Returning to work from Maternity Leave? Thinking about a Career Change?

Career counselling isn’t just for high school kids; it’s relevant to people at any stage in their working life, and particularly for mums going back to work, or looking for work opportunities, after maternity leave. (And of course, also for the increasing number of dads who take time from work to be a stay at home dad! I refer to mums/maternity leave below, but this applies equally to dads returning from leave, and indeed to anyone considering a career change.)

There are so many questions around the return to work “who will look after the little one”, “how will they settle”, “how does childcare rebate work”, and so on. The question of ‘what will my job look like?’ is pretty big too, and this can look different for everyone.

Some mums will be returning to their old job and trying to balance it with family life, some will be going back full time, some part time. Some will be returning to the same organisation but in a different job, and some will be looking for a whole new role, maybe with more flexibility, or opportunities for working from home.

If you’re considering a new job after maternity leave, or a wholesale career change, there are lots of questions to consider, but equally lots of career advice available.

Questions first.

Is this a good time to think about quitting my old job, or making a change?

This is a biggie! For many people, quitting the job that’s ready and waiting does not seem like an option, and realistically may not be the best choice right now. Instead, this may be the time to:

• Look at the pros and cons of your job – is it flexible, rewarding, fun – what do you get from it?

• What do you bring to the job? Are there particular skills that you don’t use in your existing role, but that you could leverage to get you a better or more flexible role in your current organisation?

• Are you making the most of what your organisation offers? Whether that’s flexible work or management training or salary packaging; make sure you’ve researched what’s on offer and you’re using the perks that are valuable to you.

• If you are seeing a total job change as the way to go, what are your transferable skills? And what are your interests and strengths?

• What are your other work options? Do you have skills, knowledge and financial backup to go and try something new, for example starting your own business?

• Do you have contacts ready to help you land a new job in their field, or with insights that can help you? Ask family and friends what they see as your main skills and strengths; they may have noticed qualities you don’t even think about.

• Can you give returning to your old job a few months, and see if the work/life/money balance works for you and your family?

And remember that settling into your old job, but with a whole new way of working, can take time; give yourself maybe three months before you make any major decisions.

Ok I’ve thought about it / tried it – I still want to change careers!

• Do a skills audit – what are the transferrable skills from your old career?

• What are the new skills you bring? It’s likely that you’re more efficient these days, and maybe you’re returning with increased patience, or have spent time reading or researching to gain some new knowledge.

• Do you have a whole new network to call on? Or a great product or business idea now that you know a whole different market demographic?

• Do you want to start your own business? If so, who do you know who runs their own business and is likely to give you honest feedback on the pros and cons of being your own boss?

• Do you want to work alone, in a team, as a manager?

• Is there an option to do the same type of work but in a different way, for example as a consultant, or even using sites such as Airtasker to work casually?

• Can you get some experience in your new chosen career through volunteering? Or is there an entry level or lower level role you can target?

• Get professional Financial Advice to ensure you’ve considered all the angles on pay, superannuation, child care costs and benefits etc.

What if you’ve lost confidence?

Even though being a mum, or a stay at home dad, takes a myriad of skills, and you’ve likely learned so much in your time away from the workplace, the thought of going back to work can be daunting.

If you do decide to return to your old job, here are a few suggestions to get your through the return to work jitters:

• Keeping in touch – while you’re on leave try to visit your workplace, and stay familiar with what’s going on so you feel you’re still in the loop

• Make a plan with your manager prior to your return, so you know what you’re going back to. As well as hours and days, the plan should include an outline of what you’ll be working on, and any projects, reports etc that you can read up on before you go back.

• If part of your apprehension is around your skills or being up to date with your industry, use LinkedIn, websites and blog posts for your industry, relevant podcasts, and find networking events or training opportunities to meet up and catch up.

• If you can, find a mentor, someone who can support you with a combination of practical advice and that feeling of having someone you trust backing you up.

• Enjoy the social element of being back at work; try to have proper lunch breaks where you chat with colleagues or get out to meet a friend for lunch

Whatever you decide to do; ask for help.

• Visit relevant online forums, such as mum’s pages, parenting pages for advice and support from people in similar situations.

• Use LinkedIn forums, and Seek or other jobsites that have career guidance and job-hunting resources.

• Ask family and friends for help and be specific; rather than telling a friend that you need some help with your job hunt, try for example;

 ‘knowing that you’re great with grammar, can you please proof read this job application’,

 ‘you know a lot about finance, can you please check that I’ve covered the key points in this application’,

 ‘you’ve been on interview panels, will you please mock interview me for this job?’.

Get help with updating your resume and cover letter - my good friend Michelle over at the Small Business Virtual Assistant loves doing resume updates, and of course I’m happy to talk through your plans, support you through the decision making, and give practical support through interview coaching etc.

If you have friends in an industry you’d like to break into, ask them about their experiences, what they like and don’t like, what transferrable skills they see you as having, and what else you need to focus on.

Recognise that some people may question your decision, for whatever reason. If you have really thought it though and considered all the pros and cons, you’ll find it easier to have a great discussion on why you’re changing career, rather than finding yourself defending your decision!

As ever, if you’d like further info, or want to talk about your career or return to work plans, please get in touch :)