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Startup focuses on moms returning to work force

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GREENVILLE, Del. — They are smart, but a little scared. Capable, but worried that their skills may have grown rusty. Experienced, but conscious that prospective employers may focus too closely on that long, quiet gap in their résumés.

The leap back into the work force is a challenging move for professional women who have taken time off to raise children, one that requires a rejuvenated mind-set along with a carefully refreshed résumé, experts advise.

Returning moms must be prepared to cope with workplace demands that have evolved and grown since their departure, and to accept the reality that they may never attain the same kind of work they had before.

They also must be ready to reconfigure their role in the home, and be sure they re-enter the career world with full support of their spouse.

In short, they face challenges unlike any they've known, and frequently benefit from a helping hand and some sympathetic support, said Julie MacWilliams, co-founder of Springboard Careers, a Delaware-based career counseling agency specifically designed to help mothers get back into a professional role once their children are no longer so young.

As one-time career professionals who stepped aside to raise families themselves, MacWilliams and co-founder Erin Sicuranza figured they could bring just the right insights into their clients' needs.

"We kind of knew what we would need if we ever wanted to get back to work," said Sicuranza, a former instructional technology consultant for the University of Delaware who left work in 2005 to raise her three children.

For the most part, MacWilliams and Sicuranza focus on women ages 35 to 55 who once held professional positions, and now find their children take up far less of their time. Most are college educated, with years of experience, but for many, the most intimidating challenge is that one piece of paper that carried so much significance.

"We have a lot of women who come to us with the résumé piece," looking for help in fine-tuning it and bringing it up to date, said MacWilliams, a veteran of 17 years in business development and marketing jobs. "They want that off their plates so they can start looking for jobs."

"Even though I had a history and background in marketing ... I was very intimidated about how to figure out how to put a résumé together," said Erin McBride Schlerf of Greenville, a mother of two who left the professional world about a decade ago. "I wasn't clear how to do that and not make it look like I had been out of the paid work force for nine, 10 years."

Clients of Springboard also get career coaching if needed, have a LinkedIn profile created, and even attend workshops on such topics as using social media if they believe they have fallen behind the technological curve. Weekly email blasts keep clients informed of job openings, and local employers with staffing needs are kept in the loop. Springboard's fees are flexible, ranging from $325 to $525 per client.

Through it all, MacWilliams and Sicuranza work to keep it hands-on and personal, "because we know how intimidating it can be," MacWilliams said. Many know they want to go back, but don't know what their focus should be. Others have years of experience in a certain job, but need a change.

In Schlerf's case, the urge to return to work coincided with the realization that her 10-year-old son was becoming more and more independent, and needing less and less of her time. "If I don't do this now, it could be eight years down the road, he's going off to college, and I'm trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I didn't want that to happen," she said.

Part of Springboard's challenge is proving to cautious clients that their dreams are possible, give them that boost of confidence that can be so crucial to success. "These are very, very bright women across the board, though. Very sharp," MacWilliams said.

In the case of Springboard -- started in 2010 out of the two partners' homes -- it seems to have been a fortuitous time to offer such assistance. Driven by the increased pressures of the recession, many stay-at-home moms are finding their family's financial well-being demands they get a job. Many others are reaching the age when they believe their at-home responsibilities are easing, bringing them a long-awaited opportunity to rejoin the work force.

"Year after year, we're seeing a great increase in growth," MacWilliams said.

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