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On-Ramping is Risky Business

3 ways to de-risk yourself as a hire, and get the job you really want

By Whitney Johnson

Whitney Johnson is on the Advisory Board for iRelaunch, and the author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, "The What Color Is Your Parachute? for the entrepreneurial age", according to the Boston Globe (affiliate link).

You were at the top of your game before you took a career break.

Now that you're ready to head back to work, you may need a technical refresher, but after wrangling children and/parents you are more qualified than ever in all the mission-critical, "people-are-our-most-important-asset," ways.

But prospective employers don't see what you see. They need to fill slots, quickly, efficiently. Plug-and-play. Bolt-on hires. In a world of round pegs, you are about as square as they come. This makes you a risk. Not only because they aren't sure you will work out. But if you don't, the hiring manager is putting his/her own career at risk.

So how do you de-risk yourself? Get people from there to here?

First, pack a parachute. When you apply for a job you are effectively saying to the employer, I want to jump to a new learning curve and I want you to jump too. You may be motivated by monetary pressures or a lingering dream, but the employer feels neither. All they see is the free fall that comes with a bad hire.

You can de-risk that jump by packing a parachute of data points, anecdotes and references. Start with your pre-break resume. Compare this with what the employer needs. Then, look at what you've done over the past few years, and consider how that maps to the job requirements. Who are the people that would vouch for you? What is the narrative that weaves all of this together?

Then, translate.

1. Translate what you've done to a language the future employer recognizes. If you say president of the Parents of Music Students (POMs), you may get a blank stare. But if you tell them you have project management skills with an ability to mobilize individuals across silos. As evidence of this, you were elected president of a non-profit organization that raised over $25,000, with a starting budget of $1,000 (that's a 25x return). Your signature event was a community pie festival, attended by nearly 1,000 people, and involved negotiating contracts and bartering with local CEOs, and the recruiting and coordination of dozens of volunteers. Now you are talking a language a prospective employer understands.

This will need to go into your Linkedin profile and your updated resume. If you can't do this yourself because it's hard to talk about yourself under the best of circumstances, and it's even harder now that your confidence has slipped, hire someone to write these for you.

As you put what you know how to do in a language a employer can understand, you are de-risking yourself as a hire. It seems obvious. But I can point to hundreds of instances in my career, when I effectively said to people "Take a chance on me," without ever building a logical, compelling case as to why they should. When we do the hard work of packing a parachute for a hiring manager, they are far more likely to take a look. They may even leap.

2. Be willing to be overqualified–initially. You know you can do the job you are applying for, but you've got to lower the risk for the person hiring you. So be willing to be over-qualified. It's better to be in the door, than not. Once you're in, you can prove yourself. They'll quickly realize you were undervalued. The good employers will look to recalibrate and pay you what you are worth. The bad ones won't and you can move on. It's a lot easier to get a job when you have a job.

You may even discover that this step back puts you on the trajectory for where you really want to go. My husband recently on-ramped into academia after ten years as the lead parent. He was previously at a medical school. He is now at a liberal arts college. Ten years ago he wouldn't have taken this job. He thought he wanted to do research. It turns out the job he has now is exactly what he wanted.

3. Create your job. Even when you are willing to pack the parachute and be overqualified, when there are fifty applicants for a job, the odds will be against you. Which is why you may want to consider creating your job. Approach employers–smaller–that have a problem you know you can solve. Be willing to work for 3-months. You want to date them, while they date you. If you discover there is a job that needs to be done, when they hire, there will be only one candidate. You. Sometimes the best way to walk back into the work force is not to knock on or try to beat down a door, but to build your own.

Doing the work of de-risking yourself may seem daunting. But when you do, and you get the job, your manager will quickly discover they hired an undervalued asset. You'll be one of the most efficient, and in retrospect, least risky hires they've ever made. If they're lucky, you'll decide to stay.

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