Q: I was a successful corporate executive who opted out to bring up my kids.
A: Now they are older, I am looking for new challenges and would like to return to the job market. But opportunities are scarce and hard fought over - how can I maximise my chances? A: There are a number of ways in which you can improve your chances of getting a job, but before we go into them, it is worth examining what you want from your work.
Have your needs and expectations changed since you had a family? Are you hoping to work at the same level, doing the same kind of work, in the same location, with the same sort of organisation, with the same sorts of pressure and similar working hours? If any of those variables have changed, work out your new priorities and decide what trade-offs you are prepared to make to achieve them.
As you say, a good job is hard to find these days, and that may lead you to feel that you'll be lucky to get any roughly equivalent position, so there's no point being picky about your ideal scenario. However, I would challenge that thinking. What you are looking for is a role that you suit and suits you. That way, you'll be happy in your work, more likely to stay, and less resentful of any intrusions into family life that your job entails.
Once you've set your priorities, start scanning the job ads online and elsewhere. This is less about expecting to find your ideal job advertised and more about getting some idea of whether there are vacancies that would meet your criteria and, if so, what sort of candidate employers seem to be looking for. Note the language used - you will need to know current parlance when you write your CV and go for interviews. If there are gaps between the requirements of the jobs that attract you and your skills and knowledge, consider how you might close them - a short course on finance or internet skills might help.
Do a radical overhaul of your CV, don't just add your career gap to your old one. Review your key achievements in the light of the requirements you spotted in the job ads. You may have decided to stay in the sector in which you previously worked, on the grounds that you have contacts there, know the scene and have a track record. Alternatively, if you've been at a senior level, it is possible that you could swap to a different sector, since leadership roles are more similar between sectors than more junior jobs, and there may be more opportunities in a growth sector than in your previous one.
As a generalisation, headhunters prefer to place candidates in similar jobs to those they have held before, so if you want to change sectors, provide them with a good rationale for why you are right for a different area of business or type of organisation. Engineer your CV to show how your previous experience and skills are well suited to the new demands in the marketplace.
When your CV is ready, and you've identified your target employers, find out who the gatekeepers are for senior jobs in those organisations. Is it their in-house HR or do they have a relationship with a headhunter? Who else do you know that works or has worked at these companies who could advise you where the power lies, introduce you to relevant people, and even alert you to jobs that may be coming up but are not advertised (for example, a maternity cover)? Organisations would rather not have to pay recruitment costs.
Having got your credentials in shape and boned up on the issues in your marketplace, and specifically for your target companies, it's time to think about your own personal 'packaging'. You won't get away with dusting off your previous working wardrobe. If you can afford it, have a session with a wardrobe consultant - she'll bring out the best in you fashion-wise and also help you purge your wardrobe of outmoded garments. Motherhood tends to make us care more about our offspring's appearance than our own. Have a haircut and generally present yourself as someone who knows her own worth.
Finally, don't demoralise yourself by constantly referring to the odds against you getting a job. I know of several organisations that actively look to employ women returners, on the grounds that they won't have to face long absences for maternity leave and that they find mature women more focused on doing the job than socialising.
- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach.
If you have a problem you'd like her to tackle, email: firstname.lastname@example.org