How to make a career break a positive on your CV

This time next week, I’ll be walking into a new office as a permanent employee – something that I haven’t done for nearly 12 years. To say that I am nervous is an understatement, but more than nervous I have a sense of eager anticipation and … honestly…relief. I’ve been a freelance mum for 8 years now and for 5 of those 8 years I’ve been trying to ‘get back in’, without success. It’s clear that trying to find a job, when you’re self employed and a mum and have been ‘out of the workplace’ for a while, is like pushing a giant water balloon up a hill. I’ve had many unsuccessful applications over this time: full-time jobs which I knew I didn’t actually want anyway because I didn’t want to work full time while my children were so small.  Every unsuccessful application/interview felt like it chisled away my feelings of competence, employability, self-efficacy, so much so that it’s only in hindsight that I realise how small I began to make myself: applying for jobs that were wildly unsuited to my skills and experience, simply because they were part time. Feeling deeply despondent that full-time jobs at my skill level seemed utterly out of reach the further I drifted from my in-house experience. Then there were the part-time jobs which were perfect but after being successfully invited to second interview they suddenly turned into full-time jobs – putting me out of the race. I knew in my gut that I didn’t want to leave my baby/toddler/baby and toddler to embark on the Krypton Factor that is the full-time childcare juggle, in part due to the fact that the pay of the jobs I was applying for would have only covered childminder fees and left me in deficit for anything beyond (I know that this is viewing my income as paying for childcare which I think needs to be viewed as family outgoings not covered by the mum’s salary just so that she has the luxury of time to work). But also…I didn’t want to miss out on the baby days, have my small one handed back to me at the end of the day, smelling of their childminder’s scent not mine. And, frankly, I work in book publishing, which has never been a hugely well remunerated field, and the maths just didn’t add up to a well-balanced enjoyable working life. Part-time jobs at Managing Editor level…well they just don’t exist.

Looking back, I thought this was ‘just me’…indicative of my lack of skills, lack of employability, lack of relevant experience…it didn’t occur to me until very recently that most women experience some level of being frustrated, overwhelmed or sidelined in their career around pregnancy and motherhood, and then through ageism and…well, society and hundreds of years of conditioning. Gradually belittling their expertise and value and wondering whether their career should now solely be viewed in the past tense, ahead is only the route of the Mumpreneur, perhaps? Freelance life being the only way to any sort of equilibrium of work and life?  For me personally, freelance life has been wonderful in terms of richness of opportunity and variety of projects, but in terms of liveable income, and perhaps there’s a dose of status anxiety infusing the atmosphere, it simply hasn’t been working since the birth of my second child.

For several years I applied for a whole lot of jobs which I was told I was ‘overqualified for’. I was asked at least once upon being invited for interview whether I truly understood it was an ‘entry level role’ and wanted to shout, YES, this is all I seem to be acceptable for now! It has felt a lot of the time that I have been cast out, set adrift from permanent employment by dint of already being out and the drawbridge coming up, combined with a huge dose of prejucide/a system that works against mothers or ‘women of childbearing age’ and employers lacking imagination to fit an ‘interesting’ CV into their role. And yes, perhaps some of the interviews I simply mucked up, as mentioned before a lot of the jobs were just not suited to me – but I have done a LOT of work to correct that particular issue over the past 5 years. I’ve done so much career coaching and mindset work over the past 3 years particularly, and that, combined with a pinch of serendipity, has meant that the right job has come up and I was the right fit, at the right time.

So it’s made me rethink the ‘career break’ void in the CV and made me feel even more intensely that we need to value the time that we are ‘not working’. You are not just your skills within an office (or wherever for you) environment. You are a whole person with a huge amount to offer. Don’t make yourself small. Here’s my guide for reshaping the career break for your CV (and your own mindset):

  1. I am re-energised, renewed and refocused by a break from the 9–5. There is something hugely powerful about that fire in your belly when you realise that you want the bit between your teeth once more, and you need to find ways through the obstacles to get there. You are totally committed, and your potential employer should see this has an enormous asset.

  2. I have a new perspective, and new problem solving skills. Organising the melee of motherhood, the life diaries of small humans and their individual needs around your own within the wider demands of modern life; plus being an altered consumer, viewing the world through a different prism, being viewed through a different prism, interacting with the world from a changed angle. This all informs your skills base in terms of how you will confront challenges and unpick problems from a professional point of view. You know how things feel, and how they should feel. Empathy is a skill that is seamlessly cultivated through motherhood and you now have it in spades. Empathy is everything for the successful workplace.

  3. I am the most productive I have ever been in my life. Literally and metaphorically. Theres nothing quite like motherhood for enabling you to cut right to the heart of an issue and skim off anything that is just time-wasting dilly dallying. A mum knows how to make the absolute most of a 20-minute window of opportunity. A freelance working mum, even more. This skill is GOLDEN, and it’s a travesty that we are undermined by society and overlooked.

  4. Working independently has made me the most trustworthy employee who will ever walk the land. This, this is what is most frustrating about the lack of flexible working options. The trust that you need to garner that, simply, you will get the job done. I now have so SO much respect for the value of time, for the need for secure income, respect for the opportunity to work. The fact that presenteeism distrusts and disrupts this huge capacity for completing projects independently and with self-sufficiency is the biggest waste of talent.

  5. My skills base has been nourished and extended, broadened and enriched, like the most deepened and seasoned marinade. As I said in my previous post, we seem to assume that ‘not working’, or ‘just being a mum’ means you’re existing in a skills void. This is simply not the case. Do a skills audit. View your daily/habitual / occasional achievements with curiosity and know that you are a unique human who probably takes your talents for granted, assuming that everyone can do what you can do. They can’t. Be specific about what you do well, and allow yourself to celebrate that immense skill.

There is a lot more to be said about this humungous issue of women in the workplace. And a growing chorus of voices making it less easy to ignore: Christine Armstrong’s Mother of All Jobs, Pregnant Then Screwed‘s Joeli Brearly is writing a book next year, Mother Pukka Anna Whitehouse has been championing flexible working for the past few years (I went on the Flex Appeal flash-dance 2 years ago) so that future generations will benefit. We want, need, to work. We have so much to offer. We need to begin to step in through the saloon doors, bravely and brazenly, rather than wait to be invited back in.

What’s your experience of working motherhood? Are you currently on a career break or trying to break back into the working world and unsure about how on earth it can happen? I’d love to hear.

#workingmotherhood #impostersyndrome #motherofalljobs #flexappeal #freelancemum #Career #workingmother #anxiety #womeninwork #thesupermummyth #workthatworks #selfcareformums

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