Is Staying at Home with Your Kids Bad for Your Career?

by Shannon Hembree on March 1, 2011

You’re sitting at a conference table. You’re being grilled about your reasons for wanting to work at company X, your skill set, and your work history. You find yourself trying to put into words why you took several years off to raise kids. Random memories flash through your mind – the endless diaper changes, cleaning up your child’s bodily fluids from various and sundry surfaces, packing screaming kids into the car to get them to ballet, soccer, etc. on time.

None of it seems applicable to the interview questions, but you know that as sure as you are sitting there, you could handle three crises at once while also having a conversation on the phone, caring for a sick and demanding child (or someone who acts like one), and directing the activities of countless underlings. But does the potential employer appreciate – or even understand – what that entails?

We all know the amazing skills that our fellow stay-at-home moms possess, but what do potential employers really think when they see a resume with a gap in official employment? To find out, we posed that question to a few super-secret (we wanted them to be honest, right?) respondents who review resumes at multi-million dollar corporations and elsewhere. The reality is both a bit hard to swallow and fully expected.

The work stay-at-home moms do is appreciated for what it is, but it is not viewed on the same level as work being done in a professional environment. According to one of our respondents, stay-at-home moms “should not attempt to make their work at home equivalent with what they would do in the workforce. There is no reason to fill in a chronological professional void with unpaid activity just to fill the space…For example, running the child’s school auction in a volunteer capacity may be a tremendous undertaking, but unless it was done for remuneration, it is volunteer work and should be listed as such.”

The fact that the work stay-at-home moms do is not on par with professional experience in the corporate world is not surprising. It is a hard truth, but if the situation were reversed, stay-at-home moms would likely find themselves in that same position. Would a mom be inclined to hire a nanny whose resume reads that their only recent work experience is being a manager in a corporate environment? This applicant may have gotten their employees to meetings and other places on time and had to manage difficult personalities and childish behavior, but that doesn’t mean they are qualified – or even good at – being a nanny. Do they know CPR? Have they cared for children recently? The fact is, whoever is doing the hiring is going to hire the person with the best and most up-to-date skill set for the job.

So what are some things stay-at-home moms can do? According to one respondent, “Know you are going to have to sell yourself and practice with someone on beefing up your interviewing skills…Keep up on your communication skills. This can not only get your foot in the door, but maybe even land you the job of your dreams.” This emphasis on communication skills was also the focus of our other respondents. According to one, “In my field, any professional freelance writing is a plus.” Another stated that it is important for moms to keep up professional phone etiquette and other workplace skills.

Respondents also provided a series of recommendations beyond communication skills. One stated that it can be helpful for moms to “take a refresher course or a review course in order to get up to speed in their field.” Another stated, “I would urge them to remain appropriately in touch with supervisors and mentors at previous places of employment and also to keep up their skills.” “Have lunch with old colleagues to hear about recent trends in your industry,” recommended another.

A final area emphasized by the respondents was computer skills. “Stay familiar with software you used,” was one recommendation.

The bottom line is this: As with anyone in any situation, stay-at-home moms are the masters (or is it mistresses?) of their own fates. Stay-at-home moms must be proactive in keeping up their professional skills, including staying abreast of trends in their particular industries. They must also get out of their comfort zone to demonstrate that they are go-getters who are interested in taking on new responsibilities and learning new skills.

Some options for action include:

  • Take a course/s online or at a local community college
  • Organize a group of friends for a peer writing review/exchange (think book club, only the material is written by you and your friends)
  • Write often and anything. Submit to magazines and other forums (Like Mamas Against Drama!)
  • Keep licenses and certifications in your field current
  • Practice with projects on business software relevant to your profession if possible
  • Pursue networking opportunities – seminars, gatherings with former co-workers, and even playground chats with other moms who are still in the loop

This list is by no means complete. Think of yourself as your own marketing coach, and always be on the lookout for new opportunities to mold yourself into an ideal candidate for a future employer. Because let’s face it, many moms hope to one day trade in the carpool lane for a corner office…granted, that’s only if the winning lottery ticket falls through, but it’s always best to be prepared…  

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