Get the Know Your Value newsletter.
 / Updated 
By Ginny Brzezinski

If you’re a stay-at-home mom trying to re-enter the workforce, the odds aren’t in your favor.

In fact, according to a recent study in Harvard Business Review, stay-at-home moms are half as likely to land a job interview in comparison to moms who get laid off.

In the eye-opening study, Kate Weisshar, an assistant professor of sociology at UNC Chapel Hill, sent 3,374 fake resumes to real job postings in 50 U.S. cities over the course of a few months between 2015 and 2016. She then tracked which applicants received interviews or requests for more information.

The research showed a “mommy gap bias”; just 4.9% of stay-at-home moms received a callback from potential employers, compared to 9.7% of unemployed mothers and 15.3% of working mothers. “Respondents viewed stay-at-home parents as less reliable, less deserving of a job, and — the biggest penalty — less committed to work, compared with unemployed applicants,” said an accompanying article.

Yikes! But hang on…

While there is no question that it is challenging to return to work (especially if you’ve taken a career break to raise your kids), there are tools you can use to flip the odds in your favor. In fact, the practice of blindly sending your resumes to job openings is rarely successful. According to a recent study, every corporate job posting receives about 250 resumes – and only four applicants will get a callback.

To put simply: you need to have a better job strategy than “spraying and praying” with your resume.

Here’s what you should do:

Networking is the key, especially after a career break.

“The bottom line is that you can’t rely on blindly submitting resumes to job openings and expect to be successful,” Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch, an organization that helps women return to work (and a Know Your Value partner), told me. “We tell people the number one rule is to get out of the house. You cannot conduct your relaunch from behind the computer in your home.”

Julia Freeland, founder of REvolve You, added, “You’ve got to get out and start talking to people.” The reinvention coach said she even tells her clients “not to even bother applying online.”

In fact, data shows 85% of jobs are landed through connections. Job applicants, especially women who have taken a career break, need to use their network - on LinkedIn, or through word of mouth - and find a person to vouch for them at their target company.

“For those returning to work after a career pause the percentage [of jobs secured through connections] is even higher, which makes networking critical,” Patty White, COO and co-founder of Reboot Accel told me. White, whose firm has both in-person and online workshops, along with jobs for women looking to return to work, said your network is closer than you think. “Returners need to start seeing potential connections everywhere -- on the sidelines of the soccer field, in the line at Starbucks and of course at events they seek out related to the industry or job function they are pursuing.”

Career Coach Mary Beth Barrett-Newman of 2nd Career Consulting agreed. “Using your network is key to any job search, but especially important for those that have taken a career break. Former colleagues, bosses, clients and even those that were junior to us, know the stay-at-home parent’s work ethic and quality of their work, and as a result are more likely focus on their history and experience with that person, rather than be concerned about the individual’s career break or commitment to the job. In their mind, that stay-at-home parent is a known quantity, and much less of a hiring risk than a total stranger.”

Jeff Martin, CEO and founder of the recruiting companies the Jeffrey Agency and University Recruiters, told me that he hears from women all the time who have taken a career break and want to get back to work. He thinks they are a completely overlooked talent pool.

“If a woman has a gap in her resume due to raising a child or maternity leave, it does not mean she forgot how to work or lost any of her skills. If anything, I believe she will be even more determined, because now she has more mouths to feed,” Martin recently wrote on a LinkedIn post that went viral. “Don’t overlook those resumes. Pick up the phone and have a conversation - I promise you will find some major winners.”

Martin’s advice as a recruiter? Stop sending resumes blindly to job postings.

“Most companies that are really hiring don’t have job posts. They don’t need it,” he told me. “ No one is looking at resumes any more - because they don’t have to.” Martin added that when he is looking for candidates, “I’d rather just go on LinkedIn or wait for that right person to in-mail me. I may get 500 resumes a week. The ones I pay attention to get my attention by sending me an in mail over LinkedIn. Keep it short and sweet and get it in front of the right person. They’ll get a call back because they did something different. Don’t just throw a resume over the fence.”

Network and stop hiding behind your laptop and you’ll see that your 4.9% callback chances will increase significantly.

Ginny Brzezinski is Know Your Value's comeback career contributor. Read more about her here.