Comeback Careerists: Reinventing Work After Time Away - Wall Street Journal
Comeback Careerists: Reinventing Work After Time Away
Moving back into the work force has become easier for white-collar workers.
By Toddi Gunter — Wall Street Journal
Stark, an investment banker with a Harvard M.B.A had more than a decade
of experience when she left the workforce in 1995 to raise her two
children. Last year, she decided to come back. Her decision came just
as Corporate America began to make it easier for professionals who've
taken time away to return—and to reinvent their careers in a way that
works better for them than their 90-hour-a-week pasts might have.
help jumpstart her search, Ms. Stark attended Harvard's program for
businesswomen looking to re-enter the work force. While there, she met
the chief diversity officer of Lehman Brothers, Anne Erni. Ms. Erni was
on on-hand to talk about the firm's newly-launched Encore program,
which recruits seasoned professionals who want to return to work after
taking time off.
That's when Ms. Stark's re-entry plans got
fast-tracked. Turns out, Ms. Erni was just beginning to think about
hiring someone to head up the program. Ms. Stark, who had spent the
previous 12 years not only raising children, but also managing people
and projects on a volunteer basis, told Ms. Erni she really wanted to
work for a program like Encore. Two months later, Ms. Stark became the
program's full-time director. "It goes to prove the power of networks,
and that you'll never know where or how you'll meet your next
employer…or your next hire," says Ms. Erni.
Of course, not all
stories of women (or men) engineering a career comeback are as rosy. In
fact, 93% of highly qualified professional women who have left the work
force and been out for just over two years, are trying to get back in
says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the founding president of the Center for
Work-Life Policy and author of "Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping
Talented Women on the Road to Success" (Harvard Business School Press,
Though 74% do find work, only 40% say they are gainfully
employed in full-time, mainstream jobs. "There is still a tremendous
amount of stigma and suspension when employers see a hole in a resume,"
says Ms. Hewlett.
Still, dire statistics aside -- it is easier
than it has been for white collar workers to jump back into a career --
and to craft your return to make it work for you. The motivation for
companies is two-fold. First, there's the expected worker shortage as
the first waves of 77 million baby boomers begin to retire; and second,
is the myriad of evidence that the next, smaller generation of younger
workers want more flexible work arrangements. The result: Companies are
waking up to the idea of welcoming back well-educated and seasoned
professionals, says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work
Know what you want and clarify your career goals. A job in the same
industry or a position in a whole new field? A fulltime or part-time
gig or job with a flexible schedule?
Bring yourself up to date. Buy a new suit, invest in the latest cell phone model, create a Facebook or LinkedIn profile.
Take refresher classes. This will help you to get up to speed on the latest news, regulations and technological developments in your industry.
Build a new resume.
Make sure it includes skills used and acquired during leave from work
force. If you've managed people for projects or volunteer work or done
tasks with tangible results, list those on your resume.
Network, network, network. Contact
everyone you know and tell them what kind of job you're hoping to land.
Use your alma mater and professional associations as a resource.
Anticipate potential employer's concerns.
Make sure you address any worries about a skills lag or your time away
in your cover letter and then address these issues more in-depth in the
be sure, not every industry or company welcomes or has programs to
recruit comeback careerists. But, there are a growing number of Web
sites, recruiting agencies and job boards that specialize in placing
returnees at companies willing to consider them. A number are also
staffing professionals in part-time or flexible arrangement. staffing
professionals in part-time or flexible arrangement. penetrating
lookCompanies like Mom Corps and On-Ramps offer a myriad of resources
for returnees and have job postings for positions in a variety of
industries—although not always in a broad range of locations—as do more
specialized firms like Flex-Time Lawyers; Aquent, for marketing
executives; and HR OptIn for human-resources executives.
to facilitate that transition, a whole new industry of coaching and
staffing firms as well as corporate and educational programs have
popped up. "This talent pool is more and more necessary" and there is a
growing recruiting effort to target parents returning to work, says
Meryle Mahrer Kaplan, vice president of advisory services at Catalyst.
targeted recruiting programs at top-tier business schools are meant to
help ease the way for experienced professionals to return to work.
Dartmouth University's Tuck School also has an intensive course while
Yale University and University of Minnesota's Carlson School are
launching similar programs. Law schools are just beginning to get into
the act, with Pace University and Hastings Law School offering
refresher courses for comeback careerists.
Some programs have
the added benefit of a corporate partner. Robin Mayer, 42, had more
than 15 years experience as a corporate bond analyst before she took
two years off to be with her three children.
As she launched a
search for a new job last year, Ms. Mayer attended a three-day program
at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, held in partnership
with investment bank UBS and designed to recruit and retrain women like
her. She soon landed a job at the company as executive director of
fixed income research. "I was a perfect fit," she says of the position,
which allows her the flexibility to work from home some days.
you're ready to make the move back to the work force, there are a
number of things you can do to smooth the way. Allison O'Kelly, CEO of
Mom Corps, recommends taking a few classes to hone your skills. If
you've been out of the market for a while, you might want to take a
contract job a few notches below where you'd like to enter the job
market. Industry and alumni associations are also a good resource for
refresher coursework in your field.
In your resume and—and later
in interviews—be sure to take the mystery out of the time away from
work. If you've taken on projects at schools and charities and used
some of the skills from your career, highlight those volunteer
experiences and any bottom-line or eye-catching results from the
projects. Use your cover letter to be very specific about where you
think you fit into a firm and explain why hiring you would be in the
company's best interest, says Deborah Epstein Henry, founder and
president of Flex-Time Lawyers LLC. "Anticipate the employer's concerns
and how you will meet those concerns," says Ms. Henry.
feel you're current—or close to it—with where your industry is today
and you've shaped your resume, make a list of everyone you know,
including former colleagues, alumni from your university days, folks
you met through industry associations, former employers, and charities
and volunteer organizations you've worked with. Reach out and tell them
of your plans to return to the work force. Be clear on what kind of
position you would like, advises Simi S. Nwogugu, CEO of 2Hats Network,
a company that offers career coaching to re-entering professional women
and creates corporate programs to recruit, develop and retain
high-potential women. An estimated 42% of people found a job through a
networking contact, according to a Right Management survey.
Mayville left the workforce and spent three years with his two
children, Abbey, 10 and Nicholas, 12. He landed a job with Deloitte
& Touche, a company that actively recruits comeback careerists.
sure you take time to research whether firms in your industry are
actively recruiting returning professionals through programs like the
ones at financial firms (including Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs),
management consultancies (including Booz Allen Hamilton) and accounting
firms (including PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte & Touche). If
you find a company with such a program, send your resume.
Dan Mayville it was a combination of these strategies that worked. Mr.
Mayville left his job in operations management at a manufacturing
company in Atlanta to care for his two young children so his wife,
Debbie, could advance her career as a market research analyst. One-year
into his at-home stint, Mr. Mayville enrolled in night classes at
Georgia State and earned his M.B.A. over two years -- a move he hoped
would smooth the way back to work when he was ready. At graduation, he
hooked up with a professors to do a consulting project 20 hours a week
for Deloitte & Touche, a firm that has been proactive in hiring and
training comeback careerists. Three weeks in, the professor recommended
Mr. Mayville—who wasn't yet looking for a job—for a full-time position
as a manager of analytical services, a job he's now held for two years.
some, the best bet for future employment it is to stay connected to
your former employer. Some firms, particularly in the financial sector,
are making it easier.
One example: The PricewaterhouseCoopers
Full Circle program allows high-potential professionals leave the firm
of up to five years with the option to return. During the time off,
program enrollees meet with a mentor, and keep current on skills
through company-sponsored training sessions and firm get-togethers.
"Our problem is retention," says Jennifer W. Allyn, managing director
in the office of diversity at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "And leaving with
the intention of coming back is different than just leaving."
the war for talent heats up, many companies say they realize that
flexible work options are also a competitive talent management tool.
"We think that providing flexible work alternatives will allow us to
continue to attract and retain the most talented lawyers, many of whom
expressed doubts about the ability to pursue a career doing challenging
legal work while at the same time achieving an appropriate balance with
their personal lives," says Jeffrey S. Lewis, a partner at New York law
firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton who spearheaded the
development of the firm's flexible work program.
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