So you want to go back to work…


There are a myriad of ways to want to re-enter the workforce: maybe you are worried about living off one salary in the middle of an economic crisis; maybe you just wanted to go back to work, or gain new skills, or just enter a new chapter in your life. At this point, you are in the process of figuring out how to re-enter the workforce.

My own personal decision to go back to work was because I wanted to pay off a bit of debt and to pad my resume with recent work experience. Should anything happen to my husband’s job I would at least have a better chance at finding work if I kept my resume current.

I knew right away that with my kids so young and my resume so outdated that my best bet would be to try and find some temporary contracts. So I sat down and brainstormed how I was going to break back into the workforce. If anything, this will be your biggest step, so brainstorm, brainstorm, brainstorm!

1. What kind of work?

Some of you may already have training in a field you enjoy and that often has openings. A career in healthcare is a good example, there always seems to be a requirement for nurses. For the rest of us, there may be a lot more soul searching. Although I have a degree in the social sciences, I knew that my target would be government contracts in administration or communications. I have had previous experience in both these fields and I knew that I would be able to network those types of contracts.

Still, you may not want to go back to your previous work or it may be in a field where short contracts or part-time work is unavailable. Some people also may choose to work in retail or customer service because it gets them out of the house, not because they need the money. Whatever your own personal story is, you need to narrow down a range of employment targets.

2. Childcare

This is probably the second-biggest question families will have to consider when a parent returns to work. Childcare will be much easier for you if you can work opposite shifts than your spouse. Unfortunately, the trade-off is losing quality time with your spouse and any extracurricular activities you had planned in those hours. Along the same vein, if you can arrange work schedules to save on childcare, that will help you financially.

The other option is family or friends. Trading with another family who requires childcare at a different time could work out for flexible families. If you have a family member who is willing to help with childcare, that is also an option. These informal arrangements can be very convenient for all parties but they can also be very messy if both sides aren’t clear on the expectations.

Our choice has been home daycares within walking distance from our house, nursery schools and a local after-school program run by the YMCA in our area. We considered the trade-off financially and ruled out larger daycare centres: the cost combined with the added commute for pick-up/drop-off would have been too much of a hassle.

3. Re-entry costs

Is your professional wardrobe too old or will you be aiming for a job with a casual atmosphere? Maybe your body composition has changed since you left the workforce and you will need a few key pieces to get started. From new shoes to makeup, going back to work may have some associated costs you haven’t considered yet. It may be best for you to look into what amount you may have to spend to get back to work.

4. The financial cost of working

Aside from start-up working costs, you should also analyze how much it would cost you to take a job. In my case, the majority of work I find is downtown which is easily accessible by bus. If you have to commute by car you will need to calculate how much gas and wear and tear there will be (check the rate that the government calculates mileage for taxes and use that to estimate). Everyone should factor in their commute time when figuring out their hourly wage to make sure they are coming ahead. Sometimes a job may look good but when you factor in the time and money it would cost to work that job, it stops being so lucrative. What about the extra costs of maybe eating out more often or hiring people to do the work the stay-at-home-parent may have once taken care of?

5. The emotional costs of working

Don’t underestimate the emotional toll when a parent returns to work. Everything from explaining to your children what is going on to carving out personal time with your partner and friends can be a steep learning curve as you adjust to a new schedule.

You may also have some of your own demons to contend with. Questions such as “Am I capable,” or criticisms such as “I am not going to be good at this, I’ve been out of the workforce too long, ” may pop up. Any kind of life change requires a bit of mental work.

It may also be a challenge to get everything done now that you have employment out of the house. Some chores and other events may not get accomplished – or accomplished as well – now that you spend time working outside the home. Adjusting your perception of yourself as someone who stays home vs. someone who works outside the home may be one of the largest hurdles to get over.

The more time you spend brainstorming what kind of work you want and how life will change when you go back to work, the more realistic your situation will be when you do start working. Planning and thinking through some of the ways you will meet those challenges will reduce the stress that will come when things don’t go as planned.

We’ll get down to the nitty gritty of the what, where, who when and why in future posts but if you are someone considering returning to work in any capacity, these questions should help you start the process of brainstorming.