’t know any parents in a similar situation to you, try searching for groups online (Facebook is a good place to try) or in your local area. The advice and camaraderie of people facing similar challenges is the ideal support from any parent returning to work.
When starting a new job it’s easy to get carried away with the idea that you have to rise to every challenge and take on a lot of responsibility very quickly. However, working like this can mean you take on too much and find yourself stressed and underproductive.
As a parent it is important to set boundaries with your managers. If you need to be out by 5pm to collect your children then this has to happen regardless of what’s happening at work.
This may mean you will have to do some work at home, this is to be expected, but make sure you are not overworked - you should not have to take your work home every night.
Nowadays, it is also easy for many office workers to work from home, so keep this in mind if you are beginning to get stressed - saving time on the commute and being able to take care of household chores while working from home can be very helpful.
Regardless of whether you have been off work for 1 year or 20, it is always possible to return to work and pick up where you left off. Parenthood is an important aspect of your life, but it doesn't have to be your only accomplishment. Plenty of parents are able to achieve career success while also raising children and following the simple steps outlined in this article will go a long way towards helping you to become one of them.
As a recruiter, I have been helping candidates find a new job for over ten years. On this website I share my knowledge to help you make a good resume.