This is the third of four articles on re-entering the workplace.  Jean Baker talks about her experiences and writes about why businesses should try to recruit high-talent women who've taken a hiatus. Today she has tips for women considering this option.

 

Women need to be much more strategic in planning their return, even before they leave.  And we need to be wise about not "leaving before we leave." In her book "Lean In," Sheryl Sandberg writes that instead of making one big decision to step out, women often "make a lot of small decisions along the way, making accommodations and sacrifices that they believe will be required to have a family."  They lean back, so when they actually need to make those decisions, they are at a very different place than they would have been had they leaned into their work.

 

Ideally, you're reading this before making any of those small (or big) decisions. Here are tips for every stage  of the process.

 

Before you leave:

  • Front-load experiences where possible.  Ask for the difficult assignments, the global ones (if your company is global), and the high visibility ones. This may give you different options if/when you do decide to step out. It also gives you stronger experiences when you're ready to step back in.

  • Offer to serve on or to create a committee designed to make staying or returning easier for women. Don't just present this as "the right thing to do" - make the business case for it.

  • Ask your manager for options that will help you return (or even stay). Make sure you clearly articulate why your proposal is a good idea for the organization. Anticipate objections and be prepared to offer solutions to those objections.

While you're out:

  • Keep any required continuing education current while you're out. It keeps your skills/knowledge current, and continuing education is a great place to network.

  • Maintain and build your network. This is a big one. You don't want people to forget about you.

  • Do project work for your organization, or even volunteer work for a non-profit. But be strategic: focus on opportunities that demonstrate your employable skills.

Just prior to reentry:

  • Research the skills required for positions in which you're interested.  If you don't have those skills, now is the  time to get them.

  • Hire a coach to help you write your resume and practice interviewing.

  • Make sure everything is as up-to-date as possible, not just your skills.  Work fashions may have changed while you were sporting yoga pants and a ponytail. Consider hiring an image consultant.

  • Network, network, network. Do not rely on job boards. Have coffee with those willing to help you reenter. Tell them what you're looking for and be specific in what help you'd like from them.

Next week: How organizations can retain and recapture high-talent women.  Does your company have a strategy? If so, email me, I'd love to include it.

Jean Baker has taken the "scenic route" in her career, having practiced law, run a nonprofit and served as a financial representative before starting her consulting business, Jean M. Baker & Associates. Running through it all has been the common thread of women's advocacy and business.

 

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Find Jean on her website, where you can read more of her blogs, via e-mail or on Facebook and Twitter. She can also be reached by phone at 515-778-0017.