Tips for Stay-at-Home Parents Returning to the Workforce

Robin Reshwan

In honor of Mother's Day, it seems fitting to focus on tips for stay-at-home parents looking to return to the workforce after caring for their families. There is no doubt that the full-time care of children is more than a full-time job.

However, a critical thing to remember is that employers are interested only in what is professionally relevant to their companies. Think of your next employer like your child: It's all about addressing the needs of company and role first. That's why employees get paid to work instead of doing it for free.

Here are some tips for making a smooth transition into the workforce:

Child care. First, set up child care. Then, set up backup child care for when the first option isn't available. Many parents, eager to return to work, jump at the chance to interview before having a clear plan of how they will address their former responsibilities at home. No matter how skilled you are, it is of little value to an employer if you are often late and out of the office due to conflicts at home.

While there are a few unique roles that allow parents to earn money while at home or with complete flexibility, most positions need you in person to be effective. If you want to make a great impression both in the interview process and once you secure a new role, having a care plan is essential.

This may be a two-step process, in which you nail down who will watch your children as you have interviews and who will do so once you're employed. Maximum flexibility is important during the interview process. At this stage, the employer has no investment in you, so just as a salesperson would do anything possible to make a meeting with a desired prospective client, your ability to interview most anytime and anywhere means you have more options and potential opportunities.

If you opt to have a family member help out, make sure he or she is committed to helping. The last thing you (or a potential employer) wants to hear is that you need to reschedule your interview at the last minute, because Aunt Maggie needed to hit the One Day Sale at Macy's. (Of course, you would never actually relay that excuse to the employer.)

Don't have a relative or neighbor who can commit to helping? Look into a local nanny provider or online childcare referral firms like to establish a relationship with a couple of sitters before they're needed.

Schedule. Make sure you leave plenty of time both before and after the scheduled interview time. You will want time before leaving the house to verify that you are ready for the meeting and address any last minute hiccups -- like a sippy cup spill on your skirt or the FedEx man blocking your driveway.

And if things go well during the interview, many companies introduce you to additional employees at the time of the meeting. Having flexibility to stick around for two to three hours means less worry for you, and it may cut down on future interviews required before decisions are made.

During the interview process, you will need to know your target schedule for once you're employed. It's great if you have a "perfect" schedule and a "not as great but I can make it work" option as well. Again, flexibility here just means you get the benefit of more opportunities.

If you only have one option, that's fine, but it's best you communicate that quickly in the process to make sure it's plausible. This doesn't mean you start a meeting with "I can only work from 8:30 to 5 every day. Does that work for you?"

Instead, start by learning more about the role, and build some rapport first. Then as the interview progresses, inquire about a typical day, goals and expectations and what type of schedules are required for success in the position. If there seems to be a match, proceed as normal. If there seems to be a disconnect, you can ask, "It seems employees work a schedule of 9 to 6 for the role; would you be open for a 8:30-to-5 schedule, provided goals are still met?"

View this conversation as if you are offering a service to prospective customers. You would begin by learning about their needs and wants and then address how your service would enable them to meet them. Successful sale pitches rarely start with: "This is my service, and here are its limitations -- do you want it?" However, great salespeople know that when a customer has brought up a clear need they cannot address, they need to ask if this is a must-have or if there's a way around it. This is the same with the interview process.

Transition. Once you have secured a new position, the first couple weeks can be tough as you transition to being away from the house. If your new employer will allow you to ramp up your hours over the first two weeks, that can be helpful. For example, if you will be working 40 hours, maybe you work 20 the first week and then 30 the second and 40 by the third week.

If you need to jump right in, remember that missing your children is an unfortunate side effect of working out of the house. Determine a communication plan with your co-parent and child care provider as to who gets called or texted first and what things are "911" (immediate response required) versus "411" (information needed but not immediate).

You may also want to consider setting up a shared calendar to help manage times when you will be in a meeting or difficult to reach. Coordinated communication can be a lifesaver and cut down on unnecessary at-work interruptions.

Returning to the world of work can be a shock to the system. When planned correctly, you give yourself a shot at more opportunities, and you display your professional commitment. Furthermore, if you set up an effective communications strategy, you can ensure that your transition out of the home goes as smoothly as possible. Good luck.

Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.