A career break need not really be a complete break from the workforce. While you may not be ruling the world from your desk, you can use the time for contemplation, upskilling, and preparing for a comeback.
How does one stay relevant while on a break? It’s the question we asked some experts who are working with women on a break or returning from a break.
We spoke to Neha Bagaria, founder & CEO of JobsForHer, an online connecting portal that enables women to restart their careers after breaks. It connects companies looking for experienced talent with women who wish to restart their careers.
Neha knows all about taking a break. In the course of her career, she decided to take a sabbatical from work to focus on motherhood. During this time, she became aware of the various difficulties most women face when they want to rejoin the workforce.
According to a report by the Indian Women Network, women make up 24 percent of the workforce in India, and 36 percent of them take a break from work.
Almost 91 percent of women who take a break in India want to come back to work. But again, an interesting fact, which the report highlights, is that 72 percent of women in India do not want to return to the same employer.
So it is not just motherhood but lack of growth opportunities, pay and gender bias that pushes women to take a break. However, most women wanting to return to work also use the break to invest in themselves.
As a restarter herself and having helped a large number of women return to work, Neha lists some key factors women need to take into consideration while on a break. These are simple ways to upskill yourself, do not cost a lot of money, but give enormous returns. Here’s what we found out:
Reskill to restart
“A sabbatical from work is the best time to upgrade your skills in your particular field of expertise. There are plenty of online tutorials in whatever skill/subject you feel you would like to work in. Additionally, you could take classes/workshops or attend meetups. Reskilling will not only show how passionate you are about your field but will also boost the professional development section of your resume,” shares Neha.
Reskilling helps to fill in the gap in CV and will keep you motivated to handle questions at an interview with more confidence.
There is no dearth of online courses and you can find something on Udemy, Coursera for yourself. Udemy has everything from marketing to lifestyle and music to personal development courses, while Coursera has history, philosophy to data science and computers to learn from. Here’s another list of online courses for professionals that women can take to be work ready.
There are multiple videos and podcasts online for skill learning and tutorials that will not just add to your CV but also strengthen your skills. One of them is HBR podcasts on Women At Work, which will help you understand and take on challenges at the workplace.
Have a strong online identity
While many people prefer to keep their personal and professional social media interactions separate, it is important to not miss out on it altogether. Even if you have personal activity channels, it is important to have a strong brand presence online. Be it Medium or LinkedIn, you can always find a way to express yourself through your writings an thoughts, and stay connected with others in a professional network.
Neha shares a few tips:
Make sure you post your updated resume on job sites and update your profile picture as well. Tidy up your social media profile by untagging yourself from pictures you don’t want potential employers to see. Start making relevant contacts and follow companies and people that interest you. Get in touch with ex-colleagues and former bosses, and ask them for a recommendation. Also, add current activities and post pictures that you probably volunteered for across your social media.
Network like never before
Attend conferences/workshops to connect with people from your profession, and stay abreast of industry trends. These are packed with inspiration, encouragement, ideas, thought leadership, and reskilling workshops. There are career fairs with companies who want to diversify their workforce and that are listing jobs for women – everything that a woman needs to map out her career restart journey.
From organisations such as JobForHer, Reboot, SHEROES, and other women groups it is easy to not just find support but also find like-minded women with whom one can network. Also not to forget the online communities that engage in discussions and debates on issues that matter to women.
Mentors and leadership programmes
Neha points out that usually, women lose confidence, connectivity, and their key skills when they take a career break, so the support and encouragement mentors offer is a huge confidence-builder for them.
Women need that someone to guide them and give them a little push back up the ladder. Mentors can point women returnees in the right direction to meet the many challenges they face during their break. Quality mentoring greatly enhances chances for success while restarting a career.
Often the best way to find mentors is to reach out to your network and see who are the women leaders who can help you with mentorship. But you have to be ready to make the most of these sessions. There are also leadership programmes and platforms like the Iron Lady and Shenomics that help women to take charge and be confident.
Find your circle
The company you keep is important but more important are the people who comprise your support group. Neha makes an important point. She says, “When a woman makes that life-changing decision to step away from a successful career to look after the needs of her family and those who depend on her, she very often does not make a comeback plan. The network of people in her circle often dissuades her when she starts to think about getting back to work. She can gainfully use this same network to restart. She needs the support of her husband, children, parents, in-laws, siblings, ex-colleagues, social network, alumni network, and other people she knows.”
Confidence sells, build it
You need to be applying to at least 10, if not 20, jobs a day if you are trying to get back into the workforce. Attend as many interviews as you can. Once you start interviewing you will gain more confidence in yourself, what you’ve done, what you can do, and what you offer to the company where you’re interviewing. Confidence sells like nothing else can. Build it by exercising it!
From mirror exercises to mock interview sessions with friends and family to not giving up in the face of rejection after yet another interview, here’s how to make sure that you make the interviews count and use each one to get better.
So, a break does not mean the end of your career and your world. All it needs is a little attention to what you want to do at the end of it and oodles of confidence to see you through. Times are changing and organisations want you to be a part of a more inclusive and diverse workforce.
What after the break? What do women look for on returning? What are organisations doing to encourage women to get back to work, assuage their fears and guilt, and make a comeback? Read all about this in the concluding part of this series.
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Read the first part of the series here
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