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by Sarah E. Needleman | March 31, 2009


Women who put their careers on hold to raise children often face a challenge in returning to the work force. They're typically at a disadvantage to job hunters with fresh work histories. Plus, some employers may have preconceived notions about a returning mom's ability to commit to a job.

"All your cards are on the table," says Thomas Gimbel, president and chief executive officer at the LaSalle Network, a staffing and recruiting firm in Chicago. "Moms have to realize that while everyone has personal issues, a potential employer usually doesn't know about them."

To overcome the hurdles they may face, as well as prepare for potential work-family balance conflicts ahead, moms may need to take special measures when re-entering the work force. Here are tips based on how five women eased their return:

1. Target family-friendly employers.

Ann Fahey-Widman, 36, resigned from a public-relations agency that offered few family-friendly benefits when she was starting a family in 2000. She considered becoming a home-based consultant until friends and colleagues told her about Abbott Laboratories, a diversified health-care products maker near her Lake County, Ill., home. After reading online about its family-friendly resources, such as its on-site prenatal and lactation programs, she applied for and landed a part-time consulting position. Two months later, Ms. Fahey-Widman joined Abbott full time as a public-affairs manager. She has since been promoted three times and is now director of human-resources communications. "The on-site childcare center has been an absolute godsend," she says. [For a list of family-friendly companies, see Working Mother magazine's annual list.]

2. Network with contacts A to Z.

In 2003, Ana Chapman, 34, began notifying fellow alumni, former colleagues and others that she was wanted to reboot her career. About a year earlier she'd quit her job as a vice president of equities management atNew York investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to be at home with her newborn twins and had recently moved with her family to Jackson Hole, Wyo., for her husband's job. "I started telling everyone that I wanted to come back to work," she says.

Among the people Ms. Chapman contacted was her former boss at Goldman, who had since left Wall Street to co-found Amba Research, a Singapore-based research firm. When he said he needed a director of institutional sales in November 2004, she put her hand up and was hired. She started at an annual salary comparable to her previous job and now works from home, she says.

3. Show what you've been up to.

Ethel Pelletiere stayed home for five years to raise her two children. To overcome her resume gap when she began interviewing for jobs in 2004, she says, she described her personal and professional activities during this period. For example, a weekly day-care program she organized and ran for two years through her church. She also noted that she became a certified public accountant. "You want to show that you've been productive," says Ms. Pelletiere, a former insurance underwriter, who switched careers.

After about six months of job hunting, Ms. Pelletiere, who is 42, landed a position as an auditor at Deloitte & Touche LLC, a New York-based accounting firm.

4. Project confidence.

Beth Blanton took a two-year job hiatus to stay at home with her first child. She says she botched an answer to a question about it when interviewing for a pharmaceutical-sales post in July 2005. "When the issue of having a baby came up, I stammered and lacked confidence in the way I talked," says Ms. Blanton, a former dental-sales professional. She didn't get the job.

A friend suggested that she adopt a positive attitude about her time off, and she rehearsed an explanation. In her next job interview, she says she was self-assured when explaining her choice to become a mother and take a work break. "I conveyed that I am responsible, committed and organized," by citing examples from past work experiences and her role as a mom, says Ms. Blanton, 25. She got the job and is now a program-coordinator position at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce in Michigan.

5. Propose a job-sharing arrangement.

Despite six months of maternity leave from her district sales manager job, Carol Richards, 42, wasn't ready to resume working full time at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, a Wilmington, Del.-based drug company. She proposed splitting her job with a manager from another department who had recently returned from maternity leave. "The idea was that we would co-manage a team of eight representatives," she says. "We'd each work three days a week, with one day overlapping." The company's management approved and the arrangement lasted for two years, when Ms. Richards's co-manager moved into a different role. The company allowed her to maintain her part-time status and assigned her colleague's duties to another manager, she says.


Filed Under: Job Search