3 Working Moms, 3 Second Acts: How I Rocked the Transition Back to Office Life

3 Working Moms, 3 Second Acts: How I Rocked the Transition Back to Office Life

It’s never an easy choice: Stay home with your children, or head back to work?

In fact, this very conundrum is a top reason why couples fight, according to a new survey of both expecting and veteran moms.

And what can prove even trickier is making the transition back into the workforce after you’ve taken a few years off to be home with your kids.

How do you go about finding a role you’ll love, acing the interview process, and proving you’ve still got the chops once you’re on the job?

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For starters, don’t apologize for the time you took off, says Pamela Skillings, a professional interview coach and founder of biginterview.com. “I had one client who was out for some time, who’d had a pretty high-level job before that. She felt self-conscious, so she almost took up too much time in the interview apologizing for herself, instead of talking about the skills she had.”

It’s a mistake many moms heading back into the workforce tend to make—and one that can be avoided.

“Don’t take yourself out of the running,” Skillings says. “They called you, so they think there’s something there. Now the task is to show them what you can do.”

Easier said than done, right?

Maybe not—especially if you talk to these three moms who not only transitioned back to the workforce, but actually rocked their second-career acts in a way they never did the first time around.

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Doris RisnerFrom Interpreter to Software Company Employee

Doris Risner, 32, Dallas

What Inspired the Decision to Go Back "I’m a wife and mom of four boys, ages ten years to eight months. I’ve always contributed to our family income in some way, so in the mornings I’d been earning a little money working part-time over the phone as a French interpreter. (I’m from the Ivory Coast, so French is my first language.)

Then, one day, I opened the bill that contained my student loan balance—and I nearly had a heart attack.

The truth is, I’d been ignoring the payments for a while. I had about $16,000 worth of loans when I graduated, and at the time I thought, 'I really want to pay them off now, before I get older.' I would pay $300 here and there, but stuff happens, and I stopped.

The day I opened the envelope, I saw that what I owed had ballooned to $37,564!

That night I sat down and told my husband, who was stunned. Since I’d been in denial about the loans, neither of us had any idea how much I truly owed.

We’d been making plans to buy a house, so it hit both of us like a ton of bricks. I told him I wanted to go back to work full-time—and he agreed. 'I think you have to work for at least a year, then we can start thinking about our future again,' he said.

"I have never been as motivated to work in my life! Three months in, my supervisor promised to give me a raise at my first-year review. I think that says something."

How She Kicked Off Her Job Hunt I began stalking Monster.com, CareerBuilder, and even called career placement agencies—you name it.

Because I’d been home, people would say, 'Well, you don’t have any office experience.' Instead of getting discouraged, I drew on examples of previous jobs I’d had—yet the long career they wanted, I didn’t have. But as a mom it’s typical: We get pregnant, we have babies, we take a break.

Her Big Break After four excruciating months of sending applications and receiving countless rejections, I got a phone call—and the woman on the other line spoke French. She said her company needed help with software for their French-speaking Canadian customers, and I was just who she was looking for.

I got hired in two days. I think I screamed on the phone when I got the offer. It felt like freedom to me.

How She’s Faring Now I've been on the job about six months now, and use every bit of my paycheck toward my loan repayments while we live off my husband’s income.

I have never been as motivated to work in my life! Three months in, my supervisor promised to give me a raise at my first-year review. I think that says something.

Although my heart aches not seeing my children when they wake up, I know I’m working hard to provide them with a debt-free future. I should be done paying off my loans by January 2016, so I’m keeping my eye on the prize.

Plus, I’m learning so much at my job—and it’s putting me on a whole new career path."

RELATED: Hello, a Stay-at-Home Mom IS a Working Mom

Toni SchmidtFrom Social Worker to Marketer

Toni Schmidt, 38, Philadelphia

What Inspired the Decision to Go Back "I was in social work when I got married and had kids—and was lucky enough to be able to stay home with them.

But when my kids were six and three and a half, I got a divorce.

My ex-husband does contract work and was making really good money, but his contracts would end, and then he wasn’t responsible for sending me anything, so he’d send whatever he liked. I had to learn not to count on that income because it drove me crazy.

I thought, 'The more time I can spend on my passion, dreams and creating a career, the better off I’ll be. I knew I couldn’t go back into social work because I wouldn’t earn enough to offset two kids in child care—I needed to earn more than $35,000.

How She Kicked Off Her Job Hunt I decided to focus on marketing and social media positions. While I’d been at home, I’d started a parenting blog. I have a black belt in karate, so I would write about my martial arts background and how to create structure and order in a family.

I’d wanted to earn some income through it, so I started teaching myself search engine optimization by attending night classes and Facebook meetups. I decided to draw on those skills for the next phase in my career.

Next, I tapped my network. Any night that I didn’t have the kids—at least once a week—I’d set up coffee with whom I called an influential person: people in my field and people who owned their own business. It didn’t matter whether I knew them or not—I'd reach out on Facebook, put it on my calendar, and make sure it happened.

"I know they probably have more experience," I said in my interview. "But you’re not going to find somebody with more passion and drive."

Her Big Break One day someone from college sent me a message and said, 'You have to talk to Ed [a guy who’d also gone to our college]. You guys post a lot of the same things on Facebook.'

I met Ed for coffee and told him my plans, and he said, 'We have a nonprofit that helps people like you do amazing things. I want to send you to an event that’s coming up—on scholarship.' It was a weekend retreat called 'Unleash the Power Within' that would have cost me about $1,000.

'What kind of amazing things am I supposed to do?' I asked, laughing. 'That’s a lot of pressure!' But I went.

That was my turning point. It totally changed my mind-set about who I am. You don’t realize that you’re sending yourself messages of 'I’m not good enough,' or 'I’m not successful.'

Shortly after that, I found my first job at a trade company. It was mostly administrative work, but it was a foot in the business world. Then, after about a year, I got laid off.

So I dove back in. And a couple of weeks later, I found a marketing coordinator job at a high-end advertising agency. I went into the interview full of positivity, with no fear—and I got invited back for a second round.

By then they’d narrowed down the search to three candidates, and both of the other people were much more qualified than me. 'I know they probably have more experience,' I said in my interview. 'But you’re not going to find somebody with more passion and drive.'

I got the job.

How She’s Faring Now This is still brand-new to me: I’ve only been at my new job for a month, and I’m still amazed that I got it!

But, careerwise, I’m in a better place than I have been in years. The big win, for me, was being able to pivot into my dream field, using the skills I’d developed while I was staying home—and perhaps more important, convincing someone that I could do the job, even though I didn’t have the résumé to prove it.

I bring my positivity to the job every day, which is part of the reason they hired me. So far I’ve also wowed my boss with my self-taught SEO skills, and they’re teaching me from the advertising end what I couldn’t have taught myself—putting me on a whole new career path.

That’s a long way from where I was a few years ago, sitting in my living room, wondering what I could make of myself."

RELATED: 3 Career 180s: How I Reinvented Myself After 30

Tara GoodfellowFrom CFO to Career Coach and Business Owner

Tara Goodfellow, 39, Charlotte, N.C.

What Inspired the Decision to Go Back "In the past I was a CFO for a college, and I was on the 'presidential' track—which meant all-consuming leadership training and no life.

When I was 28 I made a decision to maybe start a family, so I resigned.

I took a job as a salesperson for a national bank, selling financial products to colleges throughout the region. Shortly after, I got pregnant. Whether to keep working or not was an exhaustive what-if conversation I kept having with myself.

On the one hand, it was a well-paid job, so my husband and I could put money away and save for private school. But when my girls were one and three, I finally decided it was too much. I had one in day care, one at a babysitter, and I was traveling back and forth to Raleigh in a day—and I thought, 'I’m done.'

I stayed home for a year. It was fun, but in the process I realized three things: I get energy from adult interaction. It gave me anxiety not to be contributing anything—financially—to my family. And, yet, I didn’t want to go back to the corporate grind, with its long, traditional workweek.

How She Kicked Off Her Job Hunt I got lucky: The first break found me, when I got a call from someone at a local college asking if I would consider teaching a course on career development.

The class was usually only two hours a week, but drawing up the lesson plan and schlepping my kids across town to my parents while I taught took much longer.

"A lot of career experts talk about 'transferable skills,' and I use that phrase a lot when crafting documents for clients seeking a career change."

Then a funny thing started happening: Because of the class, a lot of friends started asking me career development questions. What should I say in this interview? Could you take a look at my résumé?

So I got an idea: Maybe I could draw on past work lives and experiences—as a teacher, MBA graduate, higher education executive—to do one-on-one career consulting on the side. 'This might be a good transition,' I thought. 'I could do this part-time until they’re in elementary school.'

Her Big Break My first paying client sought me out because of my previous background in higher education and financial aid: She was an adult student who wanted to return to school. I didn’t know what I was doing yet, so I just charged her $75 for a consultation. She was pleased with the results, and referred me to her husband—and then the leads just started growing.

Initially, I made mistakes: I spent way too much money crafting the perfect logo, printing letterhead and envelopes, having a website professionally built—the works!

But, over time, I learned things, like how to use my network from past work lives and friends of friends to keep getting referrals. And I slowly grew my hourly rate for a résumé revision from $75 to over $300.

A lot of career experts talk about transferable skills, and I use that phrase a lot when crafting documents for clients who are seeking a career change. I believe this new chapter of my career is a great culmination of my skills and strengths.

Since I have an MBA, I did have a good sense of my budget. After my big letterhead and website splurges, I shifted everything into a 'percent of revenue' format, so I knew how much a given expense, or portion of my time, was improving the bottom line. It’s easy as a solo-preneur to forget that you need a budget.

How She’s Faring Now That was five years ago. My revenue goal was to double each year from the previous year. And for the past four years, I've achieved it, with 2015 projected to do so, as well.

Today, Athena Consultants, Inc. is a full-service career and certified life coaching firm—and it’s a 40-hour-a-week job now, including some evenings and weekends.

The difference is that this return to work is on my own terms. So even though I’m not making as much as I was at the bank, this job is so much more valuable to me. I have direct interaction with my clients, which is really rewarding. And if I choose to schedule an appointment on a Saturday, my daughters can go with me, which in and of itself is worth a lot!"

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