Cary News: Opinion

Parent Pathways: Returning to work after a career gap

Katie Dunn formed Back to Business in February 2015 to help women rejoin the workforce.
Katie Dunn formed Back to Business in February 2015 to help women rejoin the workforce. COURTESY KATIE DUNN

Katie Dunn thought of herself as one of the lucky ones.

The Cary mom of four kids, ages 9 to 14, had been able to work part-time for the past 12 years as assistant director of MBA admissions at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

But once her twins turned 9, she wanted to go back to work full-time.

“It was just a feeling with our family that the kids were ready, and I was ready to be back in that environment,” Dunn says.

Dunn, a former marketing specialist who once worked for IBM, had great skills, but things had changed so much in the workforce, she wasn’t sure where to start.

“There were a lot of challenges to think about,” she says. “Were my skills up to date? What should I be doing?”

Dunn started asking friends for tips and advice, doing a little research to find out how to get started.

“It seemed so many of my friends – smart women with degrees and good skills – were having the same conversation no matter where I went, saying, ‘I’d love to go back to work, but it’s just so hard to get back in.’”

Dunn decided to make that her business – helping women rejoin the workforce.

Although she’s encountered many stay-at-home moms who want to return to work now that their kids are older, career gaps occur around other life events as well.

“I’ve discovered there are many reasons why women leave and return to the workforce – divorce, elderly parents, health reasons, layoffs,” Dunn says. She formed Back to Business in February this year with plans to host the first annual conference October 8-9 in Morrisville.

She’s already recruited several national companies. IRelaunch will provide the keynote speaker, and ReacHIRE, a training company, is a signed sponsor.

“I came up with an idea that would benefit both other women wanting to return to the workforce and local companies who would benefit from the great untapped talent pool that these women represent,” she says.

Dunn doesn’t claim to be an expert, but has been the picking the brains of those who are.

If you’ve experienced a career gap and want to re-enter the workforce, Dunn offers a few tips on the must-dos of getting started:

Volunteer. And don’t discount it when you’re dusting off your resume. Fundraising, team-building and managing people are all marketable skills.

Refresh skills. Regardless of whether you know the direction you’re headed in, you can’t go wrong updating your technology skills. Dunn enrolled in a free HTML class that she loved.

Network. This is one thing that hasn’t changed. You need to let people know you’re looking and reach out to all different groups. And think about the way you’re networking. Dunn says recruiters have told her one of the first things they do when they get the name of a potential employee is to go to LinkedIn. You need to have an Internet presence in the digital age.


For more on the Back to Women’s Business Conference in October, go to