I’m ready to re-enter the workforce – where do I start?

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Dawn at Regis University asked the following question:

I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and a variety of work experience including marketing, HR, and college administration.  I’ve been on a 7-year professional leave of absence to start a family and during that absence recently completed my Master’s degree in accounting.  I’m ready to re-enter the workforce but don’t know where to start having been away for so long and lacking practical accounting experience.  I expect to capitalize on my previous experience, advanced degree, work ethic/ability, and my maturity.

Hi Dawn –

First, I’d like to recognize the sense of purpose, time management skills, patience, discipline and stamina you must have in abundance! How else would you be able to start a family AND complete a Master’s degree in Accounting.  Wow!

Now – as you enter this next phase of your life and career you have to make some really important decisions that will impact your job search and, ultimately, determine what job you take.  Starting a job search without addressing these issues is kind of like putting the cart before the horse.

Questions you must consider when looking for a job

How much do you need to make to make ends meet?  And how much do you aspire to make?

These are two very different but very important questions.  One addresses making sure you meet your financial obligations.  The other addresses your lifestyle and financial aspirations.  With the qualifications you describe, you could probably do just as well managing in a non-profit environment as you could in a Fortune 500 corporate environment.  The roles might be the same, but the compensation, corporate culture, work environment and   profession dynamics of these two worlds will be very different. Knowing you have what you need to pay your bills brings piece of mind.  Knowing under what conditions you do your best work and the lifestyle to which you aspire brings motivation.

Where are you willing to go for your job?

This can refer to your commute (how long of a daily commute is too long), your work travel (how much business travel – if any – are you willing and able to do), and your willingness to relocate (or lack thereof).  How you answer this question will open some doors for you and close others.

Do you live to work or work to live?

This is a toughie – particularly for men because we draw much of our identity from our jobs!  To what extent do you define yourself and your value by your job.  For some, a job is a means to an end – a paycheck.  For others, their job is a direct reflection of who they are.  These are two ends of a very broad spectrum, but you fall somewhere on this continuum, and you need to understand where.  At certain points in your life, family will take priority over work (I know you know that!).  At other times work will take priority over family. Every once in a while we achieve a balance. Your approach to work and its role in your life will make some jobs more desirable and others less.

What do you want potential employers to learn about you through your resume?

You clearly offer a great deal to potential employers, but you are not a well-known or well-defined commodity in their eyes. You’re not some round peg looking for a round hole. Employers don’t inherently “get” you the way you “get” you. You have to make you make sense them – and you start by using your resume to tell the story about you that you want to share. It’s not a game – don’t make potential employers guess what you want and what you offer.  Ask yourself – what do I want employers to know about me when they read my resume? Focus on that  and leave out or minimize the stuff that isn’t relevant.

Focus on high-payoff activities in your job search

Most job seekers spend all of their time looking at online job boards and applying to jobs they find there, and they get frustrated when their job search doesn’t progress as rapidly as they would prefer.

In most instances (I estimate nearly 80% of the time) people find jobs through their research, relationship building and networking activities, rather that by scanning the want ads.  So, if 80% of the opportunities come through those high-payoff activities, focus 80% of your job search time on those high payoff activities and only 20% of your time reviewing the job boards.  Tap into your personal and professional networks – neighbors, fellow parents, members of your church, synagogue, mosque or civic group.  These are the people who know you  and can be advocates on your behalf (if you let them and if you ask them).  Many of them probably work in or near places that you might consider and that might be willing to consider you.  For detailed tips on professional networking, review my Networking Guide.

Fish where there are fish

Don’t just depend upon the old standbys – Careerbuilder, Monster, and LinkedIn. They are all good resources but they are not the end all be all for job listings.  Most professional associations maintain job boards specific to their industry.  My Professional Associations page has a number of account specific resources, take at look at sites like the ones on this page.

Toot your own horn

You are very proud of the fact that you have previous experience in marketing, human resources and college administration; an advanced degree in accounting; a strong work ethic; diverse capabilities; and personal and professional maturity.  Rightfully so, I might add.  However, the only way a potential employer is going to know about all you have to offer is if you tell them, and if you do so in terms and examples relevant to them.  Be prepared to tell your story – don’t be shy about it. When you are looking for a job, you have to be your own chief advoctate.

Hope this is helpful!

Good luck,

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