A reader writes:
There are some high-level MBA type moms who have made a business giving career advice for moms who want to “relaunch” themselves back into the paid workforce. I am just wondering if you agree with this advice, which includes unpaid internships and per-project contract work, on the basis that getting a foot in the door of a company is going to be extremely difficult unless you have a champion on the inside.
I have a master’s degree (not an MBA) and was a career changer (and never at a high level) before I received it, and in the ten years I’ve been home with my son and since getting my degree I’ve been doing what I (and others who I’ve consulted) would consider high-level volunteer work (public speaking, legislative lobbying, writing, so that makes up the gap on my resume). On the other hand, I think that may mark me as “overeducated mom of a kid with an issue” and may turn people off. I am trying not to get more terrified with each new headline that talks about how long-term unemployment hurts your chances for reentry. Thoughts?
It’s definitely true that having been out of the workforce for a while makes it a lot harder to get back in, especially in this job market, where employers generally have tons of well-qualified candidates with more recent experience to choose from.
Networking becomes extra important in this context, because being a known quantity often lets you leapfrog to the front of the line, ahead of applicants who they don’t know. One way to position yourself well for that is to stay in touch with past managers and colleagues while you’re out of the workforce — including doing occasionally freelance work for them when that’s feasible.
If you haven’t done that, though, and you’re re-entering the workforce without a great existing network — or hell, even if you have done that and you have a good network — it is indeed a good strategy to take on project work. That gets you more recent work to put on your resume, and it also will start building up a group of new contacts who might eventually hire you for full-time work, or refer you to it somewhere else.
I’d be skeptical of the unpaid internship idea though, unless you’re changing fields and starting at the bottom. Volunteering for legitimate nonprofit organizations, yes — but not unpaid interning unless the paid jobs you’re targeting are entry-level. Otherwise, you’re devaluing your work and skills in a way that won’t send the right message to prospective employers who see that on your resume.
It’s absolutely difficult to re-enter the workforce in this job market. (This job market is hard for everyone, re-entering or not, so of course it’s extra difficult without recent work experience.) But contract work is a good way to get yourself back on the playing field, at least.