I am a professional with three children, the youngest of whom was born with a serious disability. I left my job with a large, well-respected company four years ago, when I found I could not juggle caring for my children with the demands of my career. I was under tremendous stress and freely admit I was not doing my best work.
Recently, my circumstances have changed. My husband has been laid off and my in-laws have moved nearby, so I am free to return to work. But I'm finding that the field in which I used to earn my living is unforgiving; I cannot seem to get my foot back in the door. How can I convince prospective employers that I can now devote my full attention to the job, without bringing up the past?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Human resources partner, talent manager, Questrade.com, Toronto
Be honest with your prospective employer and yourself about what you want in your career. Don't forget the new skills you learned while caring for your child, and take time to reflect on the industry and career path to which you are returning.
This is a great opportunity for you to re-evaluate. Is the industry you left the same after four years? Likely much has changed and perhaps there is a new opportunity for your transferable skills within the same field, if not the same job.
Many times when we re-enter the job market after caring for a family member or experiencing a personal change, we think we should go back to where we left off. In today's job market, this isn't always the best fit.
When it comes time to answering the question about what you have been doing for the past four years, be as honest as you can, without going into specifics that aren't relevant to the job for which you are applying. For example, on your résumé, outline the time spent caring for your child and list the skills you gained as a result – reliability, patience, multitasking, and so on. If questioned during an interview, highlight your past and present skills, no matter when they came from.
There is an employer out there for you. As for those that may be unforgiving, that isn't where you want to work in any case. Look for the right fit. It's a two-way street.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Principal, Human Capital Dynamics, Victoria
In giving you my advice, I want to start with your last statement. From long experience, I urge you not to hide your family situation or, if asked, why you may not have been as successful as you wanted to be in your previous job.
As an employer, having worked with and stood by many people who have had difficult family situations, I have found that once those issues are managed, you always end up with great employees, in the spirit of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Focus on how this has made you a better person. Believe me, empathy is out there, and it is everywhere. We all have families, and many of us have had some hardship. But when it comes to children, we can all stand up and say they come first. In my opinion, you really did not fail in your last job; you chose the right path.
You have the opportunity to prove yourself in the workplace with the family supports you now have in place. Find one or two of your previous supervisors who saw you at your best and use them as references.
I would hope that all employers would see the opportunity for a great employee, but if they are hesitant, be pragmatic and offer to take a temporary "no obligation" position, say six months, and show what you have to bring to their organization.
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