How Women Can Get Back to Work After a Career Break, with Jennifer Gefsky

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Transcript

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host and publisher of Mac’s List. I’m joined by my co-host, Ben Forstag, our managing director and Jenna Forstrom, our community manager. This week we’re talking about how women can get back to work after a career break. Our show is brought to you by Hack the Hidden Job Market, the new online course for Mac’s List that starts November 1st. As many as 8 out of 10 job openings never get advertised. Is your dream job one of them? Learn how to uncover hidden jobs and get noticed by the hiring managers who fill them. Visit macslist.org/course.

  In an earlier episode we talked about how during your career you may stop working to care for a family member or raise children and later we heard from many listeners about how tough it can be to get back to work, especially for women, and the data supports this. According to a survey by the Center for Talent Innovation, only 40% of women found full-time work after returning to the workforce after voluntarily leaving 3 years earlier.

  This week on Find Your Dream Job, Jennifer Gefsky joins us to share her advice about what women could do to get the job they want after a career break. After time away from working outside the home, you’ll likely need to learn new skills. Ben has a website you can use to get your skillset up to date. One of the most common reasons women take a career break is to raise children. One of our listeners, Erin, wonders how she should talk about this with employers. Jenna offers her advice.

  First, as always, let’s check in with the Mac’s List team. Tell me, you two, have you seen women in your families manage to return to work after a career break?

Jenna Forstrom:

I am the reason my mom took a break. Does that count?

Mac Prichard:

I think it does. Tell us about her and her story.

Jenna Forstrom:

Yeah, she worked for computer company in Boston in the late 80s and got pregnant with me, dream killer. No, I’m kidding. Yeah, so she got pregnant and took some time off and then was thinking about going back to work and got pregnant again with my little brother. She was a stay-at-home mom which is a really tough job, and we moved from New England to Portland and so she facilitated all that. Then went back to work part time when me and my brother were in middle school, was working for a neighborhood friend of ours doing data entry and then when I went away to college she started working at a chiropractic clinic. Then she moved to China so everything changed again.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. How about you, Ben?

Ben Forstag:

When I was a kid, my mom stayed at home with me and my brothers and raised us but she was really active in the community and she was something of a community activist working to strengthen the schools and other initiatives in our town. When my brother and I finally graduated from high school and moved out of the house, she decided she wanted to go back to work. She went back to work and she went to work at a bank and she was there for 15 years starting in her early 50s. It was a late returning to work for her and she really enjoyed it. She’s subsequently retired and loving that as well.

Mac Prichard:

My mom took a break from her job as a school teacher to raise 5 children including me and she was out of the workforce for about 9 years and when she was ready to go back, she did take a lower paying job with a private school just to get back into the field. It did give her the opportunity to … It led to another opportunity with a public school and that’s where she made her career. When she was first making that transition with a house full of kids, she turned to outside help. She had people who helped her with the cleaning and the cooking and I don’t think she could’ve managed that return to work outside the home without it. It made a big difference.

Ben Forstag:

Well Mac, you say that your mom took time off to care for her 5 children. That sounds like a job in and of itself.

Mac Prichard:

Oh, it was a huge job. Yeah.

Ben Forstag:

Especially you, the troublemaker.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, no. I was a handful. Work inside the home I think is great at raising a family, it’s rewarding but it’s very demanding too.

  Alright, well thank you both and let’s turn to you, Ben. I know you’re out there every week exploring the internet. I think people have a mental image of you with one of those miners caps and maybe a light. Maybe not. What have you discovered for us this week?

Ben Forstag:

This week I want to share a website that I’ve known about for a while and I’ve held off on talking about, but it’s called skillshare.com and it’s a great site. It’s essentially an educational resource where you can sign-up and take classes on just about any kind of technical subject. There’s a lot of website and web application tools. How to become an Excel master, how to design a web page, things like that. You pay for these courses, but some of them are as cheap as 99 cents. These are nice, solid resume fillers, these courses.

  If you need a primer on how to catch up on what’s the latest code, like HTML, one of the new rules that you should know, this is a great place to get that kind of information. If you need a primer on how to use Photoshop, another great place to go and get that kind of information. You don’t get certificates or anything from this, but again, it’s a great way to flesh out that other skill section of your resume and just add those other pieces there that might be icing on the cake for an employer who’s looking for a new employee.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, just say that, Ben, I can think of how valuable that would be if someone sees a job that requires some set of software skills and maybe they have 3 out of the 4 and this would be, it sounds like a great place to learn that 4th one.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, definitely. There’s some skills out there that every organization needs. Every organization needs someone who knows the basics of Photoshop because just about every organization has some kind of graphics that they want to design here or there. You don’t need to be a master, you just need to know relatively more than anyone else in the office. If you have that on your resume, that’s a strong added plus. You’re probably not going to get a job solely based off of that, but if you’re being compared to another candidate and you’ve got that skill and they don’t, that’s got to work on your favor.

  I would check it out. Again, it’s called skillshare.com. There’s thousands of different online courses you can take there. They’re all relatively cheap from 99 cents on up and really good quality information there.

Mac Prichard:

Good. Well thank you, Ben. Now let’s turn to Jenna and to you our listeners. Jenna, what do you have for us this week?

Jenna Forstrom:

Today’s question comes from Erin from Portland, Oregon and we have an audio file. She called in using our 617-JOB-TALK, so thank you, Erin, for calling in and we’re going to play it right now.

Erin:

Hi, My name is Erin and I have a question for you. I recently took some time off of my career to raise my children so I’ve been out of the workforce for several years and I’m trying to get back in. My question for you is, what is the best way to present this time off both on my resume and in my cover letter, as well as in person and the interviews I may have? Thank you.

Jenna Forstrom:

First of all, Erin, congrats on having kids. Whenever I hear about women reentering the workforce from children it always reminds me of Hallmark did this YouTube ad and it was like, “Thanks, Mom.” But it’s like a fake job interview and they are Skype recording people and they’re like, here’s all the requirements. 365 days, no time off. Must be available in the middle of the night at a client’s moments need, all this stuff. No lunch breaks. You have to always provide meals but never have time to consume them. Then everyone’s like, “I would never apply for this job. This is worst job ever. This is crazy.” And they’re like, “That’s your mom’s job.” And they start crying, it’s very emotional. It’s a very good YouTube video. I’ll include a clip of it in the show notes.

  Aside from that, professionally and not related to YouTube, I would say definitely update or create a LinkedIn profile if you haven’t already and then in that profile and in your resume and when you’re interviewing, talk about the strengths of parenting. I have a friend of mine who I volunteer with who’s reentering the workforce and took time off to raise her child as well. She talks a lot about how her husband worked at an international tech company and she helped facilitate a international move and getting her daughter enrolled in an international school and learning a new language. She had all these opportunities while she was parenting to travel the world and how that’s an invaluable skill to a larger organization.

  You can also talk about your mentoring, so your PTA, your mommy groups, just any type of volunteering. Library reading, attending activities, then obviously reaching out to that network. We always talk about mom groups and networks. Those women and men in that community, you obviously have really close ties to so they probably know about a job opening and could probably give you a really great reference. Mac and Ben, do you guys have any other suggestions for Erin?

Ben Forstag:

I’d go back to one of the things I’ve shared on a previous show which is just being very direct and clear about why you took time off. Most employers understand that people have families and that women, and men sometimes, want to take time off to be with those families and care for children. I think you should just address that head on and frankly, where I get at the end of the day is if the employer doesn’t understand that and doesn’t see that as being an important thing in your life, then you probably don’t want to work for that company anyway.

  Just be clear about my family and I decided that I should take some time off. It was best for our family to watch our children. Our children have now aged out to the point where they’re going to school or whatever reason you have and now I’m committed to returning to the workforce 100% full-time or half-time or whatever you want to do. Just be very clear about it so the employer is not sitting there scratching their heads wondering what this absence was all about.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I think that’s right, Ben. Addressing the objection before it’s raised and if you don’t address it then you could create doubt and that might move your resume from the interview pile to the maybe or do not call list.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah and I think the one thing a lot of people don’t know is that employers aren’t actually allowed to ask questions about your family or your personal life. They do sometimes but they’re not supposed to. They might not ask and they might just assume something is the case and so it’s your job to make absolutely clear, these were the circumstances of my 3 years or 5 years or 10 years out of the workforce and this is not some, I was fired from a job. I haven’t been blackmailed by someone. I wasn’t abducted by aliens. I was with my family, I was taking care of my children, and now I’m ready to enter the workforce again.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, that’s excellent advice. In my career doing public information for different agencies we had this rule of thumb. If you don’t provide an explanation, information poor is a vacuum. People will make things up or they’ll just provide explanations so get your story out there. If people don’t want to work with somebody who has that story, you probably don’t want to work there either.

  Alright, well thank you, Jenna and thank you, Ben. If you’ve got a question for Jenna, please email her. Her address is jenna@macslist.org, but why rely on email because we have that great new listener line and that number, again, is 716-JOB-TALK.

  These segments with Ben and Jenna are sponsored by Hack the Hidden Job Market. That’s the new online course for Mac’s List and it comes on November 1st. As many as 80% of all jobs never get posted. Instead, employers fill these openings by word of mouth. Our new course shows you how this hidden job market works. We’ll teach you how to find plum gigs that never appear on a job board. How to stand out online in a crowd of applicants, and how to connect with insiders who can help your career. In each of the course’s 12 modules, you’ll get the tools and tips you need to get the work you want. Meaningful work, work that makes a difference, work that you can love. Hack the Hidden Job Market starts November 1st. Don’t wait. Get updates and lock in the early bird price now. Go to macslist.org/course.

  Now let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Jennifer Gefsky.

  Jennifer Gefsky is co-founder of Après, a digital recruiting site that connects high caliber women who want to reenter the workforce with great jobs. An attorney, Jennifer formerly worked as deputy general counsel at Major League Baseball where she was the highest ranking woman on the baseball side of the business. Jennifer left baseball to raise her 3 children. She joins us today from New York City. Jen, thanks for coming on the show.

Jennifer Gefsky:

Thanks for having me. I’m so happy to be a guest.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. It’s a pleasure to have you here and let’s turn to this weeks topic, women returning to work after a career break. Jen, what’s the most common reason women take a career break?

Jennifer Gefsky:

Well, definitely across the board the most common reason women decide to opt out of the workforce is for their families. Mostly to take care of their little kids. What’s interesting in what we’ve learned is that sometimes want to opt-out when their kids are little, sometimes when they’re pregnant, sometimes when their kids get a little bit older and go into school and they fell like possibly maybe those kids need them a little bit more at that time. Everyone’s different but for the most part, women seem to take those career breaks for their kids and then sometimes we hear about taking care of elderly parents, certainly something that Gen Xers are grappling with these days. That’s really the primary reason, I would say.

Mac Prichard:

Now before somebody starts a break, what should they think about?

Jennifer Gefsky:

That is such a great question because most people don’t think about things before they take the break. I know from my own personal experience, like you said, I was lawyer at Major League Baseball, had a big career, a lot of stress, a lot of travelling, a lot of pressure, and when I took my career break, I literally was at the end of my rope. I just wasn’t doing anything well and I wasn’t even thinking about past, honestly, the next week. I just wanted to be able to exhale, not travel, be home with my kids, and so I made the mistake of really not planning for the future. The fact of the matter is most women who opt-out, whether they think they will or not, most women who opt out return to the workforce, close to 90%.

  Even if you’re unsure of what you are going to do in the future, what I always recommend to women is that start a log, usually a digital log, that keeps track of all you’re going to do while you’re out of the workforce, whether it’s volunteer work, whether it’s helping a friend with a local business, any sort of work that you do that you’re using skills, that you’re learning new skills, any sort of education that you have. Keep a track because when it comes time to get back into the workforce, you won’t remember and it will make that process much more difficult.

Mac Prichard:

Do you find that when women do take that break and they’re raising their families, do they generally make time for either part-time work or involvement in professional associations?

Jennifer Gefsky:

Yeah. I think that most women, they are engaged in some way, shape, or form whether it’s volunteering with their schools, whether it’s being on a board of local hospital. It’s not like anyone’s sitting home eating BonBons. Most women are engaged in their community, with their children’s lives, in some way, shape, or form. Now there are some ways to do that where maybe those skills are not transitional back to the workforce. Baking for your local bake sale is not really going to help a future employer, necessarily. If you’re raising money for your school or if you’re on a local board, those are all skills that you’re using that are transitional skills. We find that typically, women actually do a lot of work, unpaid work, while they’re out of the workforce that’s quite transitional when they’re looking to reenter.

Mac Prichard:

Women need to document that work and particularly accomplishments that they produce because of it so they can talk about it when they’re ready to return to work outside the home. What else should they be doing either during the break or just before they’re getting ready to go back to work outside the home, to help make that transition as easy as possible.

Jennifer Gefsky:

Well there’s several things. One, again, learning from my own mistakes something that I failed to do is to really keep that business network that you had alive. A Lot of times people leave the workforce and they sort of go, “Okay. I’m done with that employer and I don’t really need to talk to those people.” The fact of the matter is those people, your business networks will be valuable to you when you’re looking to get back into the workforce. That’s one thing that everyone should do when they leave the workforce.

  Another thing is to really think sort of strategically about when you’re going to reenter the workforce, what are you interested in doing? I think a lot of people want to transition. I was a lawyer, I don’t want to be a lawyer anymore but I have all these great skills that I used as a lawyer, how can I transition those skills? 2, educate yourself. Do something you’re passionate about. The fact of the matter is most employers are looking for candidates that are energized about working. They obviously have to have skills but they’re looking for energized employees, people who are really going to make an impact within an organization. If you can show that you’ve had passion about something, you’ve pursued interests that are transitional back into the workforce, all of that is valuable to an employer.

  Another thing we tell women all the time is you have no idea how valuable your personal networks are. Really dive into your personal networks. Ask everybody that you know. What do you do? What does your husband do? Do you know anyone who’s in this particular field? All of that comes into play. We started our own company, my co-founder and I, all based on our personal networks and it’s amazing how far those get you and you don’t even realize the people that you actually know and what they do. Those things are really important.

  Then there’s so many other things that you can do to help yourself get ramped up to get back into the workforce. Another important thing is really learning how to brand yourself, which I think is sort of a voodoo topic. I know when I left the workforce in 2007, that concept wasn’t even, I don’t think in existence yet the idea of branding yourself. It is very much in existence now and basically what that means is you have a digital presence. What does that digital presence look like? Do you have a LinkedIn profile? What are you posting on your LinkedIn profile? Do you have your own website? So easy to create your own website today and so inexpensive, but it says something about you and who you are and your passions and your interests and employers will like to look at those to get a sense of who you are and how you can add value to their organization.

Mac Prichard:

Keep your professional network alive, tap into your personal network, and think about your brand and whether you want to move in a different direction when you do return to work outside the home. When people make that leap back into the workplace, how do you recommend women who do this deal with the gap in the resume?

Jennifer Gefsky:

Yes, that’s a really good question because it scares a lot of people, right? They have this big gap in their resume. Some are big, some are not so big, but this gap in the resume, they’re putting their resume across someone’s desk. They’re competing with either millennials without a gap or Gen X without a gap and how do you explain the gap? The fact of the matter is you cannot run from the gap. You just have to own it and you shouldn’t be ashamed or you shouldn’t have to explain it away. The employers know why the gap is there and you don’t have to justify the gap. You should address it very briefly in any interview that you have. “My family and I decided it was best for us to take a period of time out of work. I did these amazing things while I was out of the workforce. I grew as a person, I have life experience, I have these skills. I’m so excited,” then transition it back into their workforce. “I did this while I was out of the workforce and I think I can help you in these three ways.”

  When you show the employer that your, yes I was out, I did a lot of great things. I learned a lot of interesting things and this is how it can translate back into your workforce, employers are getting more used to the gap and so if you feel you have to excuse it away or justify it in some way, it’s only going to hurt you, and they’re really not going to ask you any questions about it. They really can’t talk to you about, how many kids do you have, and things like that. You just address it head on and then move on from there.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so mind the gap, have a plan to deal with it, and recognize that employers expect it, that it happens quite a bit at this time of life. What about when you’re out there competing? Depending on the part of the country our listeners are in, it can be a very competitive job market. How do women who are returning to work after a career break, how do they get noticed? How do they stand out, Jen?

Jennifer Gefsky:

Well I think the first thing women have to really be prepared for when they’re looking to enter the workforce is they cannot be afraid to fail. As women, I think, there’s tons of research out there about our mindset, about how we’re raised, about being perfect, and being pleasers, and we never want to fail. I think this whole area of this topic is just fascinating just how women are raised, girls are raised versus boys. For me as an entrepreneur, one of the most empowering things that happened to me was when I realized I might fail, and you know what? I’m okay with that. It’s going to be okay if I fail because I know I tried, I know I was doing my best, and everybody fails in some way, shape, or form but you can’t move forward unless there’s a possibility of failure.

  I think when you’re starting to get back into the workforce, to have that mindset, I am going to face rejection. By they way, I will be rejected. I’m sure of it. I’m going to go into this interview, I’m going to learn everything that I can, and I’m going to take whatever I learn and I’m going to apply it to my next interview. If you go into your first interview and you think, “Oh my gosh. This is it. It’s the perfect job for me. I’ve got to get it. If I don’t get it, I’m a totally failure and I’ve got to stop,” you’re just setting yourself up for failure. I think having that mindset and really adjusting your attitude of, it’s okay if I don’t get this job and by the way, I probably will get rejected and I’m ready to move on and I’m ready to take it and I have thick skin. I think that is a really important thing about the mindset.

  How do you get noticed? One thing is you don’t try to get over-noticed and by that I mean you don’t continuously call HR people and say, “What’s going on? What’s going on? What’s happening with my resume?” The fact of the matter is, the job market takes time. It’s an average of about 3 months you’re applying before anybody can get hired, so it’s a long process. What’s really nice to do is to send interesting … If you read an article that you think, “Oh, this HR executive, this is in their area, this may be of interest to them.” You send it along to them and so it’s just what we call a touch point. You send something to them. It takes you to the top of their mindset without you being annoying and you’re actually sort of maybe helping them in some way.

  Getting noticed in that way, and then any time whatsoever, you can have a warm introduction to a company and by that I mean, do you know anybody that knows anybody at that company who can say something on your behalf? That’s always critical to do. Those different elements are always very helpful in attempting to get noticed.

Mac Prichard:

Well great. Excellent advice, Jen. Tell us what’s coming up next for you.

Jennifer Gefsky:

Well, we launched Après May 4th of this year. You can find us at apresgroup.com and Google us at Après and I think we’re at the top of the list. Our platform is really dedicated to helping women who are either reentering the workforce or looking to transition within the workforce with companies that are really seeking women, especially in the mid to senior levels. If you look at diversity problems across corporate America, that’s where the companies are really feeling the diversity pinch is women in the mid to senior levels.

  We’re attempting to solve that problem both for the companies and really helping women find the companies that are interested in hiring women and interested in gender diversity and our site is just rich with original content, different curriculum and coaches to help them get back into the workforce, to help ramp them up to get ready both on a confidence level but also on a skills level, and we’ve had a really, really successful launch. We already have 15,000 members. We already have over 60 companies on our site. It’s very exciting and we feel like we’ve gotten a really great start and a lot of good traction and what’s most fulfilling about it for us so far is that companies really do want this demographic back in the workforce. For us, that’s really exciting and we think we’re going to have a very, very great year ahead of us helping women get back into the workforce.

Mac Prichard:

Well it’s a terrific website and I know my colleague, Ben, has cited your work and you site in an earlier show so we’ll be sure to include the URL in the show notes for this episode. Listeners can also find you on Twitter. Your handle there is JenniferGefsky, your full name and they can find your company, the Twitter handle is ApresNYC for New York City.

Jennifer Gefsky:

That’s right, yes. Thank you so much. We are always posting great, interesting articles on Twitter and Facebook. On Facebook we’re just Après and we post really great jobs on our social media platforms as well. Even if you don’t get an opportunity to visit the site, if you follow us online you will definitely be apprised of great opportunities.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Well listeners will be sure to find all of those links in the show notes. Thanks for joining us, Jen.

Jennifer Gefsky:

Thank you so much for having me. Have a great day.

Mac Prichard:

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio with Jenna and Ben. What did you two think of the conversation with Jen Gefsky?

Jenna Forstrom:

I really enjoyed it. I love that she comes from baseball. We were talking about that more just a little bit ago with her off script. I really enjoyed her point about moms using their mom networks and I think that’s such a great resource because you’ve already got very intimate conversations going on, you’ve got personal connections, and you can rely on one another. They show up on time, they volunteer together. It’s easy to refer someone that you have such a close connection with. I really liked her bringing up that point for where is your network if you’ve been out of work for 10 years, it’s with the other women and men that you’ve been parenting with.

Ben Forstag:

Jenna, you stole my thunder there. I know I should have gone first in the reaction section here. Yeah, I was actually going to say that her point about how influential women’s networks are, that’s so true. I tell my wife all the time and I probably shared it on this podcast. We’ve done so many episodes I’ve lost track of things I’ve said. My wife, when we had our first child, she joined this mom’s group of other women who had children around the same time. That’s a network that she has used over and over and over again for all kinds of professional things in her life. Frankly, that’s a network I’ve used over and over and over again because her mom’s friends, the people in this group are such accomplished people and they’re married to other accomplished people, and it’s like this entree point into a whole new network that I didn’t even know existed until my wife joined the group. Never underestimate the value of your networks.

Mac Prichard:

I liked her point about keeping track of the work that you’re doing while you do take a break, whether it’s serving on a board or volunteering for a community group and documenting those accomplishments because people who are in the community and play in those leadership roles, they’re getting things done and that’s valuable and has real meaning to employers. The key is to acknowledge it, track it, and be clear about what you accomplished and that will help you with your re-entry.

Ben Forstag:

Definitely.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Well thank you all for listening to today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job and thank you Ben and Jennifer for those comments. If you like what you hear, please sign up for our free weekly newsletter. In each issue we give you the key points of that week’s show. We also include links to all the resources mentioned and you get a transcript of the full episode. If you subscribe to the newsletter now, we’ll send you our job seeker checklist you’ll find in one easy-to-use file. All the steps you need to find a great job. Get your free newsletter and checklist today. Go to macslist.org/podcast.

  Join us next Wednesday when our special guest will be Don Hutcheson, host of the Discover Your Talent, Do What You Love Podcast. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

Did you know 90% of women who opt out of the workforce will return at some point? The most common reason women decide to opt out is to take care of their children, and in the case of the Generation X-ers to care for elderly parents.

While most companies are keenly aware of the necessities of a family, a woman  who is planning to take a career break should plan for her future. This week’s guest, Jennifer Gefsky, advises women to start a log of everything they do during their time off. This planning will make the process of reintroducing themselves into the workforce easier.

Women do a lot of unpaid work and gain skills, which can be used when transitioning back into the workforce. It’s important to document any work or accomplishments earned in Mom’s groups, in their children’s schools or from  volunteering in their communities.

Tips to make a transition back into the workforce easier:

  • Keep your professional network alive
  • Strategically consider what you want to do
  • Educate yourself towards your passions
  • Dive into your personal networks
  • Learn to brand yourself

The resume gap scares many people. It’s best to own the gap! Don’t explain it away―address it up front because when you show the employer how it can translate back into their business, it won’t need to be justified.

This Week’s Guest

Jennifer Gefsky formerly worked as deputy general counsel at Major League Baseball, where she was the highest-ranking woman on the “baseball” side of the business. Jennifer left baseball to raise her three children, and after her career break, she decided not to return to the business of baseball. Instead, Jennifer co-founded Après, a digital recruiting site that connects high-caliber women, who want to re-enter the workforce, with great jobs.

Resources from this Episode