A significant number of professional women experience the anxious phase of returning to the workplace after a career break. Many of them, in the Pakistani context, are women who suspend work to start a family and raise children. If you are one of them and feel that the time off from work has left you miles behind your colleagues and that reentering the workplace will never be the same, you are certainly not alone.
Before you take a break or soon after it, establish a time-frame for return. Decide whether you would want to return to a full-time job, look for a part-time or freelancing arrangement, or start your own home-based business. These two decisions can help you plan and utilise your career break and make the most of it. It will also save you from getting into the rut of things without a plan in mind, and make you feel more confident and in greater control of the situation.
When Maham Khan, a bright, young intern who recently joined Minerva, brought up the topic, we decided to reach out to women for stories of successful career relaunches. We identified 10 important ways of ensuring a smooth and successful comeback.
Invest in your family
Reasonably enough, full-time stay-at-home moms often find it daunting to manage their current responsibilities with those of a job. Managing a household and raising a family is no easy task. Without domestic help or the support of their husbands, the idea seems pretty far-fetched. It is therefore important to invest in your family before the transition so that everyone is prepared for the change and you don’t make the switch with a guilt.
We reached out to Business Executive Officer at Nestle, Pakistan, Nadia Omer, who is a mother to two daughters and had to take a break from her career back in 2000. She describes the extensive amount of preparation she undertook as a mother and wife before resuming work. Omer says, “The work environment equips you with great coaching skills to develop others and that is what I employed on the kids. The years I took a break, I invested heavily in my relationship with my husband, and our kids and parents,” she explained. This meant training her domestic help, and teaching her daughters to be self-reliant and independent.
Work on your personal brand
This needs to be prioritised from the very beginning of your career break because it will not happen overnight. Your personal brand is what people say about you in your absence; the few words they immediately associate with your name [we have a course coming up on this soon!].
While your personal brand is all encompassing, a few important things can include developing a work-out routine to stay in shape. Depending on the time and resources at hand, this could mean joining the gym, going for a walk or maybe just scrubbing the floor. Whether you do it once a week or a few minutes every day can also depend on how it fits into the rest of your routine.
You can also spend some time improving your digital footprint and social media presence. There is a high possibility employers will do a quick search to see what you have been doing during your career break and what you care about to evaluate your suitability to the job.
If you have an ‘activist’ in you, you may also want to associate yourself with a cause you genuinely feel about, and be vocal about it. Not only does this give you something to keep your social media presence meaningful, you are also creating awareness on the subject.
Volunteer a few hours each week somewhere, if possible. It could be at the school or at an old home [that’s something I do]. It makes me feel useful and keeps my confidence and sense of self alive. My social media presence helps me raise funds for the old home and gives me a sense of accomplishment that motivates me to devote more time to activities like these. Not to forget, fundraising is a valuable skill to mention on your CV. Need inspiration? Reach out to personal branding expert, Salma Jafri, or simply follow her on facebook and you will never run out of inspiration and reasons to believe.
Keep your ambitions alive – rekindle a passion
Housewives and stay-at-home moms have a hectic job and need something to rewire themselves. Don’t do so by endlessly watching dramas [and definitely not the pathetic morning shows]. Start painting, writing, sewing, photographing – anything to keep your ambitions alive [who knows, you might just find a new career option for yourself].
Figure out what you want to do
Frequently reevaluate your priorities and ambitions. You don’t want to make all the effort to go back to a career choice you no longer enjoy or feel passionate about.
With extra responsibility on your shoulders, it is important that the work you do is something you truly enjoy [unless of course you have no preferences and a salary is your only motivation to work through financial difficulties]. Make a career choice that you will be able to manage with your responsibilities as a mother.
Build your confidence (and your CV)
Being a full-time mother of one or more children is one of the toughest jobs in the world. If doubts about your ability to pick up your career from where you left it weakens your resolve to get out there again, it is important to remind yourself that raising children and looking after a house have helped you develop invaluable, transferable skills like multitasking, time management, negotiation, dealing with difficult people and situations, and more.
If you really translate the skills you exercise and develop at home and word them into appropriate professional language, it is amazing what you will notice. A stay-at-home mom develops greater social perceptiveness. She understands human behavior better and is involved in the learning and development of an impressionable but curious mind. At home, she’s the mentor to her child(ren) and learns to experiment with methods of education and instruction. She applies critical thinking, and spends a significant portion of her time coordinating, monitoring and evaluating. And these are just some of the skills, abilities and experiences.
Add them all to your CV.
Stop worrying about what others think of you and reach out
Career reentry expert, Carol Fishman Cohen, gave an interesting talk on how to get back after a career break and shares a very remarkable discovery she made while turning to work after her own 11-year career break. She says that people’s views of other people are frozen in time. “What I mean by this is,” she explains, “when you start to get in touch with people and you get back in touch with those people from the past, the people with whom you worked or went to school, they are going to remember you as you were before your career break. And that's even if your sense of self has diminished over time, as happens with so many of us the farther removed we are from our professional identities.”
She further narrates the advice she gave to a client, “Get out of the house. I told her she had to go public with her job search and tell everyone she knew about her interest in returning to work.” I also told her, “You are going to have a lot of conversations that don't go anywhere. Expect that, and don't be discouraged by it. There will be a handful that ultimately lead to a job opportunity.”
Stay up to date on industry news
Sign up for relevant blogs, journals, and e-newsletters. Keeping yourself up to date is your responsibility and will be necessary to bag a good job. Trying to do that right before you plan to return to work will be an intimidating experience and chances are you might not do it at all. It could cost you a good opportunity.
Brush up on your skills
If you are uncertain about your skills or feel you will not be able to catch up with new developments in your field of interest, look for opportunities to brush up on your skills – online courses, industry events, workshops and trainings, and internship opportunities (yes, I said it – why not?) are all ways to get a quick upgrade on your skill set.
Don’t be afraid to ask people for help – there is more help available than you may have imagined.
Show up as the best version of yourself
Stop making your child an excuse to avoid networking events. Look for industry events and don’t be afraid of asking questions and reaching out to other people for help. A lot of times, informal connections work way better than formal applications.
Amy Cuddy, in her famed 2012 TED Talk, “Your Body Shapes Who You Are,” claims that your body and thinking can change your personal chemistry, which can move you from feeling powerless to powerful—changing your mindset, behavior, and even your life. By showing up as our true authentic selves, we craft a winning strategy to make our presence felt at meetings.
Explore your options and look for women inclusive opportunities
Employers, more than ever before, have started to understand and appreciate that the needs of Pakistani working women are different from men. They want flexible jobs that allow them to look after their homes while also contributing to the economy.
Here are a few such opportunities to start with:
’Telenor’s ‘Naya Aghaaz is a recently launched recruitment program tailored for women on a career break. It “provides project based mid-career opportunities to women while ensuring their work-life balance.” Nestle and Telenor both have launched campaigns aimed at women who want to rejoin the workforce.
Nestle Pakistan’s ‘Returnship Program’ for women who have taken a career break of at least 2 years is another recent initiative that offers in-house day care services, flexible hours, and pick and drop facilities.
Shell Pakistan’s ‘Career Comeback Program’ is for women who have 3 years of prior work experience and have taken a career break of at least 1 year. It claims to ‘support Pakistan’s professional women to take control of their careers, again!’
Unilever’s ‘Career by Choice’ is an initiative designed to assist women’s reentry into the workplace after a career break. It offers formal in-house trainings, experiential learning through working on vital business projects, and a chance to network with the best talent in the industry.
Women’s Digital League, an initiative by Maria Umar, is doing excellent work helping women go back to work from the comfort of their homes.
And these are just a few. The opportunities are endless if you explore freelancing and virtual arrangements. But most important, however, is to not give up without trying. Nadia Omer of Nestle has a positive outlook on the entire situation. She too worried that others were going to get ahead but she got over that fear. “Over the years, as maturity sets in, I think that each one of us is writing their own story,” she told us. The journey is not linear. You will forge your own career on your own terms. “It’s not a rat race,” Ms. Omer believes, “and there is no one finishing line.”