When we make the decision to have children, we also make the decision to be out of the workforce for a period of time. Sometimes it’s only 6 weeks, often 12 months and if we’re lucky (or unlucky depending on your view point) until our youngest starts school.

I had between 12 and 36 months off with each of my children and last year had another 6 months off for family reasons. It can be hard to know where to start when returning to the workforce, particularly when looking for a new job after a long absence. Recently I’ve been talking to two friends in just this situation. Both have 6+ years out of the paid workforce, though nobody could argue they haven’t been working. Regardless of how long we’ve had off, we all face the same concerns: Are my skills still current? What work do I actually want to do? Will I find the flexibility I need? How will it impact my kids?

Having been both a returning Mum and a recruiter, here are a few tips I’ve learnt to help get you started:

Begin with a plan

Before you even look up jobs on SEEK, plan out your return to work. Ask yourself: What do I want to achieve from returning to work? Do I want to transition back into the workforce or jump straight into my preferred job/hours? How will work fit in around my family needs? What might need to change? What hours do I want/need to work? What flexibility do I need? What childcare options do I have available?

Determine what work you want to do

Do you have the same career aspirations as before you went on leave? I know I didn’t. When I returned to the workforce after my first child, I was happy with something in my field, that was flexible and meant I could switch off the minute I walked out the door. Now that my kids are a bit older, when I went looking for a job after my most recent break, I wanted something that would challenge me, where I could learn new skills outside my field, but still with some flexibility.

It’s important to take time to identify the type of work, and for that matter, the type of business you want to work for. If you are having trouble doing this yourself, consider talking it over with friends and family or investing in career coaching.

Make sure you have recent and relevant experience

I know I can hear you saying ‘how am I going to get recent experience without a job’? There are lots of ways and some of them you might already be doing without even knowing it.

  • Volunteering: do you sit on a parent committee or volunteer at a local sporting club? Maybe you hold a Board member position? Do you help out in a family business? Work out what skills would be transferable to a paid position. If you don’t currently volunteer, consider approaching a business you’d like to work for and offering your time, it’s a great way to get your foot in the door.
  • Temp Assignments: employers will often be more open and flexible with a temporary appointment, than they would with a permanent one. Temp assignments have many benefits: they can help rebuild your confidence; you can try several workplaces ‘before you buy’ and you have the ability to say ‘no’ when the opportunity doesn’t suit.
  • Education: if you are embarking on a new career path, filling the gaps with training or a new qualification can help. If you can gain work experience as part of the training, even better! Even online courses that you can do when the kids are asleep can help. Remember paid training can often be claimed on your tax.
  • Self-employment: have you considered starting your own business? So many businesses can be run from home with as little as an ABN and an online presence. It could be a short-term venture to gain you the experience you need or you might decide to make it permanent.

Have a current resume

Whilst you might think this is a no-brainer if you are job hunting, it’s important that your resume addresses the gap in your employment history. Don’t assume an employer will know that you’ve been a stay-at-home parent. Spell it out. Where you’ve listed your time as a ‘super-mum’, make sure you include all those extra-curricular activities, eg: studying, volunteer work, etc. Help the employer to focus on your skills and knowledge, not on the gap.

Now that you’ve updated your resume, it’s also time to update or create a LinkedIn profile. Not only can this help your job search, you can also join relevant industry groups and connect with past colleagues.

Know how to negotiate flexibility

Think about the flexibility you need and be prepared with a few options. Being too restrictive with your availability will limit your employment options. Flexibility works both ways, occasionally you might need to vary your hours or do a bit extra at home to meet the needs of the business. Some part-time options to consider are:

  • Traditional part-time, eg: 2 set days per week
  • Flexible hours worked over a week, eg: 16 hours over any 5 days
  • Job share with another person to both work one role
  • Time worked split between the workplace and working from home
  • Shift work, eg: evenings or weekends
  • Temping or project work, often short-term

If you are returning to your previous employer, and you have worked for them for at least 12 months, you are eligible to request flexible working arrangements. Look up the Fair Work Act for more information.

Accept that you may earn less money

It took me seven years of part-time roles before I got back to anything like the salary level I earned before having children. A lower salary might not be the case for everyone; it is something that you need to consider, particularly if you are considering paid childcare. Whilst it may not seem fair, for me I accepted that at that stage I was prioritising my family over work and for a period, I wasn’t investing as much energy into building my skills and experience.

Besides anything else, the workforce needs those skills we’ve been perfecting as mothers: multi-tasking, negotiation, organisation and delegation. If you are thinking about returning to work, it’s time to get out there and have a go.


Claire Huntington has over 15 years’ experience in senior and executive level human resource management and strategic leadership positions. Claire learnt HR under the wings of great mentors and through trial and error. She has a very practical hands-on approach to HR and management, and isn’t afraid to look outside the box. Claire is also mum to three primary-school aged firecrackers and is an avid photographer in her spare time.

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