After a child is born, some women make the decision to stop working to become full-time mothers. Playdates take the place of meetings and anxiety about an upcoming presentation is replaced with concern over a stuffy nose. While many moms know they will return to work at some point, few create and organize a plan for re-entry. When they decide to return, many women experience difficulty negotiating a salary consistent with their level of expertise or accounting for their achievements during their career hiatus.
With a little bit of planning, research, and creativity along with a systematic approach to networking, you can continue to maintain your professional persona while being a full-time mom. Your transition back to the world of work will become a more rewarding and less stressful experience.
Networking is the cornerstone of a successful job search campaign. It is an on-going process of building and maintaining relationships with people who have expertise you want and need and reciprocating their help with information that is useful to them. As a mom, you are always networking. Mothers swap advice with other moms about schools, babysitters, pediatricians, baby products, etc. We want to buy our products and services from establishments that are recommended by people we trust.
Job seekers share information in a similar way. They approach their contacts for information about a particular industry or company, discuss their skills and business accomplishments and prove how they can add value to an organization. Relationships are built on reciprocity and trust. By solidifying these ties, job seekers gain the opportunity to request introductions into their contacts' inner circles. Each new contact can lead them closer to a new business opportunity. But, it is crucial they never ask a contact to get them a job. This would create stress in the relationship, by implying an unrealistic expectation. However, asking for information is reasonable, even flattering.
Below are some tips for expanding your network and staying connected to your business community during your child care years. Start networking for business opportunities now so you'll have more viable options when you are ready to return to work.
1. The Playground
It's often said that more deals are made on golf courses than at the office. A close second to the golf course may very well be the playground. The same principles of networking and camaraderie work with a small child in tow. It's easy to strike up a conversation at the swings or the sandbox. Bring some toys that work best in groups like jump ropes, balls and bubble fluid and you're bound to have a captive audience of kids and adults in no time. If many of the children in your neighborhood are with caregivers during the week, it still makes sense to build these relationships. Chances are that the nanny's current employer or their friend's employers are people that are connected to others that you might like to know.
2. Group Classes/Sports Teams
By the time your children are three years old, many classes are "drop off" and parents are asked to wait outside the class area. Use that hour to network with the parents in the class. Try to schedule at least one class on the weekend to maximize the opportunity to communicate with a parent directly. As your kids get older, consider becoming the team parent for your child's sports teams. This enables you to have ongoing contact with the parents of the team members and positions you as an effective organizer or leader.
Build a core group of moms (and dads) and establish a weekly playdate. You will make special, long lasting bonds with the parents and establish a support system for a future job search.
When you volunteer for a position in your child's school or your local community you are broadening your range of contacts since members of these groups represent multiple professional backgrounds. You are afforded the chance to network with people that you might not meet at work or through a professional organization. Volunteering in your school/community allows you to:
- Position yourself as an insider or expert in a particular area
- Gain access to other members of the community that may be useful professional contacts in the future
- Develop new marketable skills that you can apply to your future job search
When you volunteer, chose a leadership role, such as chair person for an event or member of the school's executive board. These types of opportunities provide you with much greater visibility and decision-making power than you would receive if you just offer to bake cupcakes for the school picnic.
Consider setting up an e-group with the people you worked with and wish to maintain a future relationship. This will enable you to keep up with the corporate culture and gossip and will position you well should you decide to return to a previous employer in the future.
6. Alumni Organizations
Classmates.com is a free service that manages online school alumni programs where members can reconnect with old friends, receive reunion updates and post messages.
College/University Alumni Associations are a feature on most school websites. If a chapter for your school does not exist in your area, consider starting one.
7. Professional Organizations
Keep up your memberships with professional organizations or join a new one while you are not working. This allows you to stay current on issues that affect your industry. In addition to offering valuable information via the organization's website, newsletter, or trade publication, most host free or low-cost seminars. Make it a point to stay connected with some fellow members and meet some new ones. Consider taking on a leadership role within your professional community. Chair a committee or submit articles for the association newsletter. Much of the work can be done from home and offers a fair amount of flexibility. Chose the activity that meshes with your childcare schedule and follow through on all assignments. These positions increase your credibility and visibility within your professional community.
8. Share your expertise
Teach a class at your local school, library or community center. If you are a nurse, teach infant CPR. If you are an accountant, share some tips for tax time. Contribute an article to a local newspaper or website or publication within your industry. These activities keep your skills sharp and current and help you build your credibility as an expert within your community.
9. Connect Others
Introduce contacts that you think could benefit from each others' experiences. Both will remember the introduction and be more likely to share contacts with you when asked.
10. Create a resume
Keep track of all your accomplishments during the years you are taking care of your children and quantify your results whenever possible. Don't assume that your work will not be valued by the business community because it was done on a volunteer basis. Hiring managers look for candidates that can solve their problems and make or save money for their company. For example, if you organized the school's annual fair, write out a statement explaining your role and quantify what you did, such as, "Generated $25,000 in school funds by organizing a community building event for 800 families." Or if you chaired a committee for a professional organization say "Increased committee visibility by 40% by actively recruiting and marketing special committee presentations and events" Use your volunteer activities as a way to showcase your ability to lead, persuade and organize. Combine these traits with your professional identity and expertise.
As mothers, we spend a great deal of time nurturing our children's passions and developing their unique skills and attributes. We become so immersed in the amazing process of watching our children grow, that we often forget that we still need to plant professional seeds now so that our careers can blossom in the future. Build your network now and you'll enjoy the benefits when you are ready to renew your job search.