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Posted on Mon, Jan 31, 2011 : 9:30 a.m.

Mondays Work: Woman who says she's 'just a mom' doesn't recognize her marketable skills

By Nick Synko

I was in Aberdeen, Miss. teaching a team-based, process-improvement course in a Walker Mufflers manufacturing plant. In order to study the assembly line off-loading and packaging process, we had brought together the six people who performed this function. One of the first exercises we completed was for each person to identify a skill or core competency they brought to the team.

All was progressing well until I got to Janie. (Name and personal identifying facts have been changed.) It was evident Janie did not have much self-confidence and that she did not want to participate. She began by dismissively telling me, “I am just a mom who packs mufflers in shipping crates all day long, and that doesn’t take much skill.”

 I decided to approach with a different question. “Janie, tell me what you are most proud of.” She replied, “My three kids.” “How old are they” “Three, five and six.” "Tell me more."

Her answers remained abbreviated until I asked, “What are you most proud of about these kids?” Then she opened up. “My husband left us right after our last son was born. I wasn’t working at the time, and he just ran off and left us, I haven’t heard from him since. I knew I had to get to work and took this job packing mufflers.” 

“So then, you are a responsible individual?” “I am.” “What else are you proud of?” Ever since I began working I have been on time to work and that is after dropping the kids off at my mom’s each morning.” For emphasis she added, “I haven’t been late even once.”

“Wow, getting three kids out the door in the morning by yourself — how do you do that?"

“Well, when my husband left, I knew things had to change since I had to get a job immediately. That first weekend after he left, I went to the flea market where I bought four coat trees and a bunch of extra hooks, one coat tree for each of us. I then painted each coat tree differently and put a name on top sort of like a street sign on a post. 

Next, I added lots of extra hooks and labeled each hook. There was a hook for a shirt, pants, coat, underwear, socks… There was a hook for everything because I knew I would not have time in the morning for ‘Mom, where is my…?’” Janie was on a roll.

I next asked, “What else do you do to get out the door on time?” “You know kids want the same thing for breakfast each morning, so the night before I get out their favorite bowls, pour in their favorite cereals, cover them with plastic wrap, then put a spoon next to them so that in the morning I save a few moments by just having to pour milk.”

I asked, “You are amazingly organized. What does your junk drawer look like?”

“I don’t have one; everything in my home has its place.” 

I should have known.

Remember, Janie began that exercise with an attitude that communicated she was just a mom who packed mufflers. What do you think — what else did she bring to her team and to her employer? I hope everyone, her teammates and even management, heard what I heard, that Janie had highly valuable organizational skills that she routinely used to streamline processes.

Whether you are a return-to-work mom (or dad) or new college graduate or a professional who is struggling to find their next opportunity, most of us don’t realize the abilities we possess that would enhance any resume or interview. 

As a career coach, it is my job to find that “vein of gold” that a client often misses. It is always there, yet it is all too often buried deeply and covered up with a debris field of fear, disappointment or even low self-esteem. Working through clearing away the emotional clutter often reveals skills, abilities, interests and natural talents that are essential for a job seeker to recognize and build on.

Thank you, Janie, for teaching me such a valuable lesson that has helped me to help hundreds and hundreds of people to realize they too have much to offer — even those women who see themselves as “just moms.”

The career question for this week is “What are you most proud of?”

Send your career-related questions to me at To learn more, visit our website at Synko Associates or follow this column each Monday in



Sat, Feb 5, 2011 : 10:10 p.m.

Thanks for posting - many of us returning to work / starting work after being home with kids need to see ourselves in a more positive light! The skills we use at home to manage our families, our schedules and our budgets CAN have applications in an office, food service or manufacturing setting!