MIAMI — After dropping her kids off at school, Ellen Shupak heads to a job interview. This time, she's prepared to explain the gap in her resume and prove that even after five years at home, her sales skills still are sharp.
Rising fuel and food prices and an ailing economy have forced stay-at-home moms back into the work force. But these women now find themselves in a heated job market, competing with recent college grads and downsized professionals.
As she enters a room filled with out-of-work men in suits at a networking event, Shupak thinks she already has one strike against her: "They know I am a mother with familial responsibilities."
The predicament has left returning mothers like Shupak asking: How can I get an edge? To be sure, the job market is fierce. The nation's unemployment rate is at its highest point in five years, with more than 600,000 jobs cut year to date. And many industries have experienced consolidation.
Be upfront but don't say too much
Curt Nichols, vice president of HR for City Furniture, scrutinizes resumes regularly and questions anyone with a gap in employment — male or female. He advises at-home mothers to take an upfront approach, stating something such as "from 2000 to 2005 I was out of the work force raising a child." When perusing that resume, he says, "I give the person credit for being honest and for getting back into the work force. It prevents me from coming up with my own conclusions." Of course, the interview process is what trips up some moms.
"People talk themselves out of jobs with more information than necessary," Nichols says. He recommends against bringing up any conversation during the interview about current or prior child-care arrangements. If those concerns are raised, he suggests a quick response: "I am 100 percent available to work the schedule you are requesting me to meet." Play up skills and use your Internet savvy
Linda Fredrick of Miami remembers steering the conversation to her strengths during a successful interview. After 16 years at home raising and schooling her kids, Fredrick knew she would need to play up her skills rather than rely on her degree in psychology and work history from many years ago. "I talked a lot about my volunteer work and how I did it in a professional manner," she says.
Fredrick landed the interview by polishing her Internet savvy. Using the social networking Web site LinkedIn, she developed contacts, researched companies and contacted HR executives.
Frederick aced the interview for the job as a family work/health specialist at Le Jardin Community Center in Homestead. Strategize. Consider temp work
Hiring experts advise all moms to strategize before any interview. "You really need a thorough assessment of your strengths and values," says Nancy Collamer of Jobsandmoms.com. Otherwise, "you will have a difficult time communicating your value during an interview."
Collamer urges returning mothers to aim high. "If you just apply for low-level jobs, that's all you will be considered for."
Many moms say they tend to go for jobs with fewer responsibilities than before they left the work force. Some say they are not as driven by the dollar as they were before having kids, particularly if it means less availability for the family. The positions they seek often depend on whether the family needs income or benefits. Often they seek part-time or flexible work.
"Maybe temporary work is your way to go," says Emma Gilbey Keller, author of Comeback Moms. Remember, "your first piece of work is not your last."
Motherhood has its advantages
Of course, anyone looking for a job is told to network. But mothers have an advantage — the parents of their kids' friends.
After 14 years of scraping by, Diane Schick could no longer afford to stay home and keep her children in private school. She mentioned her job search to the parent of her son's friend. "I told her I really didn't know where to begin." The mother happened to be looking for a legal assistant. "The mommy network is where you get the most information."
Meanwhile, Shupak continues her search, now more prepared: "I've come up with a quicker reply to zingers," she says. "When questioned about parental responsibilities or my reasons for re-entering, I reinforce my experience and accomplishments."