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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Don’t stop progressing: Keeping in touch with your career during an extended leave -- Guest Post

I’m currently on my second year-long maternity leave, but even though most of the time I’m home changing diapers and washing barf out of things, I feel I’m more focused on my career than ever. 
Keeping up career momentum throughout a parental leave or other extended leave can be tough, but it’s worth the extra effort if you want to keep moving forward in your career. In many countries, maternity and parental leaves can be up to a year of time away from work, and in the US, where maternity leave is not specifically provided, parents of young children often take some time away from the workforce.  Regardless of whether you are returning to an existing position or taking some time out while your children are small, keeping a few tips in mind can help you keep your career life warm for when you are ready to return to it.

1.       Keep networking.  For parents with small children at home, going out to professional development events, conferences, and other networking opportunities can be difficult.  However, this doesn’t mean you have to slow down your networking, if you have internet access at home.  Use LinkedIn, professional association websites, Facebook, and email to connect with others who have similar work interests.  Discuss issues that are common to your field, swap book recommendations, or just talk about ideas.  This can help you keep your finger on the pulse of your field, and when the time comes for you to return, your knowledge will be much more up to date.  I have found it useful to schedule lunches with colleagues- we choose a restaurant where I can bring the baby, and he rocks out in his car seat while I chat with my colleague about how things are going at work.  It’s a great way to stay connected.

2.       Keep learning.  There’s tons of professional development that you can work on while you’re home with a little one.  I regularly attend webinars, read and review books, and work on online courses.  You might find great resources in podcasts (which you can listen to in the car or on transit) email lists, or online conferences.  In technology fields, this is particularly important- keeping abreast of current technology makes it much easier to return to work. Professional development can take a bit of a monetary investment, but consider it an investment that will return to you and then some by increasing your future earning power.

3.       Keep that resume or portfolio up to date!  You never know when opportunities are going to come your way.  Even if you’re not ready to return to work, you may want to use your skills through volunteer positions, or take on a part time position- and it’s so much easier to jump on those opportunities when your resume is ready to go.  As well, keep your Linkedin profile updated- recruiters are increasingly using the service to find talent, and they may be looking for someone like you! Likewise, keep in touch with some potential references, you never know when you’ll need them.

4.       Keep sharing your knowledge.  In many fields, there are publications, conferences, and symposiums where experts can share knowledge they have gained through their work.  Even if you’re not working currently, you likely still have some specialty knowledge to share- and a leave can be a great time to give a conference talk or write an article, since you won’t have full time work as well as kids and day-to-day tasks competing for your attention.  Likewise, volunteer work can be a great way to give back and keep sharing your skills.  Look into volunteer positions with local organizations. You can build your networks this way as well!

With some added effort, keeping your career aspirations alive while you’re away from work can make your return much smoother.  No matter how long you’re away, you will have relevant skills and knowledge to share, and it will be much easier to communicate your value to your employer and avoid losing out on potential earning power!

When she’s not making play-doh spaceships with her two young sons, Jenny Hill, CPLP creates engaging, accessible, and effective learning experiences, so learners can reach their potential and do their most meaningful work.  You can contact her on LinkedIn at

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