Back to Work? Here’s How to Get the Salary You Deserve When Reentering the Market

You’ve taken some time off from the workplace — to take care of your children or others, because of medical issues. Whatever the reason, when the time comes to get back to work, there’s a lot to think about.

Money is likely at the forefront of those thoughts. Getting paid might be among the top reasons you are reentering the world of work. Or perhaps you’re just itching to revamp your career. Regardless, as you prepare to get back into the professional game, there are plenty of steps you can take to make sure that you are making the kind of money that you deserve and setting yourself up for financial success.

Come in with confidence

Challenges certainly exist for women going back to work after an extended absence. Your work environment may have changed while you were gone, and you may need to brush up on old skills or learn new ones. And employers often tend to favor candidates who can demonstrate a steady work history.

However, no matter how much time you’ve been away, you have a unique set of skills and experience that adds value to the workplace. It’s up to you to recognize that value, add to it where you can, and advocate for yourself so that you will be compensated fairly for what you bring to the table.

Recognize relevant experience

Taking a break from work doesn’t mean that you’ve taken a break from projects that require your professional skills — even if they’re unpaid. If you’ve taken time off to care for your children, for example, there’s a good chance that you’ve worked on these kinds of projects and can use them to fill in a career gap.  Examples include:

  • Volunteering: If you’ve volunteered for your children’s schools or for organizations within the community, you’ve exercised skills such as organization, leadership and financial management.
  • Freelance or part-time work: Even if you’ve only done a few freelance projects, or done them for friends or a spouse, it counts as experience if you’ve used professional skills.
  • Continuing education: Have you attended conferences or taken classes? These show that you are committed to staying current and building your knowledge.

Take the time to look at what you’ve done and recognize how this experience can be valuable to employers. It’s also never too late to see where you have gaps and do what you can to fill them, such as getting training on technology that is relevant to your career goals.

Parenting itself also takes marketable skills, and hiring managers recognize this. In a CareerBuilder survey of more than 2,000 hiring managers, over two-thirds said that parenting skills can be relevant professional experience. The key is to show how those skills will make you an asset to a potential employer. While you may not want to tout your parenting skills on your professional resume, they can be great to bring up in a cover letter or interview to offer a well-rounded view of what you can do.

Take advantage of programs designed to help you

Anyone reentering the workforce after an extended absence may feel overwhelmed and in need of guidance and help. Luckily, several organizations offer assistance. These groups can help you ramp up your skills, find mentors and support, get placed in permanent jobs and “returnships,” and find practical information for your job hunt — all of which can help you get the salary you seek. Here are a few resources that you can turn to.

Path Forward places workers in “returnships,” 16-week paid work opportunities, for mid-career professionals who have taken at least two years off for caregiving. These placements allow women to transition into the workplace again while learning on the job — and getting paid.

iRelaunch offers a variety of services, ranging from personal coaching to resume review, as well as learning resources and options for work opportunities, including internships, job placements and strategic volunteering.

ReacHIRE sources, trains and places talent, helping returning professionals with coaching, skill-building and returnships. ReacHIRE partners with companies that are committed to hiring women returning to the workforce.

The Mom Project connects women reentering the workplace with employers that actively support working parents. Its “maternityships” help companies find qualified candidates to cover for employees taking maternity leave in order to reduce stress on team members and new moms. 

Hire My Mom is a paid membership site that matches candidates with home-based jobs, both part-time and full-time, that offer working mothers flexibility. While anyone can join the site, it emphasizes that it is expressly designed for moms.

Make your resume shine

Crafting a killer resume is crucial to making sure that you reach your salary goals. You may need to overhaul the resume you were using previously in your professional life — but it’s worth spending the time to get it right so that you can really sell yourself to potential employers.

It’s important to select the format that will best highlight what you have to offer.  There are three basic resume types to choose from:

  • Chronological: This lists your past roles in order, starting with the most recent. It’s the most widely used type of resume.
  • Functional: This focuses on your skills and how you’ve developed them, rather than listing your work history.
  • Combined: This highlights skills and qualifications first, but also offers a chronological work history.

If you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, a chronological resume may not be your friend because it emphasizes how long you have been away. For many people reentering the workforce, a combination resume may be most effective, because it downplays your career gap and focuses on your skills, but still offers the work history that hiring managers like to see. However, if you are changing careers or have been away from work for a long time, a functional resume may be the right choice for you.

No matter which type of resume you choose, it will be obvious to potential employers that you have spent some time away from work. It’s smart to address this upfront in a cover letter. That way, they aren’t left guessing why you took time off, and you get the opportunity to show yourself in the best possible light.

Know your worth

Before you can get what you’re worth, you need to know what that is — and it may be different from what it was when you left the workforce. Doing your homework and coming up with an objectively appropriate number can help you make your ask with confidence. This number should be well-researched and backed up with real data from as many sources as you can find. 

There are plenty of resources out there to help you find out what you should be getting paid. Many of these simply require you to do some online research. Sites such as PayScaleSalary.comLinkedIn Salary and Glassdoor compile up-to-date data on salaries, as reported by people in the roles. Online professional discussion forums can also be a helpful source of answers to specific salary questions.

However, asking someone who has the job you want, or who has firsthand knowledge of what the salary would be, often yields the most valuable and relevant salary information. These may be people in your network or those who are in a position to have salary knowledge, such as human resources personnel or recruiters.

You may be uncomfortable asking these kinds of direct questions about how much people make — but not asking can mean that you leave money on the table. You can make it easier on yourself and your source by naming a salary range and then asking if it is in the ballpark, or by asking what the source thinks someone in your position should be making.

Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate

Returning to the workplace involves a lot of uncertainty — you may wonder whether employers will be willing to hire you with a gap in your work history or how much catching up you will have to do. So it can be tempting to simply be grateful for an offer and take it with no questions asked.

But the truth is, employers generally expect candidates to negotiate. Failing to do so wastes an opportunity to get the most you can while you are in a position of leverage. Once a company has invested the time and resources to recruit you and make an offer, it’s often worth it to them to pay you a bit more rather than start over again or make an offer to a less-favored candidate. 

Not only that, but settling for a lower salary can also result in smaller raises and promotions for you down the line — potentially affecting the rest of your career.

Many women dread salary negotiations because they equate them with conflict. However, negotiations do not have to be combative. It can help to approach a negotiation as a back-and-forth discussion, one in which both sides get a chance to understand each other’s needs and work toward a mutual win. 

In an unlikely worst-case scenario, the answer to your counteroffer could be “no,” but it will always be “no” if you don’t ask.

Reaping rewards

Returning to work after time off is an important turning point in a woman’s life and career. Ensuring that you are compensated fairly in your first job back is key to making sure that this turning point leads to a positive trajectory. It’s absolutely worth the time and effort to understand what you should be paid, communicate your value, and advocate to get the salary that you want — and deserve.

Jennifer Sokolowsky writes about workforce equity and technology. She has an extensive international background in journalism and marketing, including work with The Seattle Times, The Prague Post, Microsoft and Marriott.

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