By Nancy Collamer
Q. After trying to juggle both a full-time career and being a mom, I have decided to quit my professional career and become a full-time mom. As much as I feel this is the right decision, I do worry about the impact of this on my career. I’ve heard such horror stories about moms trying to re-enter the workforce. Am I right to be concerned or should I just relax and enjoy my children during the next several years?
A. Would it help ease your fears to know that Sandra Day O’Connor, Cokie Roberts and Geraldine Ferraro all took time away from the workplace to be full-time mothers? Clearly, their careers didn’t suffer irreparable damage, and with some careful planning, neither should yours.
That said, now is the time to prepare for your eventual return, even if you expect to be home for several years. (If you ever ride the underground rail system in London, a voice comes across the intercom at each stop urging you to “mind the gap” as you disembark — a useful warning as well for moms who take time to step off the employment track).
Here are five suggestions to keep you career market-ready while you are home full-time with your children:
1. Use the time to explore new interests. Chances are the last time you got to choose your career direction was when you were a sophomore in college and you had to declare your major. Now, with many additional years of life and work experience behind you, your old career choice may no longer be your best option.
Take advantage of this “break in service” to do some serious thinking about your future career direction. If ever you’re going to make a career change, now is the time to make a shift. Goal
: Attend a career workshop through your local continuing education program or community college. If none are convenient, take a look at some of the wonderful career exploration books available at your local library or sign up for a few sessions with a qualified career counselor.
The sooner you clarify your career direction, the easier it will be to build up the skills, knowledge and experiences needed to support your new goal.
2. Maintain your network. Don’t allow “out-of-sight” to become “out-of-mind.” Your network of contacts will be the single most useful tool in your job search arsenal when you are ready to go back to work, so carefully nurture those relationships by making a concerted effort to stay in touch. Goal
: At least once a quarter, connect with your network of colleagues by sending an article, a quick note or an invitation for coffee or lunch. Once a year, send holiday cards to your entire Rolodex of contacts.
Even if you don’t go back into your old line of work, you’ll still want to be able to call upon these people for references and general networking assistance.
3. Take courses: In today’s information-based economy, education must be an ongoing priority for people who expect to enjoy prosperous careers. Fortunately, the options for continuing adult education in today’s world are vast — you can go to a traditional college, sign up for online courses, attend workshops, conferences or study via a local continuing-ed program. Goal
: Make it a priority to learn at least one new technology-based skill and one new industry-related skill per year.
4. Keep up-to-date with trade journals and association meetings. While we are on the subject of education, make sure you keep your skills fresh by reading trade journals or industry newsletters. Goal
: When you’re a year away from re-entering the workplace, make it a point to attend industry meetings so you can collect business cards, make new contacts and be up-to-date on the latest developments within your industry. Nothing beats good old fashioned face-to-face networking to maximize your job search efforts.
5. Become a strategic volunteer. As a stay-at-home mom you’ll be bombarded with requests for volunteer work (especially once your kids get to be school-aged).
While volunteering is a noble task in and of itself, you can turn your volunteer assignments into a real win-win by strategically choosing assignments that complement your career goals and teach you valuable new skills. Goal
: Once a year, seek out a volunteer assignment that helps you to learn a new skill, allows you to impact the bottom line or in some way puts you into a high-visibility leadership role. Don’t be afraid to take chances and step out of your comfort zone!
In summary, be proactive and you’ll be just fine. It doesn’t take long to become obsolete, but by keeping yourself at least partially connected to the business world, you’ll be able to quickly get your career back on track when you’re ready to re-board the employment train. Nancy Collamer is a career counselor and founder of Jobsandmoms.com , a website that helps professional women find better ways to blend career and family.