Ten Tips on Returning to Paid Work

After six years as a full-time mum, I will never forget the cocktail of emotions I experienced after receiving my first official job offer. It was amazing – as in roller-coaster amazing – due to contrasting emotions: gratitude, happiness, disbelief, but also fear and doubt. I attempted to silence the “buts and ifs” in my head. I had not been in formal paid work for over six years, and I cannot stress enough how much this had lowered my confidence levels. 

Being a full-time mum was not my plan but was one of those detours life throws at you. There is a saying in Venezuela: “If you want to make God laugh, say your plans out loud.” Well, I had, and I am sure God had a good old laugh. I had told people during my PhD how this coveted and hard-earned diploma would lead to a postdoc position and a research career in England. If that did not work, not to worry. I had plan B – to work for the International Support Office at a British university. But then the financial crisis struck, noticeably shrinking the work market and job opportunities. The salary gap between my field and my husband’s was too wide for us to even consider my being the breadwinner. I would have to follow him to his new position in Switzerland. Suddenly, I became a full-time mum of a lovely but very demanding three-year-old girl in a new country, where I did not speak the language. It was harder being a full-time mum than relocating. Yet somehow six years flew by, and my only career change was from junior full-time mum to senior full-time mum, with some temporary work from home included. This was a promotion that did not include a salary rise but at least added some more sleeping hours. 

Two years after our move, I worked as a freelancer from home two to five months per year and volunteered at the school as a teacher’s assistant. For those who are wondering if it was worth investing all those free hours, the straight answer is: yes! It saved my sanity, but in addition, I received a wonderful reference letter from a local person that helped me secure a temporary position as a postdoc. Did it help me prepare for the position? Well, not exactly. With hindsight, I say that I could have prepared myself better. I cannot reverse time, but maybe I can help others walk this route more effectively than I did. So here are 10 tips for those full-time mums planning to go back to work:

  • Polish up your IT skills, if you have been out of work for more than two years. Either sign up to a course or follow YouTube tutorials. The changes to new versions of Microsoft programmes and Windows can leave you perplexed and with a consistent guilty feeling you’re lagging behind. 
  • If you are planning to do volunteer work, try as hard as possible to find a position or organization that is related to what you will want to do in the future. But remember: anything is better than nothing. 
  • Keep a log of what you have achieved and keep updating it on your CV.
  • Establish a good network of support with other parents. Make sure it is a two-way relationship. You cannot just request help, you must be able to do favours in return. 
  • If you have a partner, do not keep managing the home while looking for a job. Make sure that family tasks such as child care, holiday planning, etc. are shared. Child carers should have your partner’s mobile number, too – not only yours.
  • Be kind to yourself once you have started your job; focus on your strengths. You might feel slower, less competent than the rest, but often you will bring a new perspective and soft skills that you developed as a full-time mum. 
  • Give yourself time to learn. For the first weeks or even months, you might feel at times in the deep end. Do not worry, it is human nature to learn by doing. Sooner or later, you will be the expert, too.
  • Invest in clothes. Appearance does matter, and it can give you confidence.
  • Keep things in perspective. The new manager might put some pressure on you; it is their job. But at the end of the day, it is up to you to assess the situation. Will the world really fall apart?  
  • Finally, remember the bad days of being a full-time mum. We tend to forget bad experiences and pain easily – this is a healthy strategy to deal with life. But the negative factors from your past life motivated you to apply for the job in the first place, so don’t forget them. 

Bon voyage!

By Paola Signorini 

Paola defines where she is from depending on the moment. Her parents were from different continents and she relocated four times from the age of four, covering three continents. Paola is a sociologist with a doctorate from the University of Nottingham and is happy to say that she completed her post-doc contract at Bern University last September without her household falling apart.  

Illustration by Aleksandra Koroleva

Aleksandra, originally from Moscow, Russia, now lives in Adliswil with her husband and 3.5-year-old son. She specializes in clinical psychology and started studying illustration after her son’s birth. In her free time Aleksandra likes sleeping, just as all mothers do. https://www.instagram.com/uber_evil


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