When I speak to mums in my tribe about going back to work the number one thing they say to me is: “I don’t have the right skills anymore”. Now they might not say it in exactly those words but that is the underlying message. Now I believe that ultimately it’s a lack of confidence we suffer from when we return to work after a break but to tackle that, we need to face those fears head-on. That for me means looking for facts and data to back up our beliefs.
Returning to work after a career break
Maybe you have had a short break (up to a year) on maternity leave, perhaps you have taken a longer career break to bring up the kids until they are more self-sufficient? In terms of the skills you need to return to work, it makes no odds how long you have been out of the office so to speak.
When it comes to your professional skills (i.e. those skills – either specific or transferable which you used in a previous role) remember one thing: If you could do it before, you can do it now. Yes, you might need a bit of training but, just like riding a bike, it wouldn’t take you long for all the information to come flooding back to you.
Then, of course, you need to take into account all of the new skills that you have gained as a parent which will help you work even more effectively. Yes, you heard me. You have new skills now, such as an increased awareness of public services, greater patience/compassion, and even a better understanding of the younger generation.
5 skills you need to return to work
I hope that already you are seeing a glimmer of hope, a spark of self-confidence? If not, trust me and bear with me as I take you through the skills you need to return to the workplace. I have only listed 5 here, but there are many more. These would be the ones I would focus on and are those an employer will be commonly looking for:
As much as 70% of jobs are got through networking. When I say networking, what I really mean is chatting. Yes, really. We often think of networking as uncomfortable, where you awkwardly sip wine, try and balance canapes and exchange business cards…if you have them.
The reality is though that when you are a mum there are ample opportunities for ‘networking’:
- talking at the school gates before pick up
- going to baby/children’s groups
- going for coffee with your NCT group
- getting involved in some volunteering
- joining a gym/running group/zumba class
So often we think of ourselves as ‘Rachael’s mum’ rather than remembering who we are without that hat on. I found when I was on maternity leave with my first I didn’t ask anything other than questions about motherhood for the first 8 months. It wasn’t until we all started looking to go back to work that I asked what the other mums did. Boy was I in for a surprise! I was astounded at the breadth and depth of the skills, sectors and experience my mummy tribe had. It has come in so useful to know people in design, marketing, teaching, social media, healthcare – to name but a few. Better yet, we have a strong bond built over sleepless nights and strong coffee!
This skill, that you have honed over the time you have been raising your children will serve you well. Whether it is to find a new job, move into a different sector or to build your experience – consider who you know and how they can help you.
As I sit and write this my smallest is napping. I have five minutes before I have a client to call and 49 minutes before I need to leave for the school pick up. Never in my life have I been so organised and focused. I am able to achieve more in ten minutes than I ever could pre-children.
When I returned to work initially after my eldest I worked part-time, just as I do now. I quickly learnt to apply my newly honed skill of being able to get things done in the time you have available to smash out my objectives. I worked hard, I talked fast and I left on time.
Time management is something every employer is looking for and you, you have it in spades. Give examples of what you have achieved during your career break – making it relevant to the role. You might be involved in the local PTA or some other volunteering. You might have done some part-time projects or even some full-time ones! Think about what you have done and shout about it. This is not the time to hide your light.
Have you ever tried negotiating with a 4-year-old? Don’t bother. They will outsmart you and counter-argue until you are a quivering mess on the floor! I have had to up my negotiation skills ten-fold since my eldest turned 4 and her little sisters are learning even faster. This has led to some really interesting conversations where I have had to hand it to her and some others where I have won the battle…but perhaps not always the war.
Whether it is negotiating your hours, your salary or whether negotiation is part of your role, you will have gained/improved this skill since having children. If your children aren’t at that stage yet then it’s all to look forward to. I honestly am amazed and downright impressed by my kids. I think the trick to negotiation is knowing what you want before you start and stick to your guns unless a counter offer is better. Well, that’s what I have learned anyway.
Win or lose you can learn from it, improve your arguments and also practice your empathy, courage and ability to stand your ground. Negotiating doesn’t have to be aggressive, it can be fun and creative too.
When I think of planning projects now compared to how I planned pre-kids I am much more proficient at it A lot of this comes down to time management (see above) but also I am more creative. Let’s take children’s birthday parties. Last year we planned a pirate and fairies theme – to be held outdoors. I had to focus on what I could control, delegate to others, cope with last minute changes (can we have a fairy cake mummy, not a pirate ship?!) and do it all with fingers crossed that the weather would hold [spoiler: it did]. I had a contingency plan in case.
I don’t think I have ever applied such creativity to a project before but now, well, now I know I can. So whether it’s creating an online course or speaking with a client I know I can rely on my intuition, creativity and ability to get things done to make it a success.
Think about a time you have had to plan something – for the kids, a family member or friend. Perhaps you did something for the school or brownies? Consider all the things you did and the outcomes.
I had to google whether resilience was/is a skill but ultimately, I think it is. I think it’s the most important skill we need as workers, as parents and as human beings. Life doesn’t always go to (our) plan. When you return to work you might experience the following:
- Being turned down for a job
- Having to move into a new role/team on return after maternity leave
- Guilt leaving your child(ren)
- Feeling you have to return to work because of finances
- A lack of confidence in yourself and/or imposter syndrome
When I returned to work after my first child I didn’t think much about the skills I would need. I figured that I was going back into the same company, same team, same job. I was right, I didn’t need to worry about that. What I hadn’t figured on was the feelings of guilt when I left my daughter screaming at nursery or when I had to leave a meeting early to get back to her. I hadn’t reckoned on being told I would never get a level 4 in an appraisal again as I was ‘only part-time’.
A woman is like a tea bag, you can never tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water – Eleanor Roosevelt
I know this sounds a bit negative but looking back, all these experiences served me well. They have proved to me that I can get through the tough times and come out stronger than before. Becoming a parent prepares you rather well in gaining resilience in my opinion. There is no rule book, you often feel you could be doing it better/differently, that you are making mistakes…but…you are learning. It is all new and if and when you have another child you realise you know more now than you did before. Which leads me on to…
Being kind to yourself
OK, so hopefully now you see that you’re the same person you were before you had your children – but there may be some differences when you come back from maternity leave. It may test your skills of resilience as you find your feet – caring for children on top of a job is hard at the best of times. It might also take a little time to get back up-to-speed.
Regardless of how you’re feeling, always make sure to put aside time for yourself every day. It might be your commute or a tea after the children have gone to bed. It might just be ensuring you’re getting to bed a bit earlier or splitting daily chores with your partner if you have one. Remember: you’re a mother now. If you can handle an 18-month-old in a strop, you can handle anything.
Finally, my parting thoughts: Aim high and give yourself the opportunity. In terms of looking at facts to back up our beliefs, there is no data to say that you don’t have the skills you need to return to work. In fact, the opposite is true.
Others have done it before you and others will after you – why not you? If what you are focussing on fits with your talents, strengths and preferences you have a brilliant starting point. If you need support, please get in touch.