One of the hardest decisions that many women make is the timing of returning to work after maternity and parenting time away from the job. This can be complicated for many reasons, not the least of which may include the sadness that comes from being apart from your family. This is not the case for all of course, we work with many women who have a great need to return to work so whatever the motivation to return to work it’s the ‘when’ that’s the all critical and important decision to make.
Another consideration that women returners face is in overcoming the personal belief that being out of the workforce, even for a short time, has somehow diminished their ability to do their job. It can seem like a challenge to start thinking of yourself as a professional again, particularly if the time away from the workplace has been longer than a few months. If the time away has been years, it may be even more difficult to consider.
The following scenario is all too common, and something that our coaches at Career Mums hear from many women. See if you notice yourself in this story from Catherine, an upper-level manager prior to her leave from the job to have her second child.
When I left work, I thought I was prepared as I had been a returner about 6 months after our first child. This time, I decided to take a bit more time to have extended time with the baby and to also have time with my three-year-old. Due to a happy circumstance with my husband’s job, I was able to extend my leave even further.
Now, almost a year and a half later, I am ready to return to work. However, in this time the company has changed, including new software systems, a new management team, and a new focus. I feel that I am out of the loop and uncertain about my return. I also don’t see how my skill set is now relevant. I feel like I no longer have the skills needed to be successful at my corporate job.
The Challenge of Identifying Strengths
The truth is that Catherine, like the other women and men we work with, has all the strengths and skills she has always possessed that made her highly successful at her job. She is just not good at articulating them to herself or others, and it is always easier to point out a list of weaknesses or perceived inadequacies than it is to come up with strengths.
It is also somewhat due to upbringing and even the ability to work with others. After all, successful people don’t walk around telling you how successful they are ( well most don’t anyway!) they simply understand their strengths and work to them.
For returners, working with specialised coaches to help to highlight strengths is an important part of building up confidence and presenting a professional, complete and competent presence in interviews and initial meetings. After all, when you are confident you have the necessary qualifications, there is natural confidence that is impossible to miss.
Strengths And Skills
It is important to distinguish between strengths and skills when preparing to return to work. Skills are those things that you do well or that you feel competent in doing. Skills include specific tasks or measurable and quantifiable abilities that you have that make you good at your job.
Skills are not what drives you to excel in your career. They don’t provide that sense of accomplishment and professionalism. These things are your strengths. For example, a skill may be to be able to set up a database. A strength would be the ability to conceive of and develop a database is the most effective and efficient way to organise the data in a meaningful and logical fashion.
Learning to identify strengths is a skill that everyone should master. These strengths are the big picture building blocks you will bring to an organisation and workplace that will make you an asset to the business. Don’t worry if you are not a natural at this, it’s something you can work on and develop.
Making a List
We encourage people, well in advance of a return to work, to start to think about their strengths. It may help to start by listing the skills, then using those skills to see the larger picture.
For example, if you are good at scheduling employees that is a skill. The strength would be in understanding the needs of the business with regards to staffing and then implementing the necessary time management strategies to comply with all labour regulations and company policies.
It may be helpful to ask your spouse or your family and friends. Especially if you are not too comfortable assessing yourself. Accept their input and then sort the information they provide into skills and strengths, and then move forward from this starting point.
By stating the strength and not just the skill, employers are able to see the value that a returner will bring to the workplace. It isn’t about boasting or bragging; it is about being able to present information about your role as an employee and what you bring to the table. Contact us at career-mums to talk through your skills and strengths before you make that transition, it can really give you the boost of confidence you need to make this transition as smooth as possible.