May 27, 1996 in Nation/World

Homemaker Skills Can Be Selling Point

L.M. Sixel Houston Chronicle

At this time of year, many people think about jobs.

It’s time for college graduates to start getting offers or to get a little nervous about what they’ll find. Some mothers who stay at home during the school year take summer jobs to supplement family incomes.

Schoolchildren flock to the malls and fast-food joints, looking for jobs as shop assistants and chefs. And summer seems to be a natural time to think about how much you like your own job or, perhaps, to ponder a career change. Either way, the following is a list of frequently asked questions about getting and changing jobs.

How do I re-enter the job market after being a full-time mom?

The key is to repackage the skills you’ve learned as a homemaker, said Carolyn Elsea, regional manager of human resources for ENSR, an environmental consulting and engineering company in Houston. Full-time mothers know how to manage their time and deal with difficult people, she said.

If you want, say, a job in customer service, those skills would be important selling points. And don’t forget your volunteer activities, such as organizing fund-raisers for the PTA or writing a newsletter for the homeowners association, Elsea said. Those activities are like running a small business.

How can I change jobs if I have a pre-existing medical condition?

Don’t ask about pre-existing insurance rules until you’ve got a job offer in hand, said Madeleine York, vice president of Reedie & Co., an outplacement company in Houston.

If you’ve got a friend inside the company, you might ask for a look at the insurance plan, she said. But don’t do it through official channels - employers can’t discriminate against applicants with disabilities, but it’s best not to raise any red flags.

Don’t automatically think you can’t find a job because you’ve been treated for a disease. Some employers don’t have any rules on pre-existing conditions, she said.

How do I choose a new career?

Focus on the things you like to do and then do research to see what kind of jobs are available, said Judy Wallace, director of human resources at Falcon Seaboard Resources, an energy services company. Talk to career counselors and check out reference books on career choices, said Wallace, who is also president of the Houston Human Resource Management Association.

It’s also important to talk to people who have the kind of job you’d like to have. Ask them why they like the job and ask them to list some of the things they don’t like.

How do I retool for a career change?

Contact people who do the kind of job you’d like to do and ask for advice, recommends Kathleen Kelley, manager of organizational development and training for a communications company in Houston. Ask them how they got where they are, what kind of skills they need to do the job and how they got the skills. Then develop a plan to acquire those skills. The plan may require classes or some on-the-job experience, Kelley said.

How do I convince an interviewer that I’m not overqualified for a job?

Stress your interest in the job and the challenges it offers, not the fact that the pay and benefits may be less than what you’re used to, said Becky Pearson, human resource representative for Watkins Carter Hamilton Architects in Houston. And if the employer worries you’ll be bored, emphasize how you can expand the position and take on more responsibilities, Pearson recommends.

How should I follow up after sending off my resume?

If you sent the resume to a specific person, wait about 10 to 14 days and then call to check on the status of the job opening, said John Ryder, human resource manager at M.W. Kellogg Co., an engineering and construction firm.

But if you sent your resume in response to an advertisement and didn’t address it to anyone in particular, don’t waste your time trying to call the company to see if your resume arrived, Ryder said. There are better ways to spend your job search time, such as in networking.

What do I say if the interviewer wants me to list my weakest job traits?

We all have them, so don’t try to weasel out and say you can’t think of any flaws. The key is to point out what you’re doing about your shortcomings, Elsea said. For example, if you’re a procrastinator, tell the employer how you make a special effort to remind yourself to make lists, work on priorities first and set short-term goals, Elsea said.

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