Stay-at-home parents have the toughest job on the planet. Not only do they spend their days covered in snot and spaghetti, but they also don’t have the luxury of separating their work life from their personal life. It’s a 24/7 labor of love.
But for most families (like yours), being a stay-at-home mom or dad is just a season. Kids grow up fast, and before you know it, they’re in school. And suddenly, you’re ready to reenter the workforce. At first, it’s exciting. The idea of having adult conversations, bringing home a paycheck, and doing something you’re passionate about is appealing.
But then fear starts to creep in. Doubt whispers in your ear: Time has passed you by. Your skills aren’t relevant anymore. You don’t measure up to those kids in their 20s!
Folks, let me be clear: That’s bologna for two reasons:
There are more jobs available today than unemployed people to fill them.1 The harvest is ripe for the picking—the economy is on your side!
When you practice the Proximity Principle, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been out of the workforce. You can get your dream job if you do it the right way (more on this later).
If you’re thinking about reentering the workforce, follow these three steps for a smooth transition:
Step 1: Clarify what you want to do.
Before you do anything else, let’s make sure you know what job you want to pursue if you’re returning to work. Believe it or not, while stay-at-home moms and dads desire to go back to work, many of them want to do something completely different than what they were doing before.
Ready to find your dream job? We'll show you how.
And that’s totally possible! Just like it was for this mom who called into my show.
This is great opportunity to discover or rediscover your sweet spot: where your greatest talent, your greatest passion and your mission intersect. To start brainstorming, make a list of:
Your natural talents: What are some of your gifts or strengths that you recognize and others point out in you as well?
Your passions: What causes, people groups, or problems get you fired up?
Your mission: What kind of work environment is important to you? What results do you want your work to produce?
Once you’ve made those lists, share them with a few people you love and trust who will be honest with you. Ask them if there’s anything missing from the list, or if there’s anything on the list that maybe shouldn’t be on it.
Finally, use those three lists to start brainstorming potential careers that involve using those gifts, passions and mission.
If you need help nailing down your top talents, passions and mission try my free Career Clarity Guide. It's a worksheet that will help you get clear on who you are so that you can take bold steps towards the work you were made to do.
Step 2: Figure out your timeline.
Now that you have a good idea of what you want to do, I want you to make a plan for when you’re going to do it.
It doesn’t matter if you’re ready to go back to work today or if you’re a year out. I want you to have an idea of when you’ll be reentering the workforce so you can have a solid plan in place. Knowing your timeline will give you an idea of how much time you have to make connections and potentially learn a new skill.
Step 3: Work the Proximity Principle.
One of the biggest fears stay-at-home moms and dads have about going back to work is having to explain the gap in their resumé. But the beauty of the Proximity Principle is, because you’re not blindly submitting applications (you’re building relationships first), the gap in your resumé doesn’t even have to be on your resumé.
The Proximity Principle says: In order to do what you want to do, you have to be around people who are doing it and be in the places it’s happening. In other words, the right people plus the right places equals opportunities.
For a deeper dive into the Proximity Principle, check out my book The Proximity Principle: The Proven Strategy That Will Lead to the Career You Love.
Let’s break the Proximity Principle down:
1. The People
As you get started on the journey of returning to work, there are five types of people who can help you along the way:
Professors instruct in the field you want to work in. Their knowledge base will teach you the skills needed to get your dream job, and they can help you brainstorm potential job opportunities in your area.
Professionals are the best of the best in their field. They’re experienced (at least 10 years ahead of you) and continue to grow themselves by studying other professionals.
Mentors offer guidance and accountability as you make the climb. Mentors are accomplished, understanding and keep your best interest in mind.
Peers accompany you on the journey. These folks are in the same stage of life as you, but also have shared values, are driven, and are willing to speak truth to you.
- Producers create jobs and hire and build teams. They’re willing to share their knowledge, help you make connections, offer opportunities, and provide direction.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from these five types of people. And when you ask, be prepared to get a few nos before you get a yes. Press on, because having these five people on your side will make you a force to be reckoned with.
2. The Places
There are no shortcuts when it comes to reentering the workforce, especially if you’re attempting to get into a brand-new industry. As you work the Proximity Principle, prepare to encounter (and embrace!) these five places:
The place where you are:
Making a cross-country move isn’t necessary to find work you’re passionate about. You can—and should—start right where you are. You might have to look at the broader industry of what you want to do or take gigs that, although not perfect, are interesting and somehow related to the work you want to do long term.
A place to learn:
Your new career might involve learning something new. In this stage, you’ll get the education, certification or knowledge needed to do the job you want to do. Thankfully, that doesn’t always mean going back to school. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Find a returnship program. These types of programs are growing fast and they’re for people who’ve left the workforce for at least two years.2 For as little as eight weeks, or as long as six months, you’ll refresh your skills while the company evaluates if you’re a good long-term fit.
Take an online course at your own pace and in the comfort of your home.
Binge on free and cheap content, like podcasts, books and blogs.
Attend conferences or seminars related to the field you want to be in so you can learn about industry trends and make connections.
A place to practice:
This is where you take your book knowledge and turn it into valuable experience. That could look like volunteering, interning or freelancing. You’re still practicing, so if you can find a way to make money doing it, that’s gravy. But be prepared to do some work for free. You’ll benefit from real experience, valuable feedback, the freedom to fail, and wins that give you confidence on the journey.
A place to perform:
After you’ve practiced, you’ll start feeling more comfortable actually performing the craft for money! Embrace the entry-level position—it might not be ideal, but if it’s in the field you want to be in with people doing what you want to do, you can make really valuable connections. It’s also a great opportunity to get an insider’s look at all the things you might miss when looking at a dream job from the outside. This entry level job will help confirm whether this is definitely the industry and job you want to work in.
A place to grow:
Finally, you’re within striking distance of that job you’ve always wanted! This is when all of the elements of the Proximity Principle come together. In this stage, you should look for jobs that will maximize your strengths and have clear opportunities for growth. If you’re open to moving, this is also the time to consider that to broaden your job search.
3. The Practices
Once you’ve nailed down the right people and places, you’re ready to put them to work for you. To finish strong, keep these three practices top of mind:
Build a web of connections.
I’m not going to tell you to attend stuffy networking events in hotel ballrooms. That’s how your parents networked. Instead, I want you to create a strong web of connections that will help you get the right opportunities. This is how it’s done:
Inform your inner circle (your closest friends and family) about what you want to do.
Ask your inner circle to think of people they know or places they have access to that they’re willing to connect you with.
Make a list of any other contacts you can think of, like former coworkers, classmates, neighbors and church members.
Finally, actually connect with these people. It doesn’t have to be formal, but it does have to be in person.
Create the right resumé.
The resumé on its own isn’t going to get you the job, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t spend time tweaking and improving it. Download my resumé guide for step-by-step instructions on crafting the perfect resumé.
Win the interview.
Interviewing is your time to shine! First impressions are crucial, so make sure you:
Prepare to perform. Do your research. Don’t just learn about the organization, but also learn about the person you’re interviewing with. When you’re prepared, you show the hiring team that you’re going to win at the job as well. Check out my interview guide for five strategies that will help you stand out in the hiring process.
Present the best you. Make sure you’re well-groomed and dressed professionally (think haircut and ironed clothes). But also make sure to bring the best attitude to the interview. Show energy, optimism and a grateful attitude.
Follow up. There’s a right time and right way to follow up after an interview. Don’t drop the ball here. I created this interview follow-up guide to give you clear instructions on how to follow up after interviews without being pushy or obnoxious.
Alright folks, there you have it. Before I let you go, let me remind you of something: You’re a parent. And parents are some of the most resilient people out there. So, no matter how long you’ve been out of the workforce, clean up those spaghetti stains, get to work, and don’t stop fighting until you land that dream job!
About Ken Coleman
Pulling from his own personal struggles, missed opportunities and career successes, Coleman helps people discover what they were born to do and provides practical steps to make their dream job a reality.