After receiving her master’s degree, Julia Allen landed a job at Accenture and Bank of America as a human resources generalist. While she loved her career, Julia decided to take a six-year break and raise her children from 2003 to 2009. The wife and mother would have never suspected that returning to the workplace after being a stay-at-home mom would be such a task, especially considering her education and experience. With no luck in the job market, she was forced to start from the bottom and take a job at the mall making $7.50 an hour. The experience was humbling, to say the least, as Julia was initially embarrassed to update her LinkedIn profile because of the “unsuccessful” impression.
With the spirit of a fighter, though, Julia kept up her job search and eventually found work at several banks, including Sun Trust, Wells Fargo and Certus Bank—where she’s still employed as a manager. Just as things were lining back up for Julia, however, she suffered two heart attacks last year. But in the health scare, she unpeeled a new layer to her purpose. Now, the survivor and working mom and wife travels as a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, sharing her career and health journey with people all over the country. Read what she had to say to BlackEnterprise.com.
Being able to break from your career to be a more hands-on mom is such a rewarding experience. After struggling to find work, though, do you regret taking that time off to raise your children?
I don’t regret taking the time off. The time I had with my kids through early development years was valuable to me. I cherish it and in no way do I regret my decision. However, I do wish I would have had a mentor to help me understand and navigate the repercussions of breaking from my career for the length of time I did. When I tried to return to work, no one wanted to hire me. In the past I had offers to choose from. This was a new experience for me, and I struggled with feelings of rejection and being cast out.
I applied for hundreds of jobs, only to receive the infamous “You’re overqualified”; “We’ve hired within”; “We’ve selected another candidate” responses. If I had clearly understood that taking that time off meant I would be giving up everything I had worked for, I would have made a more informed decision. Perhaps I would not have taken off six years, or spent more time investing in keeping my skills current through training or volunteerism. Networking is also key during that period. Build and nurture relationships in your industry while breaking from your career.
What was the best part of being able to raise your children full-time?
The best part of being able to raise my children was not missing out on the small moments, like sitting in the middle of the floor and coloring pictures, camping out in the backyard, hanging out at the pool all day, pajama day, pancakes for dinner. Being there when they got home from school, seeing the excitement in their eyes, and giving them that big hug—it’s priceless. I didn’t feel rushed through my day. I had the benefit of taking my time doing unplanned activities with them. It gave them a sense of security and comfort in knowing that I would be there. It also gave me focused and intimate time during such foundational years.
How did you overcome the embarrassment of working part-time at jobs that underutilized your skill and experience?
I wouldn’t say I was embarrassed. I would say I was frustrated. I had a master’s degree and over 15 years of experience. I felt like I had let my parents down. They invested a lot of time and money in my education and cultivation. There were a lot of people—my church, younger family members, schoolmates—looking to me to be the example. What I did know is that I had to start somewhere and apply myself until greater opportunities opened up. You dig your heels in and work hard. Keep yourself challenged through educational opportunities. I wanted my career back, so I was willing to do whatever necessary to thrive in the workforce.
Find out how Julia bounced back from two heart attacks on the next page.