August is here and the highways are filling with SUVs packed ceiling-high with bedding, lamps, mini-fridges, duffle bags, headphone-sporting 18 year-olds and Kleenex-clutching parents. It’s college drop-off time and, for many families, a new era is being ushered in: the Empty Nest.
According to workplace consultants Susan Rietano Davey and Kelley Biskupiak, the independence of an empty nest is one of the most common career re-entry points for women who opted out of the workplace to raise the children they’re now dropping off. “But now that the time is right for these women to get back in the game, they don’t know where to begin,” said Biskupiak. “They’ve spent, in some cases, over 20 years being the visionaries for everyone else, and they’ve forgotten how to be the visionaries for their own lives.”
That’s where the partners’ new business can help. Prepare to Launch U is an online course that arms women with the training and tools necessary for a successful career re-launch.
Davey became an empty-nester this month when her fourth and youngest child left home for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She should have been prepared; in the past 20 years, hundreds of women-clients have come to her feeling unhinged after their youngest child departed for college, so she knew what to expect. “Back when my four were little, I promised myself I would not let myself become one of those empty-nesters who falls apart,” said Davey. “I have my business, my hobbies, many community connections; I would be fine.”
But she wasn’t. “The fact is, for me and for many, being mom is the best job we’ve ever had and losing it – at least in the day-to-day sense – feels, as one client described it to me, ‘like getting a big, fat pink slip,’” said Davey.
Once that car is unloaded, the student moved in, and the goodbyes said, emotions can really run the gamut. Some women feel excited to finally have time to focus on themselves. Others feel wistful for the past and nervous about the future. Most feel some combination of both – and the resourceful ones will use these emotions as fuel to propel themselves forward, very often back to work.
It isn’t easy, though. Decades after the female ‘brain-drain’ epidemic was first reported and workplaces began adopting flexible work policies to retain their female talent, bias against résumé gaps and unconventional career trajectories still exists. Couple that with the fact that many aspiring career-returners start out feeling defeated, fully expecting rejection as ‘punishment’ for taking years off, and the picture isn’t so pretty. However, assert Biskupiak and Davey, the reality is that these women are absolutely employable, if they’re willing to put in the effort to prepare and market themselves.
Having worked for two decades placing women back to work, Davey knows this for a fact. “I’ve personally witnessed hundreds of women find fulfilling work after decades out of the workplace. Many of them end up in new careers that far eclipse the stature and success of their prior careers,” she said. Some things make it easier, of course, like keeping up with industry trends, staying current with certifications and licensure, and maintaining relationships with old clients and co-workers. But, she insists, even women with skill deficiencies and lapsed credentials can successfully return to work if they have these five things:
1 – realistic expectations based on thorough research and honest self-assessment
2 – a compelling résumé that meaningfully accounts for their opt-out years
3 – a commitment to remediating skill gaps on the job or through inexpensive means like online or local continuing ed courses
4 – aggressive networking to get in front of connectors and hiring managers
5 – flexibility and the willingness to consider unconventional offerings like temporary projects or low-paying internships as a way to get a foot in the door.
‘Returners’ come to the workplace with a renewed energy and passion for work; they are an eager, stable workforce with finely honed professional experience, valuable community experience and many work years ahead of them. Employers looking for effective hiring strategies to address the tight labor market are starting to pay attention. “Given the growing shortage of good labor and the fact that ‘returners’ are recognized in the aggregate as excellent hires, we expect to see opportunities really open up for women returning to work in the next year,” said Davey. So, after the SUVs have made the solemn trip home from State U and are parked back in the much less cluttered garage, Biskupiak and Davey urge moms to see the emptiness as an opportunity. “Take a deep breath, reach out to some old colleagues or clients, and begin exploring and assessing what might be next for you,” said Biskupiak. And, as one of Davey’s friends wrote to her as she made the long drive home from West Point, “Think of yourself as a ‘free bird’ now, not an ‘empty nester’.”
Susan Rietano Davey and Kelley Biskupiak are partners in the employment consulting firm, Prepare to Launch, LLC. An online version of their popular return-to-work seminar, Prepare to Launch U, goes live on October 1, 2018. Full details and enrollment information can be found at www.preparetolaunchu.com.