by Robin Gilson

I had been toying with the idea of going back to work for years,

but how could I go back after so much time spentraising kids, managing a household and focusing on my tennis game?  In my past life, I had been an attorney, but now I had a brain full of Spongebob.   And the longer I dithered, the more impossible it seemed.  Then, in 2012, I got divorced, which provided the necessary nudge.

I saw immediately that the world had changed.  You don’t mail your resume:  you navigate through websites, upload and submit.  If this was just applying, how had technology changed in the actual work place?  Modernizing myself technologically was essential, so I enrolled at a local computer learning center. At least I could put proficiency in Word, Powerpoint and Excel on my resume.  This was a great investment.  As I learned later, proficiency with Powerpoint and Excel are essential to many job roles.

I also asked a friend who had reentered the work world after years spent at home for advice.   “Getting a job is easier when you have a job, so just take something, do it for a year, and then you’ll be able to find what you want.”

Maybe so, but I had been an attorney.  Plus I had a master’s degree in English.  How hard could this be?  I wasn’t trying to be a partner at a law firm (I didn’t really want to go back into law), or an executive at a company.  I just wanted to do some marketing – or something.  But she was right.  It was hard.   Even after I lowered my expectations, I floundered.   No one seemed interested in a middle-aged woman who had taken years off from working.

News articles and studies confirmed my suspicions that, no matter how much “life experience” we had, no one wanted us.   Especially after The Great Recession, women over 50 were unlikely to return to work.

Finally, I got a job as an adjunct English professor at a local community college.  After sending numerous resumes out into the ether, I scraped up the courage to call heads of English departments at a few schools, and that did the trick.  I got an interview and the job.  If you have any kind of work experience, certification, license or graduate degree, starting out as an adjunct is a great first step.  And I absolutely loved teaching.  However, it didn’t pay the mortgage.

I kept applying – and, with a current job, started to get a few interviews!  But still no job offers.  Then one day, playing tennis at a local resort, I heard about people from a company called Vanguard who were taking group tennis lessons.  What’s Vanguard, I wondered.  I looked it up, and decided to apply for a position.   Maybe I could be on their tennis team.

But this time, I changed my strategy.  I decided to write a cover letter that would just lay it all on the line:  my age, my time off, and how this would be a tremendous asset to any employer.  Honestly, I took a chance.   I read the letter to my significant other before sending it.  “That’ll never work,” he snickered.  But neither had anything else.

A few days later, I got a call.  The first step was a phone interview, after which I was invited to the firm for a half day of interviews.  I knew nothing about the company or the mutual fund industry, so I did a lot of research.

At Vanguard, I met the woman in HR who had received my resume.  “I LOVED your cover letter!”  she gushed.  The day went well, and I got the job.  I’m not saying this kind of letter will work anywhere, but, as I now know, without risk, there is often no reward.

After much training at “Vanguard University,” I hit the trading floor in August of last year, and have already been promoted.  As I was saying goodbye and thank you to my current manager before moving into my new position, she asked, “How can we hire more people like you?”  Maybe the tide is changing, and the points I made in my cover letter are becoming generally accepted.  Let’s hope so – for the sake of the employers!