As a parent who took time off from work when my children were very young, I know there are many challenges to returning to work. Depending on how long you’ve been away from work, you might worry about skills that have gone rusty, a wardrobe that’s seen better days, or how to excuse yourself for the gap in your work history. When the time comes to dust off the resume and start marketing yourself again, it might be helpful to have some tips to guide you.
Firstly, don’t discount the experience you gained and skills you demonstrated while being home with the kids. Most parents agree that involved parenthood is one of the hardest jobs you can do. From being on call 24/7, to managing tight budgets, balancing family schedules, interacting with teachers and health professionals, maintaining the safety of others,… the list of skills and characteristics parents demonstrate is long and valuable.
One way to show an employer that you have not grown rusty while on parental leave is to catch up to current events and changes in your field. Most occupations have a professional or grassroots association where you can subscribe to a newsletter and attend industry events to update your knowledge and network with others in your field. A quick search on the internet turns up several to choose from. Magazines are another great way to keep current in your field. Reading blogs online or engaging in conversations on social media (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter) can help you learn what’s going on in your industry, and allow you to share your expertise and create or maintain a name for yourself. It’s common these days for employers to search online for information on a potential candidate. By having a professional online presence, it might seem to an employer like you never really left.
If you decide you need to update your technical skills, local school boards, colleges and technical institutions have part-time continuing education courses at convenient times and at fairly low cost. You can also find a variety of online learning opportunities through tutorials and free university certificate and non-credit courses in a variety of subjects.
Volunteering offers an opportunity to learn and demonstrate valuable skills, and to fill the gap since your last paid job. It’s also a practical way to maintain or develop a network of people outside the friends you have as a parent. If daytime childcare is an issue, volunteering can be done in the evening or on weekends at local non-profit agencies, recreation facilities and seniors’ centres when family or friends might be available to watch your children. A useful website for finding excellent volunteer opportunities is govolunteer.ca. And you never know, your next job offer might come through someone you volunteered with.
If you are on a budget and need to refresh your work wardrobe, consignment and thrift stores offer a large supply of inexpensive office clothing and accessories for men and women. Of course shopping at your favourite retail stores during sales or signing up for online coupons can help save money.
When it comes to marketing yourself to prospective employers, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Be proud of the time spent home with children and the growth you experienced during those years. A career practitioner can help you find the words to explain your strengths and qualifications to an employer through your cover letter, resume and interview answers.
About the Author: Kim Abram is a Career Facilitator at ISSofBC. As a certified career development practitioner, Kim assists clients with cover letters, resumes, interview skills and other job search tools and strategies. She also develops and provides workshops on a variety of career planning and employment topics. Please click here for information on ISSofBC’s career services.