Few events can make you reassess your life like having a baby. Suddenly, all of the choices you make are doubly important, because someone special is counting on you. Having a job is directionless now; you want a career with a future to provide stability for your growing family. You also want to be happy. "New moms must believe they can have a job they love that does not diminish their significant relationships," says Sharon Givens at Visions Counseling and Career Center in Columbia, South Carolina. "The critical concept is work-life satisfaction." Finding that balance means taking time to evaluate yourself and the current job market.
That perfect career may not be down a completely different road for you. "Don't close your mind off to where you were before," advises Colleen Smith, a licensed professional counselor at Insight Coaching and Counseling in Reston, Virginia. "People have usually established some depth in the field they were in before they had children," she says. "This could potentially have the biggest financial payoff." Additionally, the quality you need most when you have a baby in your life – flexibility – is usually better achieved with people who are familiar with you. "Companies often respond well when approached with alternative arrangements."
If moving forward is your best option, take personal inventory. "There are three key elements that must be considered when choosing a career," says Givens. "Those are your interests, your values and your skill set." The right career is about more than money and a benefits package, though those are important, too. Assessment tests can help pinpoint career fields that will both satisfy you and complement your family needs and personal ideals. Jean Hungerpiller, a career counselor at Horry Georgetown Technical College in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, says, "We have tests our students can take such as the Strong Interest Inventory, which relates a person's interest to careers." The Meyers Briggs Test, developed by a mother/daughter team based on the personality theories of C.G. Jung, is another she recommends.
Examine your expectations. Pamela Middleton, director of counseling and career development services at Trident Technical College in Charleston, South Carolina, believes in being pragmatic. "I encourage a prospective student to identify her work values and other key information, such as: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Are you a practical or academic learner? Do you plan to live in the area? Are you willing to travel? What salary are you hoping to earn? Is that realistic?" Determine whether continuing your education is a necessary step. If it is, think about how long it will take to complete your education, how you'll afford it and how you'll handle child care.
The difference between what you imagine a career being like and the reality may surprise you. This is why Givens suggests exploring before making a commitment. "Find out the details and availability of positions," she says. "Talk with someone who is doing that job, particularly a mother." She also recommends participating in job-shadowing: follow someone in the career you're interested in for several days or weeks to get a real, day-to-day viewpoint of the job from the inside. This sneak peek may be the final determining factor in whether you take that career path or you head back to the drawing board.
When you're ready, it's time to get the word out. "Tell everyone you know you're looking for work," stresses Smith. "If you don't have a LinkedIn profile, get one. Recruiters do use LinkedIn." Carol Cohen, CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch, organizes workshops, virtual boot camps and conferences for those returning to the workforce. Network with other mothers looking for work; they may stumble upon an opportunity they need to pass on but would work for you. Even in the electronic age, "you can't replace old-fashioned networking," says Smith. "Tell your hairdresser, your nail lady, your postman, doctor, receptionists, all the people who come into contact with other people because they hear things. Practice your "elevator speech" so you can tell someone what you're looking for and what you have to offer in four sentences."