The summer after my oldest daughter’s freshman year of high school, I had a mini identity crisis when I suddenly realized my kids weren’t going to need me forever. I’d been a stay-at-home mom for 15 years and had no idea what I wanted to do or even could do. For years I had been fully focused on my kids, and my former life as an ad agency copywriter and freelance writer were distant memories. “You need to get it together,” I told myself. And I did, landing a writing position at a Fortune 100 company (Target!) – with just a handful of current writing samples, no idea how to use Outlook, and almost no experience interviewing. Getting the job felt like a freaking miracle, and entering corporate America for the first time at age 43 (!!) was both daunting and empowering.
But I did it, and you can too. Here are a few tips.
Get some experience - it’s not as hard as you think
I hadn’t worked in years, so before I started applying for jobs, I did some freelance writing for our local newspaper. It happened almost by accident: I had an idea for a story and emailed the editor. She liked the idea and suggested I write and submit it. I did, they published it, and that led to many more writing assignments. Without those published articles, I’m not sure I would have been considered for any jobs, since my other published writing samples were ancient. If you’re in the same boat, try getting current experience however you can. It doesn’t matter how small the project or organization. You don’t have to get paid for it. Just get out there and do something in the area you’re looking to get back into. Try volunteering your time at your kids’ school or reaching out to small companies or nonprofit organizations and offer to help them out. You’d be surprised by how many will say yes. (I recently did this myself - I reached out to a nonprofit organization in Seattle that really touched my heart, and I’ve been working with them doing pro bono writing for the past few months.)
Get your family on board
Going back to work will impact your whole family. Make sure they’re fully on board because it’s going to be a big adjustment and will mean more work for them. A friend with an intense career who has three kids told me that her husband, a professor, does more than 50 percent of the work when it comes to taking care of the kids and the house – and that for them, this division of labor was the only way to manage their crazy schedule. I shared this with my husband and made sure he was up for it. (He was, and his awesome support made the transition much smoother for all of us.)
Get the inside scoop from friends and connections
A friend of mine worked at Target headquarters, so before I applied for the job I reached out to her and asked a million questions. She helped prep me for my interviews by explaining how the company was structured and what the company’s culture was like. She also gave me advice on what to wear. (Three separate days of interviews meant three interview outfits! Stressful!)
If you know someone at a company you’re interested in, reach out to them and offer to take them to coffee or lunch. They can provide valuable insight and will likely be very happy to do so. Have good questions ready and be respectful of their time.
Give it six months
I was very nervous about the thought of working full time and how it might impact my three daughters. I was also afraid it might turn out to be a huge mistake. The same friend who told me to make sure my husband was on board also gave me a piece of advice that saved me. “Give it six months,” she said. That’s enough time to get over the hump and truly assess if it’s right for you. And if it’s not, you can leave. Six months felt very doable. Knowing it didn’t have to be permanent if it truly wasn’t right gave me the freedom to move forward.
The job I applied for and landed was a perfect fit for me, but it was also at a lower level than most people my age. And it was fine. Since starting that first job seven years ago, I have switched companies, been promoted several times, and doubled my initial salary.
Ask for help and Google like crazy
If you’ve been out of the workforce for any amount of time, you’re going to have a learning curve. An embarrassing example for me was when my boss asked me to pull together a best practices document for a project I was working on. I literally did not know what a best practices document was. But I googled it, figured it out, and got it done. Sometimes asking for help or asking questions is the right approach. And sometimes you just need to figure it out yourself.
Nancy Brandt is a Twin Cities copywriter and editor who spent years in corporate communications at both Target and 3M. She now spends her days writing, editing, brainstorming, and collaborating with companies of all sizes. She also helps high school students find their voice when writing their college application essays and does pro bono work for several nonprofits. Find Nancy at NancyBWriting.com or follow her on Instagram.