Even in a healthy economy, returning to the workforce after being a stay-at-home parent can feel like signing up for a marathon when you haven't so much as stretched a hamstring in years.
Yet a spouse's layoff and mounting bills have prompted many at-home parents -- the U.S. Census Bureau reports there are 5.5 million of them, predominantly women -- to do exactly that.
Ideally, "You need to start building your skills well before you start looking for a job," says Christine Durst, co-founder and CEO of Staffcentrix, a training firm that helps at-home parents return to the workforce.
Many at-home parents rely on volunteer or temp jobs to revive a dusty resume before they begin pounding the pavement in earnest, Durst says. Same goes for taking a quick adult education class to freshen up those computer skills.
But what if you didn't have much employment experience to begin with and can't afford to train for a new career now? Other than bagging groceries and tidying up dressing rooms, are there jobs available for at-home parents who've been out of the paycheck game three, five, even 10 years?
Happily, yes. Our list of some of the most accessible jobs for those returning to work after an extended hiatus follows.
1. Executive secretary or administrative assistant.
If your written and verbal communication skills are top-notch and you know your way around word-processing, database, and spreadsheet programs, this could be the job for you. With 4.2 million jobs in 2006 in every imaginable industry, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) considers this one of the country's largest occupations. To prove your proficiency in any aspect of admin work, Durst suggests using the certification tests on the site BrainBench.com.
Median annual salary: $37,931
2. Security officer.
If you would rather work in a lobby, shopping mall, or museum and don't mind being on your feet all day, you might consider a security position. "Those never go out of fashion and it's something that [can't be outsourced]," says Dr. Laurence Shatkin, author of more than 20 books for job hunters, including 150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs. According to the BLS, many security jobs offer flexible hours and feature on-the-job training.
Median annual salary: $35,538
3. Pharmacy technician.
Are you detail oriented? Do you enjoy working with the general public? Then you might try your hand behind the pharmacy counter, helping pharmacists prepare prescriptions for patients. According to the BLS, about 71percent of these jobs are found in retail pharmacies, grocery stories, department stores, and mass retailers. Many pharmacies will train you on the job, but they often will require you to take a certification exam every two years.
Median annual salary: $31,919
4. Human resources (HR) assistant.
"You must be outgoing and discerning for this work," says Shatkin. In this variation on the administrative theme, he explains, you could help screen job applicants by reviewing resumes or questioning them by phone. And according to the BLS, many HR assistants maintain or retrieve employee salary, benefits, and performance data. As with other administrative jobs, the better your communication and computer skills, the better your odds of landing such a job.
Median annual salary: $39,299
5. Personal/home care aide.
"What ails the Baby Boomers aids the healthcare job market," says Durst. In fact, the BLS considers helping the elderly with their errands, meals, cleaning, dressing, and grooming one of the country's fastest-growing occupations. As a bonus, one in three home care aides works part time. Many home care aides work through agencies, which often provide on-the-job training, including how to respond to emergencies, the BLS reports; however, some states require additional training.
Median annual salary: $28,503
6. Court, municipal, or license clerk.
If you've never considered working at city hall, the local courthouse, or the DMV, maybe you should. The job outlook is excellent for these positions, says Shatkin. And according to the BLS, city and county governments employ more than twice as many workers -- many of them in support roles -- as state governments. What's more, the benefits packages for these government positions tend to trump those offered by their private sector counterparts.
Median annual salary: $33,816
7. Police, fire, or ambulance dispatcher.
In 2002, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the country had about 87,500 local governments, with many communities served by more than one of them. In other words, the job outlook is good. In fact, the BLS is projecting that dispatcher jobs will have increased by 12.5 percent between 2006 and 2016. And again, because these are government jobs, you can expect a solid benefits package.
Median annual salary: $36,019
Source: Salary data from PayScale.com. The salaries listed are median annual salaries for full-time employees with 5-8 years of experience and include any bonuses, commissions, and profit sharing
Michelle Goodman is a freelance writer and author of "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire."