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WORKING STRATEGIES, A COLUMN BY AMY LINDGREN

Tips for caretakers returning to the workplace

Friday, January 18, 2013 - 6:06 am

Millions of Americans care for elderly or sick family members, often quitting jobs to do so. When the time comes to re-enter the workforce, the process can be complicated by ongoing caretaking duties or by grief if the family member died.

The following steps will provide a starting point for caretakers as they plan this next chapter.

1. Choose your path

Knowing the work you will do next is half the battle, as the saying goes. While you might consider returning to a previous profession, it's very common for priorities to shift. You might also feel that your skills for the old field are outdated.

To get moving forward, consider taking a career exploration class at a local community college or meeting with a career counselor.

If you can afford it, even a gradual return to the workplace in an unrelated part-time job will help acclimate you to work demands.

2. Define your new skills

For some reason, caretakers frequently under-rate their own skills and expertise. Even if you don't plan to work in caretaking or health care, you may still find that you have developed transferable skills. For example, you may have acquired an expertise for working with paperwork, a strength in coordinating schedules for round-the-clock care providers, or skills in menu planning and food preparation for restricted diets.

3. Deal with the resume gap

Building a resume for this circumstance is just a matter of putting your best foot forward in relation to the work you've targeted. If you want a part-time, customer service position, emphasize skills those employers most need. Likewise, higher-level job targets require an emphasis on the leadership or management skills they would demand.

Probably the most difficult part of this process is accounting for the time away from the workforce. If you're seeking work in health care or a related field, your recent experience will be an asset. In that case, make a brief “job description” for your duties and place it first in a category labeled “Experience.”

On the other hand, if your caretaking experience feels unrelated to your target job, put your “job description” in a new category called “Additional Experience” which will come after a “Work Experience” category.

4. Get the word out

Once you know at least generally the type of work you seek, it's time to ask people in your circle for help.

5. Prepare for the interview

When talking with employers, you need a storyline that doesn't overly emphasize the circumstances of your loved one's path, but focuses instead on your skills and what you can bring to the company. If you are still in caretaking mode, you may need to mention that you are no longer on call so your employer knows your attention will be focused on your skills and what you can bring to the company. If you are still in caretaking mode, you may need to mention that you are no longer on call so your employer knows your attention will be focused on the job while you’re there.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@ prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.