NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Women are much more likely than men to leave the workforce, usually for maternity leave or to care for an ill family member, but they tend to come back faster than conventional wisdom may indicate — on average, within a year of having a child, according to the U.S. Census.

For women looking to step back into the workforce soon, the watchword is "confidence," especially given at least some uncertainty among employers in hiring applicants now viewed, fairly or unfairly, as having a gap in their resume.

That means taking control of the conversation with employers right away.

"Women who are reentering the workforce after a hiatus need to advocate for themselves at the onset of their job search," says Kathy Harris, managing director of Harris Allied, a technology industry employment recruiter. "It's their responsibility to be clear about what they need from their new position — such as flexible hours or telecommuting — and they need to be prepared to speak about the value they bring to the company, team and role."

That said, it's OK to have some qualms about going back to work — anyone would, Harris says.

It's understandable why many women might feel uncertain when they are about to jump back into the game — both about the value they bring to an organization and what they can legitimately ask of their prospective employer," she adds. "They don't always know what the company will expect from them or how they will manage their new workload. Plus, technology changes so quickly that many women are concerned that their technical skills are a little rusty after being out of the loop for a few years."

To make the transition smoothly, Harris recommends women:

Make it easy for employers to view credentials. Harris advises an up-to-date portfolio — one that's readily available to potential employers. "Consider your achievements, honors and major projects that you delivered. Include these on your LinkedIn profile as well as on your resume," she says. "A woman interviewing today, especially following a hiatus, needs to present herself as relevant and accomplished."

Make sure salary expectations are realistic. "Many job postings have salary budgets posted," Harris says. "Make sure the compensation budgeted for the role is in line with your expectations before you apply and start the interview process."

Don't shy away from "the gap." Don't "apologize" for your career gap, Harris advises. "Let your future employer know that you and your family made the decision for you to stay home consciously and with a plan to return to work when the time was right," she says.

Bring your work/life balance issues up right away. Harris says it's important to get a grip on work/life balance expectations. "Be prepared in advance to have a backup plan for child care if your babysitter gets sick, for example," she advises. "Ask your employer about the kinds of hours the position requires. Ask about the work culture. Don't be afraid to work hard, but be honest with yourself about the kind of scenario that will really work for you ... That way, no one is left surprised or disappointed by the outcome."
Above all, have a good plan going into the re-entry process - and make sure to deploy the tips Harris lists above.

"Women who are returning to the workplace need to be able to compete in the market in order to win a great job," she says. "By being prepared with the right skills and support systems, you will limit the surprises and manage everyone's expectations to ensure a smooth re-entry into the workforce."

By Brian O'Connell for MainStreet