Episode 8: When Dad Returns to Work After a Career Break with Dave Carty
How do relaunches differ (or do they?) when the traditional roles are reversed and the father takes the career break? Hear one father's relaunch journey as iRelaunch Chair and Co-Founder Carol Fishman Cohen interviews Dave Carty, father of three who took a 13-year career break to be home with his kids. He left an international business development role to go on career break and relaunched in a strategy role for a K-12 independent school.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO, and co-founder of iRelaunch the industry leader in career reentry resources. In each episode of 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch we'll be speaking with guest experts in the career reentry space to help make your transition back to work smooth and successful.
And today we are talking to a relaunch dad about his return to work experience. We're really excited to welcome Dave Carty as our guest. In 2000, Dave left his job as an International Business Development Manager with Best Foods Corporation, now part of Unilever. What was supposed to be a short-term hiatus from the workforce turned into 13 years as an at-home parent of three young children, housekeeper, coach, volunteer, school trustee and treasurer, as well as the occasional part-time work in the mortgage and construction industries.
In 2013, Dave returned to work as Director of Strategic Initiatives at Kent Place School in Summit, New Jersey. And we're happy to have Dave with us today to talk about his experiences. Hi Dave, thank you so much for joining us.
Dave Carty: Carol. It's a pleasure to be here.
Carol Fishman Cohen: I'm so excited to have this conversation because we know that by and large, it's harder for us to get men to tell their return- to-work success stories.
And we have a very small number of them that are represented in our over 200 return-to-work success stories on the iRelaunch.com website and Dave's is one of them. And so we're really excited to have you here to just hear more details about your experience and how you made that transition back.
So could you tell us a little bit about how you decided to take the career while you were working?
Dave Carty: Sure. I'd be glad to. Guess we have to go back to the 1990s and at the time my wife at the time and myself, we were your sort of classic two career couple. My ex-wife was in the PR industry and I was in international marketing and business development.
And it was fantastic. Lots of travel, lots of trips, endless frequent flyer miles, traveling on corporate expense accounts. It really was a fantastic job. And it stayed that way for a number of years until children came. And then as we all know children are all consuming. And my job took me out of the country 40 to 50% of the year, which meant when I wasn't home, my wife was responsible for not only her career, but taking care of not one, but two infants. We had twins right off the bat. So it became very difficult. And we quickly went into the babysitter, nanny world and had that. But it was still very difficult because even when I had to travel, it was one person taking care of two children and it just didn't seem very sustainable.
So after about two and a half years of trying that we had the hard decision or the hard discussion and we looked at which person does it make more sense to take off from their career? And at the time my wife was earning substantially more money than I was, and the economics were pretty clear that I would stay at home with the kids at least until they got to school age, and then she would continue to work full time.
So that's how the decision was made. That I would be the one to stay at home and take care of the kids. And I must admit, I really did relish it. Even when I was working, I loved it when the babysitter was sick and couldn't make it because it meant I had to take off from work to take the kids to the playground and meet the other, stay at home moms.
And it was really pleasant. And it was a difficult choice to make, but it just, it felt right. It felt like absolutely the right choice.
Carol Fishman Cohen: That, that is great and great to hear. And you segued into my next question, which was, how did you feel when you were on your career break? And I guess the real question there is, did it feel the same when you were in that role a hundred percent of the time, as opposed to being in that role when, for example, the nanny was sick that day?
Dave Carty: So I think the answer is yes. I thoroughly enjoyed the hard work that it is not only parenting, but I decided if I was going to do this, I was going to do it all in.
I was going to do the cooking. I was going to do the laundry. It was a point of pride that no, I'm doing this on my own and I'll take the same sort of organization and skills that I would apply to a sales and marketing job and put them towards the home and the kids, organize the play date, organize the doctor visits, do the shopping. At one point in order to make the grocery shopping more efficient, I actually went to the supermarket and got what's called a planogram, which is the way they lay out their groceries. And I created my list in accordance with the way the supermarket was laid out. So I could be in and out of the supermarket in 10 minutes with two kids in tow. So…
Carol Fishman Cohen: What a great idea!
Dave Carty: Yeah, I'm going to... that's going to be a chapter in a future book. I loved it. I really enjoyed doing that. It was physically exhausting work. It was, you're up early, when you have twins, someone's always up through the night. You're up at six. And they don't go to bed till, seven, eight, sometimes nine o'clock at night, you have an hour to yourself and then you do it all over again.
But while I was physically exhausted, I never had that mental exhaustion that you get from your corporate job or your day job as people like to say, but it was physically exhausting.
Carol Fishman Cohen: How old were the kids at that time?
Dave Carty: So, they were two and a half when I stopped working. However, shortly after that we had our third child and I had our, I was caring for my third child from the time she was an infant.
So, two kids that were three, one who was an infant, and I was pushing them in a double stroller and a baby Bjorn strapped to me and up and down the sidewalks and we live in an urban area. So fortunately I didn't have to deal with cars or car seats that much. But I put a lot of miles, I wore out a lot of strollers.
And yeah, I loved it. Got in very good shape, pushing the kids around town. Yeah.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Very good. So can you talk to us about, at what point did it become apparent to you that you were really ready to at least start thinking about returning to work and what was that process like? And, you're also a career transitioner in addition to a relaunch so, how did you come around to figuring out what you wanted to transition into?
Dave Carty: So, there was a lot of time between what I just spoke about and when the moment of, what it feels like it's the right time to go back to work. And that was probably about seven years , because you've got little ones and you've got to get them into school.
And then school is only a half day. And even once, and I started working part time. But even once you drop kids off at school at 8:00 in the morning, 8:30 in the morning, then you've got to return to pick them up by 2:30. You don't have a whole lot of time to get to work and get all the housework done and stuff like that.
So for a lot of, for a lot of time, it was part-time work, for the construction industry, the mortgage industry. And I was using that time to feel out, what do I want to do when it's time to go back to work? And I purposely was trying out lots of different part-time jobs. I had a pretty good feeling I did not want to go back into international sales and marketing, I just was done with the traveling, I was done living jet lagged, and I didn't want to miss my kids' childhoods. So the heavy travel jobs were out. So then I was tapping into some of my other skills, real estate, construction.
And I would say by the time the kids were approaching high school, that was when I decided it's time, the oldest two, because the younger one was in sixth grade. That was time to start seriously thinking about what my next full-time career is going to be.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Excellent. And I also remember for my own relaunch that I had to go through that process of contemplating the question, should I go back to work seriously enough? All of a sudden I realized that it was going to be time for me, maybe for me, it was two years out from when I came to the definitive realization. Seven years is an experience that I think a number of our, many of our listeners will relate to.
Because it's just such an evolutionary process and there are so many factors involved that don't just involve you the relauncher, but all the various family members, so it's complex.
Dave Carty: It's true, Carol. And what I think, what I never contemplated, but what you realize happens when you decide you're going to have one parent as a stay at home parent, and I'm only speaking from my own personal experience, you rely on that one person to do everything right? Little things, it's going to sound silly, the dry cleaning, the laundry, the walking the dog, but take the kids to the doctor visits, the vet visits. You can't work full time and do all that stuff. And if you have it in your head that, no, we do this ourselves. We don't farm that out to a dog walker or to a nanny, and then of course there's nothing wrong with that. I eventually wound up doing that with my youngest daughter when I returned back to work. But until you wrap your head around the fact, Oh yes, in order for me to go back to work, I now have to farm out all this other stuff that I have been doing all this time.
Mentally, you don't have your head around going back to work full time. There really is an evolution and a thought process that has to take place. What do I need to have in place at home in order to go back to work full time?
Carol Fishman Cohen: Exactly. Very well articulated. I can relate to every word. So how did you figure out ultimately that you wanted to be involved in some sort of an academic institution and, that's the strategy role that you ended up in? Was that also an evolutionary process or was there some light bulb moment that went off that clarified it for you? What happened there?
Dave Carty: Yeah. Good question. A couple of things, I remember about 20 years ago, a friend of mine who was involved in a business and he came to me and wanted to know if I wanted to join him in the business, said, if you had your dream job, what would it be?
And I said, a high school history teacher and a basketball coach. And then I just dropped that and went on with my career and thought, yeah that's a dream, but now, three years ago, five years ago, when I was looking to go back into the workforce, I began to think of myself. All right, whatever I go to do for the next 15, maybe 20 years, it better be something I love, better be something my heart is in.
I had spent an awful lot of time involved with my kids' school while I was home as a stay at home, first as just a regular volunteer, then I was asked to run for the board. Then I was asked to be the treasurer and the school happened to go through an awful lot of growth. So I was, I had a ringside seat with the administration of the school for lots of growth, lots of construction projects, lots of strategic planning for the school. And I really liked it. And I felt like I was good at it. I had formal business training. I've been to business school. So I was able to bring a lot of those skills to the business office in an education setting. And then when it was time to go back to work, when I started reaching out to people, they're looking at me and you're like, you've been doing this for free.
Why don't you now get paid for it? And I was like, ooh, okay. Yeah, I haven't thought about that. Maybe I could actually have a career in education. So that's what got me starting to look in the world of education.
Carol Fishman Cohen: I see. Yeah. And at some point I remember speaking with you and you said you had gone through a number of interviews where maybe it wasn't a number, maybe it was one here or there, where you could tell that people were just not comfortable with you coming off of a role as a man, frankly, who was a stay at home dad. And I just wanted to know if you could talk about that piece a little bit and what that felt like and what the interview, what the conversation was like, and then how you made a decision afterward about how you're going to approach employers, where that conversation happened.
Dave Carty: I think there is, I think that bias does exist in the world period, that and this is going to sound horribly old-fashioned, right? But a man's role was out in the work scene and then the mom stays home and takes care of the kids. There are certain only in any population, there are people who think that way, and there are people who don't think that way.
And certainly in the interview process, you're going to meet people who think that way. And yeah, I think in, especially in the private sector, cause I did the interview in some private sector jobs ,finance and marketing. And I think sometimes they were looking at me like, I don't get you.
I don't understand, why would you have done that? You have a, you have an MBA and you had this great career and you haven't done anything for 13 years. However, it was through the iRelaunch conference that I attended that you really, you're taught to realize the things you did while you're home are really valuable and the skills are super transferrable.
So I began to catalog all of my volunteer work, which was quite extensive, Cub Scout leader CCD teacher at my church, the trustee and treasurer at the school. And you can start cataloging, making a list of skills that while I wasn't getting paid for these things, my skills were being maintained and were being sharpened the whole time I was at home.
But you don't think to highlight those because you're on the defensive, trying to justify why you left the workforce in the first place.
Carol Fishman Cohen: That's such an excellent point. I'm really glad that you brought that up because it's instructive for all the relaunchers out there who have done substantive volunteer work that, as Dave is mentioning, keep skills sharp, develop skills, but it's also legitimate resume material especially depending on what jobs you're applying for.
I'm guessing as you eventually navigated over to the academic institution world and looking for job opportunities there, that the volunteer work that you've had in the educational environments became more and more relevant.
Dave Carty: Absolutely. And then once I had the idea that I wanted to go and have a career in the education world, I started looking for additional volunteer work in the education world.
So I had all this experience as the trustee and treasurer at my children's independent school, but I also reached out through a contact I had at a local college, and I volunteered in their advancement office. And it got me into the advancement office. It got me a number of professional contacts.
It was a resume builder. I could put a college on my transcript or on my resume. I learned the various softwares that were used, so I just continued to build my volunteer skills. So when I was sitting in front of people who had jobs that I was seriously interested in, I could point to, I wasn't not doing anything while I was home.
I was actually very active. I was building a story that would justify me getting a position in the organization I had hoped to be in.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And when you started having the interviews at the Kent Place School, where you ultimately were hired, what was that process like? And did what clicked for you and what could you tell were the conversations that became meaningful that led to your hiring?
Dave Carty: I think first of all, it was extremely thorough. I interviewed with, oh, it must've been six or seven people multiple times over the course of about three months.
And fortunately it was a world that I was very familiar with, because it was part of the independent school world in New Jersey, which is where I was a trustee and treasurer. My school was aware of the school where I was a trustee, was aware obviously of this school in New Jersey and vice versa.
So it was a world where people knew each other. For example, if you went from Bank A to Bank B, the people at Bank A who know, oh yeah, if he came from Bank B, he must be okay. It does, it gets you in the door. It doesn't get you the job, but it gets you in the door. So the same thing, I think if, oh, if he was a trustee and the treasurer at this school, we know that says something about his background and his skills. So that was very useful. But I think more importantly my time as a stay at home parent was not seen as a negative. It was seen as a, I think, a strength coupled with the very strategic and thoughtful volunteer work I had done in the education world.
And I just got the sense that, yes, this is a place that gets me. It gets my background. It gets my reasoning for why I did what I did, and it understands why I'm sitting in the office today interviewing with them. But I think that's important, not to bang your head against a wall, trying to convince people who are not receptive to your story, your skill sets, but find the place where people are going to say, yeah, we get that.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And was the idea that it would be an educational institution with an academic calendar that was similar to your kids' academic calendar a factor for you, or was that just an additional benefit?
Dave Carty: It was an additional benefit. Although as an administrator, I am a 12 month employee, so I don't get the full summers off, but the schedule is quite good.
There are good vacation benefits . And my kids were much older now. I've got two in college and one in high school. So being in sync with their academic schedule is not as important as it was perhaps five or six years ago.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And can you tell us a little bit more about what it was like in those first few months back on the job, and what it's like now with some hindsight, because you've been there.
Dave Carty: Almost three years, coming up on my three full year anniversary.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh, excellent. Yeah. Cause we don't always have the opportunity to speak with relaunchers who've been back for a period of time where they can now in hindsight, reflect on the experience. Do you remember what it was like those first few months and were there any technology issues or just simply being back in a work routine issue that took some adjustment in terms of, also the transitional piece of having the kids getting used to you working again and having them know that, if they left something at home that day you were at work and weren't necessarily available to bring it to them, so they have to get ready the night before . Can you just talk about some of those transitional pieces and your first few months on the job?
Dave Carty: First of all, I think I was walking on clouds for the first few weeks. Yeah. I'm like, yes! Back because it took a while to get the job. I think from start to finish, I was in it for about nine months.
With a couple of near misses at various schools. So I was elated when I got the job and the fact, all right, after 13 years, I'm back in the workforce and that was wonderful. And I love getting up and I'd love digging in and learning about the school and learning about my job responsibilities.
Trying to cover off that little but very important thing you mentioned of, “Dad, I forgot my trumpet at home” or, “I forgot my lunch.” Yeah. I was the de facto, “Oh, I'll run that down to you, I'll run that down to you.” And that couldn't happen anymore, but that was fine. The kids just had to deal with that.
And like I said, they were older at this point. But it's funny you hit that nail on the head with one thing. Technology actually proved to be I think the weakest part of my transition back to work. And not so much with the technology that the general public uses, for example Excel or email, general things like that, but very specific technology to the institution.
We are a Google Doc institution and I didn't know a thing about Google Docs and I had to learn Google Docs very quickly. Not a hard thing, you have to learn something brand new that you don't know how to use. There were other technology things that other people at school were using.
I think part of it was. It was what the institution uses and I just didn't have experience using it. And part of it was, my age bracket, I was, I remember meeting a guy at one of my first corporate jobs who was a Lotus 1,2,3 guy, and he couldn't get Excel. And I felt like I was the dinosaur using Word and Excel, these things.
So that was, that took a while and I am still spending a lot of time mastering new technology as the school comes out or as it comes out in the school. And I don't think that can be underestimated when you go back to work is, master all of the systems and technologies that are in place where you are or else you'll stand out as, you'll stand out for not knowing.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And then on the flip side, did you feel that when you were back because of your relative age to the staff that did they treat you any differently? Did they treat you, did they come to you for advice? What was that part of the relationship like? And did you have an age disparity with the staff?
Dave Carty: There's a variety of age groups at the school. I don't think that I had people coming to me for advice about specific school related technical matters, because I simply didn't have the content, the historical knowledge, the institutional knowledge to really comment effectively on it.
There might have been non-school related things that I could bring a different life perspective to. And part of that also requires the confidence to share that when you're new in an organization and you're new and you don't have a lot of the institutional knowledge.
And many of the people where I work have been at the school for quite some time, 10, 15, 20 years. Yeah, they have a wealth of institutional knowledge. You feel a little hesitant to want to share your opinions just because you're not sure that they don't already have it covered. But as I find myself now at year three, definitely feeling more comfortable, voicing my opinion, sharing points of view, because I do feel like I have more of the institutional knowledge to benefit the organization.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And what has life been like on the home front now that you're back and your kids are older. Are there any other transitional issues that have occurred longer term, or do you feel that people pretty much slipped into this new routine and got used to it? And dad works full time now?
Dave Carty: Well, it's funny, I think people slipped into the routine pretty well. Yeah, my, my kids don't really remember when I worked, they just remember me as dad. So as I'm now in the workforce and I'm making contacts and then also restoring some of my old contacts, the kids are like, wow, there's this whole side of dad we never knew existed before. They're finding photos of me from my previous career and they're like, wow, that was you dad, you used to dress up like that? So little things like that are very funny. It's yeah, dad had a life before he had the life of taking care of you. He had a totally different life.
And, I describe it when I tell people that I view this as phase three. Phase one was that first 10 year-12 year block of my career, did the international sales and marketing. Phase two was the stay at home, take care of the kids, which was full-time plus a 24/7 job.
And now phase three, which I think is going to carry me through retirement, whenever that is 15, 20 years from now. So yeah, I think the transition has been wonderful. The kids have totally embraced me going back to work. Of course, two of them are in college now, and one is at a boarding school. So it's been wonderful for everybody.
And I think they like seeing dad working.
Carol Fishman Cohen: That's terrific and that's probably a great place for us to finish. And so I did want to ask you one final question. And that is, if you have a favorite piece of relaunch advice to share even if it repeats something that you already said during this interview.
Dave Carty: Sure, so I think the most important thing I would say to any relauncher is network, build your network, figure out you don't even know who your network is, but believe me, you have a network through your volunteer activity, right?
A lot of coffees, a lot of dinners, a lot of brainstorming with friends and literally write up the list of who your network is and then use the network. I think we have a tendency when we're a stay at home parent, we don't want to bother somebody. We don't want to ask for favors, but I think it's expected when you are looking for a job that you will ask anybody and everybody who you think can help you for any advice, tips, referrals.
Yeah, network, and then use the network.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Great. Thank you very much that is excellent advice. And I'm so glad that you acknowledged that piece about people feeling concerned about bothering someone and how it's okay to have that conversation. That's such an important point. Dave, thank you so much for joining us today and for sharing your incredible return to work success story.
And we've just been thrilled to have you.
Dave Carty: Thank you. It's been my pleasure.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Be sure to visit us at iRelaunch.com in order to get the most important tools and resources for returning to work.
If you have any comments or questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org . And be sure to visit our website iRelaunch.com.