Back In Business: Tips for Women Returning to the Workforce

Featured Article, Healthy Living
on December 28, 2013

The New Year is the ideal time for self-reinvention and transformation. You might resolve to lose weight, to shape up or to volunteer more. For middle-aged women who have been out of the workforce for several years or more, the New Year might offer the perfect opportunity to get back into the work environment and create a new “work” you.

Carving a new career path may seem like an overwhelming prospect. You may not know where to begin, but with some thought and careful planning, you can launch a successful new chapter in your life. No one has all the experience or skills needed to thrive in today’s changing workforce, but if you can prove that you have the potential to work hard and find innovative ways to contribute to a company’s bottom-line, you may get the job over someone else.

These four steps can get you started in creating a new “work” you.

Be clear on your reasons for returning to work

Identify your reasons for wanting to find work outside the home. Why now? Perhaps your children are growing up and you are looking for a way to combat “empty nest” restlessness. Perhaps you are strapped for cash. Are you looking for something new and challenging for yourself? Are you recently widowed or divorced? Be clear on your reasons for returning to work, so you can best represent yourself to potential employers.

Do your homework

First, figure out where you can best add value to the workplace. What expertise and skills have you acquired over the years? Are you a great problem solver or project planner?  Do you have a talent for selling or for design? Do you like to work with customers or behind the scenes? What volunteer activities have been meaningful to you, and how might those types of experiences translate into a paid position? Try asking five people who know you well to describe you when you are at your best – how they’ve seen you add value.

Then, consider what kind of environment you tend to thrive in. Do you like autonomy or working closely with a boss and others? Direct customer interface or behind-the-scenes? Conducting research? Working with established processes or technology? Do you prefer a non-profit or a for-profit environment? Other relevant factors to consider include whether you want to work part-time or full-time, and also whether you are willing to commute or prefer to work from home.

By identifying these important questions from the get-go, you can more easily sift through potential job opportunities and eliminate jobs that aren’t a good fit for your particular needs.

Build a plan for success

Once you’ve done the groundwork, it’s time to formulate a game plan. Identify 2-3 job search objectives with reasonable completion dates. Objectives can include completing your resume, practice interviewing, sprucing up your wardrobe, networking with people who can aid you in your job search, and cleaning up your social media presence. Because it may take several months to find a job, determine a realistic timeline. Add in accountability partners – friends or family members who can celebrate your progress or challenge you to keep going when you are frustrated.

Prepare yourself for the transition

Even if you are confident in your plan of attack, don’t underestimate the fear and emotions you may experience during this time as you re-acquaint yourself with the corporate world. I left the workforce for about 18 months when my children were very young. While it was a tough transition, I soon settled into a routine in our new house in the suburbs. When my former employer called to ask if I would consider consulting 2-3 days per week, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to leave my house and my new routine to jump back into the corporate environment. I was worried about how I could manage everything and be successful again in the work environment. Two things helped me make that transition. The first was to visualize myself as a “worker” – commuting, interacting with people and completing assignments. Second, I talked with others who had made a similar transition and sought their advice on how they had coped. As you prepare for your own transition, consider what you will gain and what you will have to let go of to embrace this new chapter.

Being strategic and thoughtful about your return to work can reap great rewards for you and your potential employers. Cheers to a new “work” you!


About the Author: Deb Hornell, president of Hornell Partners, has been helping individuals and companies grow and succeed for more than 25 years. She is a visionary whose personal brand of “Cultivating Environments for Growth” extends into her consulting practice, her book, Good Things for a Full Life, her family, and friendships. Deb and her family live in suburban Chicago where she’s created an expansive—and very cared for—garden, which inspires her to help others cultivate their own environments for growth. Find Deb on Facebook and on Twitter @debhornell.