Carol Fishman Cohen is one of our favorite friends here at Daily Grommet. We laughed out loud at her post “My So-Called Daily Grommet Life” on Yahoo Shine! Carol is one busy lady these days. Like many of us, she left the workforce to raise her kids (4) and after years working part time (5), and years as a stay-at-home mom (6), she successfully made a career re-entry at an investment firm in Boston. Carol tells us it took some careful planning, strategizing and a bit of creativity to get “back on the career track” and return to work. She and her co-author and fellow-relauncher Vivian Steir Rabin decided to write the book on it.
Their book Back on the Career Track, A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work is an easy read with lots of well-detailed and practical advice from career counselors and job recruiters along with some really inspiring and candid stories from other successful re-launchers. I liked its format… it makes you first delve inwardly to realistically assess your skills, needs and options. It then outlines steps to help you develop a plan to build up your confidence and your marketability, to network and get those interviews and, ultimately to land that job. With the success of the book, Carol and Vivian have co-founded iRelaunch, a company that produces career reentry programs for employers, schools, groups and individuals who want to relaunch their careers. This year they are holding return to work conferences in Atlanta, Boston, NYC, and Washington, D.C. Check out their site http://www.irelaunch.com/ for details. With these tough economic times, Carol’s book and her iRelaunch company are fantastic resources for those relaunchers who want to get back on the career track.
Carol, your book reads like the encouraging voice of an articulate and knowledgeable friend who totally understands the difficulties in relaunching one’s career.
1. You start out by suggesting a Relaunch readiness quiz. Can you describe that to us?
The first step in the relaunch process is to determine readiness. We look at readiness in three categories and the quiz reflects this: First, what is my interest in returning to work, filtering everything else out? Second, what are my childcare, eldercare or other responsibilities? And third, what is my spousal or family support, if any? The quiz allows you to score your readiness in each of these three categories. Sometimes, we can’t wait to return, and feel really ready, but there is a practical reason why we can’t. Maybe a person is caring for her elderly father and realizes she needs to transition him to a board and care before it is realistic for her to return to work. Another person might be on career break to care for young kids and realize she can’t realistically return until the kids are in school plus an after school program for the full day.
2. What do you think is the biggest hurdle to relaunching?
An overwhelming jumble of emotions and decisions can keep us from moving forward. We call this the “floundering period”. The relaunch readiness quiz helps divide this big question of “How do I return to work?” into categories, but that’s just the beginning. Discerning what it is you really want to do and getting yourself up to speed to be ready to do your best work is a big piece of the process. One of the reasons Vivian and I wrote Back on the Career Track is, when we relaunched our careers in 2000 and 2001, we felt alone and without a game plan. No one was talking about relaunching at that time. Having a strategy and an orderly framework to the process helps keep up momentum. The final hurdle is overcoming a lack of confidence. We spend a whole chapter on confidence building strategies in Back on the Career Track.
3. The second part of your book talks about relaunchers from the employers’ perspective. Can you tell us how employers view relaunchers, especially moms with their need for flexibility?
Interestingly, we learned from our iRelaunch Return to Work Conferences, which we have run seven times over the last 2.5 years for over 1,000 people, that 70% of our participants are looking for conventional full time jobs. People are looking for what we call “flexibility around the edges”, the ability to go to the school play or work the occasional day from home and have that fall within the normal expectations of the employer. We work with big global employers, and most of them will say a new employee needs to come on board and prove herself first in a full time position in order to earn the opportunity to work a truly flexible schedule, mixing working at home with working in the office, or having flexible start and end times. We had an interesting comment at one of our first conferences that if you are looking for flexibility, look for companies that are located in long term construction zones. These companies may stagger start times at work or allow people to work at home because their productivity will be higher than if they are trying to make it through construction barriers every day. Finally, I think it’s important to ask, when someone says they want to work part time or flexibly, what do they really mean by that? Some people say they want to work part time when really what they want is flexibility in where they do their work or what hours. They don’t want to have full time face time in the office. They are willing to work a full time schedule if some of it can be done from home or at non-traditional hours. These definitions are really important to determine up front.
4. What does your crystal ball say about the future for relaunchers?
Our first return to work conference was Spring 2008, so we have been running them through the worst of the recession. We found it fascinating and gratifying that our employer sponsor base grew during this period. Smart companies are forward looking in their recruiting practices. We had employers in the public and private sectors remark at our conferences that while they might be in a hiring freeze at the moment, 50% of their workforce was going to retire in the next five years. Others are always looking for a way to attract more women into leadership roles at their companies, regardless of economic conditions. While both men and women take career breaks for a range of reasons, 95% of our conference attendees are female, and most have taken their career break for child care reasons. Companies are realizing that hiring women at the life stage after they are done having children and when their children are a little older, is a great business decision. We also impress upon employers that the stereotype of the relauncher population being technologically obsolete is a temporary condition. Having been technologically obsolete myself, I can tell you that yes, I had to learn PowerPoint, Excel, Word and social media, but after I learned all of that, I wasn’t technologically obsolete any more. I’m mentioning all of this to make the point that we think the future is good for relaunchers. One of our missions at iRelaunch is to trumpet success stories of how returning professionals have successfully transitioned back into the workforce. Not only are we doing this to inspire people on career break to return, but we want employers to see success story after success story, so any perceived risk of hiring someone returning from career break is eliminated.
*Carol has generously offered to give away 2 copies of her book, Back on the Career Track.
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