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Tips for re-entering the workforce for stay-at-home moms and others

Just got another call from a job hunter who has been out of work for a long while, a really long while.

No, this isn’t a person who is counted in the long-term unemployed statistics. This is a woman who chose to be a stay-at-home mom and now wants to return to the workplace.

She is like many who spent five, 10, maybe 20 or more years focused on their families. But circumstances – divorce, disability or death of a spouse, or being at loose ends in an empty nest – push them toward a paycheck.

The most recent caller had been an accountant before her long career break but fears that her profession, and especially the technology involved, has changed so much that her former experience isn’t relevant. And she was afraid of her ability to study for and take certification tests.

Other job market returnees tell me they simply don’t know who would want them. They don’t know what they have to offer.

They might be surprised.

Employers consistently tell me they are searching for mature, stable workers who aren’t interested in moving on to the next thing in a year or two. The difficulty, of course, is making a match between the hirer who wants such help and the person who is looking.

After just a brief conversation, it was clear that my caller was selling herself short. Maybe she won’t become a certified public accountant again, but she has abilities to bring to any job. Start, perhaps, with dependability, emotional maturity, ability to juggle tasks without falling apart and communication skills.

The sticking point for people like her is that they’re missing a workplace network of contacts. I told her she needs to start thinking about her friends, family, neighbors and fellow members of any club or religious organization she has belonged to as her network.

What do those people do for a living? What do their partners do? If any of their jobs dovetail with what she is interested in, that is where her networking needs to start. Shyness isn’t allowed.

And it’s really important for her to talk about her job search with people who have witnessed her organizational, leadership or other work-readiness skills in action. She is a past PTA treasurer. There is a line for her resume. It doesn’t matter that it was unpaid.

She has been a longtime member of a women’s club, once serving as chairwoman of a fundraising drive. How much money did it raise? It would look impressive on a resume to say “led capital campaign that raised $3 million for ...”

Another consideration for job hunters who haven’t worked for ages is to accept that they’re highly unlikely to be hired to do a job at the same level they did before. They need to set immediate sights on lower pay and prestige.

My caller would be a standout receptionist/administrative clerk, based on the phone conversation skills she showed. She could have a classic opportunity to get a foot in the door, shine and get promoted.

Diane Stafford is a columnist for The Kansas City Star. stafford@kcstar.com, 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford, kansascity.com/workplace

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