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Off the sidelines

Bringing women who took a break back to the workforce

By Kevyn Burger
Thu, 2017-04-13 10:08

The hunt for qualified candidates to fill mid-level to management positions is intense. With Minnesota’s unemployment rate at near-record lows, businesses are actively and aggressively seeking candidates to fill their ranks.

Maybe they should look at the PTA.

“There are a lot of talented women who’ve taken a career break and are ready to come back and contribute, says Melissa Spiers, director of business development for reacHIRE, a firm that partners with companies to plumb the untapped pool of women looking to restart their careers.

The 2015 Women in the Workplace study conducted by LeanIn.Org and management consulting firm McKinsey found that 43% of highly educated career women leave the business world at some point when they have children.

The firm typically connects with women in their mid-30’s to mid-50’s; some have been caregivers for aging parents but most have been busy raising families.

“We work with them on what they will need to succeed today. The workplace has changed and they might need to update or refresh their technical skills or learn how to use GoToMeeting or LinkedIn or other social media platforms for business,” Spiers says. “They’re not lacking in experience but they may need a confidence boost.”

Spiers and two reacHIRE colleagues were in Minneapolis on Thursday, providing a resume workshop for a group of professional women that included two former bankers, a former sales executive and a woman who had worked previously as an IT professional.

All had exited the workforce and are now seeking advice on how to explain the gap on their work histories.

“I’m not sure about the biases I might face,” says Rachel Gustafson. The mother of three holds two masters degrees and worked in public policy and governmental affairs for a nonprofit, but stepped away from her job eight years ago.

Gustafson, 38, of St. Paul, had a chance to get some advice from Liz Dickinson, the reacHIRE program manager.

“When I’m looking for work, my instinct is to shoot lower than the position I held when I left,” Gustafson confessed.

“That might make you look overqualified, and companies worry that overqualified people will move,” Dickinson explained. “Position yourself at a comparable level of your last job.” Dickinson led the workshop with lots of advice about transferable skills, personal brand-building and positioning unpaid activities.

“Can I take what I’ve done and call it project management?” asked a woman who’s been active in church leadership.”

“Explain what you’ve done in business vernacular,” Dickinson suggested. “Weave the story with language that’s going to resonate and have impact with potential employers.”

“Should I just say I was a stay-at-home mom?” asked a former PR executive.

“I don’t recommend that. On a professional resume, you have to highlight your professional background, but volunteering can be a powerful experience and a chance to tell your story,” Dickinson advised. “Use specific examples that can make it transferable.”

reacHIRE was founded in Boston and has expanded to Seattle, Dallas and Raleigh, N.C. Late last year, it began its outreach in the Twin Cities,

“We’ve done a lot of work and had success with placement for Boston Scientific in Boston and they wanted the program here, too, with their presence here,” Spiers says. “With the economic climate and the number of Fortune 500 companies in Minnesota, we know there are a lot of educated women with strong and deep work experience here that we can connect.”

After reacHIRE trains and places its female candidates, it keeps many of them on its payroll for six months. Spiers says the “conversion rate” of the women who go one to be offered a six month extension or full-time employment is an impressive 88%.

“These women bring their life experience to the workplace. They are excited to be back at work and they make teams stronger,” she says. “It’s amazing how quickly they get back into the swing of it.”