Recession Drives Full-Time Mom Back Into Work Force


Rejoining the professional work force after years of full-time parenting can present a challenge under even ideal circumstances. Because the recession has demolished careers of so many primary breadwinners, stay-at-home moms like Melissa Hinebauch are not making that transition by choice, but compelled by the dismal reality wrought by their spouse's ongoing unemployment, most particularly the high cost of private health insurance.

"WANTED: Full-time position with benefits, 401K and decent pay. Ivy League-educated stay-at-home mom hopes to trade in diapers for professional development and deadlines." Thus reads the lede to Melissa Hinebauch's recent essay in The Concord Monitor, a highly personal exposition describing the uncertainty and anxiety she confronts while attempting a return to full-time employment nine years after her first child's birth launched her career as a full-time mom.

The youngest of Melissa's three children is only two-and-a-half, but staying home has become an unaffordable luxury seven months after her husband, Matt, was laid off from his job in Internet security product management. Matt continues to relentlessly apply for tech positions across the country--complicating Melissa's nascent job hunt with uncertain geographic coordinates for his next professional opportunity--but the couple feels they must double up efforts to secure any employment that comes with health insurance, since the family's period of subsidized COBRA benefits ends in January.

In her column, Melissa writes how she worries that her interview skills have grown rusty over the years, so I decide to track her down and offer a little coaching session. She does not hesitate to schedule a time when I reach her by phone and suggest that I'd like to play the role of a potential employer and run her through some typical interview questions.

The next morning, she's patiently waiting when I arrive in the hotel lobby. (Note to fake employer self: Melissa scores points for being on time, or even early.)

We chat for awhile before I begin the "interview," for which I will assume the position of manager in some vaguely-defined marketing/advertising firm. Melissa has done freelance writing since leaving full-time employment in 1997, but the bulk of her earlier professional experience has been in marketing and advertising.

Question: I see from your resume that it has been a number of years since you have been employed in a full-time professional position. What brings you to apply for the open position at this firm?  

"I'm ready to get back into the work force. I feel like my children are wonderfully prepared for what's next for them. I'm interested in rejoining the land of adults and want to move forward with my professional career. I've done a great job at being a stay-at-home mother. I always thought I'd be a working mom, and I plan to take on that mantle soon.

"I miss working. I miss the social interaction, the sense of accomplishment. I used to have seven-page-long to-do list and felt such accomplishment to check each one off as the task was completed. I liked that feeling of being organized and getting things done. That momentum, being energized by the people around you, playing off the people around you, working with other people's enthusiasm, making strides to accomplish something together."

Question: Our firm deals with a wide arrays of products with various target markets. How does your experience qualify you to create campaigns that would appeal to different markets?

"I think whatever your product is, if you do your research and your homework you can come up with a successful campaign. Regardless what the product is or who your audience is, if you do your research and know the background, you can successfully target any market." (My coach identity suggests that it shows greater confidence to make a simple declarative statement, rather than begin a sentence with "I think." Also, coach suggests this would be a good opportunity to mention her degree in psychology.)

"That's why I went in to advertising in the first place. My degree is in psychology, but I was writing beer ads at the age of eight. Psychology is the perfect academic background. You can figure out how to sell people something they may not otherwise want."

Question: Would you describe yourself as a leader?

"I've been a very motivated, self-directed type A person my entire life. From a very early age I projected leadership qualities. I think I've carried that through my young adult life, through my married life. I'm a very cooperative, compassionate, dedicated person."

Question: How well do you work as a team-player?

"I work very hard and take great pride in the work that I do, and I would love to be a part of a team now. I feel like my family is my team. I deal with the logositics. I'm the captain of the shop. I make sure everything happens when and how it needs to happen.

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Christina Davidson is a writer, photographer, and book editor who specializes in national security, terrorism, and war. She also writes for the food blog Feed The Masses.

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