Returning to work after staying home with kids can be intimidating. How do you explain the gap on your résumé? And what kind of job should you look for?
After several initial interviews, “the answers every time were, ‘We think you’re great and your résumé is a perfect fit, but that six-year hole really scares us,’ ” says Quigley, 40, who was “really surprised” that the gap mattered so much. “In my head, it didn’t feel like six years. I read The New York Times every morning. I kept up with my industry.”
Nine months after starting her search, Quigley was getting discouraged. “There were days when I thought: Maybe I do need to take something way below me. You second-guess yourself,” she says.
Then she got a break. A woman who used to work for Quigley and with whom she’d kept in contact recommended her for a job at Marriott International Inc. in Bethesda. Quigley got the job and started in August as director of the IT business partnership and planning arm of Marriott’s global operation services.
Though she probably could make more money as a consultant, Quigley says her salary is appropriate for her level of experience “outside the consulting world.” But the “caveat is I didn’t feel I could negotiate my offer. I didn’t feel I had any leverage. I felt really thankful I found something that was such a good fit, and I had a good team, and it was 12 minutes from my house,” she says.
The lack of leverage created by taking time off means that re-entry moms, especially those who are the most educated and qualified, may have to consider the value of less tangible benefits—a family-friendly atmosphere, flexible schedules, convenience to home—to compensate for salaries that may be less than their work experience would have commanded if they hadn’t left their jobs.
That’s because “many can be rehired at bargain rates, salary-wise, relative to experience, because women generally pay a wage penalty when they take time off to raise children,” according to the Working Mother Research Institute report.
One key to finding an employer who will value your skills is to network with other women who understand what you have to offer, Dallek says. “You need to find your advocate. Women are 50 percent of the population. They understand what it takes,” she says.
Adria Alpert Romm, chief of human resources and global diversity officer at Discovery Communications in Silver Spring, says that stay-at-home moms hoping to return to work need to “constantly” keep up with what’s happening in their fields.
“You need to be active mentally,” says Alpert Romm, whose company was recently named for the 15th consecutive year to Working Mother magazine’s annual Best 100 Companies list for creating a corporate culture that supports working moms.
Cohen and iRelaunch co-founder Vivian Steir Rabin, who wrote Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work (Business Plus, 2007), recommend several strategies for re-entry, including volunteering or interning at an organization or company before applying for a job, going back to school, attending re-entry programs offered by employers and universities, and starting your own business.
Moms also can keep up with advances in their fields by networking and staying in touch with former colleagues. Interested in changing careers? Then join an association in a new field to make contacts and find out what the marketplace is like, Fireman suggests.
Silver Spring’s Christine Spiezio, 49, discovered during nearly 15 years at home with two kids that she had a passion for exercise, health and nutrition. Even though she loved the nine years she spent as a research biologist at the National Institutes of Health before her oldest child was born in 1998, she knew she wanted a change.
She enrolled in a graduate program in exercise physiology at George Washington University, attending classes part time over four years. Through her fieldwork, she realized her true interest was in cardiac rehabilitation. After graduating in June 2013, she found it difficult to find a job because most hospital positions required 12-hour shifts, which she couldn’t manage while raising two active teens with a husband who travels frequently.
It took a little more than a year for Spiezio to find a part-time job in cardiac rehab at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, a position that enables her to keep her skills fresh until she’s ready to take on full-time work. She also became certified to teach spinning classes and is now an instructor at area fitness centers.
Spiezio says she’s happy with her decision five years ago to pursue a new career once her kids no longer needed her at home: “I’ve finally found the perfect work-life balance.”
Julie Rasicot is a senior editor at Bethesda Magazine. To comment on this story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A growing number of employers have begun offering re-entry programs for employees who have taken a break. The iRelaunch website, www.irelaunch.com, created by re-entry experts Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin, lists employer-based programs as well as others offered by universities, government agencies, nonprofits and professional associations. Here are some local examples:
The “Online Lawyer Reentry Program” presented by American University in Washington, D.C., is a three-week course for legal eagles looking to “transition in, or reinvent their professional lives,” according to the university’s website. “It is especially suited for lawyers whose careers might not have followed the traditional, linear model.”
The National Institutes of Health in Bethesda offers a re-entry program for former researchers who’ve taken off one to eight years to care for children or other family members. The program helps those researchers who were working through existing grants to bring their skills and knowledge up to date via full- or part-time research.
Managing and technology consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton offers a “Comeback Kids Program” for former employees who left the firm for a variety of reasons and now want to return.
The “Full Circle” program at PricewaterhouseCoopers, a global accounting firm with offices in Rockville, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, is for “high-performing” professionals who leave the firm “to devote themselves to full-time caregiving,” according to the company’s website. The unpaid, voluntary program enables moms who leave their jobs to “stay connected” with colleagues for up to five years by providing them with a “coach” and access to “certain training and events.”