Career: How to get the job you want after maternity leave

Getting your career back on track after a maternity leave doesn't have to be stressful. Here's how to make the transition and get the job you want.

Photo: Jaroon, iStockphoto

As your baby’s first birthday nears, chances are you’re finding some confidence as a parent. But now you may be facing another major transition: your return to work. It’s time to swap that Sophie squeak toy for a cellphone and start scheduling meetings instead of playdates. 

Many working parents use the transition back to work as an opportunity to negotiate new job descriptions or flexible hours. Want to know how? Take these tips from professionals and parents who’ve been there.

Prepare for changes
As nice as it would be to pick up your job exactly where you left of, chances are your role will have changed while you were gone. So be ready. The best way to avoid a shock is to stay in touch during your leave. Email your colleagues and boss regularly or organize a few coffee dates to stay abreast of new developments. You might even consider sitting in on crucial meetings.

Jean-Marc MacKenzie, a senior vice president at human resources consulting firm Morneau Shepell, suggests you arrange a one-on-one meeting with your boss before your return to work. Lead the conversation by asking about how things may be changing with your job — and be upfront about how your own changes will affect your availability at work, including what time you must leave for daycare pickup. Express yourself with confidence, MacKenzie advises; many of your higher-ups probably have kids, so they are likely to understand.

If your job description has changed and you’re feeling unsure about your new duties, speak up, says Jennifer Chandler, a Vancouver career counsellor who specializes in helping parents return to work. “A lot of times, they go ahead and implement these things and they’re not even thinking with you in mind,” she says. “Ultimately, they have the right to amend the job description.” That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask questions about the change. Ask what your employer’s ideas were for your re-entry or for additional training to help you prepare for your new role. 

Smooth out the work relationships
If you were always the one willing to work late before your baby came along, your co-workers might resent you for bolting out at 5 p.m., especially if they’ve never done the daycare dash. “Just like your family, your colleagues have to adjust,” Chandler says. If you do clash with a co-worker, sit him or her down for a chat, she advises. Let them know you hear their concerns. “Most things can be cleared up,” she says. “The key thing is to do it with no apologies.”

If your co-workers feel you’re not shouldering your share of the workload, Chandler suggests letting them know you appreciate their concerns and are open to suggestions about how you can contribute more. Sutherland found most of her colleagues were respectful of her condensed work day. It was, however, an “educational process” for new members of the team, she says.

A version of this article appeared in our October 2012 issue with the headline “Back to Work,” pp. 64-65.

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