Doing contract and volunteer work are great ways to show a potential employer that your acumen and skills have stayed intact (ideally, you would take it on as soon as you leave the workforce). "Charity fund-raising, for example, translates to money-generating potential on a résumé," says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, PhD, president of the Center for Work-Life Policy and author of Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success.
5. Network Like a Banshee
"Before you go to bed tonight, write down the names of everyone you know," suggests Butler. "Then, first thing in the morning, try to double that list"—you may suddenly remember how someone on your first list is friends with X, who runs such and such firm, which would be the perfect place to work. Alumni groups—from schools to your last company—are also good sources of contacts. And it's helpful to keep your professional memberships current.
6. Get Your Pitch Down
"Long explanations can make you sound defensive, so distill how you want to sell yourself," Hewlett advises. On your résumé, record all contract, committee, and volunteer work, using strong action verbs that stress the skills you honed. Back those accomplishments with numbers if you can (how much money you raised as head of the soccer league's fund-raising drive, how many kids your church mentoring program tutored). In interviews, don't skirt why you opted out of the workforce. "Sell it for what it was—a well-thought-out, value-driven commitment," says Butler. "We're finding that companies are increasingly looking for people with reliable judgment and a sense of accountability."
7. Be Flexible
A 2005 Wharton study of reentering women showed that 59 percent joined companies that were smaller than their previous employers, 54 percent changed their roles, and 45 percent started their own businesses. Another trend to note is that financial institutions are beginning to actively recruit returning women.
8. Mind the Gap
With a work history that already includes a breach, it's important to ensure that your first new job is a good match. Put together a long list of positions for which you have at least some qualification, and rank the 12 that are most exciting to you. Discuss the results with four people close to you in order to identify the job qualities you find most appealing. Start sending applications only when you're willing to pledge at least a year to the job.
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