When Ellen Berick, now 51, left her job as a lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency in 1988 to stay home and raise her two daughters, she could not envision returning to a full-time position while her children still lived at home.
But in 2001, with daughters ages 13 and 16, Berick was ready; she applied for and got a job as a lawyer at the Internal Revenue Service. "I felt privileged to be home with my kids but was mentally ready to go back," she said.
Like Berick, many women who leave their jobs to stay home with children eventually decide to reenter the workforce. And as the economy shows signs of recovering, there may be more jobs available for them, experts said. But where do you begin when you don't have a current resume, haven't been through an interview in years, and may not even know what type of job you want?
One possible starting place is your hobbies. Caroline Janov, 49, a longtime fitness enthusiast, applied for a job as a personal trainer in 1998. She had worked downtown in a full-time marketing job at the World Wildlife Fund, but left in 1994 when her children were ages 2 and 4. She was exercising at a health club in 1996 when she noticed a sign for a personal training certification class and took it. Janov now works part time at Bethesda Sport & Health Club.
For women who want to explore career options or brush up on a range of reentry skills, such as how to dress and succeed in an interview, or how to negotiate a salary and put together a resume, career-oriented classes can be useful. "Some women are clueless if they haven't been doing this recently," said Donna Brand, a career counselor at The Women's Center, a nonprofit based in Vienna. She added that summer could be a good time to explore careers because typically fewer people are job hunting at that time than during the rest of the year.
Volunteering is another way to find the right career field and to make professional contacts at high levels, said Ellen Galinsky, president of Families and Work Institute, a New York-based nonprofit. She recommends finding a place where you may want to work and offering to help on a special project or as an intern.
When compiling a resume, include any volunteer leadership roles you have had, such as in a homeowners association, said Judy Merkel, director of recruiting for Booz Allen Hamilton, the McLean-based consulting firm.
The Internet can be a helpful resource, said Jolie Solomon, deputy editor of New York-based Working Mother magazine. She advises women to use e-mail to get back in touch with former colleagues, network with friends or contact potential new employers. "It can get a dialogue going without having to go out to lunch," she said.
In addition, she said, chat rooms or Web sites of trade associations and similar organizations are a good way to update yourself on your field.
If finding a family-friendly workplace is a priority, research business-oriented women's organizations such as Catalyst (www.catalystwomen.org) and magazines such as Working Mother to learn of companies that have strong work/life policies, said Maruiel Perkins-Chavis, vice president for workforce effectiveness and diversity at Bethesda-based Marriott International Inc.
No matter what field you choose when reentering, the chances of getting a good job are greater when you stay involved and maintain job skills during your time at home, said Lois P. Frankel, author of "Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office" (Warner Books, 2004).
That's how Berick approached her career track. In her 13 years away from full-time work, she threw herself into volunteer work for the Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia, bolstered her legal credentials by taking the Maryland Bar exam, then did temporary legal work and helped write a book about regulations and rulings relating to nonprofits.
You should appear self-confident in an interview, which may require "losing those few pounds and getting hair colored" and purchasing some new professional clothes, said Frankel. Practice answering questions likely to come up during your interview, such as "What did you do during your time off?" or "How would you contribute to this office?" she said.
Finally, negotiate for a salary that professional associations or salary surveys recommend for a particular kind of job, suggested Brand of the Women's Center. She said, "The mind-set should be that if you're ready to go back and have assessed your skills and done what's necessary to get the job, then you're as qualified as people who haven't left."