Zeinab: How much time should I put into prepping for my return? Do you have any tips for building and keeping to a routine?
Dear Zeinab — What a great question! When you are looking to restart your career you definitely need to be prepared to spend time on your quest. But I think the way to think about it is not so much about quantity and more about consistency. Think of it like exercise — it’s much better to work out more frequently across most days of the week than doing 1 or 2 long workouts each week. Here are some thoughts on how to maintain that consistency and use your time most effectively:
Make it a priority: Many people who’ve been full-time caregivers (and, let’s be honest, caretakers of the home chores) find it hard to prioritize job-seeking activities that aren’t currently generating income. This is especially true for women in heterosexual relationships where women’s careers are often deprioritized relative to men’s. So start with a mindset shift: Your career is important. Also, remind anyone in your family (and yourself!) that the long term payoff is absolutely financial and so the short-term inconvenience is well worth it.
Enlist help to make time: It’s even harder for many people to justify spending money on child or eldercare while looking for a job, but this is another place where a mindset shift can be helpful. Outsourcing care so you can find work is an investment in your future. That said, care in America is expensive, so get creative. Find a parent or two in your neighborhood who is looking for some free time and swap care hours.
Make the time you have to spend count: Stay off job boards! They are a dead end. Instead, focus on reaching out to your network (friends and former colleagues), researching companies to assess their suitability as employers and crafting great application materials for jobs at the select companies on your list. How do you find jobs to apply to if you aren’t on job boards? You focus on the career pages of your target employers.
Plan your work, work your plan: Spend your first few days — and maybe even weeks — creating a return to work action plan. List out who you want to reconnect with, the tasks you need to complete (updating your resume, updating your LinkedIn profile), the resources you want to tap into. Then, plot out for each work session which tasks you are going to tackle based on how much time you have. If you can only spend an hour or two a day, break up the tasks into 60-minute chunks. Draft two versions of a networking letter on Monday, send it to 10 people on Tuesday, update your most recent job on LinkedIn on Wednesday, respond to replies on Thursday, and so on. If you keep it all in a plan you will see your consistent action adding up, which will make the small amounts of time you have feel better spent and motivate you to keep going.
Keep to your routine, even when you don’t want to: Consistency really is key and one way to build consistency is to make yourself do something when you really don’t want to. Give yourself permission to have bad days when you don’t get to all the things on your list. And then come back tomorrow to start again. Soon you will have built a habit that can withstand distractions and setbacks.
Consider enlisting a job search accountability partner: Job searching can be stressful and lonely. Find someone who can help you keep to your commitments, but also who you can text when you need someone to pick you up or join in your excitement about an upcoming interview.
Whatever you do, keep going!
Returning to the paid workforce can be both an exciting and daunting challenge. My work as Executive Director of Path Forward has given me a unique perspective on both sides of the employment equation. I’ve answered questions for thousands of job seekers and I understand their worries. And I have gained insights from HR and talent executives at the more than 75 companies we’ve partnered with. I’m eager to help you leverage this insider advice to help you get back to a fulfilling career. If you’ve got a burning question you’d like me to answer in an upcoming edition of “Ask Tami,” you can ask it using this form.