I am often asked by media journalists and mothers alike, what is the greatest challenge a woman faces when she returns to the workforce, after a career gap? The truth is, there are a few fundamental areas of concern, despite the various circumstances for leaving (or returning). So rather than share from the job-seeker (Mother)’s point of view, I thought it would make more sense to see it from the employer’s point of view. Because, at the end of the day, you can have all the opinions in the world (as a job seeker), but your ultimate goal is to convince an employer to hire you back into the workforce.
“EMPLOYER-LED” – is the buzzword we use at [email protected] Singapore. All job search processes, all recruitment drives, all our career sessions – they must be employer-led. Otherwise, there is no purpose to organising them. To mothers coming back to the workforce, it’s not about what you want, but about communicating ‘what you need’ in a way, so that it is perceived (accurately) as being what an employer also wants.
So, what are some of the potential concerns of employers when they see a job application, from someone who has taken a career break, to care for family?
– This has been the single, most commonly cited phenomenon that employers pick up from returnees. If they are shortlisted for an interview, there is often an impression of “being apologetic for taking the career gap”. This regret can sometimes, manifest itself in answers that show a lack of confidence, or a fear of not being able to perform as well as they could. In many cases, the fear is more self-imposed than a real reflection of skills lacking. The truth is many returnees, we have met are extremely talented and perfectly capable of doing the job again. It’s about convincing yourself that you still have what it takes to be an excellent employee. And then taking that confidence and communicating that to someone keen to hire you.
2) Skills not being updated
– You may think that the skills gap is so huge, there is no chance of being able to “bounce back”. That’s not true. In many cases, employers list the skills that are often highlighted as being “not updated”. And guess what? They are basic ones. Simple skills, such as business writing, but essential for the day-to-day operations of a business. Yet despite them being the core skills, ever-pressing technological changes means these same skills are constantly upgraded, refreshed and made relevant. So this is something that a job-returnee needs to really be aware of and find ways to overcome this actual “gap” before even starting the process of sending out resumes. The trick is how to relearn these skills, and how to convey your updated expertise to a potential employer.
3) Unsure of whether it is the right choice
– As mothers, we want the best for our family. And when we make a choice to return to the workforce, we are often faced with the fear of “Are we doing the right thing? Does this mean I have less time with my children?” – this uncertainty occasionally surfaces in interviews (Or as mentioned by certain employers, it can affect certain career decisions after a new job has started). Be aware and sure of the choices that you make, before you go for an interview. As employers, they want evidence of your dedication to the job. There is always room for flexibility (After listing more than 3000 jobs over the last years, we know this to be true), but you have to be sure of your decision to want to return to work, so that they too, can be sure of their decision to offer you the position.
4) No longer fully in-touch with the industry/ hiring trends of that industry
– Some mothers return to the workforce, without sufficient research on the industry changes. Besides skills upgrading, industry trends have an impact on the hiring environment. Often, returnees embark on their job search process by sending out resumes to job listings picked up via portals. This can potentially limit them to industries, job functions and even companies that they were familiar with. BUT things may have changed since you were working. Some hiring trends have evolved. Newer industries (that would embrace your skills) may have appeared. These new job roles may even pay better or have more flexible work arrangements. So, finding out what is out there, what is potentially going to grow is likely to have more benefits than sticking to the familiar.
Although these four concerns (cited by the employers we work with) are present, there is good news. There are solutions for them, which is why [email protected] Singapore started Career Navigators to explore and provide genuine support for mothers returning to the work.
Returning to Work is not about recruitment drives or offering trial programmes (returnships etc). The need to help women come back to work is real. It’s about making the ‘return journey’ a carefully planned and processed strategy, which will create a genuine win-win situation for both the employer and the employee.
To us, Back-To-Work Mums is not, simply, the latest fad or the new “money-making project”, it’s a cause we have been trying to spearhead since 2010.
As we move into 2017 head-on, I am so excited to be launching (With my team) many initiatives that look at this issue in a holistic manner. To us, it’s never been about headhunting and “putting people into jobs”. It’s about genuinely supporting women to rebuild careers that support them through life.
Sher-li (Founder, [email protected] Singapore)