How to Make a Successful Career Transition After Motherhood: Your 5-Step Guide to a Thriving Professional Comeback

Jun 23, 2023

Just because you’ve been a full-time mom doesn’t mean your professional aspirations need to take a back seat. When the opportunity to re-enter the workforce presents itself, you may be surprised at how much you’ve grown and how much potential you possess.

I’ve seen this incredible transformation in countless women I’ve coached, and one success story is Jessica, a successful sustainability specialist and my former client. She transitioned from full-time mom to a successful career, exemplifying that the journey of motherhood can beautifully evolve into a professional comeback.

Not long ago, Jessica was treading the murky waters of uncertainty, unsure how to re-enter the workforce after dedicating two years to raising her children. Her initial fears were mirrored in the eyes of many women I’ve met — the fear of being ‘out of touch,’ the fear of balancing work and family, and the looming question, “Do I still have valuable skills to offer?

What she didn’t realize then was that her journey as a mother had equipped her with a versatile skill set, a formidable resilience, and a profound ability to make a significant professional comeback.

With determination, the right guidance, and a little courage, Jessica overcame these fears, discovered what makes her come alive, and carved a successful career as a sustainability specialist. She transformed her narrative from ‘just a mom’ to an impactful professional, influencing change and promoting sustainability.

But how did she do it? What steps did she take to navigate this complex journey? And more importantly, how can you replicate her success?

In this article, I will unpack the 5 critical steps Jessica and countless other women have followed to forge their professional comebacks after motherhood. I invite you to dive into this guide, whether you’re a mom contemplating a career transition, a woman looking for a career that fuels you, or simply someone in need of inspiration. This is not just a story about a career transition; it’s a story about reinvention, resilience, and realizing that it’s never too late to pursue what truly fuels you. Come along and discover the road map to finding a career where you’ll thrive.

Step 1: Find Work that Fuels You

Motherhood is undoubtedly one of the most demanding jobs in the world, and transitioning back into the professional world can be equally challenging. It’s essential to find work that fuels your spirit, that kindles the inner fire within you rather than depletes you. As a mother, you’ve spent years putting others’ needs ahead of your own. Now, it’s your time – time to rediscover your interests, identify what you naturally do best, and invest in what truly lights you up.

I remember clearly when Jessica first stepped into our coaching sessions. She initially struggled with the idea of finding work that was meaningful to her, something more than just a job to pay the bills. Like many mothers, she was so accustomed to focusing on the needs of others that it took some time for her to reconnect with her personal interests.

To start this process, Jessica began by identifying her interests and passions. She realized that the moments that lit her up weren’t connected to her previous job as an accountant but instead were centered around sustainable living practices. Jessica found joy in learning about and sharing knowledge on sustainability, environmental conservation, and how our everyday choices impact the world around us.

To find a career that will energize you and light you up, you need to start with a deep dive into who you are and what you truly want.

Consider the following prompts to help you explore what fuels you:

  1. Assess Your Interests: Write down what you love doing, what topics you’re passionate about, what books you can’t put down, or what documentaries captivate your attention. This could be anything – cooking, technology, gardening, fashion, or even chess.
  2. Reflect on Your Values: Ask yourself what values are important to you. Do you value creativity, autonomy, collaboration, or service to others? Your core values should align with the work you do.
  3. Identify Your Strengths: Think about what you are naturally good at. Are you an excellent communicator, a great organizer, or a creative thinker? Identifying your natural strengths can guide you toward a job that will be a good fit.
  4. Think about the Impact: Consider the type of impact you want to have on the world or the legacy you’d like to leave. Do you want to make the world a greener place, like Jessica? Or perhaps you wish to help others in a meaningful way?

In Jessica’s case, she recognized that her biggest interest lay in sustainability and making a positive impact on the environment. It was a subject that she could spend hours engrossed in without feeling drained. So, she decided to steer her career in that direction.

Finding work that aligns with your interests and values is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. It is the fuel that keeps you going, especially when balancing work and family life. When your career resonates with what is genuinely important to you, it provides a level of fulfillment and satisfaction that goes beyond the financial reward.

And it’s not just about the job itself; the environment and culture of the workplace are equally important. You want to ensure that your chosen career path offers a work-life balance, respects your personal commitments, and also provides a salary that matches your needs. Look for organizations that value their employees as whole humans, not just as workers—ones that offer flexibility, understand familial commitments, and pay enough to afford quality childcare.

Step 2: Recognize the Transferable Skills You’ve Gained Throughout Motherhood

Many women underestimate the array of skills they’ve gained through motherhood. It’s like an intensive, on-the-job training program that hones transferable skills that are in high demand in the corporate world. From multitasking and time management to conflict resolution, negotiation, and emotional intelligence, these skills often go unrecognized, mainly because we tend not to think of them in a professional context.

Take Jessica, for example. When she first started contemplating a return to work, she worried that her years out of the workforce had left her without relevant skills. But as we dug deeper and unpacked her experiences as a mother, it became clear that she had indeed developed a host of valuable skills.

For instance, she was a master organizer and planner, keeping track of her family’s complex schedule. This directly translated to project management skills in a professional context. She was also a skilled negotiator, honed from years of dealing with toddler tantrums, and a capable problem-solver, constantly thinking on her feet to address everyday family challenges.

So, how can you recognize these skills and, more importantly, articulate them in a way that makes them relevant to the corporate world?

Here are 5 transferable skills, along with examples of how to communicate them:

  • Time Management: You could say, “During my time as a stay-at-home mother, I managed a dynamic family schedule, balancing the needs of multiple people, appointments, meals, and household chores. This allowed me to develop effective time management skills, which I believe will serve me well in managing project timelines and tasks in a corporate setting.”
  • Problem-Solving: An example might be, “In my role as a mother, unexpected problems often arose. Whether it was a sudden illness or a last-minute change in my child’s school schedule, I quickly devised solutions to keep everything running smoothly. I can bring this same quick-thinking and problem-solving ability to address business challenges.”
  • Communication: You could mention, “Communicating effectively with children of different ages and adults from various backgrounds, including teachers and healthcare providers, has honed my communication skills. I am confident in my ability to communicate complex information in an accessible way, foster open dialogue, and build strong relationships within a team.”
  • Adaptability: An example might be, “Managing the unpredictability of family life has taught me to be adaptable and flexible. I can easily pivot in response to changing circumstances, an ability that would allow me to thrive in a dynamic corporate environment and adapt quickly to changing business needs.”
  • Leadership and Management: You could say, “As the main organizer and decision-maker in my household, I’ve had to lead and manage various family and household activities. This has equipped me with valuable leadership skills. I understand how to delegate tasks, make decisions under pressure, and oversee projects to completion. These skills can be directly applied to managing a team or overseeing business projects.”

Once you’ve identified your transferable skills, it’s essential to highlight these skills in your resume, LinkedIn profile, and job interviews. Instead of saying, “I took a break to raise my children,” you might say, “After a career hiatus where I honed my skills in project management and conflict resolution, I’m now excited to apply these skills in a professional setting.”

Motherhood doesn’t create a skills gap; instead, it provides an opportunity to acquire and refine a wealth of skills. Jessica, by recognizing her transferable skills, was able to confidently market herself as a sustainability specialist. By doing the same, you can demonstrate your value to potential employers, highlighting the unique blend of skills you bring to the table.

Step 3: Tell Your Personal Brand Story

One of the most powerful tools at your disposal is your personal brand story. Framing your experiences in a way that resonates with potential employers can make you stand out from the crowd – because your narrative is unique, and no one else can tell your story the way you can.

For Jessica, the task was to tie together her experiences as an accountant, a mother, and her interest in sustainability in a compelling narrative.

Let’s break down the process of drafting your personal brand story. How can you turn your distinct experiences into a compelling narrative that appeals to hiring managers?

1. Gain clarity on your career goal: Begin by defining your career goal as described in Step 1.

Jessica identified her career goal as: “I seek opportunities where I can utilize my analytical and problem-solving skills to implement sustainable practices and drive environmental stewardship and responsible practices within an organization.”

2. Find your brilliance: Identify your unique blend of skills, strengths, and interests—your brilliance. Consider external input, a career coach, or assessments if you find this part challenging. Knowing your brilliance sets a solid foundation for your personal brand story.

Jessica found her brilliance to be: “I balance financial expertise with a passion for sustainability, and excel in creative problem-solving for environmental challenges.

3. Tell your story through the lens of your brilliance: Showcase examples of your past accomplishments that highlight your brilliance. Make your narrative resonate with hiring managers by framing your experiences through your unique skills and strengths.

One example of Jessica’s accomplishments is: “As a stay-at-home mom, I noticed an alarming amount of waste being produced by our household, contributing to environmental pollution. I took the initiative to conduct a thorough waste audit of our home, identifying the major sources of waste and devising a comprehensive recycling and composting plan. I also introduced the family to more sustainable products and practices and started a home garden. Within six months, I reduced our household waste by 60%, increased our recycling rate to 80%, and through composting and gardening, we sustainably grew 30% of our own vegetables during the summer.”

4. Connect the dots: Combine your career goals, brilliance, and past experiences into a cohesive personal brand story. Connect your past roles to your future goals, emphasizing your unique value proposition. This powerful narrative should resonate with hiring managers, distinguishing you from other candidates.

And here is Jessica’s Personal Brand after she connected the dots: “From confidently navigating financial complexities as an accountant to reducing household waste by 60% as a dedicated mother, I’ve honed my problem-solving skills and adaptability. Now, merging my financial acumen and commitment to sustainability, I’m uniquely positioned to champion sustainable practices and drive environmental stewardship within an organization.”

Crafting your personal brand story is a powerful way to take control of your professional narrative and make you memorable and relatable, adding depth to your professional image. By doing this, you’re not just another candidate, you’re a unique professional with a clear sense of purpose and direction.

Step 4: Focus on Networking

Networking is a secret weapon for non-traditional candidates seeking to return to the professional world. It provides access to a world of opportunities, exposes you to individuals in your field of interest, and allows you to build valuable relationships. Networking might seem daunting initially, but like Jessica, you’ll soon discover its immense potential in propelling your career transition.

It’s important to remember that the objective of networking is not to solicit job offers directly but rather to gain insights, seek advice, and build relationships. In fact, a golden rule of networking is to always ask for advice and never for a job outright. This approach allows you to build trust, demonstrate your genuine interest in the field, and gain valuable insights, all of which can indirectly lead to job opportunities.

In Jessica’s case, she started by exploring LinkedIn to identify professionals who were engaged in roles she aspired to. With her clear understanding of the types of roles she was interested in, she began to send personalized connection requests.

Here’s a template for sending a connection request, similar to the one Jessica used:

“Hi [Name], I came across your profile, and I’m genuinely impressed by your career path and your passion for [expertise you find interesting] – something I, too, am passionate about. I’d love to connect and learn more about the trends you see in [Industry]. Warmly, [Your Name]”

Once someone accepts your connection request, aim to establish a relationship. Take time to engage with their content, offer your own insights, and express a desire to learn from them. A great way to take this relationship further is by requesting a virtual coffee chat. This is an informal conversation where you get to ask questions, listen actively, and build rapport.

During these virtual coffee chats, Jessica focused on understanding more about their role, the challenges and rewards of their job, and the trends in the sustainability field. She asked thoughtful questions that showed her genuine interest, such as, “What was the most unexpected challenge you faced when transitioning into sustainability?” or “How do you see sustainability practices evolving in the next few years?”

The final and crucial step in this process is to ask for further connections. At the end of each conversation, Jessica would always ask, “Who else would you recommend I speak to in order to deepen my understanding of [industry/role]?” This question was critical in expanding her network and exposing her to more opportunities.

Jessica set herself a tangible goal of holding 3 coffee chats each week, making networking an integral part of her job search strategy. Her network expanded rapidly, opening up new avenues and opportunities. However, what struck her most was the supportive community she found herself a part of. She not only met amazing professionals but also forged friendships and found mentors who took an active interest in her career transition.

Before long, her proactive approach to networking paid off. She started hearing about job opportunities through her new contacts, and some even referred her directly to hiring managers. This direct connection with decision-makers accelerated her job search process significantly and led to several promising job interviews.

As Jessica’s experience demonstrates, networking is a powerful strategy for anyone making a career transition. By focusing on building relationships and seeking advice, you can tap into the hidden job market, receive valuable referrals, and accelerate your job search process. So, leverage your professional and personal networks, and don’t underestimate the power of a genuine conversation over a virtual coffee chat. And keep in mind that networking is a two-way street – as you benefit from others’ knowledge and connections, always look for ways you can give back and support others in their career journey.

Step 5: Negotiate Your Salary

Negotiating your salary can often be an intimidating step, particularly for women returning to the workforce. You may feel uncertain about your worth or hesitate to ask for what you truly deserve. However, keep in mind that you bring a unique set of skills and experiences to the table, and it’s essential to ensure that your compensation reflects your value.

Here’s how Jessica navigated this step and successfully negotiated her salary:

1. Understand Your Market Value: Before heading into negotiations, it’s vital to understand what the market rate is for your targeted role within your industry and location. Use websites like Glassdoor, Payscale, or to gather this information. Jessica researched the average salary for sustainability roles in her region, which provided a baseline for her negotiations.

2. Quantify Your Skills and Experiences: As a stay-at-home mom, you have gained valuable transferable skills like multitasking, problem-solving, and effective communication. You should also consider your previous professional experience and education. Jessica analyzed her skills, experiences, and the value she would bring to the role, translating these into concrete figures and arguments that justified her desired salary.

3. Prepare for the Conversation: Once you have your research and arguments ready, it’s time to prepare for the actual negotiation. Practice your conversation with a friend or a mentor, rehearsing your key points and how you will respond to possible counterarguments. Jessica prepared a list of her key talking points and practiced the conversation multiple times until she felt confident.

4. Don’t Rush: Salary negotiation is a process, and it might take some back and forth before reaching an agreement. If the first offer is below your expectations, don’t feel pressured to accept it immediately. Jessica did not accept the first offer and explained why she felt it was lower than what she deserved, using her prepared points.

5. Consider the Total Compensation Package: Salary is just one part of the total compensation. Consider other elements like health benefits, vacation time, flexible working hours, professional development opportunities, etc. In Jessica’s case, she was also able to negotiate for additional professional development opportunities, which was important for her continuous learning and growth in the field of sustainability.

By thoroughly understanding her market value, being well-prepared, and confidently articulating her skills and experiences, Jessica was able to secure a salary that truly reflected her worth. Negotiating your salary is not just about securing a fair wage; it’s about acknowledging your value and ensuring that your employer does the same. This is a vital step in your career transition, so don’t shy away from standing up for what you deserve.

In Conclusion

Transitioning back into the workforce after motherhood might seem daunting, but it is an opportunity to rediscover yourself, reimagine your career, and reignite your passions. Jessica’s story is a testament to this. Today, she is not just a dedicated mom but also a thriving sustainability specialist, making a difference in the world and leading a fulfilling and balanced life. And with the right approach, the same is entirely possible for you.

It’s about recognizing the incredible skills you’ve honed during motherhood and channeling them into a professional context. It’s about creating a powerful personal brand story that not only speaks of your unique experiences but also resonates with potential employers. It’s about networking, building relationships, and uncovering hidden job opportunities. And finally, it’s about understanding your worth, standing up for it, and negotiating a salary that truly reflects your value.

Jessica’s journey is not an exception; it’s a testament to what every mother stepping back into the workforce can achieve. You too can take the steps Jessica did, fuelled by the conviction that you’re not just a mom but also a resilient woman with a unique set of skills and experiences, ready to make a thriving professional comeback. It’s time to see yourself not as ‘out of touch’ but as empowered, competent, and capable.

And if you’re curious about making a career transition and don’t know where to start, I invite you to take my free, 2-minute quiz, Should I Change Careers?” It’s the perfect tool to help you gain clarity, determine your readiness for a career change, and start your journey toward a fulfilling career. Embark on your professional comeback today and take the quiz now!

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