If you are returning to work after a “career break” (aka “off ramped”, “opted out”, took the "mommy track" or any other lovely labels), or maybe you would like to make changes to your current career path, well you should think about attending an IRelaunch conference. Why? Because you will leave with tools to jump start your own thinking and strategy, lists of employers and women to contact, and what I liked most, a huge boost of motivation and confidence. And really, what woman doesn’t need that?
I was invited as a guest and gladly attended the, iRelaunch Return to Work Conference in New York City, last week and found it incredibly worthwhile. This conference is currently the only large-scale gathering of educated (over 50% of the women at my conference had MBA’s, 5% were lawyers) and experienced (67% had worked for over ten years) professionals on career break who are returning to work. Not only do women come together to connect at these events but there were employers in attendance too, showing us that yes, employers are actually interested in women who have taken a “career break”; don’t think they have the plague; and aren’t career dinosaurs yet either. Whew! The 8-hour day was jam packed with panels of successful “relaunchers” (women who returned to work in either a similar role or in some cases different roles), employers talking about why “relaunchers” are great employees, and helpful workshops led by co-founders, Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin. There was also ample time for networking both with other women and representatives from various employers and academic institutions, a great lunch, and a free copy of their book Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-At-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work.
Carol and Vivian, the co-founders, are pretty impressive ladies. Both Harvard Business School graduates and “relaunchers” themselves, Carol and Vivian understand every step of the relaunch process first hand. Between the two of them, they have nine kids (nope, not a typo), and each returned to work after career breaks in very different ways from their “pre-break” finance careers. So they get it because they lived it. Their advice is practical, pragmatic and not patronizing in the slightest. So impressive that Carol's own "relaunch" is the subject of a Harvard Business School case.
Close to 300 women at my conference sat in tables of ten and chatted about their own decisions to return to work. This was NYC so more than a few women I spoke to were returning because partners either lost their job or it had become unstable due to changes in the financial industry or the economy as a whole. Others had kids who were now in school full time and found they just missed working. I sat in sessions and lunched with incredibly impressive, sharp (and have to add, really well dressed too), women that were more than eager to give advice and support each other with opportunities and suggestions. Kind of a running joke of the day that every woman I spoke to sat on a School Board or acted as Chair (myself included), was involved on other boards, or was “lending” their skills to friends and family. Definitely no sit-out-home bon-bon eating for these ladies.
But as confident as they appeared, many candidly admitted that they were scared. Scared of being rejected by the work force, scared of failing and overwhelmed by the task of finding work when sometimes just getting the kids to school, taking care of their homes and maybe on a good day, reading the newspaper, was too much. Which by the way, panel members suggested that if you do one thing to stay in touch, READ the newspaper (online, offline, it doesn’t matter). Nothing sounds better than being able to say, “Did you see the article on such and such last week?” Demonstrates initiative and intelligence from the start. But the lack of confidence and fear I found from many of these women point to why a conference like this is so beneficial.
There was so much to learn at the conference but my top 5 takeaways would have to be the following:
1. Concept of “transferable skills”.
One of the most important of the day for sure! Even when you think you haven’t been doing much more than working a few hours a week or volunteering at school and keeping your household sane, it has value and skills associated. Take the time to break down past jobs/volunteer experiences into functions (example: pitching new clients, research, organizing events, managing people/committees) and then think about how each of these could present a new opportunity. Perhaps you help with school fundraising, well what about working for a foundation or not for profit helping with their fundraising and event work? There was no judgment made on the type of job, paid or not, only that if you did something, and did it well, you could probably do that same thing in a different environment. Thinking how you can transfer your skills (versus your role) will present new opportunities to evaluate and pursue. The IRelaunch ladies suggest starting with three jobs or volunteer positions but if you are keen … keep right on going!
2. “Relaunchers” are often considered the “gem of the workforce”.
Why? Because they are done having kids, have experience and maturity (no that doesn’t mean old), are more settled in their lives (doesn’t mean boring) and have the energy and enthusiasm that comes with returning to work after a break. I couldn’t help but watch the women in the room smile and start to sit up straighter and more confidently when they were being told that they were an asset to a business. That they had something to offer. In the same vein, the employer panel concurred that women should in no way be embarrassed about a career break or pretend that they haven't been out of the workforce. “Don’t apologize, just acknowledge and move on as to why you are right for the job now”, says one employer.
Employers were also in agreement about essential skills for relaunchers.
a. Proactivity. Be engaged and responsive.
b. Passion. Show confidence.
c. Commitment and Follow Though. When it is time to work, work, limit your distractions! Shoot, that one is for me.
d. Technology. Be up to speed. This was said over and over again.
3. Network, network, network and when you think you can’t, network some more.
Yup. Certainly heard this before. Yes, we all find it hard but do it regardless and really, nobody can do it for you. It is up to you. When the head of Global recruiting from Bloomberg tells us that over 55% of their hiring comes from referral, that a resume without a referral name is basically a waste, it is time to listen.
Networking can happen anytime, anywhere. Events, conferences, school-yards, gym classes, book clubs, swimming lessons and soccer fields. Older people, younger people, senior employees, junior employees, it doesn’t matter. Don’t underestimate the power of a lead, a name, and a suggestion. And make sure you think online too. LinkedIn was considered an absolute MUST for anyone looking to return to work. It should be 100% complete too.
4. Determine your 3 C’s.
Each woman needs to determine the Control, Content and Compensation levels that work for her. How much Control over your schedule do you really need? Can you work everyday but from home? Do you need to be out by 3:00 for school pick-up? Content; what do want to actually do while you work. What job functions do you enjoy? Detest? If you hate accounting, well a job that involves managing budgets probably won’t be a good fit. And Compensation, how much money do you need/want? Is this a second income? Are you a single parent?
Carol Fishman Cohen points out that sometimes you will need to trade one of these C’s for another until you are back in the workforce a while. Aim for two out of three. However, if you are in immediate financial need maybe due to a divorce, or a partner loosing their job, the other two C’s might need to be put on a back burner for a while. And that is o.k. If you are lucky enought that money is not the highest priority, “returnships” were suggested as an option. Allowing women to return to the workforce faster, since you are willing to not be paid (or paid much).
5. The number of new employer programs and academic initiatives to help women “relaunch” is growing.
There has been an explosion of career reentry programs since 2004, when the topic began to gain momentum in the media and as a research topic for academics. At this conference alone, there was a slew of representatives from programs that I got to meet, again touting the value of women returning to work
IRelaunch can help too. On their website they have the IRELAUNCH COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF CAREER REENTRY PROGRAMS WORLDWIDE. They also offer online coaching circles and networking circles for women.
The Return to Work Conference has been held 10 times over the last three years in major U.S. cities and in London. Over 1,600 hundred people have attended to date: 95% of participants are women, 75% have graduate degrees and 70% want to return to conventional full time jobs. The program emphasizes strategies, practical advice and real success story examples. Over 50% of attendees have "relaunched" their careers within one year of attending the Conference.
This conference reinforces that there is plenty of opportunity for women to return to work after a “career break” and a set of welcoming employers to greet them. It may take time, definitely focus and energy. But yes, it can be done. So if you are looking to “relaunch” your career. Get started here!