By Lisen Stromberg
San Jose Mercury News.
A woman spends years building her career. Then family becomes her new priority, so she steps out of her high-powered job to raise children. What happens when she wants to get back in the game?
Since Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg launched the “Lean In” movement in 2013, much attention has been paid to figuring out how to keep mothers in the workforce, but many have already left and are trying to get back in. There’s not one route for all.
As these three Bay Area executive women demonstrate, you can reignite your professional life, and even take it in a wildly different, equally or more successful direction, even after taking years off from work. Here they share their stories and their advice.
Name: Mary Page Platerink
Previous job: Coca-Cola, director, global strategic planning
Time at home: 12 months the first time, 18 months the second time
Current job: Founder-CEO of First Aid Shot Therapy
How she got there: Staying in touch with previous mentors and contacts provided much-needed financial support and credibility.
Mary Page Platerink’s LinkedIn profile says her specialties are “getting things done and never giving up,” important characteristics for the founder and CEO of a hot Silicon Valley startup. But her most valuable skill might be her willingness to take risks coupled with the confidence that everything will work out.
“I took several leaps on and off track,” she says, “and it was those very leaps that have helped make me a better leader and manager.”
Platerink’s first leap came when her husband wanted to move to the United States. They’d met while getting their MBAs at the University of Cambridge in England. He went into finance, and she built a thriving career at Fujitsu, helping the company turn around two flagging divisions.
After the birth of their second child, Platerink quit her job to help her family settle into its new life. “It was the right thing to do. I didn’t worry about whether I would have a problem going back,” she says.
It wasn’t as easy as Platerink imagined. She eventually took a job in marketing at Coca-Cola. It was a step back, in terms of both pay and responsibility, but not for long. After Platerink gave birth to the couple’s third child, she worked her way into a coveted role in strategic planning. Then, she leapt again.
“I had a dream job at Coca-Cola,” says Platerink, “but we wanted to move to California, so I quit.”
For over a year, Platerink focused on being a full-time mother while she pondered her next career move. She met the head of gastroenterology at Stanford University’s medical school, who had an idea for a stomach ache solution, and so began her latest leap of faith.
Platerink was confident she could apply her expertise and experience in soft-drink marketing to the fast-growing medicinal beverage industry. To launch the company, she reached out to her previous mentors for support. They provided guidance, advice and much-needed seed funding.
The result was First Aid Shot Therapy, a startup that specializes in fast-acting liquid medicines for pain and upset stomach symptoms.
“My career wasn’t calculated,” Platerink says. “It was an organic reflection of my commitment to my family and my professional ambitions.
“That’s not a cop-out or an opt-out; that’s simply a choice.”
Her best advice for others: “Stay connected to your past employers and mentors. They can offer you strong references, which you will need as you re-enter.”
Name: Kriste Michelini
Previous job: Intuit, sales and business development
Time at home: 5 years
Current job: Owns Kriste Michelini Interiors
How she got there: Listening to the advice of friends and following her creative passions and interests
In 1988, when she graduated with a degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles, Kriste Michelini thought she would become a lawyer. What she didn’t expect was that she would eventually become a nationally recognized interior designer.
It took staying home with her children to make that happen.
After college, Michelini took a job in commercial sales so she could earn money for law school. She was a natural at sales and soon moved into the more lucrative high-technology sector, working in software sales for Intuit. Law school, Michelini decided, would have to wait.
“I had a great job working for a great company,” Michelini says. “Being a lawyer just didn’t seem like it was in the cards.” She worked full-time through the birth of her daughter and would have happily continued if life hadn’t gotten in the way.
“I went through a painful divorce and then met the man of my dreams,” Michelini says.
When she became pregnant with their first son, Michelini quit her job and, with her new blended family, moved. “I wanted to be fully hands-on as a mother the second time around,” Michelini says.
It didn’t take long to decide that stay-at-home mothering wasn’t her calling.
Michelini asked friends for advice, and they all agreed she had a talent for interior design. One friend agreed to hire her for a home redesign. Word got out and soon Michelini had a handful of clients. Five years after she quit her fast-track sales job, Michelini officially launched her own company.
Now Kriste Michelini Interiors is in great demand with a cadre of high-end clients. She employs a full-time staff of three and has recently moved into a large studio office.
It was the recent surprise of having been selected as one of Traditional Home magazine’s 10 decorators to watch in 2014 that finally convinced Michelini she had arrived.
“I never regretted leaving my job in sales, but there were days I had doubts about staying home with my children. Today, there is no doubt my experience both in sales and as a mother has made me a better entrepreneur,” Michelini says.
Her best advice for others: “Join or start a networking group. It will provide you with new friendships, a large network of relationships and a wonderful support system.”
Name: Alison Cormack
Previous job: Hewlett-Packard, planning and operations manager
Time spent at home with children: 10 years
Current job: Google’s SMB Group, operations manager-chief of staff
How she got there: Taking leadership roles as a volunteer led to valuable new contacts, opened new doors.
The tipping point for Alison Cormack was the birth of her second child. Before that, she never really imagined she’d become a full-time stay-at-home mother, but like many women trying to juggle a family with two careers and two kids, she came to the point where it made more sense to stay home.
After securing her MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, she took a job in finance at Hewlett-Packard. She held a variety positions there, including sales representative, and became a member of the HP Achievers Club, a select group of high-performing sales professionals.
When her first child was born, she enjoyed six months at home with her baby and then returned to work on a reduced schedule, taking on a new role for one of HP’s worldwide vice presidents of sales. But then her second child came along and, well, her priorities changed. “I tried the part-time thing,” Cormack says, “but my heart wasn’t in it. It just felt right for me to be with my children.”
She spent the next five years at home, committing to her role as mommy. Then a friend suggested she join the board of the Palo Alto Library Foundation and everything changed. When no one volunteered to lead the $76 million bond campaign to support the refurbishment of the town’s libraries, Cormack stepped up.
“I leaned in to leadership,” she says, “and ended up having the best job I could ever imagine. Sure it wasn’t paid, but it helped me get where I am today.”
When she decided to return to the workforce, a Google employee whom she had met through that bond effort helped her tweak her resume and flagged it for the HR department. She landed a job in communications at Google and since has been promoted to chief of staff for two of Google’s senior executives.
She has no regrets about her time at home, but she knows giving up a hard-earned career can be hard; so can finding one’s way back into the paid workforce.
Her best advice for others: “Don’t read your alumni magazine. Do read Fortune and other business magazines to stay relevant.”
5 TIPS FOR RE-ENTERING THE WORKFORCE
Are you a mother transitioning back to the workforce? Here is advice from career consultants and other professionals.
DON’T RUSH IN
Before you update your resume, create a LinkedIn profile or start applying for jobs, take the time to figure out what inspires you and what will offer deep meaning and reward.
Take the time to figure out what inspires you and what will offer deep meaning and reward. Consider hiring a personal coach to help you hone in on the skills, abilities, motivations and desires you have to bring to this next phase of your life.
When you do finally begin applying for jobs, your clarity of purpose and authentic enthusiasm for the opportunity will set you apart from other candidates.
That said, WaveWorks Coaching’s Anne Moellering believes sometimes jumping in is a good strategy. “I coach my clients to be comfortable not having all of the answers. Taking action can be more important than getting it right the first time back into paid work,” she says.
MAKE IT PUBLIC
Once you have clarity on your plans to re-enter the paid workforce, tell the world. Consider building your own “board of directors” who can help champion this next phase of your life.
These can be friends, mentors, people with whom you have volunteered and family. They will cheer you on when you aren’t sure if you have the courage to move forward. It was Kriste Michelini’s friends who helped guide her to her second career. She says “owning” your process can be empowering and will help overcome feelings of self-doubt that inhibit action.
REDEFINE YOUR NARRATIVE
Your career narrative is essential to helping employers understand how they can best use your talents and abilities. Once you have clarified your objectives and developed a first draft of your resume, your LinkedIn profile and the story of who you are and what you have to offer, meet with people.
Jeanine Cowan, Silicon Valley regional coordinator for Jewish Vocational Services, says one of the biggest mistakes that job hunters make is to come to interviews not fully prepared. Informational interviews with friends and friends of friends who are in the industry or hold jobs similar to what you want can help you practice how to tell your story.
NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK
Everyone in your wide network has a network of their own. They may know just the person, job or company that is looking for someone with your skills and abilities. Mary Page Platerink wouldn’t have secured seed funding for her brainchild without the help of a previous mentor and their network of investors. She credits keeping that relationship strong with helping her succeed today.
DON’T GIVE UP
Rejection, and lots of it, is part of job hunting. You can choose to convince yourself you aren’t employable because you’ve been out of the workforce. Or, you can do what Alison Cormack did.
By refining her resume to better match the job description and finding an advocate to help smooth the way, she was able to break through the online application process at Google and find her dream job.