5 Tips for Returning to Work from a Returner

By Een Tan

The decision to take career off-ramps and on-ramps is not easy. I decided to step out of the workforce when my first son arrived. I loved my work but the demands of a Wall Street job with 60-80+ hour weeks were difficult. If I had gone back to work after my son was born I would have needed a full-time nanny (with over-time) and missed highlights from his early years. I would have also had to make compromises on the job that probably would have impacted my performance and career growth. Working from home was not an option then like it is now at many companies.

I always knew that I wanted to go back to work at some point; I just didn’t know exactly when. I valued both my professional career and financial independence too much to stay at home permanently.

When it was time to on-ramp back into my career, I was unsure of where and how I could fit into a professional role and bring value after an extended period as a stay-at-home mom. How could I compete with other job seekers with more current experience? Finding my confidence was like looking for buried treasure.

Here are the five things that helped me get my confidence and career back, and find a job I love. I hope they help you too!

1. Network with intention
I spent two years combing through job listings only to apply for jobs that weren’t right for me. When I made networking an intentional part of my job search, it allowed me to meet new people, attend informational interviews and reconnect with graduate school alumni and former colleagues who knew my potential. All of these intentional experiences helped show me where I felt most passionate and engaged.

Through my return-to-work journey, I rediscovered my passions for problem solving, teamwork, writing, and good-old quantitative analysis.

2. Don’t try to do it all yourself
Returning to work is an intimidating process and going it alone is even more difficult. reacHire helped me begin to unearth my confidence. I met other women who were trying to do the same thing. We supported each other. The program helped me to reflect on my goals. I took stock of my skills and how they could be valuable in the professional world. But the greatest part of the program was the opportunity to prove myself in a paid internship at a great company. This was possible due to reacHire’s mission to educate companies about the largely untapped talent pool of returning women. No matter how talented, educated and motivated returners are, we would not get far without companies who are open-minded and willing to listen and appreciate the value we bring. It was a huge help to have the reacHIRE team believing in us and advocating on our behalf.

3. Build and refine your personal brand
Finding a way to confidently tell my story was critical. I knew I didn’t leave my brain on the playground, but my confidence was very low. As a result, I set the bar way too low when I first began applying for jobs. Over time, I learned to reflect on who I was holistically and learned to refine my personal brand and present a more complete candidate to prospective employers. I had a lot of value and experience to contribute and it was time for me to start showing it.

4. Become a continual learner
Remember that your brain is an elastic muscle. It went from focusing on a professional career to stretching to a completely different dimension of life. It will serve you well.

My return to work experience opened my eyes to a learning curve that still has no end in sight. As a former investment banker, the word “technology” didn’t appear anywhere on my resume but I was confident in my ability to learn and wanted to understand how technology could improve my value and expand my knowledge.

So, with the help of supportive managers and mentors, I learned, among many other things, valuable skills in project management, the key principles of Agile methodology, the importance of vendor risk management, and the art of preparing executive level reports.

There are so many new opportunities to broaden your skill sets and grow horizontally. No matter what role I take on, I always make sure I am learning, developing new skills, meeting new people and making a difference.

5. Prepare others for your transition back
I was thrilled to finally get a second chance at a professional career – to rebuild my financial independence, my resume, and especially my confidence. I was so focused on the job that I had neglected to adequately prepare my family (or myself for that matter) for the big change that lay ahead. How would everything that I used to do at home actually get done? I now realize that planning for this moment needed to begin years in advance. Make sure you get an early start on conversations about how life will be once you’re back in the workforce. Enable others to share in the responsibilities so that when the time comes, they will be ready to manage in your absence. This life change takes time, so plan for it!

It has been an exciting back to work journey for me. After spending two years as a contractor in Fidelity’s Corporate Technology Group (CTG), I was hired into a full-time permanent position as a Project Manager in Fidelity’s Brokerage Technology. Since gaining permanent employment, I have enjoyed merit increases, positive performance reviews, and bonuses. Being able to challenge myself and start contributing to retirement again makes me really proud.

I have come a long way since my first day as a contractor. Though the learning curve still has no end in sight (which is actually a good thing), I am now far more confident that I can climb it.

For more on Een’s return to work story, visit our testimonials page.