Network—with everyone: When you want to get back into the work world, the key is going to be relationships. That was certainly the case for Celeste Farrell, who found her current job as the manager of a physical therapy department in an orthopedic specialists' office through a fellow class mom she'd befriended. "She's the business manager of the office and thought I would make a good manager," says Farrell, an event planner in her former life.
"We'd done some volunteer work together and I always seemed to get roped into being the chairperson, so she'd already seen me in action!"
Rethink your resume: Be sure to catalog all your experience, including any part-time or contract work done during your "hiatus," as well as any unpaid work. As for the myriad tasks you do at home or at your children's school? "Some employers won't want to hear you were the PTA room mother," Collamer says. "However, if you chaired a school committee that raised thousands of dollars and as part of your job responsibilities you'd be managing a budget, highlight your fundraising and budgeting experience."
If you find you still have too much white space on your resume, consider writing a "functional" resume rather than a chronological one, Quigley advises. This means downplaying dates and listing your skills by category, such as supervisory, research, sales, communication, problem solving and team building.
Be realistic when you return: "Know that you may have to come in at a different place from where you left, so make sure you've placed the bar at a realistic level for yourself," says Cali Williams Yost, author of Work + Life: Finding the Fit That's Right for You (Riverhead, 2004). "Yet really value and honor what you've done while you were out--you'll project that confidence."
Think about what you really want: You may decide to return to part-time work, or, after having had some time away, you may want to do something else entirely. A good way to get a real feel for another profession is to "shadow" someone in the job, Collamer says. Spend a day with a lawyer friend or ask to assist a real-estate agent you know with an open house. That way, you've looked before you've leapt.
Realize your true value: "I'll hire moms over other job-searchers any day, because they have so much experience in multitasking," says certified public accountant Karen Sackstein, a mom whose accounting business employs only mothers who make their own flexible schedules--including one woman who had been away from the workforce for so long that she didn't know how to use e-mail.
"Job hunting is hard for anyone, yet many women have successfully gone back to work after having children," Collamer says. "As a mother, you bring an enormous amount of maturity, experience and knowledge to the table." Which means your next employer is going to be lucky to have you.