15 years ago, I would not have imagined myself being put in the predicament of finding employment in a tough job market. Times were different then. I had an enviable job, with travel and relocation packages, in an industry where my gender and race were a minority. I ultimately traded the breakneck life of working in integrated circuit design projects for a Silicon Valley company, for the slower pace of life as a homemaker.
After a long spell of trying to start a family, my wishes came true. I gave birth to my son four years ago. It was only when he was around two years old that I felt comfortable enough in my role as a new mother, and started thinking about rejoining the workforce.
Where to start?
As with many other women who had contemplated returning to work, (especially for those who had been out for over a decade), I was lost. I didn’t know where to start. Naturally, I turned to good old Google, where I had information overload. It took me a while before I could formulate my roadmap back to work.
First, I decided early on, that I did not want to resume my previous career as a Silicon Valley design engineer. I was naturally more interested in anything related to motherhood and early childhood education.
My roadmap back to work
1. Volunteer to gain experience
With that in mind, I looked around for volunteer opportunities to gain the necessary experience. It was fortunate that I joined a non-profit organisation, ibu Family Resource Group. I met many other moms who spent their time supporting disadvantaged mothers and children around the Klang Valley. Volunteering at ibu was the perfect first step for me. It filled out my outdated resume with more recent and relevant work experience.
I dedicated two years of full-time volunteering work, and committed at least 20 hours weekly in my role for ibu. I was able to build a completely new network of contacts, and contributed my expertise in a meaningful way. Through ibu, I also rebuilt my self-confidence, and regained my professional demeanour.
2. Never stop learning
During the course of my volunteering, I enrolled myself into digital marketing courses and workshops. I studied for a Certificate for Project Management, through the professional organisation Project Management Institute. It was a good fit for me, with my previous background in semiconductor projects. Not only were these courses immensely helpful for my job at ibu. It also showed potential employers that I did not stop my professional education, and continued to develop new marketable skillsets.
3. Join support groups
It was around December 2018 that I felt ready enough to test the waters. I started looking for job opportunities and stumbled upon a fantastic resource for women returning to work, iRelaunch. I found so much useful and practical advice from their Facebook group. Detailed step-by-step success stories were documented and shared. Women in the group support each other’s journey back to employment.
4. Write the dreaded resume
The most difficult part of my job hunting journey had been in the early stages of writing my resume, and creating a LinkedIn profile. The last time I wrote my resume was over two decades ago. LinkedIn didn’t even exist yet! I was stuck with a blank page for the longest time, until I decided to seek professional help. I hired a copywriter, who is also a friend, to help me get started.
Once my resume and LinkedIn profile were ready, I followed the advice from the iRelaunch Facebook group, and spread the word far and wide that I was looking for work. I reached out to everyone I knew and shared my resume. I identified companies and positions that interest me, but I was also open to any opportunities that matched my skills and experiences.
5. Get those interviews!
I even reached out to second-degree connections from mutual friends, and scheduled chats over coffee. I had nothing to lose. It was comforting and a huge morale booster for me, when I managed to meet with several senior managers from different multinational companies. I also asked my contacts in those companies to send me employee referral links, for the positions that I wanted to apply for.
At that point, to secure an interview, my goal was to do my very best in tailoring my cover letter and resume for the positions. For me, getting an interview would be a “win”. I was elated that my very first job application landed me with a preliminary phone interview from the HR department. It didn’t matter that I did not ultimately pursue the lead after finding out that it required extensive travel and relocation.
My next interview came from a well-known international children’s book publisher. A head hunter from LinkedIn helped me in my application for a project management role. Again, I told myself that I would be satisfied if I could secure an interview. And when I did get the interview, I focused on giving my 100% effort, and gaining an interview experience.
Back at work
I could never forget the phone call I received from the head hunter a week later, when she gave me the news that I got the job. It was only a brief three-minute call but it was life-changing for me. It was then that I knew, that the steepest part of the uphill journey to employment was over.
p.s. In the end, I chose to begin my career in education. My third job application landed me another managerial position. This time at an international school, where it is easier for me to manage my daily commute with my son. After a month in my new job, I am grateful that I have found my “Ikigai”.
By Charlotte Yee
Charlotte was in the tech industry before taking a leap into the unknown and embracing late-in-life motherhood. Despite the late start, she dived into the challenge that has changed the course of her life. Currently enjoying a new career path, she is also grateful for the one-in-a-million opportunity to parent her son.