Skip to main content

How to Find a Job After Being a Stay-At-Home Parent

Planning a return to work? Don't make this No. 1 mistake

Published on: March 20, 2019

Mom applying for jobs

It's unfair but true — taking time off to raise a family, and then clawing your way back into the workforce is really hard. If you're in this situation, you might find yourself struggling to even get an interview. Then, if you are lucky enough to get an interview, parents are often ghosted after meeting hiring managers in person.

If you’re a stay-at-home parent, you’re in good company — more than 11 million strong. One out of five U.S. parents are stay-at-home moms and dads, according to the Pew Research Center.

Whether it’s been 3 years or 13 years since you filed your last W-4, we’ve got some surprising secrets about stay-at-home parents from career coaches, plus tips on putting your best foot forward.

On Facebook, make sure your profile is locked down tight and that your profile picture is just you, without any visible children. 

1. Don't make this mistake

Do not mention your kids during the interview process. Especially if you have young children.

The biggest mistake moms make is talking about their kids, says Elizabeth Atcheson, founder of Blue Bridge Career Coaching (and a mom of two). Unfair as it is, a woman with a young family will be perceived as less dependable, less committed and someone who will bail for a last-minute pediatrician’s appointment with a sick kid, Atcheson says. Don’t give employers any reason to cross you off the list.

“This is just the reality, and I’m sorry to share this,” Atcheson says. “It’s not because employers don’t want to support parents. If they have a pool of four candidates, they are going to look out for their interests first.”

On Facebook, make sure your profile is locked down tight and that your profile picture is just you, without any visible children. 

2. Dads need to be extra-careful 

Say a woman of child-bearing age takes four years off. Hiring managers don’t worry about the blip on her resume; they assume she had kids. But a man who takes four years off?

“It’s the kiss of death,” says career coach Becca Ribbing. “If anyone starts talking about wanting to be a stay-at-home dad, I kind of cringe.”

Yikes! Fathers account for an increasing chunk of stay-at-home parents — 17 percent according to 2016 Census data. But Ribbing sees stay-at-home dads with great resumes who just can’t land a job. It’s reverse sexism and it’s not right, but society hasn’t caught up yet. Dads, just know that you’ve got your work cut out for you if you want to land the right job.

This is what you’re up against. Now, here are ideas on how to push your resume to the top of the pile.

3. Check for keywords

Your resume must be tailored to the job you’re applying for. Managers want to hire a perfect fit. You will get interviews if your keywords match up with the job description.

“It’s really important to make sure your message resonates with the person you’re sending your resume off to,” Ribbing says.

At big companies, initial resume scans are computerized and rely on a machine searching for matching keywords. Do yourself a favor and read a bunch of job descriptions for the position you’re seeking, Ribbing says, and make sure you use those keywords in your resume. Use or to do a keyword search and see how much of a match you are.

If you don’t have one yet, make yourself a LinkedIn profile so recruiters can find you. Again, customize your profile to reflect the qualifications of the job you want to get. Incorporate those keywords and a smiling, professional photo.

“LinkedIn has become the single most powerful tool a job-seeker has,” Atcheson says, “so you’ll need to spend significant time creating a compelling LinkedIn profile.”

4. Use Craigslist

It sounds so 1990s, but Ribbing says a surprising number of stay-at-home parents find jobs via Craigslist ads. Smaller businesses without an HR department and mom-and-pop stores tend to advertise on Craigslist. These are openings for office managers, administrative assistants or bookkeepers, not high-level exec positions in tech. But such positions may be perfect for someone going back to work after a long hiatus, or back to work on a part-time basis.

5. Dress for success

When you’ve been a stay-at-home parent for a long time, your day-to-day wardrobe likely consists entirely of comfortable clothes purchased at Costco. At your interview, you need to dress one notch above the company’s normal business attire. (Sorry, no leggings!)

We all have that fabulous friend who always looks super put-together. Atcheson suggests asking your friend to take you shopping for interview clothes attire in exchange for lunch. If you don’t have that fashionable friend, good bets are Nordstrom, Loft and Ann Taylor, where in-store stylists will help you achieve that polished look.

6. Disguise the resume gap

At the top of your resume, write a summary (basically a mini-cover letter) and list your skills before getting into work experience.

“That way you’re really drawing attention to what you have to offer, and not just diving into your work history,” says Amie Thompson, founder and head coach at Sound Interview Professionals.

Sign up for professional development. It brings your skills up to date, builds your professional network — and sets you apart from other job candidates. You might have an ancient Ivy League degree, but it’d look better paired with, say, a brand-new University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education certificate.

Getting something current on your resume is key.

“Employers generally prioritize applicants who are currently employed. Simply put, it’s easier to get a job when you have a job,” Atcheson says.

If your job search is still coming up cold after a few months, pick up some volunteer work in your field to bring your resume current to 2019. Leave out the PTA stuff unless you’re looking for work in childcare or fundraising. Check for volunteer opportunities through 501 Commons, which provides business services to nonprofits.

7. Believe in yourself

You took time off to raise your family and that has value. Thompson says the one thing she sees over and over from stay-at-home parents is a lack of confidence.

For example, employers might start with the generic “Tell me about yourself” question. Parents respond by inadvertently calling attention to their weaknesses, like, “I’m hoping to get back in, to get my feet wet.”

“I think that stay-at-home parents tend to discredit themselves and all the things they do while they’re staying at home,” Thompson says. “It’s really hard to sell yourself to an employer if you don’t believe in the value you’ve gained as a stay-at-home parent.”

Don’t make excuses for taking time off. People take time off for all kinds of reasons. Aging parents, travel, raising a family? Know going in that they’re not going to spend money interviewing you if they don’t think you can do that job. Think of the interview as a two-way street. Consider what you have to offer, what they need, and see if you can find some mutual agreement.

“You keep interviewing. The hiring process can be really frustrating. You put things out and it’s a big black hole, “Thompson says. “Try to stay positive. Most people have jobs; it’s just a matter of timing. You’ll find a spot for you that’s the right one.”

More Resources

  • King County Library System’s Adult Education and Career Center database offers free one-on-one, real-time help with your job search, resume, cover letter and interview preparation. You’ll need a KCLS library card to use the database.
  • The Seattle Public Library offers free job search and career development programs at the Central Library and Ballard branch. You can get free one-on-one help with your resume, cover letter, interviewing tips and more from a WorkSource specialist at the Central Library’s Job Resource Center. Get your resume started with the free online resume-builder tool.
  • Blue Bridging Coaching offers a full-day workshop once a month designed to help job seekers through a successful career change. Cost: $98, preregistration required.


Get the best of ParentMap delivered right to your inbox.

Related Topics

Share this resource with your friends!