How can I easily navigate the transition back to working outside the home?

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Photo by Kheel Center, Cornell University, used under Creative Commons license.
I’m getting ready to go back to work, but here’s the catch: I haven’t done paid work in six years. I am feeling so anxious about every step of the process.

I’m not sure how I’ll go about proving that even though I didn’t get paid, I’ve built skills steadily along the way; learning how to get back into the groove of dealing with co-workers. I’m also wondering what might make the transition easier for me and my two sons, right down to wondering what professional women wear nowadays.

How do I transition away from my tenure as a stay-at-home mom? — Brooke

Comments on How can I easily navigate the transition back to working outside the home?

  1. Sorry I’m of no expertise for this area but I can help with “what to wear” because I work in a corporate office!
    Try to buy basic pieces for foundation outfits like black jackets and slacks (etc), then add new tops week by week that are more your personal style. When in doubt, go all neutral with funky jewelry.
    And flats, wear funky flats!

  2. Hi! How old are your sons? For me, when I started working four days a week again, what helped a lot was preparing my son and talking to him about it. Granted, he’s only 18 months old and can’t understand as much, but he still gets it when I leave in the morning telling him I’m going to work because I love my job and that I’ll be back later to cuddle and play and have fun. The first few weeks are going to be really rough — it was hard managing the guilt. But once I started realizing I loved getting my “work identity” back into the mix, it helped a lot. Plus, I know I’m setting an example for my son.

    As far as proving you’ve gained valuable skills — amp that up. Volunteer and unpaid nonprofit work doesn’t mean you aren’t learning and as long as you can articulate (specifically) what you’ve learned through your various projects/experiences and HOW, you should be good to go.

    I’m sure I’ll think of more later (I’m in between teaching classes right now), so I’ll be back! 🙂

  3. I just went thru this a year ago, and let me tell you it wasn’t easy. I found a great job that I was excited about, but I was anxious! I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing for my family but I had been out of the workforce for a long time and we needed the money so it was time!! I’m not going to lie-I had some sleepless nights worrying about everything from how the experience would affect my daughter to who would do the laundry and cook dinner.

    But-it sounds like you’re in the process of looking for work and I’m guessing that you have a supportive partner in the mix? If there’s no significant other, start looking for a nanny/sitter now! I have a wonderfully involved husband and he has been awesome about picking up the slack (and, yes, doing the laundry!) but I still needed a sitter for times when he’s out of town or has to work late. I found an awesome sitter/tutor on

    I don’t have a whole lot of advice about finding a job except that I’ve had to be humble about where I started. I have a bachelor’s degree and started in a part time position that anyone could have done. After doing that job for about 8 months, another, more specialized part time job came up locally and I jumped at that opportunity (and nice pay increase). Again, I was conflicted about whether it was the right decision but the pay made the decision for me so once again I held my breath and plunged in! I’ve been happy with the change!

    The big surprise that you are in for about today’s workforce (besides the common knowledge that it’s hard to find a job) is that companies have become huge tightwads. The two companies I have worked for most recently are militant about every employee clocking out for a 30 minute break during the workday. They also work employees really hard. The American worker has become more efficient because if they’re not they won’t have a job. And it’s not just miserable companies that do it. It seems to be across the board (though I’d be curious to hear what other people think of that statement). Check out your prospective companies at -it’s a great and revealing website where people can anonymously share their work experiences in various companies.

    Be brave! You and your family are more flexible and resilient than you know. I work all day Saturday and it’s been wonderful for my daughter and husband-they are much closer now than they were before I started working. I feel so much happier and satisfied with my whole life even though I’m only working outside the home 3 days per week right now.

    Good luck and enjoy the adventure!!

    • I’d agree that companies have been working employees harder since the recession. All lot of them slimmed down the workforce to a bare minimum, which included that bare minimum working extra-hard to cover everything. Now that that line has been crossed I don’t see many companies choosing a relaxed working environment over cost-efficiency.

    • I’ll agree with the companies becoming tightwads comment. I know a few companies that are reducing paid time off and many companies that are freezing raises until cash influx improves.

  4. Thank you for this question. I haven’t even gotten a firm offer yet (not corporate at all but definitely away from my kids!)and I am already contemplating turning it down. The idea of letting them go for a whole day or being geographically far sends me into a panic. I’ve been home for 4 years…

  5. Not sure if you want to share this level of info, but it would be helpful if we knew what industry or type of work you’re looking to get back into. I work in the tech industry, and you would be very out of place in a suit. I don’t own a “work” wardrobe other than a few nice dresses I save for “big” meetings.

  6. If I were re-entering the work force after a 6 year hiatus, I think I would be focused on proving on how I “kept up” during the intervening years. I might even go so far as to take a class or do some contract/volunteer work to show that I’m serious about my intent to resume my career and to show to that I still have mad skillz!

  7. I just went back after being off for 4 years. I applied at the company I worked for when I had my kid (went on maternity leave and basically resigned after that was over). It’s a contract position, which seemed perfect, so I could decide if I wanted to work or not after it was over, but even tho it’s not my dream job, the money is great, and I’m enjoying a bit of a break from all kids, all the time! Hoping my position ends up permanent, actually. Kiddo is loving his half day Montessori and half day with the sitter (and her 4 kids). It’s really good for all of us, and it didn’t take long at all to adjust. Good luck in this endeavor!!

  8. Our local Women’s Resource Center has a class specifically for moms returning to work after a long hiatus. They focus on non-traditional resume writing. I bet there are resources online! Good luck!!

  9. I’ll caveat this by saying that I’m UK based and don’t have kids (yet; my manthing and I are in the ‘trying to conceive’ stage) so my situation may not be entirely similar, but as far as the “about proving that even though [you] didn’t get paid, [you’ve] built skills steadily along the way” part goes…

    I made the transition from higher ed followed by a year of mostly-unpaid work in independent film and crashing on the better half’s sofa back into a fulltime admin job, and I found was that those experiences (… maybe not so much the sofa-crashing!) served me as well as paid work – particularly when I got to interview stage. If you can use them as a source of specific annecdotes when a prospective employer asks you to prove your ability at task x or give an example of how you dealt with situation y you’re on to a winner, and the fact that it’s something different should help you stick out 🙂

    Good luck!

  10. Create a skills-based resume (can google for examples) rather than a job/timeline based resume. This won’t make it obvious that you’ve been home for 4 years, but will showcase all of your skills.

  11. Work clothes-wise…I suggest you do what I inadvertently did while up early mornings breastfeeding: watch “What Not to Wear”. Seriously, it taught me a lot about finding different looks, what is appropriate in workplace and what would look good on my body. I totally love that show…I know not everyone likes it but I’ve learned a lot about clothes, to the point where I was actually able to enjoy shopping for new clothes recently.

    As for the transition…I just started working fulltime again after the birth of our daughter, and it is HARD. Emotionally very had. But I am doing the right thing by my family, which is what I try to keep in mind. So my advice…stay strong! Don’t underestimate your value. And good luck!

  12. I used to be a counselor at The Center for the Education of Women at at the University of Michigan. CEW is a non-profit that specializes in helping and advocating for non-traditional students and workers, especially those who have a break in their school/work history for whatever reason, raising kids, illness, unemployment, etc. All counseling sessions are free, anyone can schedule one and they do phone appointments: If I was in your situation, CEW would be the first place I’d call, and not just because I used to work there. During counseling sessions, you can talk about whatever impacts your decision to return to work, including concerns about your kids, your own emotions, how to re-write your resume, dealing with co-workers, wardrobe, etc. Most of the staff at CEW are parents and all are amazingly sensitive to the needs of the women (and men) they serve. Children are welcome at appointments. I’ve heard a lot of people say it was nice just to have someone support them throughout the process of re-joining the workforce or going back to school. Even if you don’t live in MI, you might want to give them a call and maybe set up a phone appointment. Good luck!

  13. if you need to brush up on pc skills, I’d take a class or two through community ed or other programs so you have the computer skills employers will assume you may be lacking after 6 years out of the workplace. Also, be sure to mention volunteer experience if you have any or any side gigs you may have done while on your leave. If you don’t have any of this experience you may want to think about doing some volunteer work to ease yourself back into the job market and make new connections, etc. As far as a wardrobe, I think it also really depends on your industry but you will probably need something professional to wear for interviews. Good luck!

  14. Regarding clothing, many major department stores in the US (and sometimes the malls themselves) actually offer personal shopping assistance – usually for free. Look on the store’s website for “shopping assistant” or “personal shopper” to find out how to book an appointment. It’a a great starting point to get an outfit or two.

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