Getting Back to Work: Part II

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—If your post-divorce reality means that you are going to have to go back to work after staying home with kids for several years, your greatest ally will be confidence. Did I say that already? Never mind, it bears repeating.

After that, it's a matter of knowing what direction you want to go in. If you are getting back into the same profession you left, it could mean getting back in touch with former colleagues you haven't spoken to in years. If you see yourself moving in an entirely new direction, it means reaching out to a whole new community. Yes, it is going to feel scary and awkward in the beginning, but the hardest phone call or meeting or email is almost always the first one.

"For so many of us, the prospect of going back to work can be daunting," says Sophie Wade, founder of Flexcel Network, a corporate employment firm specializing in flex-time jobs. "The overall key is to break it down into steps."

Here are six to start:

First, recognize the good things you got out of the choices you made. Acknowledge the level of competence you've demonstrated being CEO of your domestic universe.

Second, start conversations with people around the kind of work you want. "You need to re-boot how people see you--whether it's people you volunteer with at your kids' school or whether it's a head hunter," says Dawn Andrews, a career consultant specializing in media and entertainment. Also, the more you talk about where you'd like to go, the more real it becomes. People begin to identify you as the person who "wants to get into" non-profit development or college advising or prop styling, or whatever it might be.

Third, pull together a support team. It might be a career counselor or a therapist, but it can also be a group of friends or moms trying to get back to work at the same time. Make regular meetings with them, where you report on the steps you took each week. "It is so important to have someone who can hold the vision for you, of where you're trying to go," says Andrews. They can also help you see yourself in ways you might not be able to.

"So often, it takes someone else to see your strengths," says Wade, who runs career workshops throughout the year where participants help identify each other's standout qualities. Before you know it, you'll start to see your awesomeness, too. You might also get some hints about skills you need to work on, or areas of knowledge you need to expand. That shouldn't be overlooked. Stay open-minded and think of it as muscle training.

Fourth, take an inventory of your skills-not just the ones you gained at school or at your last office job, but also the skills you've picked up in the years you were "not working." Were there auctions you helped organize? Science fairs you coordinated? Little league teams you managed? "Look for places where there is overlay," Andrews says, meaning places where those skills match the needs of a job you want. Get your support person or team's help in pinpointing and then describing these new skills. Wrap them into your resume, so they become part of the complete package of the new, employable you.

Fifth, learn skills you need in your new job. Use your nights without your kids to take a course either in a skill you've always knew you wanted, or a new technology that has become part of the field while you were away. Deborah Lupard, a divorced mother from Manhattan went back to school for a real estate license at age 50. "Women often have an advantage," she says, "because they are often much more willing to re-invent themselves and to start over in a new direction."

Sixth, if you are getting back into a field or shifting to a new one, consider hiring yourself out as a consultant, working part time or even volunteering. "This provides inducement for people take a chance on you who otherwise might not feel they can afford to," says Andrews. Again, women often have an easier time accepting the notion of volunteering, since they have long been the traditional volunteers at schools, charities and neighborhood events. Think of this as an advantage.

If you can begin to view all of your conversations and experiences as opportunities to learn –about either your field of interest or about your self, you are off to a solid start. Even disappointments can be good thing. When Lupard finally got her real estate license, the housing market had tanked. "Actually, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise," she says. "I learned to work in a difficult market, which is the best learning ground there is."

Her work has paid off. Most of the seven years since starting, she has been the top broker in her office and last year she was ranked #6 in the company as a whole.

Again, it comes down to confidence and your ability to view the events of your life through a positive lens. Getting back to work after being a stay- at-home mom, is not going to be easy. But if you've already been through divorce, you are definitely strong enough to weather this transition. And unlike divorce, which equals loss, a job will lead to a richer and bigger life. Believe that, and begin.

Elise Pettus is the founder of UNtied, a website for women navigating Separation and Divorce. Check out the site's free monthly info events.

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