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Mom wants a new career

In the October 17, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a successful mom wants to be a successful job seeker.

Question

I’m a mature woman and I have to reinvent myself after a midlife divorce. I spent my prime years raising seven wonderful children. I home schooled my children over 20 years. I developed many skills that cross over into the work force: Organization, Punctuality, Customer Service, Training/Teaching, Computer Skills, Microsoft Word and Outlook, and more.

I have worked in a research analyst job for almost two years now and have gained vast office skills. The company I work for has very little room for growth without a two-year college degree. I can’t afford college. I am barely getting by on my meager salary. What can I do?

Nick’s Reply

mom

My compliments for raising seven great children! Getting the right job has much in common with what you’ve done, but today’s job market tells you to find a job by splattering your resume on the wall like spaghetti and waiting for some employer to figure out what to do with your myriad skills.

The truth is, employers are largely incapable of choosing hires effectively via resumes. This failure is the true source of the so-called “talent shortage” employers complain about. (See News Flash! HR Causes Talent Shortage!) They need your skills. They just aren’t good at understanding what you can do for them, so you have to mother them through it.

Mom credentials vs. needs assessment

Consider what would have happened if you handed your kids a multi-page list of all your knowledge, skills and credentials and asked them what they wanted you to teach them during home schooling — and whether they should “hire” you as their teacher.

That’s what happens when you hand an employer your resume. It really doesn’t help to enumerate all your qualifications and qualities. It’s simply too much for the employer to process.

More likely, when you stepped up to educate your kids, you assessed what they needed to learn, then you organized your skills (your “resume”) to satisfy those needs. That’s why you succeeded so marvelously. You based it all on your accurate assessment of what your kids needed.

Make choices first

You must do the same to find the right job: Assess what a particular employer needs before you decide which of your many credentials and skills to present. Employers say they want a comprehensive resume, but any good headhunter will tell you that the less you tell the employer at this juncture, the better — as long as the information you provide is 100% on the mark. (See Resume Blasphemy.)

First, select a handful of companies you’d like to work for. Pick the best ones that make products (or deliver services) you’d like to work on. Then set about to discovering what they need to be more successful, just as you assessed your children’s needs.

This takes careful thought and a lot of research and work, and considerable time. There’s no way to rush this. The alternative is to splatter your resume all over the job boards and wait even longer for some random employer’s algorithms to pluck your resume from thousands of others.

By choosing companies first, you take control of how well you can address their needs. There is simply no way to thoughtfully address the specific needs of 100 companies you find on a job board. So don’t apply for jobs that way.

Be A Wise Mom: Understand a manager’s specific needs

Do not rely on a company’s job postings. They’re produced by over-worked personnel managers, not by the managers who need to hire someone. Job postings are one of the biggest rackets in America today. They hinder hiring; they don’t help it. They ask for ridiculously extensive credentials, skills and experience — and for the latest buzzwords HR has heard about.

  • As a good mom, I’ll bet you ignored many requests for in-ground swimming pools, puppies, and the latest toy heavily promoted on TV. You determined what would make a material difference in your kids’ lives and invested wisely in that.
  • Did you know how to teach your kids every necessary topic when you started? Of course not. They’d never have “hired” you for lack of such skills! But you learned as you went along and figured out how to tackle each necessary task. If your kids had to hire you based on your skills, they’d never have hired you!

That employer needs a wise mom who sees past ephemeral wish lists. It needs someone who can see the desired outcomes. You must rely on personal conversations with the actual managers who would hire you — and on people who work with them — so you can assess what they really need in a worker. Only then can you possibly produce a brief plan showing how you’d do the work profitably for the manager. Your plan will of course include some notes about what tools, training and learning curve you’ll need.

Doing the job vs. doing the keywords

Having all the perfect skills won’t get you hired. The manager will hire you because you’ve demonstrated that you know how to assess his or her needs, and how to address them honestly and effectively. That is, you can demonstrate that you can do this job — and that you can learn quickly as you go.

The trouble is, personnel managers and “applicant tracking systems” which analyze your “keywords” are incapable of assessing your ability to do a job. That’s why people get rejected out of hand again and again and again.

You must go around the personnel managers and hiring systems to find the manager. Don’t enumerate the keywords requested in the job posting. Show how you’ll do the work the manager needs done. Have a conversation. Talk the manager through it like you talk your kids through a scraped knee. What any manager really wants is for you to make the pain go away. But first you have to have a heart-to-heart to learn where it really hurts. That kind of talk beats a “job interview” about your resume any day!

Some tips

Here are a few core Ask The Headhunter articles to help you get started:

Ask The Headhunter in A Nutshell: The short course

Pursue Companies, Not Jobs

Resume Blasphemy

Employment In America: WTF is going on?

You’ll find hundreds more helpful how-to articles on this website, all for free. (I also offer a few PDF books that organize my advice around specific topics.)

You raised seven wonderful children. You can find one great job. But you won’t find it by broadcasting all your skills and waiting for one company to “find” you.

Start by picking a good company, learning what a specific manager needs, and then organizing your skills into a short document (or presentation) that shows how you will do what the manager needs. Don’t expect any manager or employer to “process” all your credentials and figure out “what to do with you.” Most managers aren’t very good at playing Mom.

I wish you the best.

What advice would you give this mom, who clearly has considerable skills but little experience in the workforce? If you’ve made the transition from raising a family to getting a “regular” job, how’d you do it? What problems did you face? What obstacles did you overcome?

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25 Comments
  1. Research Analyst sounds way more impressive and relevant to most jobs than Home Schooling Mom. I’d never guess that it’s a low paying job. You’ve already made the transition to the labor force so I’d play up your current job rather than your mom experience.

    I know I’ll get drenched with criticism for being politically incorrect, but I don’t think being a mom is all that transferable. As Nick notes, the clients have no choice in selecting their teacher. And as Nick avoids noting, home school moms are never fired by their children, no matter how incompetent they are. And believe me, some of them are really incompetent. I know home schooling moms who don’t make their kids do math because the kids don’t see why they need math. Some of these moms are tremendously disorganized and no one ever calls them on it.

    I’ve been a mom and a homemaker. I’ve even done some home schooling. And my grown kids are “wonderful.” But 20 years of it gets you out of practice in dealing with workplace B.S.

    Yes, some of these moms are terrific, but just as listing “leader” and “team player” on your resume doesn’t prove anything, neither does a list including “customer service.” What does that mean to a stay-at-home home schooler? You served cheerios when asked? Why not add “nurse” and “chauffeur” to the list like some of those press-release-on-Mother’s-Day analyses of the value of a mother?

    Anyway, the letter writer admits in her letter that her office skills were developed more fully on the job than at home. So I say focus on your job achievements. They’re more recent anyway.

    -d

    • I agree that none of the skills listed by the OP belong on a resume because while they may be strong and may be transferable, few employers will be able to make that judgment so they’re likely to dispense with them altogether.

      That’s why a resume is virtually useless for a mom after 20 years of momming and home schooling. Even if it’s loaded with legit information, employers and HR just aren’t wired to judge it. So they’ll likely ignore it.

      That’s why a resume-less approach that relies on personal contacts in carefully selected companies is the best way to go.

      I don’t mind your politically correct judgment of moms — many fit the bill you presented. But many are truly sophisticated, though in a milieu employers can’t fathom. Once again, that’s why conventional methods for job hunting won’t work.

      Finally, of course, this mom is indeed already on her way, having worked as an analyst for two years.

      • @Nick

        Rather than “the perfect resume”, I’m thinking that the OP really could get away with a business card that had name, professional-looking email address, contact info and “Research Analyst.”

        Let the number of years come out in the chat, shop talk, cocktail hour etc. and wherever people who hire research analysts hang out.

      • What does OP stand for? I appreciate a response. Thank you.

        • OP stands for Original Poster. Usually the person who starts a message board discussion, but here I suppose the person who wrote to Nick.

  2. I worked for a company as a temp, The CEO was a good mom to everyone. It was an honor and a privilege to work with her “children”. They were awesome.

  3. Mom skills translates into nurturer and selflessness. Leadership skills that are greatly missing in the workplace.

    Sounds like you know how to teach . . homeschooling. Find out what training needs a potential employer needs, research and create programs to build workplace skills.

    You would be surprised how simple it is to create a training program that addresses basic needs like time management, supervision, decision making, teamwork . .. etc.

  4. If moms really have transferable skills, could you share real-life stories of moms without actual recent workplace experience who have been hired into jobs above entry level due to their mom strengths? Women who have somehow made a case for these skills to hiring managers who are not a relative or long-time neighbor? Hiring managers connected with via Ask the Headhunter style techniques or thru the usual resume / application process?

    Yes, it may be “simple” to create a training program but how “simple” is it to convince a hiring manager that a stay-at-home mom can teach supervision or decision making? What proof does she have of these skills herself? How do timeouts transfer to the workplace?

    Lots of people have common sense and strong people skills demonstrated outside the work environment but how many can translate that into a good paying job?

    Sounds good but please share some real examples that you have witnessed.

    Thanks.

    -d

    • I’d love to hear about some examples, too. The only ones I can think of are widows of a few stock brokers/investment consultants I know about. These wives had at least pretty good educations, and they stepped in to take over their late husbands’ “books” of business. At least a couple became wildly successful, without any prior experience. They literally learned on the job, got their licenses, and prospered. Of course, the firms involved had enormous motivation to help them succeed, or face contentious “divorces” of clients.

  5. Another problem with moms teaching corporate training without solid recent work experience: credibility.

    As an employee, I would roll my eyes in disgust if a housewife tried to teach me supervision using stories about her home schooling.

    Sorry, I don’t buy it.

    But I’m willing to be convinced. Please share some real-life success stories.

    -d

    • Im sorry, what possible relevance does where you acquire the skill have to possessing it. I think you need to seriously broaden your mind. Where I come from, if a mother said: well I can demonstrate I have teaching skills because I can home-school my child the first thing I would say is: cool, show me. Its called behavioral testing/interviewing. My ears would be open for her mastery of key ideas regardless of context. Its quite common.

      • I do have intense management experience. Employers see it as every bit relevant that it is not engineering management – in my other field of church music I have been a music director at a number of churches. (As I was an organ major and the pipe organ is passé I no longer work in that field.)

        While my background would be every bit helpful as an engineering manager, employers just can’t get past where I got the experience. Their loss. In fact, my musical background even got me rejected from an audio products company once! (I played a recording of me performing through their equipment.). They were more fixated on the fact that I wasn’t able to answer their obscure technical questions. (It was a day long stress interview.)

        If an audio products company turns down an engineer who is a professional classical musician, that’s like turning down a chef from a kitchen products company who can design appliances.

        Maybe it was my old style music. Maybe they thought I was stuffy and old fashioned (I’m actually quite broad minded in the way many performing arts people are).

        That company since expanded but a coworker at my current company who worked for the previous company told me he left because they are declining.

        That is the story of the audio products company that turned down a classical musician.

  6. First, Diana makes some good points. Trying to promote your ‘mom skills’ does not make you unique (how many moms are there?) nor are they easily assessable.

    Second, use your network. You have had 7 kids – surely you have a vast network of other parents from school (I realize you homeschooled, but even that usually forms a homeschool community), sports, and other activities. Lean on them. Tell them you are a research analyst at a good company but you are looking for other opportunities that provide _____ (fill in the blank: are you looking for improved career path, higher income, increased skill development, tuition support, etc.?).

    Remind them of the value of word of mouth versus just relying on job postings.

  7. I’m a career coach for women who are re-imagining their work, this includes moms re-entering the workforce. The mom in the letter has been working for 2 years, so she can now translate her home engineering skills into relevant work skills.

    Nick, you and I both recommend the same thing. Start with a company, then go from there. I’ve found that once my clients get comfortable with tech (I help with that), networking (both virtually (LI and Facebook) and physically), and learn to talk about what they want to do, they are able to find work. It’s not easy. But it’s not easy to find any job – even if you’ve been working for 20 years!

    As I’ve talked with hiring managers I’ve been reminded of the importance of being able to describe yourself and your skills within the context of the job you’re seeking. That takes research and practice.

    • @Becky: “I’ve been reminded of the importance of being able to describe yourself and your skills within the context of the job you’re seeking.”

      That’s the whole key, I think. It’s lost on most people, not just transitioning moms.

  8. I wonder if her current employer would be willing to help out with tuition so she can take 1 or 2 community-college courses per semester? If the main reason she wants to leave is that she can’t be promoted, and promotion requires some college, maybe both company and employee would benefit.

    The main objection that the company might have is that many required intro courses would probably not be job-related, but if they are part of a plan that includes more relevant advanced courses later, maybe that could be overlooked.

    I suspect that the lack of a college degree will be an issue in any job, so she should probably find a way to work on that if only gradually. At the end of 3-4 years she’d have a nice fresh degree, which can only be beneficial.

  9. I faced the same problem as a home schooling mom of 22 years. I did have an advantage that my husband was working. When my youngest was a sophomore in high school I realized that I had just 2 years to get myself “work ready.” Prior to children, I had gone to business school and learned bookkeeping, but anyone who buys Quick Books could do what I did. My goal was to find a job that had a good future and couldn’t be replaced by a computer. Nursing was my choice. There is now a current nursing shortage and this 66 year old is pursued by many facilities because of it. I took the entrance exam (I studied like mad)and made a 99. Applied for a PELL grant and was able to go to school that way. What I have paid in taxed for the past few years had more than repaid that PELL grant. This probably won’t help the mom who raised this issue, but perhaps it will inspire another mom to look into this area and grants.

    My next advice would be, don’t give up! It is doable. You may be older than your cohorts, but you have wisdom and reliability and spunk! Good luck!

    • Patty, lol, just because you have quickbooks – does NOT mean you want to use quickbooks! Especially small biz people. Sounds like a niche opportunity :-)

  10. Here is another suggestion. There is a lot of on-line gig work out there, which can get done at night. (Be careful not to get ripped off – not all of it is legit.) She can find something that fits here qualifications, and build a portfolio and even skills.
    On the Internet no one knows you’re a Mom.

    Community college is easier, and in most places fairly inexpensive, but I can understand if it is not affordable for her.

    • Consider community college. Not only is it less expensive than a four-year college or university, it tends to be much more flexible, offering day, evening, Saturday, and online courses. I currently work at a community college. Entrance requirements are low: a high school diploma or a GED. Most of the students at this college are part time students because they have jobs, families, military and other commitments. A good number of them are older–some because they’re hoping to go into another line of work due to budget cuts, outsourcing, or they simply had enough of their last jobs. Others are resuming or beginning school now that their own kids are done with high school or in the event of a divorce. A lot of the students take time off for myriad reasons too–they’ll begin, then life gets in the way, they drop out, then come back, sometimes years later.

      The community college where I work is located in an inner city and the majority of our students are minorities and poor. Those who get aid often get book vouchers (to help them pay for textbooks), free bus passes (so they can get to schoo), there is a daycare center on site for those parents who need it, and we even have a staff member who helps students apply for food stamps and other benefits. The sad thing is, even for those students who are working full time, their jobs don’t pay much, and they need every bit of help they can get. Wal-mart doesn’t pay enough to allow them to pay rent, attend college part time, and eat.

      This mom might be surprised by how much aid might be available to her–she should talk with someone in financial aid (and don’t ignore scholarships, which she would have to apply for) to learn about her options re paying for community college, and to someone in admissions re what kinds of programs there are, when she could begin, etc.

      If the lack of an associate’s degree is holding her back, then look into starting college. It might take her longer to finish if she goes part time, but time is passing anyways–better to have her AA in four years than not to have it in four years.

  11. In my experience, single moms have been the best workers I have ever seen – in all fields! In exchange for flexibility, you will get probably the most productive employee imaginable. It is a market that has not been well tapped in a long time.

  12. Difficult to say from just a post but I’d bet, as a mom of 7, you are a no-BS fixer. You got things done because you didn’t have time to linger around. And companies, large or small, desperately need this profile. You probably won’t pass HR in large corp, at least for any meaningful job (it is what it is), so I would target smaller businesses. Most jobs don’t require much “academic” skills but can benefit from ruthless pragmatism and genuine kindness which I’d bet you have plenty. I would ask friends and family if they know any small/medium business owners and would be willing to introduce you. And then just talk to them. No resume. Follow Nick advice, ask about what they need to get done and explain how you can do it. You are not a college kid. Talk to them with respect but as pairs. Small/Medium business owners are generally juggling with a zillion of stuff at the same time, from mondain to business survival threatening. Having someone in their team they can rely on in a storm is invaluable. As a mom, you went through crisis management all the time (from a rush to the ER for a broken bone to a broken heart in need of ice cream). Calm in the storm is a transferable skill. If the family and friends network doesn’t work, I would just walk in businesses and ask to talk with the boss. You will probably be turned down many times but you just need one to work out :-). You are more than your resume will ever tell (As opposed to over degreed people who are generally less than their resume – and it’s coming from one of those ;-)) so you need to get in front of people to tell your story. imho.

    I would go to community college ONLY if you think you will ENJOY the process (I went back to school at 30 and loved it). If you are just trying to play the “HR game”, don’t bother, you’ll lose (everyone does, especially the people who get the jobs!).

    Hope this helps.

    • I think it’s unfair to dismiss large companies as a possibility – there are different large and small companies. Like anywhere else, it helps to know someone in a corporation – small, medium, or large.

      Moms are often great at networking – so talk to people in your neighborhood, parents of kids’ friends, the local PTA, at church/synagogue/mosque/temple/humanist society, and the rotary club. Take advantage of these contacts.

      I would hire you in a split second – I’m an electrical engineer and if I needed a technician and you were willing to learn electronics, I would hire you and I bet you would learn well and be a very efficient employee. I would even see if I could set up some lab space in your home. That’s what I would do if I were a manager.

  13. Check with your local governmental agencies–there is federal funding for additional education. Here in Illinois it is managed by each county and goes by the acronym of WIOA https://www.illinoisworknet.com/WIOA/Pages/Programs-Funding.aspx

  14. Running an active household is not much different than running a small business. You have to budget, manage people, pay attention to the physical environment, manage books, purchase supplies, deal with vendors and repair people, and do minor maintenance on equipment. What job am I describing? The office manager of a small business. If I had a small business with from 2 to 10 employees, hiring an experienced Mom as my office manager would be a no-brainer. I would do it in heartbeat.

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