16 Mar 2012

The Mother of all Career Transitions

Posted by Amanda Taylor

Laura Brammar, A careers consultant C2 Consultancy – shares her experience and advice for mums returning to work.

You’ve cracked the sleepless nights and have weaning down to a fine art.  You can change a nappy in a blink of an eye and organise soft play at the drop of a hat. 

Now, though, it’s time to think about entering the workplace once again.

But which workplace?  Do you stay in your previous role or a new one entirely?  Do you choose to return part-time or start as a full-timer?  Do you decide to stay within one organisation or adopt a more portfolio career?  Do you explore being a freelancer or take the plunge and start up your own business?

Whether you’ve taken six months or six years off work to have your first or your third child, the decision to return to work can be an incredibly challenging time.

Although, surely for me, as an experienced careers consultant, used to delivering 1:1 careers coaching and group sessions on returning to work, it wouldn’t be that challenging. Right?  Actually, wrong.

Recently, after a year of maternity leave, when my son was 11 months old, I returned to my previous role as a careers consultant, on a part time basis.  What really surprised me was that even though I thought I was thoroughly prepared for the challenges and transition back into the workplace, I still felt the need for additional support and guidance.

I discovered, for example, that there can also be questions you ask yourself about your own skills and abilities.  Even the most successful professional woman can encounter feelings of trepidation and lack of confidence when it’s time to return to work.  From technological developments to industry gossip, it’s easy to feel out of the loop and unsure on how to tune back in to the frequency of work.

After months and possibly years of focusing on your child’s progress and development, it can also be a struggle to remember in detail what you actually did whilst at work, something which really shocked me!  Even if you can remember the finer points of your job description, you may not remember the confidence you displayed in the job so readily.

Motherhood requires an extraordinary range of skills, from supreme multi-tasking to steady time-management, from subtle diplomacy to firm leadership.  But how can you convince other people, such as a new line manager or an interviewer that you will be able to bring those skills into the workplace? I felt a strong sense of wanting to demonstrate to my colleagues that I was still up to speed, even if part of me felt like I was in a very low gear at first.

Overall, the experience has taught me the value of accessing some individual careers coaching, even as a practitioner myself.  This helped me to recognise that as mums we are often very good at focusing on others and responding to their needs, and equally good at neglecting the time and energy needed to focus on ourselves. 

Whilst talking to partners, friends and family about your return to work can have real benefits, it’s very easy for the conversation to become distracted by the business of family life.  As my time to return to work approached, I started to ask myself, ‘When was last time I had an hour to myself when someone objective really listened and focused on my professional needs and development?’

I found the time I spent with the careers consultant to be very much tailored around what I most wanted and needed.  This process centred around being asked intelligent, and sometimes challenging questions and having my answers really listened to.

I knew that our conversation could go in many directions, from an objective opinion on how to update my CV appropriately, to help with articulating my skills to a particular job description. It could also be a chance to practice rusty interview skills or even a time to help identify what it is I really want from work and how to achieve that.

For me though, it was about acknowledging that the role work was going to play in my life was going to be different from now on and looking at strategies to deal with that.

Returning to work isn’t easy, but neither is motherhood.  And for me, even as a careers consultant, I found that the thought of becoming a working mother was almost as daunting as the realization I was going to be someone’s mum.

But my experience has taught me that there really is bespoke help available and it can be incredibly valuable. After all, just as you may have sought support and help with your new role as a mum, why not support yourself as your role changes yet again and you move into the workplace once more?

 I’m really that glad I did.

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