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How to make a second career work for you after a break

If you've taken a long break from work, you no longer need to run or hide. Talent-starved companies will want you back if you fit the bill in terms of talent and experience. ET lists the ways in which you can make a second career work for you.

If there is one message corporates are now giving women who are returning to the workplace after a hiatus, it is this: Welcome back. Most women take career breaks to attend to their family responsibilities, and there is nothing inherently wrong in doing so.

This is a message a group of 290 women, from 28 years to 50 years of age, received at 'Segue Session', a professional development and networking programme for second-career women. The session was organised by FLEXI Careers, which works in the area of diversity and inclusion, in Mumbai on Friday.

Here are some points you could keep in mind to make a success of your return.


BE CONFIDENT


"Don't be apologetic about the break you've taken," says Moushumi Bose, director and head of diversity, DBOI Global Services, Deutsche Bank Group. Often, second-career women have to be made to understand that hiring them is a two-way street. "For a woman to be successful in her re-entry, she needs to be a 100% winning proposition to the corporate.

Not only should her technical skills be relevant and requisite, but she also needs to appear confident and positive, so the workplace does not have to deal with her guilt or emotional weaknesses," says Saundarya Rajesh, founder president of FLEXI Careers.

Women need to give a good thought to their 'personal narrative', including how they describe their strengths and position themselves, says Ophira Bhatia, director - corporate affairs, Kraft Foods.


NETWORK


Networking' is often not a such a nice word to second-career women, who see it as an insincere way to use people. The concerns are rooted in thoughts such as: "How will I look when I talk about it?" "Is my skill marketable today?" "Will my resume look good?" Soma Pandey, VP, HR, Accenture, dispels these doubts.

"You have something to offer, which is why you are in the game. Make it about the relationship." She suggests women write brief stories of people they meet behind visiting cards, build concentric circles of contacts, and keep records of how many people they had called in a week.

If you're an introvert, network with people you're comfortable with, who can further your agenda. Start small, but do make the effort.


NEGOTIATE A WIN-WIN


This is necessary if women are to get back to the workplace on terms that do justice to their skills. "Position yourself with the value you bring to the company. Then negotiate the time you can put in," says Anita Guha, global leadership development manager, IBM. "Authenticity with data makes you a better negotiator," adds Namrata Gill, senior general manager, OD and talent management, Mahindra AFS.

However, women have to be careful to market their skills first, and then state their terms. "The entitlement mentality puts a lot of organisations off, however liberal they may be," adds Guha. If you're worried whether you'll be allowed to work flexible hours, you may be in for a pleasant surprise.

"If your track record is good, you would. It's a risk organisations have to take, faced as they are with talent scarcity. There is a legacy (of not encouraging flexible work hours) but this is changing," says Deutsche Bank's Bose.

At home, enlist family support. You may be pleasantly surprised again. Neha Kanabar, regional marketing manager - West, IFB Appliances, says her husband took a six-month break from his career when the couple had twins, and she was the one going to work.


KEEP AN OPEN MIND

You never really know what will click. Before you start to think, "Is this possible in India?" or "My mother-in-law will never support me," take the first step forward. Remember, there can never necessarily be 100% success, says Accenture's Pandey. "You tell yourself you've grown as a person, and you now want to get back at a level where you can gain respect as well."


GET REAL


While second-career women cannot expect to come back on par with their peers, they can work their way up. "You can't be blase about the fact that you've been out of the corporate sector," says Pandey. Eventually, she adds, reporting to someone several years her junior was very humbling. "I looked at the value the person brought to the job, and was happy to be coached," she says.

Recalibrate your definition of success. Take a long, hard look at your strengths, and your fears. Are you afraid to try something new? Can you re-skill if need be? "Trigger challenges for yourself. Make sure you're abreast of whatever's needed," says Saagarika Ghoshal, president - HR, Reliance Big Entertainment.

And while you're at it, throw out fanciful notions of flexible working, says Poornima Pandey, diversity lead - South Asia, Hindustan Unilever. "Flexible working needs far more discipline and a huge locus of control," she says.