The Vanishing Women
This past year, I’ve supported dozens of women in their 50s and 60s to rethink their career prospects. Many of them took time away, or took a step down professionally, to raise kids. Among them, I’ve seen some distinct commonalities in career trajectories, short-term goals, and hurdles to success.
The first thing that I notice? Their most impressive experience occurred over 10 years ago. They may have held a VP title, or had a team working under them. They were experts in their field and are now looking for ways to contribute – if not at their exact previous level, then at least with the same level of respect, autonomy, and intellectual challenge.
The next thing? Most of their recent experience has been volunteer, administrative, or inconsistent. They likely stepped out of a high-demand role to focus on family life. What they’re looking for now is flexibility, social bonds, and a deeper purpose. They want to make the world a better place. They want above-average compensation, and they want to be recognized for their past capabilities. They want to be invited to pick up where they left off.
“It’s like applying to a job in a second language.”
The world has changed a lot in the past 15 years, perhaps more than any other time in history except the period just before it. 15 years ago, Facebook overtook MySpace as the most popular social platform. The first iPhone was released, propelling ridesharing, Instagram, DoorDash, and the exponential rise of Amazon. We’ve become faster, more demanding as a culture, with a drastically shortened attention span.
Technology is no longer an industry – it’s now a way of life. Graduates entering today’s job market were becoming teens just as iPhones, Facebook, Uber, and Amazon were taking over. It’s not that they know how to use tech –they don’t know how to not use tech. In some ways, reentering today’s workforce resembles applying to a job in a language that’s not your native tongue.
So where do I start with these women who are bright, capable, and eager to contribute? The first step is usually to reflect back to them what I see. Their skills, their intellect. Their ability to learn and adapt. Next, I think about how we might position them.
End the Gap
When someone’s been out of work for quite some time, the first thing we need to do is to stop the bleeding. Get them enrolled in a course. Get them signed up for a volunteer job. Add a ‘self-employment’ section if they’ve been doing side projects. We need someone, anything current in the resume that we can make look impressive and relevant.
Elevate Recent Work
If they recently held a volunteer role that’s in line with their career goals, I may weave the work into the professional experience section with an actual job title that follows with a ‘Pro Bono’ designation. I’ll include at least 4-5 bullets about the organization, their scope of involvement, and outcomes.
Employers love seeing that someone is invested in keeping their skills current. Because of this, I love sharing classcentral.com with clients. This website is like Google for online learning. You can find quick free hourlong webinars, longer certifications, and university courses that can be audited for free. The best part is that you can add these courses and credentials to your resume – even if you just started them. You can include relevant topics along with the impressive names of the university that it was completed through.
For clients who want to get into – or get back to – roles in education, caregiving, social services, or advocacy, I’ll often include their parenting experience in the resume. I’ll tease out transferable skills and keywords. For instance, if they are targeting roles in mental health, we may include details about behavioral interventions that they navigated with their own kids. Or if they want to do culinary work, we’ll expand on their meal preparation, nutritional management, and dietary planning experience.
Older Experience: The Debate
When deciding which experiences to include in the resume, consider the 3 R Test: Is it recent? Is it relevant to their target role? Is it really impressive? A role has to meet two of those three criteria to make it into the resume. If they had a job that ended in 2001 that was in their target field and with a very well-known company, I will include it in an Older Experience section without dates, and I’ll include just one italicized line summarizing the most impressive elements of their contributions and impact. Another tactic is the just include company names and job titles in the Older Experience section – which works well if their more recent experience has been at a higher level or similar in focus.
Reentering the workforce is no easy feat! By employing simple strategies like those I’ve outlined above, you can be sure that you’re putting your best self forward to get noticed for new opportunities.
December 7, 2023