The wild ride of going back to work after a career break

Jennifer shares with us the ups, downs and challenges of her journey back into the workforce after a five year career break. The first step is often the hardest and her story will help you take yours. 


Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Your career path and decisions for leaving the workforce?

I have three children – ages 3, 6 and 8. I returned to the workforce after my first maternity leave (I was with TD Bank). However, after my second child was born I found I really wanted to be with these two little people more than 3 hours every night. Also, truthfully, I worried whether I could manage the stress of work coupled with the demands of raising young children. And I knew we wanted a third child in the near future.

“So, although it was an extremely difficult decision with clear financial implications, I decided to leave the paid workforce and be a full-time mom.”

By the way, this was never something I’d dreamed I’d be: a stay-at-home mom! I have three university degrees. I had been working hard to take risks and advance my career. I quite enjoyed my work, the social aspects and the salary.

Why did you decide to go back when you did?

Once I had been at home for 5 years, I started to fret about the possibility of staying out of the labour market too long.

Five years had always been my magic number (for no particular reason) and once I was in my fifth year, I got the urge to make some progress towards finding a job. I guess I got antsy and anxious about how long it would take if I waited too much longer. Also please note that I have a PhD in procrastination.

With my two older kids in full-day school and my youngest headed for daycare, I felt the moment might be here.

“Now, I must qualify this “moment” was a very messy, icky, complex feeling. It wasn’t like I skipped down the yellow brick road with confidence and certainty. I felt excruciatingly guilty, confused, pressures to stay home and a lack of direction about where to begin!”

I had no mentor. I felt lost.

What were the top three success factors for your journey back into the workforce? 

  1. I participated in the Rotman Back to Work Program, which provided a catalyst for me to overcome some of the obstacles I had placed in my own way (e.g. questions about what employers might think about my labour market absence, feeling isolated since most of my friends were working moms, doubting my prospects for success).
  2. I also found an excellent interview coach who helped me break through my fears of the interview process. She taught me how to respond to a variety of commonly-asked questions and how to navigate some of the really tough ones. We did a few lengthy practice interviews and I started to get my groove back. She’s also a mom, which for some reason really helped.
  3. I also considered the LinkedIn profile creation process to be lots of fun. At first I hated it because it forced me to invent/re-invent myself in a way that was so public and uncomfortable. But I had to get a professional headshot for the page (which made me feel more professional), and I also had to start thinking hard about my skills and talents to write the profile.

Looking back now, what would you have told yourself at the start of this journey? 

I would have told myself this: be ready for anything! I found myself in some very bizarre (borderline shady/dangerous!) interviews and meet-ups. However, each interaction provided me an opportunity to practice my story, find my voice again and get my confidence back. I went to some super-weird interviews but kept thinking…this is all good practice.

I would have also told myself this:

“never close a door. Sometimes you don’t get the job you thought was perfect for you, but you are led to another person or opportunity in a circuitous way. It can be a very frustrating and exhausting maze, but just go with it.”

Be ready for the emotions – all of them…and the intensity of them. Here’s a nice little preview (self-doubt, regret, guilt, anger, excitement, nervousness, giddiness). You could be in for a wild ride that way, but you’re truly not alone in this regard. Almost all women in the Rotman program experienced these emotions, and some even shared them openly which helped all of us learn and grow.

Be proud of your story and own it. Many people will respect you having the courage to take a labour market absence. Indeed, there’s every possibility they’ll be delighted to snatch you up when you tell your story with purpose. This doesn’t mean being arrogant or boastful, of course. In some interviews I was asked my greatest professional regret, and I often answered that, at times, I’ve regretted leaving the workforce. That’s being honest and that’s ok too. In fact, I’m currently employed with the organization where I said that exact remark in my interview.

Jennifer Deschenes is now Senior Lead, Stakeholder Relations for the Ontario Medical Association. She has offered to meet with women in the tellent community who are looking to re-enter the workforce after a career break. In her words “I am available in any way – meeting, mentoring, yes. Delighted and humbled to serve women who are at this point in life, truly.”

You can connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn.