Best jobs for parents returning to work

You traded working lunches for PTA meetings and PB&Js. Now you want a challenging job that can bend to make room for family life.

By Jennifer Merritt, Carolyn Bigda and Donna Rosato

NEW YORK (Money Magazine) -- Maybe you want to work at home one day a week or travel less or just be able to make it to the occasional 4 p.m. soccer match or ballet recital.

That used to mean parttime work or several big steps back down the ladder. Today the job world is a little more welcoming for the 26 million mothers in the work force.

"There was a perception that this group has extreme demands," says Corrie Martin, who runs a program for returning workers at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business. Most people who come through the program, she says, want challenging full-time jobs.

"They just want to be less accountable for the nitty-gritty of time."

Beverly Israely spent a decade in real estate banking and then took two years off after her second child was born. Early in 2006 she was ready to go back to work but not back to banking. Now she's an executive recruiter.

"It's a great career for a mother," says Israely, 40, who started a real estate practice at GloCap Search in New York City. She's home before six most nights.

A bonus: "This is the first job I've ever really loved."

"Companies are expanding the traditional model of work," says Cali Williams Yost, author of 'Work+Life: Finding the Fit That's Right for You.' "It's an awareness that great talent comes in a lot of different forms."

To find the right spot for you, take these steps.

1. Stay involved

Keep your network going if there's even a slight chance you'll go back to work one day. At the least, have lunch with ex-colleagues every few months, says Mercy Eyadiel, director of alumni career services at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

2. Get back in the game

Join a professional organization and attend conferences to make contacts and catch up on best practices. Take courses.

After 16 years at home, Roberta Wood, 49, a divorced mother of two teens in The Woodlands, Texas, is studying accounting. She's lost most of her contacts from her days in system sales at IBM, so she joined the college accounting club and attends networking events.

3. Make your volunteer work count

Put your pro bono accomplishments on your résumé. And get a reference from a key person at the nonprofit, says Eyadiel.

Or follow Kim Culligan's example. She turned a six-year, three-hour-a-week volunteer gig at nonprofit Girls on the Run into a paid job as New Jersey regional director.

4. Redefine success

Don't raise the bar so high that you feel like you're missing it. A big, prestigious company might be your dream, but a smaller company might offer more flexibility.

5. Find the right fit

Look for a recruiter that meets your needs. Mom Corps, On-Ramps and other placement firms specialize in companies that are recognized for giving more than lip service to work-life balance.

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.