I'm not a parent, but I am a career coach, and as a coach and a human, I have many clients/friends who are parents. In my opinion, parents have a very tough road. As much as society loves to gush gooey platitudes about what a joy and privilege it is to have children, there's also tremendous, non-stop pressure on parents to be amazing, to be perfect and to raise amazing children. And to have a career. But maybe um don't have too great a career, since then, what kind of parent are you really? So be perfect, but please not too perfect, mmmkay?
Last time I checked, parents are also people with their own career aspirations. Just because you love your children does not mean that you can't love yourself and your talent and your own dreams. If we want happy children -- and yes, we do, since happy children are the best indicators of happy, connected adults who will contribute to our planet's well-being and sustainability -- we need to have happy parents.
I'm not getting into the stay-at-home vs. work outside the home debate. I couldn't be less interested. However, in our hyper world, no matter where you go, you're connected. And if you want even the barest possibility of one day returning to the professional world in a capacity somewhat relevant to your previous job, you have to be intelligent about your connectivity.
Therefore, here's five ideas for stay-at-home moms and dads who want to keep their professional options vibrant.
1. Start networking yesterday.
Whenever you decide you're ready to return to the office, it's the connections you have that will help you get in the door. In order to maintain strong connections, you must demonstrate a shared, mutual interest with your former friends and colleagues. That emotional connection will give you a platform to present the value of your time and experience. Oh, I know. The word "value" sounds foul and demeaning, but alas, welcome to corporate America. If you've spent the past eight years ignoring everyone you used to work with... ruh-roh. People can be very cranky. People are quite good about holding grudges. Six months out of the work world is huge nowadays, never mind 8 years. On the other hand, if you've connected to these people on LinkedIn and Facebook; if you make a practice of hitting "like" on their status updates and congratulating them when they announce big news, you'll remain on their radar. Make the time to have coffee with former colleagues on a regular basis. Reach out to people. Wish them well on their birthday. It's 45 seconds out of your life; 45 seconds that can really pay off when you need some career help.
2. Make a practice of attending at least one important industry tradeshow/conference a year.
Going to these types of networking events is a way of putting your money where your mouth is, and making it clear that yes, you're truly invested in this field. Bosses want to hire people who are committed. If, for example, your alumni association is going to have a panel discussion about issues in your industry... why not attend? Hell, why not ask to be on the panel? They'll probably be thrilled for your interest and participation. (You're smart enough to be reading this article, so I know you're smart enough to be on a panel!) Dress nicely, ask a couple of smart question, wear a big smile and schmooze. (Get some basic business cards with your name, a professional email and a cell phone number. It's really that simple.) Get on people's radars now, before you need something, so that when you do need help, you'll feel less like a schmuck asking people for help. (If you feel bad, you won't do it. It's that simple.)
3. Social media: If you have time to post approximately 4,879 photos of your sticky toddler eating yogurt on Facebook, than I know that you have time to create a professional Twitter account.
I know you can spend a few minutes out of your day -- say, when the baby's asleep, or hypnotized by "SpongeBob SquarePants" -- to create a Twitter handle based on your first and last name and start following leaders of your trade, former bosses, colleagues, industry-related websites and magazines. Now, do the same thing on Pinterest. What are people in your line of work talking about? What books are they reading, what events are they attending, what's everyone outraged about? More importantly, how can you join the conversation, in a way that, over time, denotes your intelligence and experience? When the kids grow up, and you want to return to work, you're going to have to establish that your skills and education and experience are still relevant. A great way to substantiate your passion is to have actually lived it. Even regularly commenting on an industry Facebook page, or tweeting back to a popular Twitter account, keeps you on people's minds, and broadens your networking horizons.
4. LinkedIn: You should be on LinkedIn to establish your credentials as a professional. Post a classy photo of yourself on LinkedIn and keep your profile updated with your last relevant work experience, trade shows and/or conferences you're attending. You can also use your status updates to link to business books and magazines you're reading, or even better, writing! Websites need content. Your brain is full of content. Why not write some articles or start a blog based on your experiences? (Finally, even if you know you won't return to your previous field except at gunpoint, it still never hurts to present as a professional human. You can fill in the blanks as you go, but a smart LinkedIn profile will only help your chances.)
5. Mentoring: If your kids are a little older, consider working part-time, consulting or mentoring college or grad school alumni who want to break into your area.
Working even part-time still keeps you in the office loop. Volunteering and mentoring are wonderful ways to illustrate both all that you have to offer within your field, as well as your high character. Getting on a popular board and mentoring up-and-coming younger people within your industry is a fantastic way to keep your hand in as regards the next generation and your colleagues. You'll be one of the first people to be aware of new opportunities as they develop.
Those are just five ideas to get you started and remind you that you're not trapped. You have plenty of options if you just take a breath, calm down and take it step-by-step. Let your toddler freak out; you can do this. I promise. If there are other tricks that have worked for you, I'd love to hear about them! Either tell me in the comments or, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.