Tips for Returning to the Workforce

In 2009, Kenilworth mom Katherine Buehler returned to the paid workforce after 14 years as a stay-at-home mom.

To reboot her career, the former bank employee and family office consultant tapped into her Northwestern alumni network and connected with other local moms returning to work as part of a networking group established by iRelaunch, an organization that helps mid-career professionals reenter the workforce. Buehler also refreshed her skills by studying to become a certified financial planner.

Her efforts paid off—she’s a vice president and investment committee member for Globe Corporation. Notably, Buehler says her employer didn’t view her time out of the office as a negative.

“They were happy to have someone who wasn’t stuck in a rut of doing things a certain way,” Buehler says. How can you find a rewarding job with a competitive salary?

Treat your volunteer work as you would a regular job

Connecticut career consultant Kathryn Sollmann, author of the blog 9 Lives For Women, says many full-time moms keep their skills fresh through volunteer work. The mistake, Sollmann says, is that they fail to frame their volunteer activities in business terms. Telling a prospective employer you chaired the book fair, for example, doesn’t reveal much about your professional skills.

“You need to tell them that you managed a budget of $50,000, organized 50 volunteers and got 20 percent more people to attend than the previous year,” Sollmann says.

Invest in your job search

To boost your bottom line when you land your next job, you may need to spend some money. Paying for professional resume advice could be worth the cost, Sollmann says.

If you’re not sure what you want the next stage of your career to look like, Vivian Rabin, co-founder of iRelaunch, recommends a few sessions with a career coach. She says having a well-defined career objective will help narrow your search and make you more attractive to potential employers.

“One of the biggest problems we see is that people reentering the workforce are penny wise and pound foolish,” Rabin says. “They don’t want to spend any money on the job search because they aren’t making any money, but what could be a total of $1,000 on a job coach could be the best investment you’ve made.”

Consider starting a few steps back

In an ideal world, moms would return to work making at least as much money as they were before they had children. In the real world, that’s not always the case. In fact, Rabin says you may even want to consider taking a part-time position or an unpaid internship if the experience will help you achieve your long-term career goals.

“This is just your first year,” Rabin says. “We see so many people do much better within two or three years, and then they’re making real money.”

Don’t discount lower pay when thinking about long-term goals

Some women whose spouses are high-income earners decide not to return to work because they conclude that their low starting salary won’t do much more than push their family into a higher tax bracket. Sollmann says that kind of short-term thinking can be a mistake. Even if your family has plenty of money to cover your current expenses, she says many people aren’t financially prepared for unexpected events, like caring for a sick parent or child, or a spouse losing his or her job.

“The problem is that most people do not have enough money saved for retirement,” Sollmann says. “Even if you can only get a job where you clear $20,000 or $30,000, if you are 40 years old and you put that $20,000–30,000 in the bank for 20 years, that adds up to something significant.”


Photo: Cindy Rawlings, a Vice President at Wintrust Financial, speaks at RE:WORK II about the financial aspects of returning to work, as well as her own journey returning to the workforce.