Five Ways Stay-at-Home Parents Can Get Back Into the Workforce

The number of stay-at-home moms rose during and after the Great Recession, reaching 29% of American mothers in 2012, according to Pew Research. But, not all of these moms were choosing to opt out of the workforce; Pew notes that the mini-boom was driven by a variety of “economic and societal factors,” including labor-force participation.

In other words, some mothers may have chosen to stay home with the kids simply because they couldn’t find work. This is also true of many stay-at-home dads, whose numbers surged during and after the recession.

If that’s the case, we may see former stay-at-home parents returning to the workforce as the job market continues to improve. If, that is, they can make the transition back.

It’s hard enough to get hired when you’re not currently employed – it’s even more challenging when there’s a substantial gap in your resume. For various unfair reasons, many hiring managers seem determined to only interview candidates who are looking for a job while they have a job. Tack on a few years outside the workforce, and your resume could wind up on the bottom of the pile.

But, it doesn’t have to. With a little ingenuity and planning, you can get back to work. Here are five strategies to try:

1. Emphasize skills, not timelines.

The first option is the simplest, but only if you’ve been out of the workforce a relatively short period of time: choose a resume format that shows what you can do, not the history of what you’ve done. A functional resume highlights your skills – exactly what you want the hiring manager to see – instead of the gap in your resume.

2. Volunteer.

If you need to get back to work for financial reasons, you’re not going to want to hear about working for free as an option to get you there. But, if you have a little time to get back to earning money, volunteering can be a way to make it happen.

Offering your time and effort to a charity accomplishes two things, both of which are helpful to anyone at any point in their career: It helps you gain valuable skills and experience, and it builds your network. You never know when you’ll find out that your fellow volunteer has a full-time job open at the employer of your dreams.

3. Temp or freelance.

Companies make up all sorts of reasons to turn down applicants, but it really comes down to fear of commitment. When an organization takes on a full-time employee, they’re saying that they’ll pay for their salary and increasingly expensive benefits until such a time as they decide to stop. That sounds less permanent than an employee might like, especially given that most states in the U.S. permit at-will employment, but it does mean that they’re stuck with workers until they decide to go through the onerous termination process. If they pick wrong, it’ll cost them.

Hiring a temporary, freelance, or contract worker, in contrast, is low commitment. If it doesn’t work out, they just stop offering projects or contract extensions. This makes it easier for them to overlook the gaps in your recent experience, and concentrate on your skills and achievements.

One caveat if you go this route: Unless you also prefer the low-commitment career lifestyle, keep looking for full-time work. Once you’ve bridged that resume gap, there’s no reason to keep working as a contractor, and you don’t want to fall into the permalance trap.

4. Look into ‘returnships.’

Return-to-work programs, in which companies offer internships to workers returning to the  workforce after a break, are still few and far between, but the trend seems to be picking up. iRelaunch, which keeps a list of returnship programs, notes that returnships have been gaining steam since around 2004.

5. Retrain for something new.

If you didn’t love your old job, and you’re ready for something new, there’s no time like right after a career break to make a change. You don’t have to commit to years of school, either; coding boot camps and year-long certificate programs make it possible to switch to a new career as a skilled professional – and maybe even score some internships along the way.

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