Are you your own worst advocate?
Updated: Feb 28, 2021
Six steps to tell your career story in a way that feels powerful and unapologetic.
1. Make peace with your story so far
A mum I spoke to recently told me that she wished she'd never given up her work. Wished she'd kept a foot in the door, however small. That she now tells all the young women she meets not to totally park their career for motherhood. Whilst I loved her honesty and admired her campaigning spirit, I also worried that the story she shared with people was coloured by regret. Staying focused on the past was unlikely to serve her future.
It's simplistic to say that we make our bed and lie in it. With certain careers and life situations, we may have annoyingly limited choices about how we play the glorious hand of motherhood we're lucky enough to have been dealt. With hindsight you might, or might not, have walked your work/life path differently.
However much you've loved your parenting journey, you may feel you've made a career redesign harder for yourself by taking time out. A bit like the famous Irish joke that, "If I were you, I wouldn't start from here".
But you can only start from where you find yourself. And mentally making peace with that, is a vital first step before you start sharing your story.
Frame it for yourself in positive, forward-looking terms: You are a fantastic mum, who's committed time and energy to raise a great family. You are now ready for a new chapter. What happens next is still up to you. Your life and your story are still in your control. Start from a place of pride and positivity. It will show.
2. Stop thinking of yourself as two separate people
A career break has the natural effect of making us divide our life into pre and post kids. It can create in us two separate identities. Professional Woman and Mum. You may look back to your old professional self and see her as someone different. In some ways she is. Your priorities, values and day-to-day life may have changed. But your skills and achievements remain. The abilities you had then, you still have. If you were a lawyer 10 years ago, you still have all the qualifications and hard work that made you a lawyer. You are not less than you were, even if you feel out of practice.
Try not to think of a past self and a present self. Reclaim your whole, fantastically able self.
3. Quit talking historically
Ok, so once your inner story sits comfortably, what about your outer one?
When you are asked "What do you do?" AVOID starting with the phrase "I used to ..."
"I used to be an accountant/I used to work in the City/I used to be in HR ..."
Try one of these instead:
"My background is in Accountancy, particularly ..."
"I'm a Marketing Executive by profession, specialising in ..."
Even a subtle change of tense can make a big difference to the impression you give.
Instead of "I WORKED in the City for 15 years"
Try "I'VE WORKED in the City for 15 years, where I was heavily involved with ..."
Just because there is a break in your career path, doesn't mean you no longer have the right to own your accomplishments.
4. You don't need to explain or apologise for your parental break
There is no need to justify yourself to anyone. Or go into huge details. Just state it as a fact.
RATHER THAN THIS: "My husband and I felt we couldn't both continue demanding jobs with all the travelling they involved and commit to a family, so we felt it made sense for me to take some time away from work as his salary was greater at the time, and then we moved to the States so I couldn't work anyway, and ....."
STICK TO THIS: "I've been on a planned career break"
Catch yourself if you find you're diminishing the massive and meaningful work you've done as a mum.
"I've JUST been at home for the last six years"
"I'm ONLY a mum at the moment"
Just? Only? Ladies, are you kidding me?
5. Focus on the Future
Once you've referenced your career break, don't stop there as if you've hit a dead end.
Move on to talking about your future.
"AND now I'm exploring how I want to use my skills in/as a ...."
"AND now I'm keen to use all my experience in .... to ..."
"AND now I'm starting to talk to people about a return/pivot to ..."
Show people you are actively thinking about the next step and aware of all you have to offer.
6. Don't Overshare
The fact that you might feel wobbly about a return to work, unsure what you want, or unconvinced anyone will employ you is nobody's business but your own. (You absolutely don't need to feel like that, by the way, but that's for another post!) Those are conversations for your family, your friends, your tribe of like-minded women. People you meet at social events, however lovely, don't need to know that.
When you're tempted to qualify your story with a humble "Of course, who knows if that's even likely?", DON'T. Put it out there confidently. Let it be.
Your story is yours to tell. Make it a great one.