According to recent research, over 10% of highly educated mothers with at least a masters degree are choosing to stay at home full time to care for their families (for those not in the know, SAHM is an acronym for Stay At Home Mom). That means that women who have the training and skill to be developing careers are making a conscious choice to be at home for their kids.
Fast forward a few years. The same woman who enjoyed precious years at home raising her young children is now ready to return to the work force. She feels ready for professional challenges, stimulating conversations, and a return to the field she excelled in before entering SAHMhood.
If this is you, you probably are experiencing some concerns, anxieties and uncertainties.
How to present your years as a SAHM on your CV
The first challenge faced by women reentering the work force after years at home is how to present those years on their CV. Some women attempt to “hide” their stay at home years, either by filling in part time work they did during that time and making it sound like more than it was, or by calling themselves “independent consultant” or “freelancer” for that period; others simply skip those years, hoping no one will notice; while other women go the opposite route, glorifying their years as a SAHM as a professional move, by giving themselves titles ( I have seen “Home Engineer”, “Household Manager”, even “Domestic Goddess”), and listing the skills and tasks involved (responsibilities: managing multiple schedules, medical and therapeutic care; skills: patience, creativity, and the ability to function in an ongoing sleep deprived state).
As a recruiter and career coach who was also a SAHM for almost a decade, I tend to disagree with all three approaches. Potential employers are looking first of all for honesty and accountability. Therefore either blowing up your experience beyond its true scope, or just “skipping” some years with no explanation, will come across as fishy; and sometimes that is enough to lose you an opportunity to interview for the job.
On the other hand, although it is true that full time parenting requires many skills and talents, not everyone who does it possesses them to an equal degree, and since you “hired” yourself for the role, there is no objective proof that you really have those skills: maybe you were a full time mom who was a paragon of patience and creativity, and maybe you were short on patience, disorganized and depressed. Also, those of us who choose to spend significant time away from the work force raising our kids are generally not doing it as a career move, but rather because we appreciate the value of giving all our attention to raising our small children. That’s why these “job descriptions” come across as either forced, overly cute, or defensive.
So what is the best way to present those years on your CV? The same way you would present other years spent doing something worthwhile and valuable that is not directly relevant to your job search, such academic studies or world travel. Just say it: 2010-2013: Full Time Parent. That’s it. No further explanation or justification is necessary.
How to talk about your SAHM years in a job interview
For many SAHMs, the job interview ordeal can be terrifying: how will I prove myself? Am I really able and qualified to return to the workforce? And how will I talk about my years at home? Some women become defensive and angry in advance, assuming that the interviewer will be looking down at them or judging them. This kind of worry can turn you into a bundle of self righteous and insecure nerves by the time your interview comes around – which does not bode well for making a good impression.
Your interviewer may be concerned that having left the professional world for a significant time period, you may be out of touch with your field; S/he may also wonder if you are returning to the workforce reluctantly, or will not be free to devote yourself to the job now that you have a family to care for.
These are legitimate concerns, and your best bet is to prepare for them and respond to them thoughtfully and honestly. Don’t view questions about your choices as threatening or demeaning. Instead, prepare to explain how you plan on updating your knowledge and skills, perhaps though a refresher course, and how your arrangements for childcare leave you free to devote yourself wholeheartedly to your job during work hours. Bottom line: If you are happy with your choices, and feel competent to rejoin the workforce and do whatever is necessary to get back on track, you will probably be able to convince your interviewer that they will only be gaining by taking you on board.
How to create a healthy balance between work and home
For women who have been privileged to spend all their time on their home and family, the challenge of balancing home and work can be very daunting. These days, this difficulty is compounded by the ease of remote work: your employer may have hired you for a part time position, but emails and messages may reach you at any time of day; and you may feel the need to prove that you are available and therefore just as valuable as an employee who is not struggling to balance work and family.
Here too, owning your choices and being honest is the key to both professional and home management success. If you are clear about your boundaries, and at the same time are confident that you can reach your professional goals within the parameters of your work hours, you will be respected for sticking to your guns. This of course will only work if you have agreed upon your boundaries in advance, and if your workplace does not thrive on a culture of “work above all else”. If this is in fact the culture of your potential workplace, it will probably not be the right fit for you in any case.
A former SAHM can be a great asset to any workplace. Having the perspective of caring for small lives and juggling numerous responsibilities generally means that you bring warmth, patience and management skills that are invaluable to any industry and team. If you reenter the workforce with confidence in your skills and with faith in your personal choices, everyone wins.