How to Return to the Workforce in This Economy

This economy has made it harder for mothers to return to work after taking time off.

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Suzanne Lucas
Returning to the workforce after taking time off to raise children is a big challenge. But, it can be done. It just takes tenacity and good marketing skills.

[See 11 insider tips from the HR department.]

A reader recently wrote: "I am 55 and have been raising my children for the past 12 years. Previously, I was a management consultant with an MBA from London Business School. I have done professional volunteer work, qualified as a Master Gardener and attended an executive education program at Harvard Business School. My industry experience is wide but not deep in any particular sector. I still have responsibilities relating to my three teenage children. Is it realistic to be think that I can be hired for a middle/senior management job?"

If you were asking me this question five years ago when unemployment rates were low, I would say, "Absolutely not! You can easily walk into a job." Right now, I'm guessing not so much.

A friend who is a high-level corporate attorney and the mother of two teenagers said to me, "I feel bad when I don't hire these women returning to the workforce. But, if I'm choosing between someone who hasn't worked in 10 years and someone who is completely up to date in everything, I have to go with the latter." It's definitely a problem.

[See how to make a big career change.]

Now, don't take this to mean that I think you made the wrong choice. I don't. Just because a decision results in a difficult return to the workforce 10 years down the road doesn't mean it's not the right decision at the time.

But, what you have to face is that there are thousands of people with more current experience who are fighting for the same job you are. But you have experience and maturity and know your priorities, so that gives you an advantage. What you must do is figure out why you are a better choice than your fellow job seekers and then market yourself.

Think back to your marketing classes in your MBA program and figure out what you can capitalize on that makes you stand out. There is definitely something, you just have to figure out what it is. For instance, you said your experience is "wide" but not "deep." So, look into something that involves working with a variety of industries.

[See why no one cares about your career like you do.]

Another place to start is to look for women who have already done what you seek to do--return to the workforce after raising children. They can help you plan your job search. (And a job search is something that should be directed and focused, not just randomly attacked.) They can not only help you, but they might be more willing to hire you, as they know what they are capable of and may transfer that sense of competency to you.

Do be willing to start at a level below the one you left. I realize this is painful, but you will be expected to prove yourself again. And I hate to say it, but age discrimination unfortunately exists, and you'll have to face that as well. But, can you do it and be successful? Absolutely. Figure out your strengths, market yourself and network until you find success.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.