How to launch a career after years as a stay-at-home parent
So, you're trying to watch this video from home with children fighting for your attention. They've become your full-time job. How could you ever go back to a career? For a stay-at-home parent, returning to work after a long period can be daunting. I want to find out how to do it. My name is Emma Callaway. And I've had a 20-year career working in the telecoms industry. My last role was for BT, and I was a senior marketing manager. And I was there for 13 years. What does the tooth fairy do with the teeth? That's a weird question. Oh. It's a weird question. I had my son, and I was balancing my career and putting Daniel into childcare. I thought he needed more support. I didn't think it was the right time for me to be travelling and having Daniel starting school and only being four. And I wanted to be at the school gate for him. Yay! Mommy! Brilliant. Another yay. How was your day? Emma's son Daniel is happy. He is settled in at school and loves his after-school clubs. She's ready to go back to work, but jobs have been hard to come by. I've applied for 24 jobs. I've had 10 interviews. It's been a bit disheartening. I did have one agent who told me to take off the fact that I had 20 years' experience because that wouldn't be seen as a positive thing. Not working kind of erodes your confidence because work is such a big part of your life. If you don't have it there, then what do you say when people ask you what you do or what you've been doing? What do you say? Well, sometimes I talk about what I did in the past. It is a big part that's missing out of your life. Shocking to go to a dinner party and talk about the fact that you're a mother. I didn't feel that I could have a go and just do a job sort of at 60 per cent in order to also do the mum bit because I really like to do things well. In retrospect, maybe if you'd given it 70 per cent and still kept a hand in the workforce... Do you think you could have done that? Yes, I could have done that. It'd have been hard, but I could have done it. Yeah. I hadn't really realised how disconnected I might feel once I stopped working. Because you don't go to work, you don't connect with people... and like I know the person really well. That's the biggest thing that I miss, and that's one of my key motivations for getting back into work. Is to have more connections with people. Otherwise, you get this feeling of - we call it postcode fever in our house - if you only have been in your little postcode, and you haven't had any stimulation or humour or discussions. Employers can be put off by gaps in your CV, but you should show recruiters that they're not empty years. Executive coach Geraldine Gallacher runs a programme for people returning to work after a significant break. I think it's really important to counteract that idea by pointing out how full those years are. But, actually, in terms of developing you as a leader, it can be incredibly helpful to have navigated a number of different areas of your life. For example, if you've ever worked anywhere near a parent-teacher association, you get to realise the kind of politics and the navigating that is actually quite complicated stuff, as well as which, you might well have taken over the treasury over, or you might well have... Very often, the people that we coach have helped with running a family business. So there are very rarely empty years. For professional people that we coach, I would say the majority of them do something as well as looking after the children. So it's worth trying to capture that and presenting it in a constructive way. Finding work after three years at home with a child has been challenging for Emma. For others, a lengthy period out of work might involve a complete change of career. I'm Collette Altaparmakova. I studied natural sciences at Cambridge and then did a PhD, where I was doing cervical cancer research. By the time I graduated from my PhD, I had two children. And from 2008, I was a full-time mother. And so was your ambition to be a stay-at-home mother? My ambition when I was studying was, certainly, to have a career, probably in research. After more than a decade as a stay-at-home mum, Collette wanted to launch a new career. But she doubted whether she could do it. I can remember saying to my husband, oh, I'm too old, no one will employ me, and him saying, well, you can still think the same way as you did, and you've still got all the abilities that you did. So don't decide that for them. Collette counts herself lucky that as a Cambridge University alumna she was able to make good use of its career services. They run a number of workshops and talks. And I got a better idea about the legal world, the world in the City, what the different firms in the City do. Hi, Ben. Hey. How are you? Good, thanks. Talking to people was crucial. It gave Collette the confidence to start thinking about a new life as a corporate lawyer. I talked to everybody. There was nobody safe. When we bought a house, I was quizzing our solicitor on what they did. When we did our wills, it was similar. I did work experience with a barrister. I did some work experience volunteering at Citizens Advice Bureau, attended no end of workshops at the career service, but also open days and evening presentations at law firms. Her research paid off, and today she's a trainee lawyer at Linklaters. The long hours with early starts and late finishes means she often doesn't see her children during the week at all. So weekends have become more important. Well, we have better weekends. Do you notice the difference? Yeah, definitely. I think now that you're at work, we try to get our homework done before the weekend whereas before we'd leave it all for the weekend so that we can do other stuff. That's a nice thing to say. It's true. She's bored at home. Like the most excit... Was she doing your homework with you before? Well, the most exciting thing would have been my year 5 maths homework. And that was really boring for us. And quite sad for her? Yeah. One of the hardest parts of switching from being a stay-at-home mother to a trainee lawyer has been letting go of being in charge of domestic affairs. Before, I would know exactly which socks belonged to everybody and what the state of the washing was. Probably, at the beginning, I found quite difficult to sort of let go of control over some of those things. I don't miss them now. Were you trying to do both? Were you trying to be a sort of de facto stay-at-home mum and work a full-time job? I don't think I was trying to do both, but I think I was trying to be in charge of both. That's not fair on anyone. My husband goes to work, and I do everything. So it's like PA for Daniel, holidays, cooking. I do the whole thing. Redefining your role at home can sometimes be as difficult as starting a new job. The big challenge, actually, when you go back to work is that you've really clarified to the family that you're not going to be there providing the same care. And that really is the biggest challenge, actually, is renegotiating with them about how this is going to work. So, for example, if you've been at home, and for 10 years you've done the vast majority of the kind of domestic workload, when you go back to work, especially as some people go back full time, that's just not going to be feasible. And, actually, when you've got teenagers, you really do need to actually enrol them. Look, you know, this is a joint decision. We're all getting in for this. So how are we going to recontract about how we do things? As more parents choose to return to work, some firms are adapting to meet their needs in order to recruit and retain talent. In some cases, the route back to employment could be better served by avoiding recruiters and going direct to the employer. Organisations are now beginning to recognise that there is a pool of talent that's largely untapped. And so rather than going through recruitment consultants, where the recruitment consultants themselves can be a bit sort of transactional in the sense that they just want to have someone with recent experience, the actual companies, like the banks and the law firms, they themselves are actually doing direct entry for people who've actually been out of work for a period. So I guess the first thing is to be reassured that, actually, this is a pool of talent, and you're in a pool of talent that people are looking for. I think there is support out there that people can use and networks out there that can be found. I would really encourage people to think about what would make them feel fulfilled and what they want to do and to try to make that happen and to remember it's gradual, that you don't wake up one morning a stay-at-home mother and then the next morning, a lawyer somewhere in the City like this. You don't become less clever. You don't have fewer skills after time at home. You're still the same person. You've done different things. You've gained skills. I just thought it was important to throw things away. Rejection can be hard to take, but Emma didn't let it get her down. She's since successfully applied to a government backed return-to-work programme, and she would encourage other people to do the same. At the end of the programme, there's going to be some companies or HR directors who are keen to take a return-to-work person. And we're going to do a speed dating session. We get to learn about the company, and you get to say what your strengths and weaknesses are. And then if there's a spark of interest on both sides, that might lead to a placement. I think it's really going to help me just even connecting with other people that are having the same issues. There's some people that have been on the programme and have got jobs are coming to tell us about it. And if someone inspires you to think of a different way of doing things differently or look at another aspect or go and find a job elsewhere in a different sector, that's great. So if you're a stay-at-home parent longing to launch a new career, or you're worried about returning to work, consider the following. Do your research. Build your network. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Attend workshops, or try return-to-work schemes. Don't be afraid of gaps in your CV. There's a good chance you've developed skills worth highlighting while looking after children. Draw attention to any volunteer work you might have done. Go directly to employers. You might get ahead if you bypass recruitment consultants and go straight to the company you want to work for. And try to stay confident. You'll almost certainly have to deal with rejection.