Okay, before launching into the career tips for the newly divorced, I am going to pick on my mom for a second. She lost her husband of 30 some odd years this summer and deserves lots of hugs and sympathy. But still… I’m going to pick on her. Parenthetically, she went through a tough divorce when I was a teenager and her story is echoed many times over in the stories of divorcedmoms. In many ways, she is my hero and my inspiration and I am stronger because of her life story. But still.
Recently, when I went back to Atlanta for an extended stay to spend more time with Mom and launch a job search, I found myself repeating one sentence over and over. It’s sort of embarrassing to admit, but nonetheless I found myself saying, “Mom. Mom? (read this as: she is still talking and I am trying to get a word in edgewise) Mom!” She closes her mouth and turns her sometimes green-sometimes blue eyes on me. Grabbing my chance, I say The Sentence, “I am 50 years old.”
Because this statement only evokes a few wide-eyed blinks from her and a slight twitch at the corner of her perfectly-shaped mouth, I quickly follow up with, “I know how to wash a plate.” We are standing at the sink and she has been explaining exactly, and I mean exactly, how she washes a plate and loads it in the dishwasher. Which, of course, is the only way.
The Sentence, I have found, can be a prefix for anything. As in, I am 50 years old. I know how to:
screw in a light bulb
get on the highway
find the CVS
go on a date
lock my car
walk and talk
rub my stomach and pat my head
You get the idea.
Anyway, suffice it to say I got lots of advice while back home. Yet here I am, 50 years old, giving you advice. I apologize in advance. But here goes.
Important career moves after being a stay-at-home-mom:
1. Breathe. Don’t Panic. Panic never solves anything. Yes, it is scary as. Yes, you will be discriminated against. Yes, you will be passed over for some kid fresh out of school with no experience. Yes, yes, yes. All that and more. But, still. Don’t panic. Breathe. We, as a sisterhood, are there with you in spirit. We have survived, and so will you.
2. Proactively work to develop your confidence level. This is not a passive step. If you are at all like me and other women I know, you will find this step challenging and one that takes daily practice. Your mantra should go something like this: I am not inferior because I stayed at home. I am enhanced. I do NOT buy into any undercurrent of disapproval and dismissiveness. People who emit toxic rays of arrogance in my direction are poorly informed. I am enhanced not only by the passing years but by the substantial work load of being a full-time mother and managing a household amidst the wide variety of other projects I juggle.
3. Do not get hung up on working on your resume, which you will avoid like the plague.
4. Join Linkedin and set up a profile. Unless you are finding it hard to put food on the table and gas in your car, please pay the minimum Job Seeker package on Linkedin (currently priced at $24.95/mo.) so that you can send “inmail.” You do not need to purchase more than the basic package, but I encourage you to get that one. The ability to send messages to people (your friends, your friends of friends, HR reps and so on) on Linkedin is very important and you cannot do it, in most instances, without paying the basic fee.
Once you set up your Linkedin account, look up everyone you know and add them as contacts. It is like “friending” people on Facebook. The bigger the contact base, the better. However, UNLIKE FACEBOOK, the goal here is to be very public. You want as many people as possible to see your Linkedin profile. Don’t get freaked out about what to say about yourself. Just post your name and photo, to begin with, so you can add contacts.
Over time, you can add a little information here and a little information there. For example, you can add your college information without having a coronary, right? Then, on the next day, go back in and add even more contacts as you work on typing in any volunteer work you have ever done. ANY volunteer work (soup kitchen, ticket-selling, bake sale, all of it). Just do a little each day. The job history information is one of the last steps. Don’t sweat that one until well after you have had fun gathering contacts. And contacts are not a popularity contest. Don’t be shy. Just about everyone you contact will welcome YOU as one of THEIR contacts. It’s a two-way street.
5. Now, let’s look at your resume. Get out a pen. Get a blank sheet of paper and go through section by section of past jobs. Define every task you ever performed in this way: Wrote_____, Sold____, Completed, Managed, Initiated, Created, Designed, Treated, Administered, Led, Instructed and Researched. Past tense strong action words.
The very old maxim of limiting your resume to one page is dead. What you want to see in your new and fabulous resume is at least one and a half pages of stuff, but no more than five. And five pages would only be appropriate if you have a long work history of substantial professional work. Don’t fill out five pages with fluffy bits. You want to see the most important selling points about YOU on the top half of the first page, preferably in the first paragraph of text below your name and contact information. And only use the minimal amount of contact information. I only used my email address.
6. Cover letters are vital. Vital! But keep them concise and relevant. No weird jokes. No long stories. No canned, letter-speak as in, “To whom it may concern.” Write with some degree of formality, but not a stiff, silly-sounding formality. Stick to the point. Three paragraphs is ideal.
7. Last but not least, the best way to get a job is through someone you know. You can send 500 resumes or fill out 500 online applications and none of that will be as effective as one phone call to someone you know, even an acquaintance. Use your contacts. Use Linkedin. Tell everyone you know that you are looking. Every single job I ever had was gotten through a contact by “networking.” Every single one. Even allow your mother to network for you. You never know what will turn up! Even if you are 50, your mother’s contacts are golden. You don’t have to let her tell you how to screw in a light bulb, but let her give you names of old friends in high places. Any contact is a good contact.