When you’ve been “off work” for a year, three years, or a decade, returning to the workforce is daunting.

As an executive recruiter, I’m often asked the best approaches to transition back to work successfully. I decided it’s time to write how to go from stay-at-home mom to professional (again). This is an updated version of a post I wrote several months ago as well as a new download. Click here to grab the guideChecklist_--Stay-At-Home-2-2016-checklist

Clarify your motives.

Honesty in the best policy in life and it’s the very best approach here. Be honest with yourself regarding why this is necessary. Your motives set the tone for the remaining eleven steps. If you’re going back to work simply because you need to the money to pay for your kids’ insanely expensive college tuitions, feel free to skip to step five. If you wish to build a life based on your purpose or at least enjoy work (for you), please read word for word.

Give some thought to your passion.

At this moment, you have a golden opportunity to focus on your passion and dreams. The best places to start is The First Thing To Do When You Want to Change Careers and 4 Must Do’s To Fulfill Your Purpose. Take some time to evaluate what makes you truly happy. Make a list of what drives you and cite specific criteria regarding your must-haves, nice-to-haves, and really-nice-to-haves. Don’t be concerned about how you’ll make it happen. Just figure out the “what” first. You can also check out How to Figure Out Your Purpose in Life in Fewer Than 600 Words and 7 Signs You Found Your Purpose.

Determine your short-term options.

Let’s speed up the process. You have three options. You can return to whatever profession you held previously, start a new profession with a company, or start your own company. Everything else falls into those classifications if you desire compensation in exchange for your time. Don’t laugh at the third option. It might be the most sensible option for many.

Take steps toward your dreams.

This is different than giving some thought to your passion. Once you know “what” you’d like to do, narrow your research and efforts toward people, companies, volunteer opportunities, and other avenues that put you on track to get there. This is the “how” part. You don’t need the entire formula. You just need to see the first step and I just gave it to you. Take a peek at What to Do When You Can’t Get the Job You Want. Don’t let the title fool you. This is essentially where you are if you look at a map. If you have a longer attention span or appetite for this sort of thing, read Out of Reach but in Sight: Using Goals to Achieve Your Impossible.

Brush Up.

If you decide to return to your previous profession, brush up. It’s literally that simple. Been gone for ten or twelve years? No problem. You’re smart. You’re reading this blog post, so you know what a website is and how to Google stuff. You’ll be amazed at what a few keyword searches will do. Seek current books, blogs, and whatever other resources you can find related to your field. Dive in. You can also take training or certification classes if applicable.

Organize and build your network.

Unless you’ve been a recluse and avoided every parent-teacher conference, you have a network and I’m sure it’s better than you think it is. Assemble your contacts in some organized fashion. Pull together your Facebook friends, LinkedIn contacts (join if you’re not yet using the site), kids’ friends’ parents and so forth. Pay attention to who does what where (I meant for work not as the town gossip). Look for ways for your connections to help you. This is not a time to be bashful. You’ll be amazed at how willing people are to help. See How to Build Your Professional Network and You’re Only as Strong as Your Network—4 Keys to Building Relationships.

Update your resume.

I’ve written several articles on this subject and I strongly suggest checking out How To Build The Ultimate Professional Resume. It comes with a template you can fill in and video instructions. I know what you’re thinking. Yes. Highlight the activities you did while you were away from the workforce. If those activities were part-time, employment-related, place them toward the top (reverse chronological order with most recent on top). If they were volunteer-related, place them toward the bottom of the resume. It’s extremely important to emphasize any activities such as Parent Teacher Organization or other programs in which you were involved.

Build your LinkedIn profile.

This activity is worth its own section. Fill in everything you possibly can and use the site to research companies and relationships you might have with current or former employees of those (target) companies. It’s easy to find your former coworkers. You can also find those long-lost college friends. Heck, you can in some cases even find you old high school chums. Check out The Anatomy of a Top 1% Most Viewed LinkedIn Profile. And, make sure to connect with me if you haven’t already. I have a huge network, which means you’re only a click and an email away from someone who can likely help you.

Read Interview Intervention.

You’ll need to know how to interview for a job. Even those who’ve never taken time away from the corporate grind don’t interview often. Learn the most effective way to interview. I give it away. For free. Click here for instant access. Click here if you want to browse. WARNING: This is an actual book. Attention span required.

Target companies.

Whether you just need a job, just want any job, or want to pursue your dream career, you’ll have much better luck if you target desirable companies. “Desirable” is debatable, but you need to cite opportunities giving you the best chance for success. This means you’re identifying opportunities with companies where you have a personal relationship with someone who can help get you in the door or the company has a need for someone like you. Otherwise, you need to be willing to do whatever necessary to work at a company that supports your calling!


I love when I can make an entire sentence out of one word. Yay. This is one of the very best ways to get connected and it’s simple to find volunteer opportunities. You meet great people. Some of these volunteers will be corporate executives. Others will have spouses who might be influential. If nothing comes of this, you can take solace in the fact you did some good.

Discuss with your spouse.

Obvious, right? No. Agree what your ideal situation looks like. Agree what an acceptable situation looks like. This becomes even more complicated in situations when you’re divorced or separated. The point is to make sure you know what your success factors and limitations are. Most importantly, make sure you support each other during this big change!

You can find many more helpful articles on the blog such as the Art of a Successful Job Search and more!

As always, I’d like to hear from you: Any other suggestions?

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Want more advanced material? Join the milewalk Academy and grab some of the free offerings that support the instruction in this post!