Trying to Re-enter the Workforce: An Adventure Tale

by Susan Silverman

I miss the working world. Plain and simple. Sure, being a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) has been rewarding: I’ve been able to witness my child evolve on a daily basis. But since my first day of maternity leave, I have missed—no, I think the word is ached—for the professional world. That was two-plus years ago. I have been out of the professional game for that long and I’m freaked out that no employer in my field will want me. Why? Because research by the Center for Talent Innovation shows that only 73% of highly qualified women who wanted to return to work were able to do so, and just 40% of those landed a regular full-time job. 

And you wonder why I’m freaked out about not finding a job?!?! I’m already starting with people perceiving me negatively. Or even worse, not even perceiving me at all.

As much as I’m aching to go back to the working world, I am filled with dread. No matter what I read about companies touting their reputations of wanting to hire SAHMs, or others who took a break from the professional world, I firmly believe this is a crock of bologna. A Harvard Business Journal article backs up my gut feeling. In a study that kept popping up all over the internet, Kate Weisshaar, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill found that, “The results show just how heavily parents reentering the workforce are penalized for their career gap: 15.3% of the employed mothers, 9.7% of the unemployed mothers, and 4.9% of the stay-at-home mothers received a callback.”

But even more telling, Weisshaar

found that people viewed both unemployed applicants and stay-at-home applicants as less capable than continuously employed applicants, perhaps thinking their skills had become rustier while they were not working. Respondents viewed stay-at-home parents as less reliable, less deserving of a job, and — the biggest penalty — less committed to work, compared with unemployed applicants.

Weisshaar, “Stay-at-Home Moms Are Half as Likely to Get a Job Interview as Moms Who Got Laid Off.” Harvard Business Review, 22 Feb 2018.

Gap on your resume: So, do I include this two-plus year gap on my resume or not? The jury is split on this one. Some suggest a “functional” resume format, which allows individuals to play up skills and downplay dates and gaps, `a la this article. However, others recommend against this as hiring managers may perceive it as “hiding something.” Others advocate listing the time as SAHM on your resume, complete with skills – like multitasking, budgeting, operating under pressure – that comes with full-time parenting, but some hiring managers strongly recommend against this, even demeaning it as ‘cutsie.’ For myself, I’ve decided not to include the gap or even mention parenting on my resume. Rather, in cover letters and interviews I will highlight: 

  • Our family’s decision to live overseas, with all its benefits 
  • Regular engagement with former contacts 
  • That I continued to read up on developments in my field
  • Volunteer work I’ve done 

Know your strengths:I recently had the opportunity to sit down with two of my favorite mentors/bosses, or as I prefer to call them, “she-ros”, to discuss strategies. They both said that I need to know my strengths so I know what to play up in networking and interviews; and as former supervisors, they are the perfect ones to point out my strengths. They held up a mirror that allowed me to better appreciate what I would be good at, which will help me in my search. By asking the question, they also helped me prepare for a favorite interview question: “What are your strengths?” Best of all, former bosses who understand your strengths make for great references.

Network, Network, Network: During these years away, I regularly emailed my former colleagues, clients and contacts. It was just to keep me in the minds of these people, kind of like me waving a loud “Hi! Remember me?!?!?!” In many of these emails I remind people that I’ll be coming back in the summer of 2019 and will be job hunting. If you haven’t networked or kept in contact with people, start with friends and family members. Let them know you are looking—be as specific as possible regarding what you are looking for. See who they know.

In addition, I updated my LinkedIn profile regularly to show contacts, recruiters, and potential employers that I am still actively tracking the field. If you aren’t familiar with LinkedIn, think of it of a 21st century Rolodex (and if you don’t know what a Rolodex is, hit up Dr. Google). I include articles that are of interest to others in my field and regularly comment on other contacts’ postings. I want them to know I’m still here and have value to add.

While writing this I stumbled upon The Mom Project. Its tag line, “we’re committed to helping women remain active in the workforce in every stage in their journey,” is a LinkedIn-esque website for Fortune 500 companies and women who want to work for them. What a great idea! Time to create a profile.

A Job is a Job: One of my she-ros reminded me that she took an interim job at a retail store after leaving a job without having a new one lined up. She had a very difficult time finding a job that was fit for her, as she is a top brass in her field. For us Type As, that’s a hard one on the ego. But, she said it was one of the best times she had. She successfully balanced part-time work and job hunting/networking. And, money is money; every little bit helps. Especially if you’re facing the chicken/egg conundrum of exorbitant child-care costs.

So I’ve read the advice, I’ve got a plan, and still I am terrified about this search. The statistics are against me getting a job, in my field, at my level, at my salary grade. It drives me insane to know that in the 21st century we are still having to address the penalties of balancing motherhood with the professional world. So, dear reader, wish me luck! I will keep you updated of my search and any other tips I come across. 

I am amazed by, and thankful for, Susan’s article on the biases parents face when they try to re-enter the workforce. Even as I am grief-stricken to learn how much bias is still out there. Even as I wonder, why haven’t more boutique career placement services, organizations like The Mom Project but keyed to geographical or functional economies, popped up to serve the market of women with amazing skills seeking to bring those skills back to the workplace? Good luck, Susan – and keep us informed! And to the rest of you, if you’ve made the leap back into a career and want to share your story, or if you see interesting data about the back-to-work challenges SAHPs face, or if you know of groups seeking to address this gut-punch bias, please, please share it with us! Share the links in the comments here, or stick the articles to our Facebook page


Thank you, Susan, for all of your research. I know it sounds cutesy, but man, it would be great to explain to prospective employers how your multi-tasking abilities improved whilst shopping at Target with toddlers – how you got everything on the list, kept screaming tots amused with dollar bin finds, and managed to have a 30 second conversation with another mom in passing. The next sales meeting with President Cranky Pants will be a walk in the park! My friends who have returned to the workforce after stepping away to raise kids for a while have had a broad range of experiences with getting back in. Some of them more discouraging than others. But, parenthood has shown us how resilient and creative we are – and I look forward to hearing more about your experience, Susan. You’re gonna be someone’s she-ro!

– Julie

Why Did I Agree to This? Unique opportunities, and challenges of being a spouse and a mom in a military culture

Today I’m thrilled to introduce our first guest author, Susan Silverman, kicking off a series of articles on some of the particular challenges of combining parent, careering and military service . A highly educated and well-traveled individual (not to mention a friend from my American University days), Susan served for a decade as a U.S. Department of Defense consultant before taking time off in support of her family. (For a longer bio, check out our bios page.) Now she’s learning the balance between being a spouse, mother, and individual, all the while residing in the United Kingdom and touring Europe, binging on the latest “X-Files” episodes, and figuring out her future adventures. Despite 10 years working as a civilian for the DoD, her immersion into U.S. military culture as what that institution still terms a ‘dependent spouse’ has contained some real surprises, which she shares with us in this article that gives a glimpse into the perspective of someone peeking into the establishment from the outside.



Why Did I Agree to This? Unique opportunities, and challenges of being a spouse and a mom in a military culture

by Susan Silverman

Since university, I have been set on being a career woman in the international affairs world. Sure, the path has not been straight—whose has—but my career has always been at the center of my personal dartboard. Being a wife and mother were not impossible roles but not ones I conscientiously dreamed of.

That said, I made it a goal to be professionally and financially secure before I married or had a child. During my pregnancy, my husband received a fantastic offer to work for the U.S. military at a base in the United Kingdom. We could not turn this three-year opportunity down. Because every child needs to be exposed to the Beatles, the royal establishment, and socialized medicine.

At that time, I agreed to be a stay-at-home-mum (SAHM) with the hope of working remotely. I had this whole vision of getting the best of both worlds: balancing feedings, nappy changes, and the early days of my daughter with the satisfaction of meeting the daily needs of my clients. Unfortunately, it turned out I could not take the job with me. Nevertheless, we believed this opportunity would allow us to tour Europe and have more time to be a family together. Our daughter, LB, would get experiences and our—both my husband’s and my—time, two things experts say are the most important things for children.

Before I continue I need to state that I agreed to this life for our family. I could not allow such a wonderful professional opportunity to pass my husband by. I loved my career as a Department of Defense consultant; I felt I was making a difference that mattered for those in the military and had colleagues that I truly respected. But we had the ability for me to forego working and raise our daughter for three years without feeling financial constrained—a blessing that very few families in the United States, especially Washington, DC, have—so I chose this path for my family.

We moved to the UK in September 2016. Quickly, I realized I was a foreigner in two ways: to the overseas U.S. military culture and to the British child rearing ways (the latter I will not address in this posting). And from that day on, I was a nobody. The identity I have had for so long evaporated. I was only thought of as my “husbands’s wife” or “LB’s mother”—nothing more. I became part of a no-man’s land of professional women: those successful professional women trying to balance work and motherhood, who ultimately have to sacrifice their vision of one to survive. In my case, I gave up my professional identity.

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