2018 Update: We still stand by these SAHM career tips, particularly for lawyers turned stay-at-home moms — but you may also want to check out some of our more recent stories on stay-at-home parents, including what you need to know about strategic volunteering, and what to consider when you’re thinking about not returning to work after maternity leave.
Reader R writes with a question about how women who choose to stay home with their kids for a while can keep career paths open to them…
I’m hoping you and the lovely Corporette commenters will be able to offer some guidance. (as surely I’m not the only one who has faced or will face this dilemma).
I’m an ’08 law grad and spent two years in biglaw before accepting a government position last fall. Now I am pregnant and due this fall. I’d originally moved to government thinking it would be more amenable to family life, but have since decided I’d like to stay home full time, at least for a little while. If we end up having more than one child, I suppose it could end up being as long as 3 – 4 years.
So, my question is, knowing I’d like to return to the legal field one day, what can I do during my career hiatus to ensure that I am still marketable/relevant when I return to work and to help make that transition back easier? I’ve already made up my mind to stay home, so I am not really interested in a suggestion that I continue working. However, advice on how long is “too long” to be out of work would also be appreciated.
Congratulations on your pregnancy! I think you’re really smart to be thinking about this now — and not, say, in four years when you’re looking to get back in the workforce. I have no experience with this personally, so I’m really curious to hear what the readers say.
– First: Network NOW. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it is easiest to build relationships with people when you are not asking for anything. If your baby isn’t due until the fall, you have several good months ahead of you that you can fill with breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Get to know your current colleagues better, as well as your supervisors and yes, even your subordinates. Go back to your previous jobs and reconnect with people. Your goal at this point should be two-pronged, I think: first, create (or rejuvenate) friendships — you never know where people are going to be in four years. Second, especially for people who have children or are older, ask them for their advice on juggling work and family. You don’t necessarily need to show your hand re: your SAHM plans, but the work/life juggle is a problem for everyone and they will have tips for you, both for when you get back to work as well as how to make the transition back to work, whether it’s from maternity leave or a SAHM position. When you’re looking to get back in the game, these are the people who will, hopefully, hear of jobs and think of you, or be able to connect you to other people who may have jobs.
– Second: Make it easy for you to keep track of people in the years that you’re at home. If you aren’t on Linked In, get on there — you can even set it so you get a weekly summary of who’s changed jobs and more. You may also want to set up Google alerts for companies or a few key people you’ve worked with. It doesn’t take a lot to write to your ex-boss and say “Hey, I saw you quoted in the newspaper — congrats! How are things going with you?” or to that ex-subordinate “I noticed you changed jobs — congrats! How’s the new place?”
– Part 2b: Stay up to date on your subject matter. For example, if you have a legal specialty, sign up for newsletters, magazines, and more that will help you keep abreast of the topics. This could also be a good time to dream a little: in a perfect world, what would your ideal job be? Then, keep track of that industry (whether you’ve worked in it or not). Over the months and years that you’re home with your child, you’ll see the names of companies, the fluctuations in the industry (tip: bad sign if everyone’s filing for bankruptcy), and even the names of some of the key players — when you’re starting to look to get back to work you can call the company and ask for an informational interview, or use social networking tools like LinkedIn or even Facebook to see if you have connections to those companies or that industry.
– Third: Don’t have an all-or-nothing mentality. After you get settled in with your baby, you may realize that a very limited amount of work would be a pleasant intellectual change. If you have colleagues or friends who are writing books or articles, offer to help — in exchange for a byline. Depending on your line of work, you may want to connect with your old boss(es) and offer some time here and there if they need an extra hand on projects. Even if it’s just 10 hours a week or less, it still gives you something to put on your resume and talk about in interviews.
– Finally: If you’re in a career (like Reader R in law) where continuing education is necessary to maintain your professional status, stay up to date on your credits. If money is an issue, your old employer(s) may offer to let you come and sit in on their continuing education classes — if you’re more interested in conferences and the like, be judicious about which ones you go to and why (see above re: your ideal career). When you go, look professional and be friendly. You may even want to have business cards made for yourself (I’ve used Vista Print in the past with good results) that have your name, number, and email address. It may not be a bad idea to set up an online resume/website now (before you’ve even given birth!), so you can put the URL on the business card; otherwise a link to your LinkedIn profile should work fine.
Readers, what are your tips for staying in the game while being a stay at home mom? What have you seen work, what have you seen fail? What are your best SAHM career tips?