Is “Back to School” Making You Think of “Back to Work”?

The end of summer and start of a new school year feels like a fresh start for everyone.

The kids are older now – maybe your youngest is beginning full-day kindergarten. Or the oldest is off to college. Or your teen or preteen is super busy with activities.

What about you? The back-to-school season is when many stay-at-home moms and dads begin to think about their own next steps. Maybe the time is beginning to seem right for you to restart your career and return to the paid workforce.

If so, the months of August and September are when to get going. Rather than wait for New Years to make a resolution, consider this your new January. Take advantage of the (mostly) quiet school days of fall with these five steps to prepare for your eventual return to work.

1. Clear your plate

Take a moment to think about your other commitments. Clear your plate by tying up loose ends on volunteer jobs, for example, and by tackling household organization projects.

You might also want to use this time to put into place support networks that will give you a few hours each week to focus on your job search. This can mean transitioning some household responsibilities to other family members or finding a local college student to provide after school or weekend child care. Hopefully these arrangements will carry over into support for you when you’re actually back at work.

2. Get clarity on what you want to do

Sometimes the hardest step in restarting a career is figuring out what you want to do. If it’s been a long time since you’ve worked, you may feel differently about your previous job choices. Figure out your motivations for returning to work and try this job description exercise as a way to explore the possibilities.

3. Reconnect with your network

At Path Forward, we’re big believers in connecting with people you already know. It’s a productive way to find your next job and beats hanging out on job boards. Networking may not be your thing, but you’re actually already doing it and just need to let your circle know. You can start with a simple invitation for a catch-up over breakfast, lunch, or coffee. In short, reach out to old colleagues and as many other people as you can.

After doing so, be sure to follow up and ask a specific (and easily fulfilled) request. You can write something like “Thanks so much for taking time to catch up with me. I’m really excited to relaunch my career this year and I’m looking for some really quick feedback on a few roles I’m considering focusing on. Would you mind taking a look at what I have come up with and give me your honest feedback?”

4. Refresh your skills

Did the job description exercise in #2 reveal that you actually might want to pivot into a different job than you had before? Are you thinking that your skills could use some updating? If so, take a class!

While the kids are in school, take a LinkedIn Learning course (free for the first month) or take advantage of the tons of free online options out there (our webinar A Returner’s Guide to Updating Your Skills has many helpful suggestions). Paid options include classes at a local community college or a technical skills boot camp, but we suggest trying the free way first.

Many returners have told us they used YouTube videos as a way to polish their skills. You’ll find that companies also offer free training courses on subjects related to their software. One that Marina Groothius found very helpful was a digital marketing certification course from Hubspot.

5. Consider a returnship program

When you’re ready, consider the pros and cons of applying for returnships, regular jobs, or both. Returnship programs make sense for many people. Take a look at the returnship opportunities offered by Path Forward’s partner companies that are currently accepting applications. New opportunities are added all the time, so keep checking back — and make sure to sign up for our newsletter to learn about returnship positions and job searching events as soon as they’re announced. Also check out the Returnship Matcher that’s managed by Path Forward as a service to returners – it includes all returnship programs currently offered in the US.  

Remember, like all New Year’s resolutions it’s important to get started and then keep going. Do so and by the time January rolls around, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your return to work goals!


This article has been updated with new information.