You've been happily doing the most important job of your life, but it's now time to dust off your resume and get back into the paid workforce. Whether you're searching for a job reluctantly (because those pesky bills never go away!) or can't wait to dress up, get out and reboot your career, you're in great company. Today, more than a third of all mums with children under the age of two are in the workforce, and up to 79% of mums are working by the time their youngest is at school.
What's more, there's never been a better time to be a working parent. Kate Webster, managing director of Priorities Flexible Employment Strategies, says government legislation now means you have the right to request flexible work arrangements from an employer, and while they don't have to oblige, many recognise the value in hiring parents.
"It often works really well for both sides," Kate says. Not only are many working mums more open to the idea of negotiating salary and conditions around child-friendly work arrangements, they're also incredibly productive. "You're not going to be sitting around the water cooler or going out for long lunches because you need to pick up your child from childcare, so you're very focused on getting the job done."
Of course, first you need to clinch that job, which requires a positive attitude, solid preparation and these three crucial steps.
Rewrite your resume
Kate Sykes and Allison Tait, co-authors of Career Mums (Penguin), say don't just dust off your CV, give it a makeover. "As with everything, styles in resumes change, and a lineal career history with no supporting data is out of fashion," they write.
You need to target your resume to suit each prospective job and showcase your skills, including those gained as a mother. "The trick is to translate your parenting skills into 'workspeak'. Time-management, problem-solving, organisation, management and relationship-building skills are all valuable in the workplace – and pretty much what you've been doing for the past few years," the authors say.
Kate agrees. "Often parents out of the workforce will participate in their local community or kindergarten, and adding a volunteer section to your resume is one way for employers to understand you've been active rather than staying home all day," she adds.
You can also include interesting projects such as starting a blog or returning to study. Here are a few more ideas to consider.
Make your CV easy to digest with clear headings, a consistent layout and an easy-to-read font and size (for example, Times Roman, 12pt). And double-check spelling and grammar. A maximum of two pages works well.
Include your name, email, address and phone numbers. You do not need to state your age, marital status or whether you have children.
Include a professional profile, a brief paragraph detailing your career history, the skills and experience gained, and how they are relevant to the position for which you're applying. Also detail your employment history, key skills, volunteer work, professional affiliations and memberships, and any further education and training you have done.
List two or three referees the employer can call, but seek their permission first and avoid using friends and family. Try to make at least one referee recent, such as the principal at your child's school if you've done relevant volunteer work there.
Include a dynamic cover letter
Your resumé must be accompanied by a one-page cover letter, which gives you the opportunity to sell yourself and also to seek flexibility if that's what you're after. "Being honest works very well," says Kate. "Saying, 'I wish to return to the workforce after a career break in order to have children' is not going to work against you because it will weed out the unsympathetic employers. If you're upfront and honest you'll get an employer who understands your obligations."
Discuss previous roles you've held in a similar area and activities you've undertaken recently. "So if it's an organisational project manager role, for example, talk about project managing the school trivia night and have your responsibilities and achievements in your résumé linked to that role as if it were a job," suggests Kate.
Be sure to address your letter to the right person – call the company and find out – and target it to the position you're after, emphasising how your skills, experience and interests make you the ideal candidate. Finally, don't forget to proofread it!
Impress at the interview
Everyone gets nervous in job interviews, says Kate. "I shake so many hands and 90% of them are damp, so that's normal and is not going to work against you unless you are visibly quaking," she says.
Just think of it like a chat, say Allison and Kate in their book. "It may be formal, but you're simply discussing yourself with a prospective employer. You're interviewing the employer as much as they're interviewing you." Here are key points to remember.
Research shows self-confidence, likeability and willingness to learn are paramount, so be sure to smile, sit up straight, meet your interviewer's eyes and be positive. "Make sure you're dressed in something you feel comfortable and confident in," advises Kate. "And give attention to small details like jewellery and make-up."
If you're offered a drink, forgo trickier tea and coffee for water. "It will give you something to take a pause to," says Kate.
Prepare well: reread your résumé, jot down key points to jog your memory and rehearse the answers to stock questions such as, 'What are your strengths and weaknesses?' "Also prepare an elevator pitch," suggests Kate. "So when they say, 'Tell me a bit about yourself', you can confidently say, 'Well, my name's such-and-such and I'm interested in blah, blah, blah'." It's also important to research the company website and become familiar with any new technology or social media skills they require.
It's illegal for interviewers to ask questions about your childcare arrangements and future pregnancy plans, but if they do, speak generally and explain you wouldn't be applying for the job if these were issues. Allison and Kate suggest, "The only time you should mention your family is when you're discussing flexibility arrangements." You may also need to discuss the in-house breastfeeding policy and the availability of a crèche.
If you're concerned about your performance, send a follow-up email, says Kate. "Say, 'I really enjoyed meeting you, thanks for the opportunity, I wanted to clarify that I communicated these points…'"
Great job ideas for busy mums
Looking for a job that works around your kids? There are recruitment agencies, employers and entire industries (such as health) that target flexi-workers, so try them first. Otherwise, review your prospective employer's flexible work policy before applying (search online or ask around).
Also ask about job-sharing, job-splitting, part-time work, rostering, telecommuting or working from home. Career Mum authors Allison and Kate believe, "The most successful flexible work arrangements are those that work for both employer and employee." So you may need to take a cut in pay or conditions in exchange for less rigid work hours. "You need to have a clear idea of where you're willing to compromise and where you're not," they add.
And be realistic, adds Kate: "There are jobs that are almost impossible to do from home, such as a receptionist, whereas if you're doing something that involves reading huge piles of paper or getting a report together, you might be able to do that after hours if you can have the morning off to [be with] your child," she says.
Working as a freelancer or contractor or starting your own business can be ideal for flexibility, but you'll need a good business plan, as well as plenty of capital and time to spare. For more flexible job ideas and information, check out these websites.