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CAREER MAKEOVER

Don’t dismiss your current work

Freelancer who’s looking for more needs to take credit for what she’s been doing

By Cindy Atoji Keene
Globe Correspondent / June 20, 2010

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As a stay-at-home mom in Lexington, Meg Muckenhoupt truly has a full-time job. Her typical week includes everything from shuttling the kids to karate to talking to her son’s class about ancestry to making stops at the local market.

But Muckenhoupt’s credentials go way beyond being the unofficial “CEO’’ for her family of five, which includes 5-year-old twins, an 8-year old son, and her astrophysicist husband. With two degrees, from Brown and Harvard universities, Muckenhoupt is an accomplished author, and she’s spent the last year working on a book proposal, freelancing for a Web-based Harvard program, ghostwriting for a physician, and blogging for her publisher. Despite her busy life, since leaving the corporate workforce eight years ago after the birth of her oldest son, Muckenhoupt has missed the camaraderie around the office water cooler.

“I’m a middle-aged freelance writer/stay-at-home mom who’s very, very tired of working at home, but can’t seem to break back into the workplace,’’ Muckenhoupt wrote in her request for a Boston Globe Career Makeover. “I’ve got two Ivy degrees and nothing to do with them.’’

As part of the makeover, Muckenhoupt sat down with career consultant Patricia Hunt Sinacole, president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. Muckenhoupt outlined for Sinacole her ideal career situation as either a writer, editor, or project manager: If she works full time, she needs an income that covers after-school care, about $1,200 a month for three kids during the school year plus $750 a week during school vacations — or almost $18,000 a year. She’s had nibbles of interest for nonprofit jobs that pay in the mid-$40,000 range, but she said that won’t be sufficient.

“With three kids to send to college, we need more income,’’ Muckenhoupt said. “I’ve done a lot of different things . . . and have plenty of skills in writing and publishing, but I can’t seem to get the hang of making money.’’

Up until now, Muckenhoupt has been casual about her job hunt, applying for jobs through Craigslist, Idealist, and other websites, but she says it’s time to get more serious about finding work. Muckenhoupt and Sinacole sat down and studied her substantial resume, which includes writing textbook materials, putting together conference summaries, tutoring management consultants, and writing a science book, “Sigmund Freud, Explorer of the Unconscious,’’ which won a American Academy of Sciences award and was translated into seven languages.

“My expensively educated brain could be helping people,’’ Muckenhoupt said. “I need to find a place to put it.’’

Sinacole’s first piece of advice was that Muckenhoupt not think of her job search as “re-entering the work force’’ or “returning to work.’’ Unlike many stay-at-home moms who have completely left their law firms, computer labs, or business offices to care for their children, Muckenhoupt has kept up her craft by freelancing.

“Women like you, who keep a finger in the workforce, have an easier time fitting back in than women who have completed disengaged,’’ Sinacole said. “You’ve been working, but now you want to jump back in with both feet.’’

Sinacole said the key to successfully finding employment would be for Muckenhoupt to sell herself as an independent writer and editor who can operate in the new media world. Muckenhoupt has blogged, is familiar with interactive journalism, and knows a wide range of computer programs and languages, but this information was buried in her resume.

“Employers need to read three to four pages to find out who you really are,’’ said Sinacole, who advised Muckenhoupt to add a synopsis of her repertoire to her resume. Sinacole also said Muckenhoupt might benefit from a personal website and a business Facebook page to supplement her personal Facebook page, where she currently promotes her book talks and appearances.

As far as Muckenhoupt boosting her income, Sinacole said with her strong academic credentials, she might want to home in on university jobs close to home, such as at Bentley, Brandeis, or Tufts, whether in the writing center, as a visiting tutor, or an adjunct professor.

“Higher education institutions would be appreciative of your background, and possibly offer flex hours during the summer,’’ Sinacole said.

Another option: think in terms of a patchwork career that cobbles together different sources of revenue, whether it’s working as an editor three days a week, teaching at night, and running coaching workshops. “It may not be the traditional career you thought you’d have 15 years ago, but you’ll be able to satisfy your passions and still make your family a priority,’’ said Sinacole. She also suggested Muckenhoupt could pursue a technical writing or grant writing certificate that might help her close the “generalist’’ gap and make her more marketable as a specialty writer.

Sinacole wrapped up the makeover with a warning: During job interviews, Muckenhoupt should never bring up child-care issues or concerns. “Once a woman starts detailing child-care arrangements, especially as part of the initial interview, this isn’t a good thing — it’s like a man saying his car broke down, so he can’t get to work,’’ Sinacole said. “Companies want someone who delivers, so don’t put up red flags in the beginning.’’

Sinacole said whether male or female, all parents need to make their own decisions about the trade-offs of staying at home or working, in all its various options. “There are different dynamics in every family depending on the involvement of the spouses, family support systems, and financial needs,’’ said Sinacole.

When the makeover session ended, Sinacole reminded Muckenhoupt to erase the words “re-entry’’ and “returning to work’’ from her career vocabulary. “Make no excuses for taking time off work to be with your kids.’’

To be considered for a Career Makeover, send an e-mail to careermakeover@globe.com.

MEG MUCKENHOUPT

Goal: Finding stable, suitable work after staying at home to raise children.

Problem: Freelancing from home is lonely and not bringing in enough cash.

Recommendations from career adviser Patricia Sinacole:

■Don’t call it re-entry; this minimizes the contract work and assignments done from home over the years.
■Add Web 2.0 slant to resume by showing blogging and interactive journalism skills.
■Start Facebook page for business purposes, to help promote books and other ventures.
■Consider jobs in higher education that will springboard off strong academic credentials.
■Pursue technical writing certificate or other specialized training to close generalist gap.
■Avoid child-care issues or concerns in initial interviews.