How to get a job if you’re a stay-at-home mom

Jacqueline Edelberg, AB’89, AM’91, PhD’96, on transitioning from super volunteer to start-up newbie.

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Jacqueline Edelberg, AB’89, AM’91, PhD’96, knows how to marshal an army of volunteers, raise money, get people to care about a once-neglected neighborhood school, and write a book about it. How does she recommend selling potential employers on unpaid experiences like these?

“Beats me,” she says. Yes, many publications recommend highlighting volunteer work, and Edelberg (right) isn’t saying you shouldn’t. She just warns that it “doesn’t necessarily translate in any credible way to the establishment.”

Edelberg’s résumé doesn’t lend itself to neat bullets either. After teaching in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar, she stayed home to raise her two children. She did a bit of work on the side as a painter and calligrapher of ketuboth, or Jewish wedding contracts. The role that earned her the most attention, however, was her work with Nettelhorst Elementary, a pre-K–8 school on the city of Chicago’s North Side.

Before her children enrolled, Nettelhorst was struggling. Through the leadership and elbow grease of Edelberg, other parents, and then-principal Susan Kurland, it grew into a high-performing neighborhood school. Edelberg and fellow volunteers worked to get prominent sponsors. The Chicago Blackhawks donated a fitness center and floor-hockey court. Nate Berkus Interiors redesigned the school’s teaching kitchen.

Edelberg and Kurland chronicled their Nettelhorst experience in How to Walk to School (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011). The book’s foreword is by former US secretary of education and Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan, LAB’82. Its afterword comes from Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who became involved with the school when he was a congressman.

But after her 2011 divorce, Edelberg had to rethink her primarily volunteer-based career trajectory. (Her children are now in high school.) She became director of strategic partnerships for Youtopia, a tech star-tup for the education sector. She found, though, that “schools are not as nimble as I need them to be” to pursue her goals of reforming education.

Last fall, she became director of Dabble Kids. It’s an offshoot of Dabble, an online platform that connects students with teachers—similar to Airbnb or Uber.

Classes on Dabble range from blogging to glass blowing to dating secrets, and are primarily offered by individuals. Dabble Kids has a similarly wide range, but classes are primarily offered by organizations, including the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, CircEsteem, and Chicago Athletic Clubs.

Sometimes you have to learn a lot of tricks to navigate a career successfully. (Photo courtesy CircEsteem)

Dabble offers classes in eight cities across the country, though they are most active in Chicago. Dabble Kids has launched in Chicago and plans to go nationwide eventually.

Edelberg says Dabble Kids will “free the soccer mom” from signing children up for weekslong activities that they end up disliking. Kids have the chance to try one class in, say, pottery. Then they can come back for more or look for longer-term courses elsewhere if they’re interested.

“That’s something that I learned at University of Chicago,” she says. “Experience lots of things, deep-dive when you want to.”

Edelberg has learned that life and careers can’t always be plotted out by spreadsheet. And while her advice won’t necessarily help you land a job, it may help you navigate your emotions as you look:

  1. It helps to envision your life as many different chapters. “You can be a mommy for a chapter or a writer for a chapter,” Edelberg says, “and then you move on to the next chapter.”
     
  2. “Nobody really cares what you do and how you define yourself, outside of a cocktail party. Do what gives you fulfillment. That will be sustaining when life kicks you in the stomach.”
     
  3. “Be completely open to experiences, to what people have to offer,” she says. “If you’re receptive to what comes, you frequently get a whole lot more than you expected.” For example, knowing she needed to update her résumé, Edelberg enlisted a friend, Jay Swoboda, CEO of Dabble, to help. After reviewing her experience, he offered her a job.

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