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Returning to the workforce

Mothers returning to work – getting prepared

Returning to work is an exciting time for many parents. It provides a great opportunity to consider a career change or negotiate a flexible re-entry back to work. See our Return to Work Q&A below to help get you started.

How do I negotiate a flexible or part time job?

Negotiating a flexible return to work after being on maternity leave is a fantastic way for you to cope with the balancing act. Any time is a good time to sound out your employer about flexible work options – even if you have just fallen pregnant. The trick is to be proactive. Have a think about the tasks you perform. Could your role be done part time or could it be a job share role? What about working from home for some of the week? Prepare your case in advance and remember to consider how your suggestions will impact on your colleagues and the business. Have a chat to your manager and seek agreement. Don’t fall in to the trap of working on your days off. Working part time means that you are paid on a pro-rata basis so don’t feel guilty. With the national skills shortage kicking in, it is a great time to ask for flexibility.

Are you thinking of starting your own business?

Starting your own business can be the answer to your work and family balance. All it takes is a great idea, something that you are really passionate about. Funding the business is the next hurdle. How much will it cost you to make your business idea a reality? Your business plan will help you to estimate the cost. You also need to think about the skills you don’t have. Talk to your friends, family and colleagues who do have the skills you are missing and tap into their brains. A business partner might be a good option for some people but you should be very careful about who you want to involve in your business and how much freedom you need. Starting your own business requires patience, determination, and an ability to get over short term hurdles and learn from them. And it can also give you the opportunity to work part time and work from home.

How do you describe the ‘stay-at-home’ mum section of your resume?

The biggest mistake you can make in your resume is to refer to the time you have spent at home as ‘stay-at-home mum’. It is a true statement, but let’s face it – it is probably the toughest and most hard working time in your life so far! Cleaning bottoms, experiencing toddler tantrums in a shopping centre, and being on-call for an infant 24 hours a day probably won’t cut it in a resume. Start thinking about the unpaid activities you have been doing and turn these into ‘work speak’. For example, raising money for a charity involves communication, business development, and marketing skills. If you’ve been doing the bookkeeping for your family business, instantly you will find employers who are willing to pay for your services. Tuck shop work involves money-handling, customer service, and the ability to work in a team. Make sure you research job ads and see the skills that employers are looking for. If you need to improve your skills and improve your confidence, look at doing a short course.

Is working at home for you?

Working from home is something most of us would love to do. Being able to work part time and structure work around your family is so appealing. The question is – are you the right type of person to work from home? If you are strict with your time, organised, motivated, and household chores won’t distract you, working from home just might be for you. On the flip-side, working from home can be lonely and you may crave the social interaction that comes with being in the workplace. Attending a team meeting each week or visiting your clients regularly might solve this problem. Working from home may also appear to be a solution to the issue of childcare. From my own experience, this is not the answer if you are expected to be on call during the day. Toddlers will want your attention and it doesn’t matter what you are doing. Finally, if working from home is for you, make sure your home office is set up with a computer, broadband, phone, and fax.

How self-confidence can get you that job

For many mums out there, self-confidence can be the biggest problem holding you back from applying for a part time job. How many times have we heard things like ‘I will wait until next year because we are going away soon and Christmas is around the corner etc .’ If you want to work, there is nothing stopping you. Certainly child care arrangements need to be made and your resume needs to be updated. You may also need to invest in a refresher course. I have experienced low self-confidence on returning to work 7 months after each of my children were born so I can imagine how much that compounds if you have been out for longer. But in the end, it won’t do you any good. There is a job out there with your name written on it and you’ll love it. You need to value the skills you have picked up from being a parent and think about how you can adapt these skills for the workplace. Another thing – look in the mirror and talk about yourself – it is good practice for interviews. Are you being nice? Make sure you talk positively about yourself at all times and stop apologising – it is a trait we can all live without!

Thinking about changing your career?

Are you thinking about changing your career? Sometimes, having children can be a catalyst for a change in our careers. You have time to think about what you want in life, and what your flexibility requirements are going to be while you are on maternity leave. Maternity leave might be a great opportunity to do some further study. While the workplace catches up to the concept of flexibility, you may also consider starting your own business so you can create your own flexibility and part time hours. You may have the opportunity to become a niche consultant in your own industry. Or you might have a lightning flash about a new business concept that is worth pursuing after doing some research. Another opportunity is training that can be offered with a job role. The national skill shortage is making it harder for employers to find the exact personality and matching skill set for the job, so employers are offering on-the-job training to meet the skill requirements for the job. Always think about how you can transfer your existing skills – this is the key to changing your career.

Can you achieve a work and family balance?

Yes, but the balance is always changing. You may choose to work more during some stages of your kid’s lives and be at home more for other stages. No one can define what the happy balance is because we are all different. To achieve your own successful balance, you have to be happy about the choices you make and ensure that family responsibilities are shared.

Tips for working mums who breastfeed

More and more workplaces are now providing lactation breaks and rooms for mothers who are still breastfeeding. Admittedly, these workplaces are generally larger companies who also provide a child care on site for their staff. If you work for a small to medium sized business that does not have a child care centre on site, you will need to weigh up your options. If your child care is located not far from you work, have a chat to your manager about lactation breaks. Think ahead, and propose a game plan with your manager that will benefit you and the business. It will only be for a short period of time. The other options available to you are expressing milk into bottles for the day, or returning to work after you have stopped breastfeeding. For more information on breastfeeding and the workplace, visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association Website.

The importance of referees

You have submitted a great resume that demonstrates your suitability to the advertised role. You are then called in for one or more interviews and they love you. Only one thing left – a reference check. Even at this point, your referees can potentially damage your chances of getting the job. Consider the following to ensure your referees don’t shut down your employment opportunity:

Choose your referees wisely. Ideally, your referees should be able to provide your prospective employer with a character reference and feedback on your performance in the workplace.

If you have some great referees, and you have moved on from their employment, keep in regular contact with them. Every 6 months, touch base with them. Find out if they are still happy to be a reference for you. It is common courtesy.

If you manage to get an interview with a prospective employer and it goes well, give your referee a call to let them know that their services may be required.

If you have been out of the workforce for over 2 years, think about other potential referees you could add to your existing referees. For example, have you done any volunteering or charity work during this time? Have you been on a committee (for example, a school committee)? Have you been in casual employment?

Your friends and family should not be your referees. They are naturally biased and will not provide a fair assessment of your work performance or character.

How to re-create yourself professionally as a working parent

The idea of a career change after having children is a popular idea among return to work parents. It may be because your existing workplace is inflexible, you want to work from home, you are dissatisfied with a less senior part time role, or you no longer wish to do what you have been doing for the last 10 years.

A career change can mark the start of an exciting new chapter in your professional life, but to get to that point you need to plan and address the who, what, why and how. What have you been doing up until now? What skills have you picked up along the way? How can you transfer your skills and adapt to a new environment? Often the answers lie in your resume – assuming you have kept it up to date.

Have a chat to your current or previous employer about your intentions and ask them for their opinion. You should also consider doing a short course on the industry you would like to move into. This will give you an insight into the typical processes, procedures, and lingo that you need to become familiar with.

As long as you have the core skill base required to make a career change, you can do anything. Becoming a parent is the ultimate life change, so a career change will be achievable.

Article supplied by Kate Sykes from Career Mums.

For more information see Working mums or Parenting .