Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Advice for Mrs. G.

Today, on my 200th post, I am honored and also extremely intimidated to be asked for advice by Mrs. G. As a fan of Derfwad Manor, I can't help but be awed by her ability to draw 100+ comments on a regular basis, and am always amazed at her capacity for equally deep and fun-loving content.

A week or so ago, I admitted to being a bit bored with my blog. I was feeling a little uninspired, so I decided to ask readers to give me a little help with a Q&A format.

Mrs. G asks, "If you have been home being a mom for a long ass time, what is the best way to re-enter the work force? You are my career woman role model."

Well, first let me say, aw shucks. A career woman role model? Then, let me say, what are you nuts? The idea that I am a role model for anything makes me laugh uproariously in disbelief. Have you not seen the title of my bog? Have you not read the "About me" bio? I'm treading water here...barely...and just trying to act sane enough to avoid a lengthy stay at a residential facility with periodic electro-shock treatments.

Then, let me also say...I've never been a mom. I have a mom. I have sisters who are moms. I have friends who are moms. I married a man who has a mom. All of these moms have or had careers while they were actively parenting and beyond. Damn, I admire that. Just as much as I admire moms without careers. No matter how many hours I may work at my career - and they are alot - they will never compare to the true 24x7 duties of a parent.

But your question was - "what is the best way to re-enter the work force?" so here goes.

#1: Know what you want and what you don't want. One of the advantages you have of re-entering the workforce now is that you have learned many life lessons and you've even taught a few. Knowing yourself puts you way ahead of most of your competitors.

Do you want to stick with the field of education? or try something totally new? Do you want a for profit or not-for-profit environment? Do you want a public or private company? Do you want to stay within a specific commuting distance? Do you know the highest rated employers in your preferred field in your area?

#2: In a similar vein, know what you want to gain, and what you're willing to give up. Employers are much more flexible than they used to be, but you often have to prove yourself to gain that flexibility. So, are you willing to work 40 hours in an office, classroom, or other work environment? Or do you want the option to work remotely - part or all the time? Do you need a certain amount of paid time off? or is time off without pay also ok? Do you need insurance? Do you have a bottom line dollar value for your salary, or do you not care about the money, it's the job satisfaction you're after? Either way, it's always a good idea to know the going rate for your field, level of experience, and geographic market. I wouldn't normally recommend as people who populate the data seem to inflate their rates, but if taken with a grain of salt, it can be somewhat useful.

#3: Once you've answered 1 and 2 you are halfway there. You know what you want, what you don't want, you know your bottom line for gains and for sacrifices. Now - how do you find the job? Assuming your answers have also led you to at least a general field of work, you NETWORK. Let me say that again, you N.E.T.W.O.R.K.

The job market today is tough and made even tougher by the ease at which resumes can zoom across the internet for any job with a matching keyword. Human Resources departments are SWAMPED with incoming resumes and with the unformatted "monster" model - you can't use the old tricks we all learned about nice stationary, good font, good organizational layout, etc. It all gets printed as one streaming text block in courier font (ugh). A good cover letter can help - and I sure know you can write! - but for the most part, if you don't know somebody who knows somebody, for sure there is someone else in the mix who does.

So join associations, groups, or go take a master's class in your field, even if you already have a master's or if you don't intend to get the full degree. Find some way in. Get recommended. Use an employment agency. If you are staying in education, register to sub in the school district you want to work in. Use your incredible blogging skills and research, find ways to link electronically, anything that takes you OUT of the general pile, and puts you IN to the "must interview" pile. In the corporate world, most employers hate the fact that it costs so much money to recruit good candidates and they make the most of their existing workforce as a referral source - offering enticing rewards for a good hire. You only have to know one of these people SLIGHTLY to get them to take in your resume. After all, you may be their ticket to a new flat-panel tv.

#4. Don't give up. It took my hubby six full months of searching and in the end, he got the job he interviewed with 1 month BEFORE he quit his job and started the search. Because they liked him and remembered him and he kept in touch with them until the right job was CREATED for him. You just never know how long it might take. Enjoy the process. Don't pressure yourself. You'll interview better because you won't feel every meeting is a must-win. Remember, you are interviewing them as well. You want what you want and they need to give it to you. If you love the company, but not the job...can you make them fall in love with you and convince them you have a better formula for success (if not now, in the near future).

#5. Don't settle. You may take a job as a learning experience knowing it's not your final stop - but only the first step on the career ladder - but never settle. If you do, it will undermine your confidence, sap your strength, and derail your plans. It will even make whatever old job you left look appealing to you after a while. AND, if you're like me, it's tough to make that leap again when it may have taken you a while to get to where you are. Better to take a few more weeks, or months, to find the right opportunity.

#6. Look for a cultural fit more so than a skill fit. I cannot stress this enough. This is absolutely the reason I have been with my company for 18 years. The people. The ethical practices. The service we provide. They all make it work, when you're screaming with frustration over the pile on your desk.

It is WAY more important to work somewhere where you enjoy the people, the style, the overall feel of the place rather than that you feel totally comfortable with the job at hand. Comfort of the soul is healthy. Discomfort of the mind can be stimulating. Discomfort of the soul can be devastating. Comfort of the mind can be numbing.

#7. Make the most of your life experience. Make a creative resume - one that reflects all you have learned through your ongoing work as an educator in a school system and a home schooler. I find that combination totally fascinating! You have knowledge in operating within a structured and bureacratic organization, and yet the freedom of thinking to seek alternative approaches. Your success in setting a goal and reaching it is evident in your daughter's successful acceptance to college. DO NOT LET ANYONE BELITTLE YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS. But seek the best way to describe them that speaks to the unique environment of your desired employer - a translation, if you will, to their language. And don't discount your communication skills. These skills are some of the most sought after in business today since the education system is churning out so many graduates who can no longer write (too much abbreviations in texting?) or present complete thoughts.


That's about it....although I'm sure other people can offer additional points of view. I hope you find it useful. And I'll just close with these two points.

1. I encourage others of my readers to add to this list your sage advice as I can't claim to know it all...or even most of particular - Manager Mom, Kiki, Chick, Amybow...what do you all think?

2. HIRE MRS. G! She'd be an asset, I'm sure, to any organization. But don't expect her to settle. You have to offer her a great opportunity.

Got any other questions for me? Post them here.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Great post--I'm sure Mrs. G will not be the only one helped by your advice.

I get my teaching credential in a year. I've been doing field practicum at an elementary school. I went to their promotion ceremony today so I could say bye to the kids and leave the principal with the thougt, "Wow, she cared enough to show up 6 weeks after she last had to be here." I'm sure she'll remember me when I'm looking for a job.

AmyBow said...

I agree with all of Wenderina's advice. This is related to some of her advice: don't discount the importance of knowing what you are good at.

You have lived for a while, and worked for a while so you have a pretty good idea of what you bring to the table. While I definitely recommend expanding your comfort zone and looking for opportunities that provide challenges and will help you learn, don't try to fit a square peg into a round hole.

If you really like an organization but the position fit isn't right, sell them on what skills you have that they currently don't. If the connection is there they will make a position or keep you in mind for future opportunities.

No use going back into the workforce and being can do that anywhere:)

Mrs. G. said...

This is such a great post-thank you for taking the time to share all this good information. My summer of redefinement starts in two days-this ia a great way to jump start the process. Thank you so much!

That Chick Over There said...

I'm not a big help with career advice since every day I leave my office and think about how I've died a little more inside.

But I have juggled the whole mom/career thing forever. So thanks for the props.

Stephanie said...

Great advice! All of it.