You’ve done the hard yards – midnight feeds and explosive nappy changes; playgroups, Play-Doh and Play School; doctors’ appointments and bedtime stories…
But now it’s time for you to tiptoe back into the world of work. Paid employment, that is. But just the thought of returning to work after a baby break – whether it’s six months or six years – is daunting. How do you explain your career gap? How do you get your foot in the (office) door? Do you still have the skills and expertise or has your brain turned to baby mush?
Here’s a step-by-step guide to ensure that your transition back to work goes smoothly – with or without a tantrum-throwing toddler on your hip.
Step 1: Assess Your Personal and Career Goals
Becoming a parent or carer often changes not only your family structure but also your professional identity and outlook. Quite often, when it’s time to return to work, we are plagued by self-doubt. ‘Who is going to hire me after all these years at home? Do I still have what it takes to do the job? How do I balance my job with my kids’ needs?’
A good start to getting a hold of these doubts is to write down your new career goals. Do you want to return to your regular 40-hour working week or would you prefer a job that offers part-time work or flexi hours? Would you thrive in a fast-paced office environment or would it suit you better if your job offers a more flexible work/life balance? Be prepared to adjust your expectations as your family dynamic grows and changes over time. Keep a flexible attitude, but also be aware that you might need to move laterally within your organisation, or even a temporary reduction in seniority to get back into paid work.
Step 2: Fill in the Blanks
In the time that you’ve been out of the workforce, things will have changed, no doubt. Work structures, policies and procedures and, of course, advances in technology. Take the time before returning to brush up on what has been happening in your industry. Follow industry news, talk to former colleagues and make sure you get up to speed, arming yourself with corporate insights that are easily available online.
Do you need to update your qualifications? Perhaps do a short course, training program or research. There are heaps of online courses on everything from project management to tourism. As for that big employment gap in your resume? Be honest. Mentioning your career break in a sentence or two will suffice. You want to show potential employers that you are willing and able to return to work, and your time managing the demands of a family was simply another factor of your greater life experience building some extremely important soft skills.
Step 3: Do Your Homework
Part-time jobs, flexible hours and work from home days are becoming more common – as all are essential to retain good staff. Organisations are also starting to value the work ethic of working parents who juggle family life with their jobs. Working parents bring a lot of life skills like time management, negotiation and planning which can be transferred to their jobs.
So do your research. Look up family friendly companies and target them. Many larger organisations have realised the value of parents and carers returning to work and offer paid internships – sometimes called “returnships” – for parents returning to the workforce after a stint at childrearing.
Create a digital footprint that shows you know about the professional sphere you hope to enter, especially on Twitter and LinkedIn. Be active on social media and job search sites by sharing and commenting on posts to demonstrate that you’re fully engaged with the people, news and ideas in your field of employment.
Step 4: Market Yourself
And as the saying goes, “It’s not what you know but who you know”. Network, network, network. Get in touch with people who knew you professionally and valued your contributions to work. Speak to professionals in the industry, reconnect with former colleagues, have a coffee with an old boss, and seek out a mentor. Let your friends, family, neighbours and yes, even the mums you chat with at the school gate know that you are ready and willing to get back to work. Quite often, parents and carers returning to work find unique opportunities through word-of-mouth that they hadn’t considered before. Make it clear that you have the capacity and ability to fully commit to your career.
Step 5: Remember What You’ve Learned
While it can take some time to get back into the swing of things, the months and years caring for your children have given a range of transferable skills: project management, negotiation, multi-tasking and time management. Focus on the positives, stay confident and know your competencies. Yes, taking a career break to raise a family isn’t easy and starting all over again will be harder still. But eventually you will get back into the swing of things and be amazed that you ever worried about returning to a paid job.
If you are thinking of returning to work but want to start with a fresh career, you can explore our other article on careers and the courses that lead to them on our Skillstalk blog.