Carole’s Situation: I elected to take a career hiatus to stay home with my two young daughters for the last (almost) four years and am now going through the process of getting back to work. After some career assessments and self-reflection, I realized that I don’t really want to go back to what I was doing before. Now I’m trying to figure out what I want to do next while also trying to navigate a job search after being out of the game for three plus years.
Carole’s Questions: I’m wondering what advice you have for someone in my position. Do I need new credentials? What does a current general resume look like? How do I get my foot in the door in new industries without prior experience and being out of the workforce for so long? Any thoughts, tips, advice would be most welcome. Thank you!
Sara’s Answer: Carole came to us because she was worried about returning to the workplace after four years of child rearing. She knew she didn’t want to go back to her old job, but wasn’t totally sure about what she wanted to do next. She also was worried she would need a new set of skills.
She’d taken the first step and begun informational interviewing, specifically talking to people in areas that interested her. She was learning a lot, but still wasn’t sure what to do with all this new information. She would ask people who they thought she should talk to next, and they would ask, “well, what are you interested in doing?” That’s where she’d find herself stumped.
The multitude of unknowns around re-entering the workforce were causing Carole to panic and blank on next steps. So, instead of focusing on these question marks, we decided to start with information that she knew or could find out without too much trouble.
Investigate the office culture.
Carole’s priorities were very different than they had been the last time she had a job in a structured office environment. Whereas before she didn’t mind checking email at 7 pm, or answering a work call after hours, now she was no longer interested in that. I recommended she look for organizations that operate consistently on a 9 am – 5 pm schedule. After all, if she found the “perfect job”, but it demanded access to her after hours, how perfect would it really end up being?
Carole also wanted a challenging work environment, but had associated “challenging work” with “loose time boundaries”. My hunch was that this was a belief she held from previous experience that was not necessarily true of all environments. Was the interesting work actually found in the emergency that accompanied the after hours call? Or was it possible to be interested and challenged 7-8 hours a day, and then head home? Now that her personal life was more of a priority, it seemed worth it to highlight finding a work environment that had values more in line with hers.
Look for mission-driven work.
At Carole’s previous job, she loved the mission of the work. The day-to-day responsibilities themselves were not particularly noteworthy, but she didn’t mind because she was so onboard with the mission. Now, Carole was interested in learning new skills, but wasn’t exactly sure yet what those might be. I suggested she start by finding a company or organization whose mission she really supported. That way she could afford to be a little more flexible with the specific day-to-day if she knew it was all feeding a mission she really supported.
Synthesize information and watch out for over-researching.
Carole was great at informational interviews, and she knew how helpful they could be. She had already started conducting them, and was getting great information about jobs she hadn’t considered before. The problem was what to do with all the information she had collected. The feeling of overwhelm that had plagued her before she started talking to people was starting to creep back in now that she had had several great conversations, but still didn’t know what to do.
Instead of looking for one right answer, we talked through the ideas she’d come across and prioritized them in order of her enthusiasm. This gave us three to five lead hypotheses of what she wanted to do, which helped her to narrow down her options, without feeling rushed to make a decision.
Side Note: While conducting informational interviews is a productive step, if you let it go on for too long, it can start to feel equally confining and overwhelming. When you get to that point, it’s a sign that you’re perfectly primed to move on to the next stage – picking one or two paths to focus on with your job search and taking small, manageable actions forward.
By focusing on her values and the information that she had already gathered, Carole was able to see a path forward. There’s never a career crystal ball that will tell us whether or not a path will work out perfectly, but it’s so much better to act on the knowledge we do have rather than staying stuck in the unknowns around a decision.
What are your tips for starting a job hunt when looking to jump into a new industry?
“Sara is terrific, and I’m really enjoying working with her. She’s empathetic, realistic, and knows when to push back with some thought-provoking twist. I feel like she’s really hearing me and helping me. She’s a wonderful member of your team!” – Just Get Me Pointed in the Right Direction Client