After five years, I made the big jump from stay-at-home to working-outside-the-home mother. I enjoyed my time at home (most days) but the last few years we were scraping by financially even though I was picking up odd jobs here and there doing career counseling on the side, consigning clothes and toys. Despite all my extra childcaring, couponing, and Craigslisting; ends just weren't meeting.
Last October, I met with a wonderful financial counselor at Lutheran Social Services near down town Minneapolis. She gathered up all of our financial information, put it in an easy to read spreadsheet and gave it to me straight. There's no place else to cut. So, hi ho, hi ho....it was back to work I went.
Believe it or not, the transition for our family went really well and I want to share a few of the strategies I used to make this big change without too much turbulence.
Let them be the judge - the biggest challenge I found in re-entering my career field was concern that my skills had become outdated and no one would want to hire someone who'd been sitting on the sidelines for five years especially in this tight job market time. Stop right there! I decided not to judge myself and let my potential employers judge whether I was really past my experiation date or not. Turns out I wasn't because I got hired! If you are in need of some skill building or re-building then....
Keep a foot in the field - stay connected or reconnect with colleagues in your field of work. Send email updates, go out for lunch or coffee and let them know you're interested in working again. Stay joined or rejoin professional organizations in your field. Join and actively use and update your LinkedIn account. Update your contacts by letting them know you're actively looking for work and don't be shy about asking your contacts for networking suggestions. If needed, volunteer for a short term project to get your skills up to date.
Get a grip on your finances - make sure you have a firm understanding of your financial state when you start and the likely additional costs you'll have when you go back to work. These costs may include childcare, groceries (if you've been cutting coupons you may not have time to do that now or maybe you want to use a grocery store delivery service), eating out more (for lunch and dinner), gas if you're going to be driving more, and professional clothing costs including dry cleaning. If it makes sense, you may want to hire someone to help clean the house on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly schedule. Maybe you want to hire a personal chef and will have the means to do that - lucky you!
Clean up your online presence - Google yourself, see what you find. What you find is exactly what prospective employers are going to find. Here's a great article on how to do that. Check your privacy settings on Facebook. However, keep in mind, even if you set tight settings for your privacy, your friends and partner may not and employers can still gain access to some of your personal information. So, the main rule of thumb is: make sure there's nothing on Facebook or Twitter that you don't want an employer to see.
Dress for success - if you're on a tight budget, remember you don't have to spend a lot of money to build a great work wardrobe. Using coupons and loyalty cards or shopping on designated days; I was able to create a professional closet of clothes for less than $150 by shopping at our local thrift stores. I bought three skirts, two pairs of pants, two dresses, and six shirts that were fairly classic and not to trendy. I bought nothing that needed dry cleaning. I may lose you here, but knowing that time will likely be a long lost friend, I tried on all the clothing items and tried on the various combinations. Then, I wrote up a clothing schedule with the various combinations and hung it on my closet door. Each Saturday, I look at the week ahead and prepare my clothes for the week. Doing this saves me both time and more importantly energy. I did a variation on this for my three-year-old daughter and used a shoe organizer on the back of her door to place outfits for the next week so mornings don't include scurrying for clothes or fights about what to wear. Luckily my older daughter wears a uniform so that's easy. If you get to wear a uniform to work, count yourself lucky!
Plan your meals in advance -I know, easier said than done. Believe me, I know! One tool I suggest that has helped our family immensely is Pepperplate. I heard about it from a Facebook friend. It's a free online meal planning website. You can easily import many recipes by simply cutting and pasting in websites or by entering your favorite recipes manually. You can create meal plans using their calendar and the best part is the shopping list function where you bring up a recipe you want to make and it'll pull all of the ingredients you need into an easy-to-use list separated by the grocery store sections of produce, meats, bakery, etc.
Exercise - the most drastic change I made in the midst of all of this transition was to begin exercising at our local health club every morning at 5 AM. Working outside the home takes a lot of energy (and working home, doesn't?! yeah right!). I decided to make my health and well-being a priority. Working out for 1/2 hour Monday-Friday has boosted my energy levels and immune system. The best advice I received about working out was to make it something you do every day and not just three to four times a week. That way it becomes a habit and there's no decision that needs to be made about which days you'll exercise.
Ease the kids into the routine - If you've got some lead time, it might be a great idea to ease the kids into the change by having them go to their childcare setting or after school program once or twice a week to start off with rather than going every day right away.
Do a dry run - If you can, take a few days before you start working to run the routine, especially in the morning to make sure you have your timing down right. Get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, drop the kids off and actually drive to work. Do all of the things you'll need to be doing every day so you get a head start on how your days will look like. You will find spots where you can make your day more efficient, I guarantee you! Why not tweek it before you start.
Talk to full time working friends - the best advice I got was from friends who are already working full time. Many of the suggestions listed here are from them.
Forget about the economy - have faith, there's a place for you in the world of work. You just need to find it and claim it!
Check out Megan's Careers that Work for additional career-related articles.
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