(WOMENSENEWS)–Heading back into the world of work often presents challenges to women hoping to pick up where they left off. Instead of welcoming arms, career coaches tell those about to step back in to expect skeptical employers and a rough re-entry.

“It’s about women repackaging themselves as candidates. They are fighting the view of the soccer moms,” says Eliza Shanley, co-founder of Women At Work Network in Wilton, Conn., which connects women with employers, helps them re-enter the work force and offers career counseling and advice on resume writing.

Shanley’s network has about 2,000 members; 95 percent have undergraduate degrees and 30 percent hold graduate degrees, many with mid- to senior-level experience. Most of the women have stepped away from the corporate world to raise children.

The burden, says Shanley, is to anticipate re-entry will not be easy and work around it. Among other things, Shanley says, women should describe their volunteer work in business terms. “Don’t say you chaired the book fair, but that you oversaw a committee of six on a project where you increased sales 20 percent. Don’t use words like coordinated, but say you managed, led, strategized.”

Shanley adds, “Volunteer wisely. If you’re interested in public relations, then do public relations as a volunteer. You want to do good, but also get something out of your volunteering.”

Women shouldn’t put off re-entry planning until the point of wanting to return. It’s about strategy, says Susan Brady, co-leader of the Corporate Education practice of Vantage Partners, a consulting firm in Boston. “Before you take your leave you want to plant the seeds about working flexible hours, working at home, or longer days and fewer days. You want to discuss options.”

Women will do well to create a re-entry plan, with specific and measurable goals, create a stepping-out support network, stay connected with colleagues, maintain professional licenses and memberships, and attend continuing education classes.

Women are also advised to keep their skills sharp and current as much as possible and to take advantage of workshops, conferences and networking in their fields.

Sheryl Nance-Nash is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, N.Y., specializing in personal finance, business and small business.

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