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In order to make a successful comeback to the labor force, women will need to get strategic, says expert Deborah Sweeney. (Credit: Nenad Stojkovic, Flickr)

The devastating toll the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the careers of U.S. women is, unfortunately, still ongoing. 

Nearly 2.3 million women have left the labor force since the start of the pandemic, according to analysis from the National Women’s Law Center. The percent of adult women who are currently working or looking for work is just 57 percent — a number not seen since 1988. With schools closed or only partially open, one in three working mothers has considered downshifting careers or leaving the workforce, according to new studies.

[Related: The Story Exchange’s Coronavirus Crisis Coverage]

With vaccination rollouts and federal relief coming from the Biden administration, there is hope on the horizon. But the pandemic’s impact on working women and their careers may be irreversible. For example, many women work in the hard-hit service industry. Jobs in hospitality or at restaurants are disappearing and may not return. 

In order to make a successful comeback to the labor force, women will need to get strategic. But how can you prepare for a labor force that does not look like the same one you left behind? Here are the key areas where you’ll need to prepare yourself.

1. Look at the Job Interview as a Two-Way Process.

Career and business coach Jackie Ghedine works with Gen X women, who are frequently caught in the net of downsizing, pivoting or layoffs. The most common mistake that Ghedine sees female job hunters make relates to how they think of the interview process.

“Interviews should be a two-way exploration about fit, skills, structure and culture,” Ghedine says.

[Related: 5 Home-Based Small Business Ideas for Starting Up in 2021]

Women that don’t consider interviews as a two-way process ultimately oversell, overcompensate and undermine themselves to get to the second round, Ghedine warns. As this behavior continues, the interview process may become daunting and mentally draining.

Here are some other tips from Ghedine to sharpen up interview skills.

  • Develop your tagline. A woman can differentiate herself from the crowd by using an analogy that exemplifies skills and strengths, Ghedine says. Here’s an example: “I’m a Sherpa who rallies my team through every scenario, plans and plots the journey with precision and a clear understanding of the goal and how to get there.”
  • Answer the question first. Women tend to be great storytellers, but according to Ghedine this can hurt us in the interview process. “When interviewing, give the answer to the question first and immediately then take them on your visual storytelling journey on how you got there,” Ghedine says.
  • Showcase how hiring you benefits the company and can impact the bottom line of the organization. Share how you, and your skill set, can help save the organization time, increase revenue, lower margins, and create new opportunities. 
2. Improve Your Skills While Still at Home.

Women returning to work will be required to have new skills in today’s job market, says 

Dr. Allison Weidhaas, an associate professor and director of master’s programs in business communication and health communication at Rider University. 

If you have a skill gap, now is the time to make improvements while you are still at home. Weidhaas says. 

“Many universities offer certificate programs that don’t take the time or resources of a traditional degree, and today’s job seekers can start this from the comfort of their homes,” Weidhaas says. “These courses are designed for people who want to fit learning around their existing lives, giving them a lot of flexibility to watch videos and respond to assignments on their time.”

[Related: Women Business Owners More Pessimistic Than Men About Pandemic Impact]

3. Use Your Resources.

Don’t forget there are plenty of resources that you can utilize to help prepare you for re-entering the workforce, says career coach Carlota Zimmerman. Here are a few spaces where women may begin reaching out.

  • Your college and graduate school alumni associations. Contact them and ask what kinds of free resources they offer to alums. If there isn’t a local one, you might take the initiative to start one.
  • Local trade associations. Ask if they can connect you to people in your chosen field.
  • Community colleges and public libraries. Libraries in particular can be a wealth of information. Check out the resources available at local ones near you.
4. Reach Out — Appropriately — Via Social Media.

Another great space brimming with opportunities are social media platforms. However, it’s important that you don’t use these platforms to spam contacts or annoy users. Zimmerman recommends taking a strategic, thoughtful approach for networking with social media connections.

Head to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Write a 1-2 sentence status with a sentence about what you’re looking for. Then, write a sentence about why this field interests you. Include your contact information, like your email, that people can use to reach out to you.

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It may seem like a brief message, but this approach works especially if it has been a while since you were actively networking for a job. “I’ve had many clients who started the networking process that led them to their dream job that way.” Zimmerman says.

5. Give Yourself a Longer Runway to Succeed.

Zimmerman says that the hardest part of getting back to work is getting that first job — and you may need to manage expectations. If your plan for returning to the workforce revolves solely around making a six-figure salary and getting a corner office with a view, you’ll ultimately be setting yourself up for a lot of pain.

Whether your first job back into the workforce is one where you’re running an office, being a barista, or tutoring neighborhood children, you might need to take it slow — and there is nothing wrong with that. Give yourself permission to succeed, says Zimmerman, in the manner that best suits your personality and lifestyle. 

[Related: This Is What Happens When a Woman Leader Successfully Manages Coronavirus]

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com which provides online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, startup bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent services, DBAs, and trademark and copyright filing services. You can find MyCorporation on Twitter at @MyCorporation. 

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