By Mary B. O’Neill, PhD | firstname.lastname@example.org
As a woman, beginning work, re-entering the workforce, or changing careers can be daunting, but doing it in your 40s or 50s can be downright paralyzing.
Perhaps you’ve been raising a family or caring for aging parents full-time. Maybe you’ve been working in a job that’s been great for its flexibility or compensation, but isn’t exactly what you’d choose to do in terms of satisfaction and stimulation. Or it could be, as the British politely say, that you’ve been made redundant and your current job has been eliminated.
It’s time for the change of life – not only in your hormones but in your career. It’s time to reinvent, retrain, and reprioritize – and instead of that feeling like a drudge match it can be an exciting and exhilarating journey. How do I know? Because I’ve been there, done that, am still doing it, and happy to share the wisdom I’ve gained along the way.
One man I interviewed with when I was trying to reenter the workforce after a nearly ten-year absence brusquely told me my résumé looked “swiss-cheesy,” meaning that there were unexplained holes and it didn’t have a clear direction or pattern of experience. Say, what?! To me, my résumé made complete sense. Every position – paid or volunteer – that I took had a logic behind it.
What he made me see was that I need to create the narrative arc of my story through my cover letter and interviews. I had to anticipate comments like his and be ready with a well-thought-out response. While my career path did appear like I was jumping around a checkerboard, I could see the reasons for my moves. My choices made sense when viewed according to my “mom logic” – the choices I made gave me the flexibility to meet the bus, do carpools, make my children’s games, and to be able to be with my dad when he was sick.
Take a look at your experiences to date. Try to see what kind of story they tell and be ready to fill in between the lines. It’s your job to create the narrative arc that allows your life to organize itself into a cohesive whole. Then you have to tell that story convincingly to someone who doesn’t know you, like an interviewer.
Women can often suffer from Impostor Syndrome. They can doubt their own achievements and abilities and fear being exposed as a fraud. This can especially be the case if you’ve been out of the workplace for five to ten years or have never been in it. Questions about skills and qualifications can really mess with your head.
It’s important to move beyond this self-doubt and not listen to that negative voice. I have found that usually, the people who doubt their abilities the most and wonder if they’re good enough are often the ones who do the job the best.
Overcoming the voice of, “No, I can’t” in our head takes intention and practice – and the first time you do it is scary, but then saying, “Yes, I can” becomes a whole lot easier.
Now, when a client or employer asks me if I can do something I still have that inner voice that tells me I can’t, but it’s much softer now. And while the doubt running through my head may say I’m an impostor, the words that are emphatically coming from my mouth are, “Sure, I can do that.” And then I go home. Google the hell out whatever the task is, teach myself what I need to know, and make it happen.
And remember, employers need you! The 2017 Deloitte Review article Meet the US Workforce of the Future highlights the changing face of the American workforce. It points to an increasingly older and female employee in the coming decade. It recommends that employers begin building strategies to attract and retrain these workers – us!
Focus on what not when
Another tool to build your confidence and tell your career story is the skills-based résumé. When you were younger, your résumé probably followed the common reverse chronological order.
At this point in your life, that model might not serve you as well anymore. This is particularly true if you have significant gaps in your employment history or you’re trying to change careers.
A skills-based résumé focuses more on the particular skills sets you’ve attained and less on when and where you attained them. For this kind of résumé, pick three to four skills to emphasize and give examples of those skills from across your work and life history.
For example, these could be leadership, collaboration, strategic thinking, creative problem solving. Then bullet point times in your career that you’ve exhibited those skills. The bottom of the résumé contains the work history, which is deemphasized and keeps attention away from dates and gaps.
Remember to include volunteer positions and skills obtained in them. Even if unpaid, those roles developed meaningful workplace skills and capacities.
Find your fit
Personality inventories can help you gain clarity on what kind of occupation would produce the best fit for you. While they’re not conclusive, they can guide your research and provide direction for a search.
While there are many online versions, a more low-tech (and fun) option is the book Career Match: Connecting Who You Are with What You Love to Do, which provides color-coded personality types and helpful career advice. Co-author Ann Bidou, also co-proprietor of Toymakers Café in Falls Village, CT, sells the book in her cozy café and can dispense career match wisdom and your latté with a personal touch.
Work the room
Applying for positions is now an online process. These online tools are geared to search for certain keywords and are biased toward selecting candidates who exhibit them. This is fine if your résumé and experience are fairly straightforward. But if you have a story to tell or your experience doesn’t fit so neatly in a cookie-cutter application, then you need another approach.
Over your life you’ve hopefully accumulated a network of individuals you can tap to help you in your job quest. Volunteer roles in local non-profits, memberships in civic organizations, even the yoga studio are filled with people who can give you job insights and connect you with other contacts. These personal interactions and introductions allow you to tell your unique story and perhaps get you in the door to meet a prospective employer.
Also invaluable to expanding your reach to employers is joining local civic organizations, such as Chambers of Commerce. Jean Saliter, president of the Tri-State Chamber of Commerce, points out, “We have regular meetings and gatherings that allow members and guests to tap into local networks.”
“This one-on-one time with business, civic and community leaders is priceless for a woman seeking employment, a career change, or an upgrade on life itself. Our weekly newsletter often contains career and job opportunities posted by member employers, the same ones who attend our events and that you can meet face-to-face in a casual social setting.”
Up your game
Being out of the workforce for any amount of time can leave you feeling inadequate and irrelevant to the challenges of today’s workplaces. This knowledge gap can kill confidence and leave you wondering how you can climb on the fast-moving train of our more tech-driven employment market.
Jane Williams, director of the Entrepreneurial Center of Northwest Connecticut at Northwest Connecticut Community College (NCCC) observes, “The biggest barriers for mature women either entering or reentering the workforce or being separated from employment are technology skills and lack of confidence.”
“When mature workers come to the NCCC Center for Workforce Development we help them attain a short-term credential, preferably stackable, so they can continue their education and training for higher paying jobs in a career path. When women begin to improve their skills, build a network of peers, and understand how their life experiences are relevant to new employment opportunities, they bloom.”
Popular certificate programs are Office Professional, which includes Microsoft Office and Quickbooks and Allied Health Programs. NCCC, Berkshire Community College, Columbia Greene Community College. and Dutchess Community College all offer workplace training and certificate programs that are low-cost, potentially carry financial aid, and put you in the midst of other mature students just like you.
Taking career-related courses online through massive open online courses (MOOCs) such as edX and Coursera are other low-cost, low-risk ways to increase skills. There are a vast array of classes you can take for free, or for about $150, earn a certificate of completion to demonstrate your mastery and list on your résumé.
Another valuable resource is SCORE. A national non-profit, it helps small businesses begin, grow, and achieve their goals through education and mentorship using local qualified volunteers who deliver services at little or no cost.
Whether or not you’re looking to join the entrepreneurial ranks of small-business owners, SCORE is a valuable resource for mentoring and training. In northwest Connecticut, SCORE’s partner is the Northwest Connecticut Chamber of Commerce in Torrington. There is also a SCORE Western Massachusetts and SCORE Dutchess.
Lauren and Mark Trager of Two Twelve Consultants are the chairs of marketing for the northwest Connecticut SCORE. They are firm believers in the power of SCORE for women entering or reentering the workforce or shifting gears to another job. Mark Trager explains, “SCORE offers individual mentoring, workshops, a library of online courses and webinars, and blogs by successful women-run small businesses. It’s also active in supporting our region’s growing number of home-based businesses.”
The Northwest Chamber of Commerce of Connecticut also focuses on supporting women in business through its WOW! Forum, a one-day program to address the need for professional development and personal growth opportunities for women. In fall 2019, SCORE will continue to support the Chamber’s WOW! Forum and Lauren will be a speaker.
You got this
You can do this! Mature women bring a wide range of skills – including well-honed soft ones, the ability to stay calm when all around you is falling to pieces, and an off-the-charts work ethic. What you need now is some new or polished attainable skills, a network to call on, and the belief that these can be the best working years of your life!