When you're ready to get back to work after a parental leave, it's hard to know where to start. Whether you want a new career after a short maternity leave or are returning to work after years of being a stay-at-home parent, looking for work after having kids often requires a new approach. Here are five things to know before you start your search.
1. Take Time for a Self-Assessment
Before looking for work, understand what you expect from your career, says Mindy Thomas, founder of Thomas Career Consulting. It's likely that your priorities have changed since you've had children — you may not want to travel extensively or work a ton of overtime when you have a little one at home. Instead of rushing into the first opportunity that you find, take time to examine what's important to you. Understand what you want from a job before you send out a stack of resumes. If you're thinking about changing fields or trying something new, a career consultant can help you work through the self-assessment process and suggest some careers that might be a great fit.
2. Do Your Research
Once you have an idea of which jobs may work best for you, the next step, according to Thomas, is what she terms "options building." Rather than directing all of your focus on one opportunity, aim for several choices that could work for you. Research current options in the fields you're targeting, and determine which positions fit the bill. For example, if you previously worked as a corporate accountant, you may now want a position at a smaller company offering a better work-life balance. Companies and careers offering flextime or work-from-home options may also be more attractive.
3. Create an Action Plan
Make a plan and stick to it. List specific job-hunting goals, and set aside time in your calendar to achieve them. To assist in your job search, set up a profile on LinkedIn if you don't have one already. Refresh your industry know-how, and make good use of free online resources such as webinars, articles, podcasts and expert blogs that focus on current trends in your field. If you'd like to brush up on new technology, enroll in online courses so you'll be ready to go when you find that perfect position. One last way to prepare for your ideal work schedule is to create a skill-building and job-seeking routine that mimics office hours. Make sure you have child care in place so you can be completely focused.
4. Make a Great First Impression
If you've taken extended time away from work to care for your little ones, you may be worried about that gap in your resume. According to Meredith Emery Okenquist, a recruitment specialist with Careers on the Move, "Candidates with large gaps in employment due to personal or family reasons should address those items in a cover letter. A statement such as 'after taking an extended maternity leave' is a sufficient lead-in" that will help recruiters understand your current situation. Both Thomas and Okenquist stress the importance of listing volunteer work on your resume. Try to quantify what you've done, and show leadership in your volunteer positions.
A professional resume should show career progression and a stable job history. Any related experience you have that matches the job description should be noted in both your resume and cover letter. When you do land an interview, prep ahead of time by coming up with answers to common questions. Be ready to assure potential employers that you've kept up with technology advances, and provide concrete examples to back up your statements. For an extra confidence boost, ask a friend to conduct a mock interview to work out any kinks in your answers.
5. Network, Network, Network!
A job opportunity may come from a variety of outlets, but Okenquist believes that networking is one of the best ways to find a new job. The best part? It can happen anywhere. Keep in touch with past co-workers but also develop a new network with people who you meet as a parent. Invite new acquaintances from your kid's school and playgroups to lunch if they work in a career — or company — that you're interested in. Ask others about their professional background, and mention any connections that you have to their field of expertise.
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Jennifer DiGiovanni is a mom of three, freelance writer and small-business owner. She enjoys writing about parenting, small business and real estate. You can find out more about her writing here.
A version of this article originally appeared on Care.com.