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How to Advance in the Workforce, Even if you’re a Stay at Home Mom

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:26pm | by Jennifer James

When young children are within a year of starting school and toddling off into the big, bad world, it can be an exciting and bittersweet time for first-time moms. Eager to join other young ones in play and learning outside of the home, children often handle this transition with confidence and excitement. For a mother reentering the workforce after a lengthy hiatus, this period should bring the same kind of youthful exuberance as she looks forward to interacting with adults and acclimating to the intellectually stimulating environment of the workplace.

The most recent US census data, compiled in 2007 just before the onset of the recession, showed that there were 5.6 million women who stayed at home and cared for children full time while their spouses worked full time outside of the home. The Washington Post reported that by 2010 more and more stay-at-home moms were rejoining the workforce in an effort to stabilize their families’ finances. Collectively, these women were more successful than their male counterparts in finding employment. In 2010, the gender gap in unemployment was stark: 10% for men and only 7.9% for women. Today, the economy is picking up steam, and the gap has closed considerably, but with women still showing a slight advantage as unemployment rates now stand at 7.6% for men and 7.4% for women, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many conclusions can be drawn from these figures, but one encouraging fact remains: Women who wish to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to raise children are successful in starting new careers. However, the return to work can also be fraught with anxiety as women ask themselves some hard questions: How much has changed in my field in the time I’ve been raising my child? Will my skills still be valuable to a potential employer? The most powerful thing a woman can do to prepare for the daily grind is to plan ahead and establish her value as a job candidate not in spite of her time at home raising children, but because of it.

Stay Connected to Your Field

Although in mothering one is removed physically from the workplace, there are many ways to remain intellectually in the game even while looking after the little ones at home. Almost every professional field has at least one monthly or quarterly trade publication produced by and for those who work in a particular field, weather it be accounting, law or education. Reading a trade publication can help mothers stay on top of industry trends and developments that occur in their absence. Also, most occupations have professional organizations with local chapters in nearby cities or towns. Not only is membership an excellent opportunity to network and discover job opportunities, merely listing recent membership with a professional organization can help fill in those visible gaps in a young mom’s resume.

Pursue a New Degree

Of the many advances engendered by the Internet, one of the most profound is the revolution of online education. No longer must a weary parent slog across town to exhausting night classes in order to receive a quality education and get a jump on re-entry into the job-market after a tenure at home raising children. Now mothers can pursue a quality degree while they are at home.

Some new mothers report that staying at home can sometimes feel isolating, and it might seem that pursuing an online degree might add to that sense of solitude. This is far from the truth. Many of today’s innovative online courses combine web instruction with live chats, instant messaging and video messaging. In addition, larger schools often have outpost campuses with centers so distance-learning students and teachers can meet face-to-face to learn, socialize, and network from time to time.

The range of degrees, certificates and certifications available to distance-learners today is astounding. Why not get that extra certification in a subspecialty? Why not satisfy continuing education requirements to maintain an existing license or designation? Why not realize the dream of a career that allows for a flexible schedule by sharpening financial accounting and auditing skills through a bachelor’s or master’s degree program so as to learn how to become a CPA? In the end, working on a degree can provide an intellectual outlet that can help stay-at-home mom’s better cope with the challenges of raising children even while preparing for the future.

Know Your Strengths and How to Sell Them

Being a mom to young children is itself a full time job. It requires discipline, multi-tasking skills, flexibility, judicious use of power and endless reserves of energy. Some women fear that the gap in their resume created by their stint at home yawns like a chasm threatening to swallow up their chances at the career they’ve always wanted. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather than being furtive about the task of child-rearing, young moms should be proud and own the hard work of mothering and nurturing young children.

While it may not be prudent to gush emotionally, it is fine to spend a brief moment succinctly articulating the professional lessons learned and personal growth achieved by the difficult job of being a parent. When entering or reentering the workforce, young mothers can acknowledge the complexity of the role like a project manager, making it clear that they are excited by any new challenges that might lie ahead. In the past, women sometimes felt that they had forfeited their careers by switching their focus to their children during those crucial early developmental years. Today, women can embrace motherhood as a professional accomplishment and at the same time parlay that experience into a fulfilling career.

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