If you’ve read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” you’re likely familiar with this statistic: Of the professional women that leave the workforce during their careers, only 74% of them will re-enter in some capacity, and only 40% of them will return to full-time jobs.
And if you’re looking to be one of the latter, you know you’re up against challenges like explaining your employment gap, brushing up your networking skills and competing against hundreds of well-qualified job-seekers for plum roles in your industry.
But once you land that job, a host of other hurdles become apparent, including getting up to speed on new technologies and assimilating into a more oftentimes casual corporate culture than the one you left.
From understanding how to use Excel to quickly compute profits and loss to logging into Salesforce to keep your team abreast of your sales calls, there is a host of software and applications to make laborious tasks easier.
But if you’re not able to quickly get up to speed on them, you’ll face an uphill battle.
“Re-entry at levels equivalent to the ones you left will be nearly impossible unless you have kept current with the myriad changes in technology,” says Lynda Spiegel, Wall Street Journal contributor and owner of Rising Star Resumes.
The key here? Preparation. First, get the low-down on what software and technology is being used in your industry, then look for classes or online tutorials that teach these hard skills. If you’re not up for a class, or require just a few hours of brushing up, use your network to locate a connection that is willing to spend an afternoon walking you through the software you need to know.
While many workplaces still hold multi-department meetings in large conference rooms to hammer out important decisions or move projects along, many others are moving toward more flexible modes of communication.
“Instead of a conference call,” says Sharon Jautz, Director of Talent Acquisition, Sandow Media, “you might have a Google hangout, or Face Time with another office. In my current role, for example, if I need my boss urgently, I text her. You may even report to someone much younger than you that needs more frequent communication from you than your last ‘Boomer’ boss.”
Preparation is key here too. Ask in the interview process about how meetings are held and typical methods of communication, then sample them with friends or family before your first day.
“In my opinion, the office environment has become much more collaborative and transparent,” says Jautz.
Translation: You may be sitting in an open-plan workspace where boundaries are more fluid than the workplace you left. This means last-minute drop-bys to brainstorm a sales pitch, or a question lobbed over several cubicles. Your boss may not schedule weekly staff meetings, favoring an open-door policy to discuss any pressing issues in real-time.
“Your colleagues may be Millennials,” says Jautz. “Prepare to learn about pop culture, apps and technology from them. And, be prepared to mentor them on conflict management.”
Working From Home
Many workplaces are more flexible than in the past, allowing employees to work from home one or two days a week.
For many women, this can raise issues around time-management and familial boundaries.
Annie Long Sullivan, 43, and executive director at Beautycounter, works from home full-time, and, as mom to four kids, juggles assorted schedules and last-minute needs. To keep everything in line, she makes sure she is firm in the time she focuses on work.
“When you are working, you are working,” she says. “My friend always says, ‘If you were a dentist working in an office, you wouldn’t pop downstairs to move a load of laundry or gossip with your bestie on the phone for an hour.’”
On the otherhand, she says “Time blocking is also key. A benefit of working from home is that you are home. So, if you want to hit a workout class or go to the grocery store, you should time block it in your calendar like an appointment. Acknowledge that you will not be working then, and may need to make up for the time later in the day.”
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