Here are three tips for how to get back into the professional world.
It is both a joyful and intimidating time when a stay-at-home parent realizes they are ready to rejoin the workforce. Managing a family is grueling work. Most parents will gladly take working through a difficult client request over adjudicating a battle of “mine” between two preschoolers any day. Your future employer is also likely to be a parent who recognizes the challenges of running a household and caring for a family. There is no doubt that the job-search process and acclimation to the professional world can have some pitfalls. If you are ready to head back to work, here are three things to make the transition a smooth one.
First, choose an interview time that matches when you’ll be available to work. Some employers deliberately seek out returning-to-work professionals – but most do not. Many managers avoid hiring returning parents because they assume they will have a difficult time managing work and home commitments. The fastest way to reinforce (or create) this fear is to bring up all of your family commitments as potential conflicts for scheduling an in-person interview. If you are targeting a full-time role between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., it is reasonable for the employer to assume that you can be available to interview during that schedule. While there may be more flexibility for part-time roles, trying your best to match your availability to the hours desired is helpful here, too.
Before you begin the application process, line up a couple of child care options for last-minute interviews. Your ability to adjust to interview requests may get you in the front of the line for hiring and also demonstrates that you have a plan to manage work and home life. In the unfortunate event that a last-minute emergency comes up at home that conflicts with an upcoming interview, try first to see if a spouse or trusted contact can assist you before you call to reschedule. If you do need to reschedule, it is appropriate to say, “My apologies, but an unexpected conflict has come up. Would it be possible to reschedule our interview?” You do not need to say what the conflict is – just professionally address the fact that another time is required.
Second, look through your children’s academic schedule, teacher in-service days, conference weeks, sports practice schedule, doctor and dentist appointments, and vacation breaks to create a plan for coverage before you start work. Unless you are returning to a role with schedule and location flexibility, assume your boss expects you to manage your personal schedule using your paid time off. In some cases, the company may be looking for you to be the person always in the office to cover all the ins and outs of other more-tenured employees.
Preplanning coverage and stacking regularly occurring appointments puts you in a much better position to handle any last-minute issues that come up. And, with kids, they will come up. The key with successfully managing unplanned disruptions is to have plenty of “good will” in the bank based on how you control your schedule most of the time and how you perform in your job. Additionally, you should take ownership of covering your duties during an absence. Your manager or team may not need coverage, but they will appreciate that you have thought through how things will get done.
Third, remember that everyone else has issues they are managing as well (they just may not share them at work). Today’s workforce is very diverse – some employees may live for work and prioritize it over everything else while others may be working only so that they can support their families. As a new employee, you are building your reputation. It is critical to err on the side of maintaining a results-focused approach at work until you have earned your stripes. Resist the urge to use your job as your social outlet for what is occurring at home. If you are going through a significant challenge personally, you may want to speak with your manager if it is affecting (or may start to affect) your productivity at work. Otherwise, do your best to maintain your effort in your job.
For the best transition, recognize that managing home and professional responsibilities is a learned skill. It takes planning, practice and effort to master. It may also take a village at home while you are adjusting – since neither you nor your family is experienced in making things work with fewer parent hours. With time and practice, you gain confidence and efficiency. Furthermore, when you control the “controllables” in advance, you will have a much better framework for dealing with the unexpected when it arises.