Q: After a few years at home with the kids, I’m ready to go back to work. I’ve been volunteering in my field, so feel pretty up to date with new thinking, but am still nervous about it. What’s the best way to approach it so that I’m not penalized by the time away? — Anya, 35, social worker
A: A big part is believing in yourself; then you will be able to tell a compelling story about your readiness to return.
To start, exactly what are you nervous about?
If you remain at a level of a free-form feeling, you won’t be able to make plans to ease your fears.
Here are some possibilities: that you will not be taken seriously because you took time off, that you will have to accept lower pay, that you will be unhappy away from your kids or that you just won’t be good at your job anymore.
Determine the underlying dynamic and give yourself a reality check.
For example, think about the compensation question. If you go in apologetic and overly humble, you will invite a low offer.
Instead, do your research on what people in your field are currently receiving, and state your expectations accordingly.
And, unless it serves you to do so, don’t reveal your past earnings; even though it is frequently requested, you don’t have to disclose it and it can put you at a disadvantage.
In fact, even if some of these issues don’t bother you, they may come up in an interview.
So preparing your responses to challenges you may face will build your confidence while also offering a practical benefit of interviewing more effectively.
Now turn your attention to ways you can effectively land a new job.
Networking. Tell everyone you know in the industry that you are back! Then they can tell you about opportunities that are opening up before they’re even posted.
Storytelling. Tap into all of your experiences at work, as a volunteer and at home to highlight your readiness for the positions you’re pursuing.
For example, emotional intelligence is a key to success at work, and all of your life experiences help you deepen your mastery in this area.
Elbow grease. Even though the job market may be opening up some, it takes consistent effort to find the right position.
It’s important to have a plan. Set goals for the number of leads you will try to generate and the professional meetings and quasi-social events you will go to.
Bring energy to these interactions and be ready with an interesting narrative about your goals and potential contributions.
Take the time to craft a résumé and cover letter that tell the hiring manager that you understand what they need.
Use it to also communicate a genuine impression of who you are.
When you have interviewed, stand out with your hand written thank-you note.
Let the positive energy you generate by being authentic in your job search fuel you so that you end up in the right role for this time in your life.