“I’m ready to return to work, but where do I start?”

This is the most common question I get from women looking to re-enter the workforce.

In my work as a career coach, I have met countless women who, before becoming mothers, were singularly focused on their careers. After taking a break, they have a completely new perspective and new priorities.

Many of them say to me, “I’m not going back to work unless it’s something I’m really interested in.”

In other words, for many of you, returning to work is about more than the paycheck. You may be willing to forego a corner office or high-powered title (and matching paycheck) in exchange for other priorities. Often, one of those priorities is timetime with your children or to focus on other interests.

Moving from the curiosity stage to finding work that will be fulfilling in this way means you have to make room for reflection and clarify your values. This requires soul searching and brutal honesty—with yourself.

The goal is to align your values with your work.  When you understand your values, you can focus on creating a vision of what career would match these values. And when you find a job that is a match, you will tap into your natural talents and gifts to do great work that you are proud of. Work will no longer feel like work when your values and your vision align with a career that fulfills and engages you.

So, let’s start digging. The exercise below will help you think through what you value most and what parts of your next career match those values.

Find some quiet time to reflect. Take out a pen and paper or your favorite journal, or use this Evernote template, and answer these questions. Remember, you don’t have to share these answers with anyone, so don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself!



Self-assessment questions to ignite your relaunch:

1. Describe your ideal day. If money wasn’t an issue, how would you spend your time?

2. What are you most passionate about? What brings you energy?

3. What depletes you and drains you of energy and passion?

4. List five dream jobs you would love to do or try if there were no limitations on skills or social norms.

5. What are your greatest strengths that you bring to life and career?

6. What is important to you when you are working?

7. What is the compliment or acknowledgment you hear most often about yourself?

8. What are you most proud of?

9. Note an experience that was stressful, difficult or challenging. How did you handle this experience effectively?

10. What would you describe as a “peak moment,” a time you felt inspired, invigorated or successful in your personal life? Describe the details. Whom were you with? What were you doing? What made it a peak moment?

Look for themes that arise when answering these questions. Are you most engaged when you are connecting with people and collaborating? If so, then teamwork or support from others could be a value of yours.  Do you draw your energy from fast-paced, results-focused environments?  If you do, this may reflect values of performance or challenge.

For me, one of the themes that was clear when I thought about these questions was that although my previous careers centered around critical thinking and problem-solving, what I enjoyed most was the teamwork, camaraderie and mentoring aspects of my roles. In fact, in reviewing past performance reviews, I noticed a trend. Managers gave me kudos for my soft skills: relationship building and the ability to understand people dynamics. These were skills that I knew I had, yet I didn’t think about them as “skills” because they came so naturally to me.

Thinking about this during my self-assessment forced me to ask the question: What kind of role would allow me to use the skills that are so innate that when I use them, they don’t feel like work? Finding a new career where I could flex these skills to the max became my new focus.

Anyone looking for a career change can benefit from this self-assessment exercise. These questions are valuable tools to get to the heart of what makes you tick. The answers shed light on what types of opportunities you should consider as you move in a new direction.

Use these as a reference when you’re weighing options. Share your answers with mentors and other trusted partners to get their insight. And remember that your values and vision may change over time, so keep this list on file to reuse in the future.

Best of luck as you embark on your relaunch journey!