Laura Hoffman started her career as a successful quality assurance (QA) engineer and program manager in roles at Microsoft, Adobe and DirecTV. When her son developed
special needs, she stayed home with him, all the while learning as she went. Laura wanted to return to work in 2016, and quickly found that while her technical skills needed a refresh, her job search skills did too.
After 18 years out of the workforce, she recently accepted an offer from CourseMaven, as a full time program manager for their SaaS product, DualEnroll. Laura talks with us about her journey back, what inspired her to find what she really wanted her life to look like, how she decided to update her technical tools to address skill deficits, and most importantly get her mojo back.
The Swing Shift: Like many parents of children with different abilities, you stayed home with your son to assist in his education and living situation. What was the thing that prompted you to want to get back into the workforce?
Laura: As my kids got older and more independent, and my son got additional support in school, I began to notice that I had extra time on my hands. I began to want to do something challenging that was just for me. I missed using my brain to solve complex problems. I missed the sense of accomplishment I got from completing technical projects. I also had this nagging desire to have my kids to get to know the professional me. It was then I knew it was time for me to go back to work.
Your journey was not straightforward. You took a couple of contract jobs, then went back to school. Can you talk a little bit about your path back?
While I was a stay at home parent, I always thought that a great job would be there whenever I decided to return to the workforce. I soon discovered that employers weren’t waiting to snap up someone that had been out of tech for over 15 years. I needed to skill-up. I learned about the Swing Shift and signed up for their career accelerator. At first, I had so little confidence, I was a wreck by the time I arrived to class. But as the program progressed so did my confidence and workplace knowledge.
With my new found confidence, I decided to pursue some technical courses to freshen up my skills. Along the way I was fortunate to secure contract employment which got me used to being around adults in a professional capacity again. I was really out of practice and unbearably awkward, but after some time, I found my footing and became more comfortable.
You elected to invest in your technical skills and attended Flatiron School’s Software Engineering Bootcamp. Was that a risk?
There were a lot of considerations when I began to explore the possibility of attending a coding bootcamp--cost, time commitment and a brain full of cobwebs. I wondered how my family would manage without me for 10-12 hours per day. Additionally, I hadn’t used my brain in a “tech geek” way for many years, would I still be able to grasp technical concepts quickly enough? My family rose to the challenge and fended for themselves quite nicely, but I’m not going to lie, those cobwebs took quite a bit of work to clear!
Your new employer found you on LinkedIn! What was that like? What was your biggest concern when you interviewed? How did you prepare?
Some background first! In March a potential Flatiron student connected with me on LinkedIn and set up some time with me to discuss my thoughts about Flatiron, to see if it was for him. Ultimately, he attended Flatiron. CourseMaven hired him and then found me because I was a connection. I cannot express how important networking on LinkedIn is!
I was planning to look for a job after the holidays, but received a LinkedIn message from CourseMaven right before Thanksgiving. I have had people reach out to me on LinkedIn before, for things that weren’t legitimate career opportunities, so I was a little incredulous when CourseMaven first made contact. After speaking with them for a while, it was clear that the opportunity was for a real job! Even after my first week working for them, I still cannot believe it!
I think my biggest concern was that the interviewers would see my employment gap as insurmountable and my 20 year old skill set as irrelevant. I worried that at my age, with my gap; having a real career was just an impossible dream. To get my head in the right place for the interview, I kept reminding myself that they saw something in my profile that compelled them to reach out, so they saw me as having something to offer.
I prepared for the interviews by reviewing my resume, thinking of projects that went well and not so well, reviewing interview questions on Glassdoor and running test meetings on Zoom, (with just the right lighting!)
Many women have headed out of the workforce due to the current pandemic, and many fear that they may not be able to return. What’s your advice for them to engineer a successful foray back to business.
Always have your interview clothes ready, your resume up to date and your LinkedIn profile in great shape with a summary, and a professional headshot. Join professional organizations in your field NOW, as they are holding events virtually. Look into freshening up your skills through continuing education classes and online classes, and virtual seminars given by professional organizations. Look for people on LinkedIn who are in the profession you hope to pivot or return to and connect with them with a sincere message explaining your interest in them. And lastly, don’t give up. Know that there is a yes out there, waiting for you.
Don't forget to check out Laura's profile and connect with her on LinkedIn!
Want more info on how you can strategize your return to work? Be sure to check out www.backtobusinessbook.com to get your copy of our step by step self-guided book that teaches you how to play the modern job search game.