I had a child this summer and am contemplating extending my leave so that I can stay home a few more months with my new son, but I'm a little scared of being out of touch professionally. What are some good ways to stay networked while I'm out of the office?
The decision of if and when to return to work is a complex one. On the one hand, children are only young for a short window of time. On the other hand, companies don't exactly stand still while you're on leave, which can make re-entry after a prolonged absence difficult. A lot has been written about this issue. People tend to have strong opinions about it. We believe that the only opinions that really matter are yours and your partner's. But regardless of your decision, one thing most agree on is the importance of maintaining your professional network while you are out of the office. So whether you plan to take time off indefinitely or just a short extension, you should consider ways to keep that professional network current.
- Use technology. There are a number of excellent ways to virtually network. Two virtual networks we love are LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com ) and Facebook (www.facebook.com ). LinkedIn is a really excellent tool for reaching out to colleagues and mentors and reconnect in a strictly professional environment. Facebook is better for more dynamic, ongoing dialogue but is more informal and personal, and most appropriate for close colleagues. Use either to start a forum on the issue you're grappling with, get introduced to other professionals through friends, and even find jobs.
- Stay Connected with Mentors. Mentors are not only an invaluable source of perspective, they are also the people most likely to positively impact your re-entry. Reach out to one mentor via phone or email each month. Even better: meet one mentor for an informal breakfast or lunch every quarter. It may seem like an insignificant thing now that you can blow off, but those connections you are able to keep current will prove invaluable in the future.
- Join a Local Network. If you prefer the real world to the virtual world, look for a good local networking group to join. Professional women's networks are an excellent place to hear about other's re-entry experiences. Another excellent way to keep your finger on the pulse is through alumni programs from your work or school.