Figuring Out Your Motivations for Returning to Work

Finding Your Why

When women come to me for advice on restarting their careers I always start with same question: “Why do you want to go back to work?”

There are a lot of ways to return to work. The path (pun intended) you choose may well depend on what your primary motivation is for returning. Having talked to hundreds of women looking to restart their careers I can say that there are two primary motivations: finances and a need for self-fulfillment. Most women are actually motivated by both, but one will be their primary motive.

Generally speaking the women who are primarily motivated by finances are those who’ve experienced a family setback (divorce, layoff, health crisis, or similar) or had made a big financial sacrifice in order to be the primary caregiver and now need to generate income. Those who are primarily motivated by a need for self-fulfillment generally are in a more stable financial situation but want to get their career back on track (with an eye toward their long-term financial future).

If Your Primary Motivation is Financial

1. Identify the fastest path back to work. This usually means returning to your original field especially if you had significant experience before your break. It may even meaning attempting to return to the company you left if there are colleagues you worked with still employed there. It certainly means reaching out to everyone you know to let them know that you are seeking a job.

2. Get support. Searching for a job takes time and if you have still have caregiving responsibilities it may be tough to find that time. Seek out low-cost or free options for care so you can devote time and focus to networking and applying for jobs. Seek out emotional support, too, especially if you are also grappling with grief and loss.

3. Map out a long-term plan. While you are searching for a job now, you want to be thinking long term and map out a plan for the next 10 or more years. If you are looking to move into a more lucrative profession, what do you need to do this year to move in that direction? What can you do in the first 90 days of your new job to position yourself for a quick promotion to the next level?

If Your Primary Motivation is Self-Fulfillment

1. Explore your options. With less time-pressure you can spend more time upfront considering multiple scenarios for restarting. Start with introspection – what did you like doing in your early career, what do you want to learn, what do you want to avoid? (Our “write your next job description” exercise can help with this.) But then get out of the house and network! Talk to former colleagues, get connected to people in companies you want to explore or who have jobs you are interested in. There is no way to know what the real options are without talking to lots of people who are working and can give you real-world advice. You may also want to take a course, either in a skill that is newly relevant to your prior career or in something completely different that you’ve always been curious about.

2. Give yourself deadlines. While you can take the time you need to explore, you don’t want to allow the lack of a financial pressure to become demotivating. Give yourself deadlines for milestones along the way. And make your career restart a priority! Make it clear to your family that you need time to focus on your search. If you can afford it, start investing in childcare now. It will give you the time you need to focus on your search and help make the transition back a lot smoother.

3. Hire yourself. We live in a time where we really don’t need permission to be whatever we want to be. If a quick paycheck isn’t necessary, consider how you might put yourself to work with a side hustle, pro bono work, running for local office, or strategic volunteering. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in this world and many ways to contribute. These activities can also expand your network and give you valuable experience. Just don’t allow these activities to derail you if your long-term goal is paid, full-time employment.

How Returnships Can Help

Returnships are mid-career internships like those offered by Path Forward partners and other companies. These can be a great way to restart your career no matter what your primary motivation is. What’s different is the approach you take. For those focused on finances, returnships can offer quick income and a refreshed resume. While there is no guarantee of long-term employment, those in returnships often have a leg up in hiring and are on the “inside” for other jobs at that company. Focus on opportunities that match your “fast path” back to employment and be mindful of beginning to look for long-term roles, both at the company where you are interning and elsewhere, about 6 to 8 weeks before the returnship ends.

For those seeking fulfillment, returnships are a great opportunity to see what’s happened in your industry while you were gone or to explore a new field or function. Use the time you have to learn as much as you can about the company, the various roles they hire for, and what it takes to be successful. While you may not need to begin your job search immediately after the returnship ends, be mindful that the halo effect of your now updated resume won’t last forever. Prioritize your post-returnship job search so you can turn your return to work experience into a full-time position as quickly as possible.

Tami Forman is the founding executive director of Path Forward and a frequent speaker on issues related to caregiving and workforce participation.