Sunday, 20 March 2016

Tips to get back to work after a break


I always loved working. So I never imagined I would ever willingly take a sabbatical in my career. But when my daughter was born, everything changed… Due to a variety of reasons, I decided to take a break. It was a choice that caused a spectrum of reactions from my dear and near ones. :-)

Did I miss the constant mental stimulation that my job gave? Yes!!! Adult conversation was something I really missed. And those who know me personally will surely understand the reason! :-) You see, I am a talker. I thrive when I am around people. I have rarely met a person whom I couldn’t strike up a conversation with. So for someone like me, it was doubly difficult to deal with the reduced amount of adult interactions.

But even with all this, the simple fact is….I never once regretted my decision to take a break. And to this day, I feel it was one of the best decisions I have ever taken.

When I felt it was finally time to get back into full time work, I had a lot of apprehensions. I had not worked in a normal, 9-5, office setup in more than 3 years. I did dabble in a few other things in the interim….(more on that is given later in this post). Recently, I got back to full time work - as a business analyst.

So what were the things I did to make this humongous transition easier? And what were the things I wish I did, in hindsight? Well, I am listing all of those here so that you can use them, when you think of joining back the rat race. So enjoy!!!! :-)

     1.   Find a great daycare or after-school care center for your child
This is the number one, most important, deal breaker thing you need to do. I can’t stress enough how important this can be for your peace of mind, and your stress levels. Start sending your child to a daycare, or after-school care a few months (at least 2) before you start job hunting. Ensure that your child is happy at the new day care. If you find that your child is not adjusting to that particular daycare even after a reasonable amount of time, you may have to move her to another daycare. This is a painful period. Believe me, you want all this to be out of the way, before you set out for a job interview. Think about it….would you want to go for a job interview with your child’s tearful face in mind or her smiling face?  

                 
                    

    2.  Prepare your child mentally

Much before I even started job hunting, I prepared my child mentally by telling her I am going to work. I made it a point to dress nicely everyday. Everyday my daughter shares the highlights of her day with me. Sometimes she would ask me what I did in office that day. I would make up stories about what I did that day…small things like I sent a report, had meetings….nothing that she would really understand, but it gave her a sense that I was doing important things. These things helped her accept that I work, and enjoy it too. It also gave her a feeling of importance that I was sharing my day’s highlights with her. :-) So this was a win-win from all angles.

Another thing I found helpful was, a ‘Pepper’ series book called “Pepper and Mama’s new job”. I read this out to Samaara a few days before I started telling her that I am going to work. This helped her acclimatize to the whole concept. There may be other better books that convey the same idea, but this was the one I got my hands on. And I believe it has helped me tremendously.

     3.    Make sustainable arrangements for pick-ups and drops
This was one mistake I made. My daughter goes to a playschool and then later to a different daycare. I was the one who dropped her at playschool, then picked her up at noon and dropped her at the daycare, and then again picked her up in the evening. This entire cycle played havoc with my time. As a result I really struggled to find convenient time slots for interviews. Sometimes the interviews were done in places far from home, even though the actual job location may be close to home. I was tense through two interviews and did not perform at my peak, because I was so aware of the hands on the clock… and was worried if I would get there in time to pick my daughter. It was only after a lot of heartache that I decided to finally let the school bus drop her to her daycare.

     4.   Checkout if you actually want to get back to your earlier career

I wanted to get back to work, for sure. But I was a little (or a LOT :-) ) confused as to what career I should pursue. I loved my job as a business analyst, but a BA role had some aspects, which I felt wouldn’t go well with my new role as parent….like frequent and – sometimes - long-term travel. So I used this break time to foray into other careers. Just testing the waters :-). So I did some marketing for my family business which is run by my dad, and I also did some professional voice overs (for things like ads, e-learning tutorials, mobile apps, etc). I anchored a few corporate events, and even did a small bit of acting for a corporate ad. :-) I just loved the variety it gave me and I also felt really good about myself for having tried all this, instead of just wondering how it would be. And as far as I can see, this has helped me in my job interviews too, even though it was not really relevant to my current job as a Business Analyst. I think the fact that I kept doing something or the other, gave a positive impression to the people who interviewed me. It somehow makes you look more with the times, I guess. So if any of you have a secret wish, like being a writer or doing some interior designing, or something…this is the time to test your wings. Wannabe writers - start a blog, do some freelance writing, contact a magazine with your literary work….anything. Who knows, you may find something you would really love to do for the rest of your life. Or like me, you may find that you want to get back to your earlier career, but with a few things you would want to pursue on weekends or on a freelance basis. Some of them may just stay a hobby for life. But the important thing is that….you would have tried something different. And believe me, this gives you a world of confidence in life.

     5.   Have a heart to heart with your family

When it was time to start work, I had serious concerns on how we would all adjust to it. I think the hardest hit person was my husband. :-) He had got too used to me taking care of a lot of stuff at home - like grocery shopping, bank related stuff, getting Samaara ready for school, etc..etc… But my husband has been a darling. To my absolute delight, he has not just adjusted, but really welcomed these changes. We split all our duties. Now things are running smooth at my house, and we have all got into a routine. But to get to that stage was not an easy task. It is imperative that you have an open and honest conversation with your family about the upcoming changes and how important it is for you, personally, to start working. In my experience, adults as well as children, adjust well to changes that they have been warned of….especially when they know how important it is for you.

     6.   Check out the job portals

Start checking out the usual job portals like naukri, monster, etc. But also check out specialized job portals like sheroes.com which exclusively cater to women, especially moms on a break. They have many flexible options like part time job, work from home, entrepreneur’s corner, etc. They also do mentoring and give guidance to women who are trying to get back to work. There are other websites and groups which do the same. Just google around, and you will see. Incidentally, I did not get my job through them, but they had some good options there. And most importantly, they were a major point of hope during my job hunting days.

     7.   Be clear about your answers

During your HR calls, or interview calls, they are bound to ask you about the reason for your break in career. If you have done something which is not directly related to the role you are currently applying for, they may ask you your reasons for that too. Be very clear on what you would answer for those questions. This will give you the necessary confidence to answer those questions with √©lan when you are actually faced with them. Your answer should be clear, to the point, and without any apologetic overtone. For example, if asked about your break in career, don’t sound apologetic when you talk about it. This gives the impression that you are ashamed about it. It should come across as a conscious decision you took, and do not regret. But having said that, don’t go overboard and show them attitude. You want to leave them with a balanced and pleasant impression.

     8.  Salary negotiations

This was something that was really confusing for me. I was really not clear as to how much I could ask for. I mean, I was coming back to that career after a break. The other things that I had done in the break period were not in the same industry, and obviously the market rates were totally different. So I could only compare my new expected salary with the last salary I had drawn as a BA. So, was I supposed to ask for the same amount as my last salary? Or could I ask for a raise on that? If I could ask for a raise, how much could I ask for, and how much would be too much? These were all things that were very confusing. But after consulting with a few friends of mine who are in HR, I realized you could ask for a raise of 25 – 30%. After all, you need to take inflation into account. So this was how I started quoting my expected salary. After that, your usual salary negotiations will happen. Please note that salary is hugely dependent on your capability, experience and your interview performance. It also depends on the current market scenario. So take all this into consideration when you decide on an amount. My own expected salary kept increasing as I faced more interviews and my confidence grew. :-) So there are no hard and fast rules here. But be confident when you quote the expected salary. Only then will they feel that you are worth it.

     9.  Be Patient. Everything will work out

I know, I know….This advice used to drive me crazy too. But nevertheless, it is true. Things do have a habit of working out in the end. And as they say….if it hasn’t worked out, it isn’t the end yet. J Take my case, for instance. I was hesitant to join back work as a BA mainly because of the travelling involved in that job. But I have finally got a job where the BA does not have to travel at all. I am not saying it was easy, or that it was quick. I had to try out some options before I got to this job, but it all worked out in the end. I know it is really, really frustrating when you are just waiting for something to click and the wait seems interminable. But hang on to your sanity (and to your temper J) . Better days are just around the corner.

     10.  And last, but not least….Happy Job Hunting J