How I Landed A 6-Figure Salary After Being Out Of The Workforce For 6 Years

I am many things.

Mom, entrepreneur, writer, blogger, photographer, wife, sister, daughter, project manager, basketball player, traveler, super chef (in my own lil’ kitchen), friend, singer (best karaoke in cars!!), organizer, dancer (killer moves, here), dreamer, doer.

Only one thing at a time (rare).

All of them at the same time (often).

But, here is a fact: Each of us is actually more than just one thing. For instance, one is not born to be a father only. They can be a father, a storyteller, a chef and a coach. Therefore, each and every day, we all are walking in our strengths, with our things firmly tucked in, taking on one task after the other. We are multi-talented.

When it came time for me to think about entering the job market again, I had all my open buttons…well, buttoned up. But, before I give you surefire ways to land a job, I want to share with you my process, because the beauty is in the process.

Circa 2016

We are still shivering in the not-so-sunny California in March (its been raining for months now, which is good because there has been a drought for the past six years) and I am ready to head back to New York. But I need to a) get my husband on board b) have a kick-ass plan that doesn’t suck.

With weeks of endless convincing, I finally get my husband to be ok with the idea, and I inadvertently promise a plan, with no idea on how I am going to execute.

Plan = me giving corporate America/workforce a try, one last time, by May.

I make some cold calls to contacts on Linkedin and via emails to all my past co-workers/friends. I tell them that I am looking for a role in any field — finance, HR, compensation, business analytics, QA, yada yada. I spruce up my resume to a single page, and I am ready to rock and roll. One of my friends sends me three recruiters’ information, the other tells me about a PMO role at her husband’s company, and a few don’t respond. I am cool with that.

My mind gets racing — I have two eggs to crack — one via recruiter and the other via a direct interview with the hiring manager. It’s been six long years, I have forgotten the rules, and don’t know where to begin, which, as I now look back, turned out to be a blessing.

Fast forward, May, I am interviewing for the HR opening (not too excited to go back to an HR role again, but still not closing off any options at the time) as well as for the Project Manager role (something I have never done before, and honestly, couldn’t even understand the requirements of the resume).

Process

Step # 1: Never be mediocre

I push myself for the PM role because it sounds exciting and challenging, and if I get the job (BIG “if”) then I know I will walk away with a great skill set. I enlist my sister’s help to decode the job posting, I go online and study about lifecycle of a project, different testing models, Scrum, Use Cases, User Story, JIRA stories, waterfall…everything I could. I also read up interview questions on Glassdoor for similar roles at the same company I am interviewing with.

Time Commitment: 2 hours each day

Step # 2: Act and practice

I act out the answers to common questions when I am in the bathroom or alone at home — in front of the mirror. I also turn on FaceTime on my Mac, and watch myself talk (I am scheduled for video interview because I am in CA at the time, and the role is in NYC).  I also practice with my sister and my husband — let them take the job description, and quiz me off that. I act and practice and act and practice and act until it’s all common sense to me.

Time Commitment: 20-30 minutes acting each day; 15-20 minutes of practice, depending on sister and husband’s schedule

These steps, when repeated daily, allowed me to truly get into the mindset of a project manager. I had a good idea of what it meant, and what was expected of being a PM. But, the real test came during interviews (I had three rounds with about four people).

Here were the most common questions they asked:

  • Why do you want this job, and what you want to get out of this role?
  • Why do you think you are an ideal candidate when you have no PM experience?
  • How can you add value with no experience?
  • What were you doing while you were not working for the past six years?

Strategy

I knew I had huge competition for this role, but I did not let that deter me. I quickly realized and made note of my unique strengths, which would make me perfect for the job. The strengths I wrote and explored were:

  • Being a mom (yes — I’ll explain in a minute)
  • Being an entrepreneur
  • My previous corporate roles

Being a Mom

I right away told them that I’d wanted to take a break from corporate life was because I wanted to raise a family, and stay close to my kids for however long it was possible. I sold them that being a mom is like having the insane ability to multi-task, which is a crazy awesome talent to have as a project manager.

Being an Entrepreneur

When I was home with the kids, I had started my wedding photography studio from the ground up, to keep myself occupied. I had donned the hats of marketer, accountant, photographer, artist. My action or inaction was directly linked to the business results, which meant that by hook or by crook, I had to get things done. And, I did. I convinced the interviewers that by running a business (AKA a continuous project), I learned the art of getting things done, coordinating the efforts of multiple parties, and tracking/measuring results. I sold them on the idea that I would approach my projects as an entrepreneur, and that would set me apart from the rest.

My Previous Corporate Roles

I kept establishing a connection between my previous roles and that of Project Manager, and told them that implementing company-wide initiatives in my previous roles were akin to handling large projects involving international coordination. I sold them on the idea that if I could handle conversations/teams across different regions, I could easily get everyone to work with the same deadlines and results.

Basically, I drew parallels.

Worried about knowledge of business — Private Bank vs Investment Bank? Me? Nah!

I assured them that I was a quick learner, and gave them examples of how I learned the ropes of running a business as a newbie, and how I was successful at some of my previous corporate roles, even without having any prior experience in them.

Bonus Strategy # 1: I searched online and found email addresses of all my interviewers (it is easy to find corporate email addresses) and within four hours, sent them all a personalized “Thank you” emails.

Bonus Strategy # 2: I also wrote a personalized “Thank You” email to the recruiting manager at the firm — very casual and full of gratitude. This also helped me, because I was able to negotiate salary with him, and get him to get approval on the number that I wanted.

Conclusion

As tempting as it was, I never let the “unknown-ess” of the role or of the line of business stop me from being confident. I consistently sent them the message of “I did my homework on what it means to be a project manager, and I can deliver no matter what” during my interview, even though I did not have the faintest idea of how I would actually execute at THAT time. Of course, I eventually figured it all out, and excelled at it.

I negotiated salary, without being unreasonable, and landed on a number closer to what it was when I had left the workforce. You could argue “what about inflation adjusted?” and I would argue “new company, new line of business, new role, returning from six years sabbatical — going to pick my battles smartly, buddy.”

Lessons Learned

  • Always be confident
  • Do your homework diligently
  • Remember, there are ways to make your skill sets relevant to the job you are applying (unless the job specifically asks for particular diplomas and certifications)
  • Don’t spend time talking about “time away” — focus on what you can do for them now/going forward
  • Set clarity on expectations of both parties (work hours, flexible arrangements, etc.)
  • Never short-sell yourself — be crisp on matching your skills with the job requirements (which ties into doing homework diligently)
  • Have a pleasant disposition when facing tough questions, and no harm in starting your question with a smile
  • Follow up the interview with a short and sweet personalized “thank you” email
  • Always negotiate salary
  • Be fiercely original, and own it (it’s okay to let your personality shine through)

So, tell me, what are some of the common objections you had (or have) for yourself when you returned to workforce after life changes?

Do you wish you could have done things differently?

Shivika at Dirt Cheap Wealth takes great pride in talking about personal finance strategies in the most unconventional way. A little trip to her blog will surely leave you inspired. You can call her a foodie, book nerd and even a faux-shopper. She is a mommy to two munchkins, who keep her mind and life super active. Feel free to drop her a note or tweet her — she’d love to talk all things finance and art with you! And maybe some celebrity gossip too 🙂

Image via Unsplash

  • Louise Gleeson

    Thank you so much for this article. I currently work in category managment/buying and have actually been looking at Project Manager roles but wasnt exactly sure how to show how my skills and experiance is cross compatible. This is a big help :).

    Do you have any specific advice on the skills you now know are needed/relevant for a Project Manager role?

    • gb

      I’m currently a PM. Most of my job is soliciting and communicating status (both progress and budget), guiding the team through risk identification and mitigation, and taking a high-level business objective and getting the team to break it down into manageable work packages and holding them to it.

    • DIRT CHEAP WEALTH

      Hi Louise, I am so glad you found the article helpful. A Project Manager role is all about collaboration, communication and completion. So, basically, using the specific tools mentioned, say, in the job requirements, your main aim should be to show the interviewer how you can operate in the capacity of a PM by understanding the requirements of project (most importantly – the why), knowing the key stakeholders, testing, and then closing out. I am pretty sure your current role in category management/buying has some level of these activities – all you have to do is change the wordings of your current role to be in sync with the requirements of the new (PM) role.
      Hope this helps.

  • Wendi

    Great piece! Thanks!

  • Thank you for this article! I have been starting to think about my next career move and project management is something that has popped up on more than one occasion. I do a lot of project managing in my current role, but there are other elements of a project manager job description that I don’t do or are completely foreign to me. This article has given me such a great roadmap for how to tackle those obstacles and how to translate my skillset into a new career (in project management or otherwise!)