One of the most common questions I am asked in business is “What advice do you have for stay-at-home moms who want to go back to work eventually?” I can understand why women ask me that – as a soon-to-be mother of five who has been with VPR for nearly 20 years, I do have a lot of experience with maternity leave. But while I could probably write a manual on “how to pump on a plane” or “the best snacks to keep a toddler quiet during a conference call”, my experiences as a stay-at-home mom have been limited to six-week stints. As I began to gather advice from my tribe of mom friends who have taken much longer career breaks, I realized how much of their insight was equally applicable for those who have taken a career break to manage a healthcare crisis or care for a loved one.
Here are my top five tips for staying relevant when life requires a priority shift:
Stay Up to Speed on the Industry – If I think back to 12-years ago when I had my first son, Will, had I taken a break to stay home with him, the pharmaceutical industry I supported when I left would not be the one I returned to today, or even just a few years later. Undoubtedly, there have been equally dramatic shifts in every field from advertising to finance. Subscribe to industry publications and blogs to stay on top of them. Do you have friends in the business? Make a point to take them to a “business lunch” periodically or jump on the phone for a scheduled call once a quarter: ask them what’s going on in the field, what their recent projects looked like and what trends
or changes they’re seeing. Come prepared with a list of things they can easily research for you (maybe you’re curious about what their benefits package looks like this year or what software is most popular now).
Network – It’s a no-brainer, but it’s also not easy to make time to connect with total strangers. If you feel a little silly going on your own, grab a friend to accompany you the first time you venture out. Invest in a supply of business cards – you don’t have to be linked to a company to share your skills and contact information – and check your local business publications for a list of events. If your town or your industry isn’t big on networking, research professionals in your field who are leading the way and reach out to them. You don’t have to request a formal mentorship if you don’t have the bandwidth or desire; simply tell them that you’re inspired by their work and that you want to get their advice for being successful in the field. You’ll not only have a great new connection but also the inside scoop.
LinkedIn & Resume Building – No matter if you’re taking two years off or your break has an indefinite duration, you are technically “between jobs”, so do what any other person in that position would do: keep your resume polished and your LinkedIn profile up-to-date…and then get active. Make a goal to post one LinkedIn update each month and add one new person to your LinkedIn profile each week. You can do it! Watch a TedX talk online or read an industry-relevant article and then post it on LinkedIn with a few sentences about what you think of it.
Volunteer – Get involved in a local disease support group – you will make great connections, learn new perspectives and have new accomplishments to add to your resume. Take the opportunities that you can fit into your busy lifestyle: does your neighborhood association have a board opening? Does your church need someone to help plan a retreat? These are all things you can add to your resume to show your depth, charity and talents.
Hone Your Skills – Some people have mere hours to prepare for a job interview; you have time on your side! Think about areas you’d like to improve upon to prepare you for it: do you need to learn PowerPoint or Excel? Could your portfolio be expanded with some hand lettering classes? Do you want to work on your writing? Check your local universities and community colleges for classes. Do you want to become a better public speaker? You can do something as elaborate as joining Toastmasters or as simple as signing up to do the readings at church.
Do you have other suggestions for staying relevant and building your skills during an unexpected break? Share your tips with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.