People asked me if I’d come back after maternity leave. I laughed and explained to them that five weeks after my due date is our intern farewell event. Given that I had personally recruited, interviewed and helped hand pick these amazing, talented individuals, I couldn’t imagine NOT coming back immediately after having a baby. After all, those interns were LIKE my babies. I actually knew them better than the one growing in my tummy. Apparently, I spoke too soon.
Three months into my maternity leave…the clock was ticking. I was nervous, yet eager to go back (if you are wondering, I did attend the intern farewell event). Four weeks after returning from maternity leave, I realized that I couldn’t do it anymore. Two kids wasn’t so easy, and the commute was rough on all of us. After pleading for some flexibility in my work schedule, I realized it was time to take a break (or a time out as I tell my kids). It was the scariest, hardest, most emotional decision I could make. I felt my career sinking before my eyes, but I also couldn’t imagine continuing the insanity that was becoming our day-to-day. Some of you have felt this at some point in your lives. Some of you have gone running to work after maternity leave (I certainly did with my first) while others have wondered how you can “have it all.”
I was sure I had committed career suicide by giving my notice (practically in tears), but I learned so much about myself from motherhood as well as ways to stay relevant to help me land my next role and next role and next role. I am here to tell you that there is employment after motherhood (if you want it) and if you strategize, network and work your tail off, you can find work again based on your interests and experience.
Here is what I tell friends, job seekers and anyone who will listen:
- Stay relevant: If you are taking time off to be a mom, or really do anything, be in touch with everything in your industry. Stay abreast of the trades in your market and subscribe to any/all newsletters that will help you better understand what’s happening. When I worked in digital media sales, online networks were huge. Almost three years later, the shift is mobile. In five more years, I’m sure it’ll be somewhere else.
- Network: No matter what, where or when, you never know who has the potential to be your next boss or connection to a boss. I remember stepping into an elevator once to go on a sales pitch and meeting someone (on the elevator). He ended up being in the same meeting as me and we exchanged cards. While I am pretty sure he was checking my ring finger, I was excited to make a friend (I had just moved to NYC earlier in the year). Two weeks later, we were chatting online and I admitted I was looking for a new opportunity. Less than a month later, I was working at his company. Network. Go to happy hours (which can be difficult, but ask your significant other to support you with this). Go to meetings with like-minded people (try Meetup.com, which can be a great resource for finding professionals in your career area). In some cases, network with the parents of your kids’ friends and classmates. You never know who knows someone who knows someone who could use your skill set.
- Big Resume and Small Resume: Many people ask my opinion about their resume because I’m pretty opinionated about them. Here’s my take:
- Have your five-page ALL the places you’ve worked resume (which should never see the light of day). If you’re light on work experience, it could include volunteer work too.
- When you want to apply for a job, take your five-page ALL the places you’ve worked resume and create a new resume and include ONLY the relevant work experience, jobs titles and education applicable to the role for which you’re applying. This matters. If you apply for a marketing role but your experience screams writing or project management, it’ll never make it through the black hole that is the vacuum that takes resumes.
- Be as clear as possible regarding what you did in your different role (and the more you relate your work experience to the job description for which you’re applying, the better). If you can, quantify, quantify, quantify. It’s awesome if you created a new process, but if that process led to a 35% efficiency improvement or raised over $1,000 for a school fundraiser, that really matters. Hiring managers want to know you can deliver results. Find ways to show how you deliver results in your work history.
- Create an online portfolio (optional): This is highly dependent on your skill set. For example, if you are a designer or writer, you should have a portfolio of your work or samples. The Internet affords hiring managers to scour online to look at samples of work from you or other applicants. If you can showcase your best work, or have it ready to showcase, it only help you build your brand (we’ll talk about building your personal brand in a future post).
- Partner with a Staffing Firm/Recruiter: Recruiters may be a dime a dozen, but there are some awesome ones (I know; I have worked with them). If you want to work in marketing, Aquent/Vitamin T is a company that helps staff those roles; if you’re looking into finance or accounting, K-Force is a recognized firm for those positions. However, remember, a recruiter/staffing firm is a resource to help you find work. Don’t wait for them to call you; keep looking, be active and present in your job search. Ask them questions about salary and/or the job market. They are a resource to help you understand the industry/economy, because they have an insight to it every day.
- Be honest but not too honest. Be honest with yourself about what you can realistically handle, and apply for roles you are genuinely interested in. Do not discuss your personal life in a phone screen or interview. This one can be sensitive and some recruiters (and moms) may even disagree with me, but as a recruiter/hiring manager, I do not want to know about your personal life. In a phone screen or interview, I want to know about your ability to perform the essential job functions and take on the roles and responsibilities associated with the position for which you applied. You do not need to talk about your pregnancy, your children, or your personal dilemma with having it all and not having it all. It’s hard not to take interviewing personally because it’s such a personal thing. However, the interviewer needs to know you are a professional and can meet the job demands. Once, a candidate told me she was pregnant and she just wanted to be honest. I really did not need her to be honest about her pregnancy. By law, there are protected classes for which employers cannot discriminate. It’s preferable the candidate wait till she’s farther along in her process and disclose (or really not disclose her pregnancy at all). In a phone screen, especially, revealing personal information can be the decision between calling you back or not. We’ll talk about interviews and interviewing in another post.
While leaving my full-time job after having my second child was the most awful thing I could imagine at the time, I survived. I’m working now, and I’m building my skill set to further my career. I’m confident that, while my career is taking a pit stop, I will get back on the ladder up (if I want to). If you want to work and you have a significant other who supports you, I promise you can too.