Stay-at-home moms looking to re-enter the workforce need to log hours doing research and self-evaluations before they ever start their job searches.

Stay-at-home moms looking to re-enter the workforce need to log hours doing research and self-evaluations before they ever start their job searches.

Finding a job in the current economic downturn requires lots of careful planning - especially for those who have gaps in their resumes, according to employment specialists. Networking also is critical for landing a job, the experts said.

The first step to finding a job is looking at potential barriers that need to be addressed, said Cindy Kazalia, a placement specialist with New Directions, a nonprofit company that helps prepare women for the workforce.

Common hurdles women face are ensuring transportation, childcare and striking a balance between work and family, she said. Stay-at-home moms often have difficulty accepting that their household will likely run differently once they start working, Kazalia said. "You have to give yourself permission to change how you're doing some things," she said. "You have to shift some of your expectations."

Women also should look at how much money they will be spending on child care, work attire, commuting and other work-related expenses, added Carol Friedhoff, a financial planner in Dublin. If those costs total one-third to one-half of one's gross pay, it may not be worth going to work, she said.

Once you've considered pay, childcare and transportation issues, it's time to start thinking about what type of job you're qualified to do. "Start with an assessment - do it with a professional or do it on your own," said Celia Crossley, owner of Celia D. Crossley & Associates, a Columbus company that offers career counseling. During the assessment phase, look at what types of jobs and projects you have been successful at in the past, she said.

When you have an idea of what type of job you'd like or what field interests you, it's necessary to research whether those types of jobs are available and if you meet the qualifications. Even if you're applying for a job in a field you've previously worked, it's important to see whether new skill sets or technologies have come into play. Find out "what's different" about the job and "how to get that skill" Crossley said. Look to professional organizations, friends and former business associates to find out what qualifications are necessary for the jobs you're interested in, she said.

Someone re-entering the job market might find they need to take a class or attend a workshop to refresh their skills or learn new information. "Get some advice," Crossley said. Ask people in the field you're interested in: "What kind of education do you have?"

Find out whether it's possible to train online, she suggested. "Today, you can go to school online," she said. "You can do that during [kids'] naptime. You can make that work much easier than in the past."

After addressing any training issues, it's time to put together a resume. Never underestimate the importance of a resume, warned Crossley. "It's that piece that people want to see," she said. "It's that marketing document." She recommends people spend a lot of time making sure their resume really spells out their skills, successes and abilities. It's very helpful to have someone within the field review your resume and conduct a mock interview with you, Kazalia said. Mock interviews show job seekers "how to best feature your skills and not introduce any red flags."

Women who have been out of the workforce need to prepare themselves for questions about what they have been doing. "You don't want to be defensive about that," Crossley said. "Be [on the offense] by saying what you have done."

Candidates who have stayed current with their skills, maintained ties with a professional organization or held volunteer positions that utilized their job expertise will have an advantage during the interview. Running a book fair, serving as president of a parent-teacher organization, or organizing a fundraiser are all viable job skills and it's okay to sell them that way.

Finally, it's important to research the companies that you are applying to. Find out whether their corporate philosophies mesh with your goals, if they are family-friendly and most importantly, whether they are hiring.

During your research make as many contacts in the field as possible, the experts recommended.

"Networking is key," Kazalia said. Crossley agreed. "The reality is most jobs that are available are never published anywhere," she said.

Melissa Kossler Dutton has worked as a reporter for more than a decade. She's a frequent contributor to a variety of Ohio publications. She lives in Bexley with her husband and two sons.