You've taken a career break for children and now you're returning to work. Whilst many mothers feel that time out automatically equals losing their career skills, in fact the very opposite can be true.
Motherhood is, in fact, practically guaranteed to increase your skills set.
The transferable skills you develop as a parent are no different in variety or value to the type of skills that can be acquired during other key stages of your life and career, such as marriage or your first full-time job. Being a stay-home parent is, after all, absolutely one of the greatest challenges there is.
Like any form of care, childcare takes it out of you emotionally, physically and mentally-especially when the children are your own! Successfully looking after your children involves continuous multi-tasking, managing your energy levels and maintaining a laser focus, not to mention clear goal setting, calmness in the face of emergencies and the ability to think outside the box.
It's really not a stretch to see how all of these skills are vital in a busy, pressurised workplace.
In an ideal world, you would be equally adept at all the above competencies. In reality, the skills that can be acquired through parenting are so innumerable that no one will have them all. Even if you did, not all of these aptitudes will be appropriate or necessary to your particular line of work. So how do you identify which skills you've picked up and whether or not they'll be useful in your work life? Here are a few ways:
- Get feedback from others around you as they will see how you've developed.
- Self-reflection -take time to think about which new skills you've developed. Try making a list of actions you take during the week and then listing the skills they deploy. Consider the settings, pressures and essential outcomes. What did you do, why did you do it and what was the result? Where else could these actions be valued?
- Think about which skills you're using whilst you're actually using them, then consider how they could be used elsewhere. For example, the next time you're making up a bedtime story with your child, acknowledge the fact that this takes imagination and communication skills, which can be converted into workplace creativity and efficient teamwork.
Of course, it's all very well thinking about using your new skills once you're back at your old role, but what if you're not actually going back there? What if you're instead looking for a new position, or even career? The lessons you've learnt will be just as valuable. Creatively use your parenting experiences to sell yourself to prospective employers. Consider seeking out voluntary opportunities where you can use your newfound skills in the wider world as well as build up experience relevant to your desired career path. Get involved with a charity or offer yourself pro bono work to those you know. Training and professional development are also options which must be seriously considered; it's worth investing in yourself.
Here are some more tips for pursing a new career direction after a career break:
- A key element of self discovery is to review past achievements and the especial skills demonstrated in effecting those successes.
- Ask yourself what your passion is, then consider how to get paid for what you love!
- Get hold of tools such as Tom Rath's StrengthsFinder; the book is available online and in good bookshops
- Gather more information about your specific career interests by networking and making contacts. Don't be afraid to ask plenty of questions. If you decide to set up your own business, take huge confidence from the fact that motherhood has definitely taught you how to juggle tasks and seize opportunities!
- To brush up on specific skills before returning to work, there are plenty of ways to do this.
- Take advantage of the many adult learning opportunities there are at local further education colleges. A directory such as Hot courses gives you an idea of the variety of classes, subjects, time frames and price ranges.
- Get a friend to train you in a specific skill in exchange for you doing something to help them. Practice at home and go to the library to get the relevant books out if necessary. The Dummies series covers almost everything.
- Still not confident that your parenting skills are going to help you back at work? Don't expect too much of yourself-take everything one step at a time, in bite-sized chunks.
- Recognise that some goals need to be worked towards and will not be arrived at with one leap. It doesn't matter how slowly you go as long as you don't stop. In the words of the late American football coach Vincent Lombardi, "Winners never quit, quitters never win".
- Reflect on those other key stages of your life where testing circumstances demanded reasoned confidence in one's own ability and where success was achieved.
- Focus on networking to find people who've done what you want to do and then talk to them about how they did it. Ask intelligent questions.
Yes, identifying and transferring your parenting skills to the workplace is not an automatic process, but with enough thought, preparation, patience and action it is possible. And the real prize? Absolute recognition that taking a career break to parent children can truly be one of the best career moves you will ever make!
Mary Cope is a Career Guide at Position Ignition, a very personal careers advisory service for professionals. Position Ignition works with individuals through their careers transitions supporting them through to achieving their goals. Mary is interested in taking careers advice to the next level!