How to Re-enter the Workforce for Fathers

It’s becoming more common, but it’s still considered a bit of a rarity: the stay-at-home dad. The numbers have gone up each year recently as more men discover the joy of being the primary caregiver for their child(ren). And when the time comes, many of them only reluctantly agree to return to the workforce.

But that’s when the hard work begins. Most professional and parenting groups agree that it can be more difficult to re-enter the workforce for fathers, simply because of the stigma that still clings to it. Some employees view it as odd, strange, unusual, and downright suspicious for a man to choose family over career.

While You’re Still the Stay-at-Home Dad

Successfully re-joining the work world often starts well before you actually decide to do so. You can help yourself down the road with a few simple ideas:

·         Start working part-time as soon as your child is a little older. Reducing the employment gap as much as possible will only help your eventual full-time job search, and finding a part-time position after only a year or two away shouldn’t be too difficult. You could also explore freelance or consulting possibilities as well.

·         Volunteer while staying home. Find things that broaden and hone your skills, but be selective. Ladling out soup for the homeless is noble and an excellent use of your time, but it does nothing for your resume or skills if you were a marketing manager. Volunteering to develop the promotional campaign for the soup kitchen’s upcoming fundraiser, however, is a win for you and the kitchen. You can list these experiences on your resume under “Volunteer Work” or “Community Experience”.  

·         Take night or online courses to expand your skills and knowledge.

·         Maintain memberships in professional or industry associations whenever possible. You get to stay in the loop even while out of the office. News, trends, and your name is still out there in the directory. Attend networking events and conferences if possible.

·         Keep on top of technological developments. You’ll need to know how to use the latest computers, programs, devices, and software. Again, you could take an online course or join an “intro to” service at your local library.

When You’re Ready to Return

Once you’ve made the decision to return to the workforce full-time, you need to get your name and resume out there.

·         Reach out to your former colleagues and connections. Let them know you’re actively looking for a position. Returning to your old company, or getting an introduction with a new one from a shared connection, is infinitely easier than starting cold as a stranger. Use your connections, both old and new (you can still meet people while the primary caregiver...other parents, local businesses, and so on).

·         Update your resume with the relevant volunteer work and training you did while formally out of the workforce. Write a professional cover letter (nothing cutesy about being the household “manager” or “supervising an unruly staff of two”. If you want to mention that you were a stay at home dad, do so, clearly explaining your reasons for making that decision).

·         Be prepared to talk about it (to be grilled, in fact). HR managers and interviewers will have questions. There is a lot of mistrust about it (are you lazy? Unemployable? Socially awkward?). Don’t get defensive. Have a well-considered answer to the question of why you decided to stay home for x number of years. And be sure to state explicitly your commitment to rejoin the working world full-time. 

·         Refresh yourself on the industry news and trends BEFORE heading out to look for a position. Do your homework. Research specific companies.

·         Consider entrepreneurship. The cold, hard reality is that it’s not easy for anyone to find a new position, and having that “strike” against you may make it very difficult. Keep at it, but also explore opportunities for going it alone. It just might be the best choice.

It’s hard for anyone to re-enter the workforce after an extended absence, but fathers do seem to face more suspicion and derision. Be prepared for it. Keep sharpening, honing, and improving your skills during your time away, and good things are bound to happen...even if it takes a while.  

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Photo Credit: Matt Reinbold

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