Read the empowering career story of this homemaker who is trying hard to return to the workforce — but a 26-year employment gap and lack of college degree stand in her way. Also included are the suggestions and resources from the Quintessential Careers team — for this job-seeker and any other job-seeker facing a similar situation.
by KC, as told to Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
A stay-at-home mom for 26 years, Atlanta-born “KC” just turned 50 and seeks a job. “I’m not just looking for something to do,” she says. “Putting four kids through college has left us in severe financial trouble. Getting a job is a must!”
Growing up, all KC wanted to be was a mom. “That’s all. Just a mom who stayed home with her children and created a good and comfortable home for my family.” She’s not sure why that ambition was so strong for her. “My mom worked full-time, so it wasn’t from watching her. Maybe [it was] because I wished she was at home with me,” KC muses.
Her ambition paid off because KC considers her family her proudest accomplishment. “When my children were growing up,” KC notes, “I would ask them occasionally if they would like me to go back to work so they could have more. Their answer was always a resounding NO. They still tell me they have no regrets and wouldn’t have changed a thing.”
After starting her first job as a file clerk in a local hospital, KC moved on to a six-month stint in the facility’s Human Resources Department while the regular employee was on maternity leave. By the time she left her hospital employment, KC had become the cashier. She then became a clerk at a worker’s compensation company, later returning to healthcare work at another hospital where she was an admissions clerk. Next, KC served as a clerk in an insurance company, leaving that job after two years when her husband was transferred out of state, and she began working a variety of clerical and receptionist jobs for a temporary agency. Leaving that job after two years for the birth of her first child, KC spent the next 26 years taking care of her home and family.
The Duluth, GA, homemaker recognizes the difficulty of her current situation, though. “When you send out a resume that has a 26-year gap, you are lucky if you can even get an interview, let alone an offer.” Her educational limitations also present obstacles. “The fact that I didn’t go to college is killing me. At the time that I graduated from high school, it wasn’t common for girls to go to college. Granted, it was getting more so, but wasn’t important to my parents or to me at the time.”
That’s why KC’s advice to others is: “Get that college degree! I wouldn’t change a thing about being a stay-at-home mom, so I would never advise against that, but do something – no matter how small – to keep your skills up to date. There are so many options to telecommute these days that it would be easy to do while being a full-time mom.” KC has herself looked into telecommuting, but has not found anything yet. “I have found tons of ‘work at home’ jobs, but they want a check from me first.”
KC would still like to get a degree and has looked into doing so and discussed the prospect with her husband. “We feel that I need to get a job first, then go to school part-time. If I could find a decent-paying part-time job, I would go back now,” she says.
With a college degree seemingly unattainable at the moment, KC has worked to develop her skills so she’ll be ready for the workforce. “I have kept up with current technology; it’s hard not to with two Georgia Tech grads in your house and two current Tech students!” she says. “I have recently taken a class on Excel and love to learn new software.”
Currently, KC seeks administrative assistant, clerical, and receptionist jobs. “I have used all the Web-based job boards (CareerBuilder, HotJobs, etc),” she says. “I have also used the local newspaper and have networked with friends who know of open positions.” She has also signed up with several placement agencies and temp agencies, but has received no response from any of them.
If she could do anything she wanted to, KC, an artist and seamstress, would love to own her own company. “Even working for a company helping to develop new craft products or patterns would be a dream,” she says. Creativity is a cornerstone of her life. “I would love to have a job using my creativity. I always have projects going on,” she says. “If I have a day where I can’t be creative, I feel lost.” KC feels that working at home would be wonderful. “I do custom sewing, embroidery, etc., now, but I can’t make enough money doing it,” she says. “Other than that, I would be happy doing just about anything other than collections and sales.”
It’s not for lack of trying that KC has not succeeded in finding a job that uses her creativity. “I have looked into jobs that would allow me to work in a creative environment, but anything I have found requires a degree,” KC laments. “I have sent unsolicited resumes to companies in the area that would have that kind of work.”
We suggest that KC:
- Ensure that her resume is the best it can be and effectively showcases not only the transferable skills gained from homemaking, but also the technical skills she is learning. Be sure the resume de-emphasizes the 26-year employment gap and lack of degree. Consider investing in a professional resume writer. See our Resume and CV Resources for Job-Seekers, as well as our article, Strategic Portrayal of Transferable Job Skills is a Vital Job-Search Technique.
- Be sure to follow up all job possibilities. KC mentions signing up with temp/staffing agencies, applying for jobs advertised in the newspaper and on the Web, and sending out unsolicited resumes. She needs to make sure she is following up on all those possibilities, not just sitting back and waiting for things to happen. See our article, Follow Up All Job Leads: Don’t Wait by the Phone (or Computer).
- Step up networking efforts. KC says she’s networking, and that’s great. But she says she’s networked with friends who know of open positions. She needs to network with virtually everyone to uncover jobs that may not be advertised. A fantastic technique for her to try is informational interviewing. A subset of networking, information interviewing will provide more exposure to her desired field and more contacts for her network. She may meet an employer while informationally interviewing who would be willing to hire her. More likely, she’ll gain information that will help her develop a strategy for breaking into the field. She’ll discover exactly what she needs to do to get someone to hire her. Find out how to do informational interviews in our Informational Interviewing Tutorial.
- Be sure to devote sufficient time to job-hunting. Many experts suggest that the job search needs to be a full-time job. Certainly KC should devote as much time as she can to her job search.
- Don’t waste too much time looking into work-at-home jobs. As KC has learned, many – if not most – of these jobs are scams. A better approach would be to get a regular job first, and then once she’s established, KC could investigate a telecommuting arrangement. See our article, Making Your Case for Telecommuting: How to Convince the Boss.
- Consider obtaining a part-time volunteer position while job hunting. KC could look into unpaid jobs at her church or community organizations and build her resume, make networking contacts, polish her skills, and obtain references while looking for a paid position. See our article, Volunteering Can Open Doors to a New Career.
- Consider looking for a clerical job in a college or university so she could get tuition benefits and get her degree.
- As a first step to perhaps working for herself, KC could buy a domain name and set up a Web site with photos that show off her creative skills in custom sewing and embroidery. Maybe one of her Georgia Tech offspring could help her with the site or knows someone who could. Find some Web-publishing resources in our article Web Resources Page for Job-Seeker Web-based Resumes and see our section of Entrepreneur & Business Start-Up Tools and Resources. Another good source is Dr. Randall Hansen’s article, Tips for Starting a Small-Business Website: 5 Steps to an Online Presence.
- Another possible business venture for KC might be to offer lessons to teach others her craft and needlework skills, perhaps as part of an adult/continuing-education program.
- KC could investigate teaching preschool. These jobs often don’t require a degree, and KC’s parenting experience certainly gives her a leg up. She might even be able to teach creative arts and crafts at the preschool level to feed her passions. Substitute teaching also sometimes doesn’t require a college degree.
Read more Empowering Stories.