Since starting «HappyBox» I had the chance to speak to so many inspiring women that I wished I spoke to before and during my pregnancy. One of these fascinating ladies is Catherine Leduc. She is a “job search & career Management Coach, so states her LinkedIn profile, but as you will read, she had many other hats on and some really good career advice for women during and after pregnancy that I am happy to share with you. Have fun reading & feel free to follow Catherine on LinkedIn or join one of the many networking events she is organising to make women stronger in the workplace.
Hi Catherine, thank you so much for taking the time today to speak about your journey and the lessons learned you take from the women you have been coaching through their balancing act of motherhood. Let’s jump right into it, tell us, is it true what people say, “women are not interested in their career anymore once they have babies”.
Maternity is the trigger point to reassess your values and needs
What I observe is that a lot of women come to a career crossroad during/ after maternity leave. Many of us decide on a course around our 20s and never actually reassess and redirect it but just keep drifting in that direction until something — like motherhood or burn out — becomes our wake-up call. For many this crossroad feels overwhelming and even scary but it’s actually an amazing opportunity to reconnect and do some self-work to understand of our values and boundaries may have shifted over time. That’s where a lot of women come to the conclusion that their previous work situation does not win in the “trade-off” assessment. It’s not so much that women are no longer interested in their work or career but if they are to leave the children with someone else in favour of going to work then they will often have higher expectations towards their work. Namely wanting more purpose, opportunities, and recognition or a more flexible and understanding culture and environment. They just won’t put up with the same stuff if they do so at the cost of missing on their children’s childhood. There is actually a lot of empowerments coming from this as many women then becoming much stronger advocates for themselves and that’s absolutely amazing!
Tip: Take time to assess your value and needs prior/ during maternity and make sure you set up your surroundings accordingly
Which indicators do you think women should look for to assess whether it is “just the hormones” as many people say after birth or whether they actually needs a change?
Most importantly, I think this has to do with being in touch with and listening to oneself and when you realise that you are not enjoying work nor parenthood despite really wanting it. There are ups and downs but if it is not balanced over a longer period, that is your indicator. For example, there are always situations at work when you need to put in more hours, have an important deadline, etc. You can rebalance and compensate that in the right environment. If not, you will have a constant feeling of guilt. Where you will not be able to live up to your own expectations towards anyone, also not yourself. A good test whether you should make changes is to set clear boundaries and communicate those accordingly. If your employer is not able or not willing to support this, then chances that you will be able to find yourself and find your balance between work and family is much lower. In the long run, this can be damageable to everyone, and this is what I believe is the first red flag that something may need to change.
Tip: Assessment of your current work/life situation. Are you happy (more often than not) at home and at work? If the answer is no: start thinking about what needs to change
You mention on your website that a lot of women go through a “Loss of personal identity” when becoming mother. What does it mean and what can we do about it?
Motherhood forces us to go get acquainted with ourselves again as it changes so many things. I personally wanted to stay at home longer than three months and I took that time. And despite wanting that, I found it difficult when I realised that I missed having discussions, interactions, and the learning opportunities found in the workplace and people interactions. There I lost a bit the feeling for who I was. I think it would have helped tremendously if I knew about it before and could have prepared for it. Even if you are not employed anymore, it does not mean that this part of you is fully gone. My suggestion is to make a plan to meet your needs for recognition, being seen, being challenged. These needs are super different for every person, I personally got involved into volunteering during the refugee crisis and got started with studying and preparing for my shift towards having my own consulting business. Through my work with many women, I observed that for many, “just” being a mom was not an option as they quickly became unsatisfied. It’s not that they don’t love their children — it’s just not healthy for anyone to completely disregard their own needs and for women for whom career is important or remaining intellectually active and engaged, that needs to remain a non-negotiable and then it’s about balancing everyone’s needs and this can take a bit of out-of-the-box thinking and most importantly support from both the spouse and the employer.
Tip: Stay true to yourself and make sure your most important needs remain satisfied (e.g. recognition, being seen, being challenged, learning) and put a system in place that allows you to get those eneeds covered (e.g. volunteer work, entrepreneurial project, new hobbies, …)
Branding is key
How are you helping your clients who come back from a longer period of time at home?
First of all, it is important to keep in mind that women don’t have to brand themselves solely as stay-at-home-mom. Their professional identity from before motherhood is not lost just because they are not currently employed. When people retire, we say if they that they are a retired Lawyer or Dentist. That’s still part of their identity and skills even if they are not actively practicing or using those skills. For moms at home who find it difficult to be away from the workplace and from their professional identity, I recommend finding ways to stay in the loop by going to conferences or networking events you are interested in. And no, there is no need to present yourself as “oh I am currently not doing anything, I am home with the kids”. If you want to present, yourself as stay-at-home-mom that is totally fine. Do it with pride. If you feel like this is only a part of yourself then present, yourself using both your professional expertise or title as well as mentioning your current situation as stay at home mom. You are both even if you are not doing both at the same time. Part of the new identity as a mom is to learn to become both and to accept that one does not need to exclude the other. This brings us back to the perceived identity loss. In fact, it’s not lost, it’s new and expanded! Many women feel they can only be one or the other — but why?
Bringing the professional topic even when being at home with the children can be a strategic move. That’s a good way to start the conversation about your next steps and return to work, especially if people ask you questions about your current employer. You can even use it as an opener “oh good question, I am looking for my next perfect fit, have you heard of any openings that I should put my name in for?”. Always remember that even if you are on sabbatical, at home, or whatever break you are taking from your professional career, it does not change your skill set. The experience you have, the skills you developed and the tool box you acquired along the way, it is not gone. The first mindset shift when coming back from a longer period off work is to ensure that we build the confidence to give our professional skills the recognition they deserve and that’s branding. There is no need to brand yourself as “stay at home mom”, it might be the current schedule, but it does not describe who you are in the professional world.
Tip: Stay active during your time at home, either in your current network (conferences, aperos, etc) or within new networks (playgrounds, kid groups, etc.) and be proud of your current “work”. You are adding a new human being to our society and therefore shaping our tomorrow.
Next to branding, what are your tips for job hunting?
Keep in mind that there are two channels for job hunting – the jobs that are published and those that are being filled through network or so-called hidden jobs. It is a bit more difficult to get access to the later when you are coming out of a longer break and were not actively nurture or developing your network. You can reactivate and build it but it requires efforts and also a certain tolerance for frustration. For the active job market, keep in mind that a lot of hiring is being done with the help of software, called ATS – Applicant Tracking System which is basically converting the information from your CV into a searchable database. So, when a job is very competitive anything that standouts from the norm such as longer breaks, career shifts, different positions and industries will be considered as disadvantage in comparison to other applicants. In this context, online applications are much less likely to work after a career break and this is why networking is so important as it allows you to enter companies and access job leads without having to go through a system that we know will not be friendly to profiles including a career break. Also, it’s good to keep in mind what could be an employer’s concern with candidates returning to work — longer learning curve, being with new technologies and software, etc.). My advice is to take it on you to anticipate AND disarm such concerns but discussing them openly and showing how you’ve prepared for it. What’s also very important and another key element of branding is to articulate what you bring to the table and how you can add value to a role how. Recruiters and employers are much less likely to stumble on a career break if you clearly convince them of your skills and value.
Tip: Check out the free eBook “25 Strategies to Return to Work after a Career Break”
What needs to be on the CV to become a successful CV?
Most people stick to the “traditional” CV and do not realise that there is a lot that can be done while remaining within the accepted framework. Most importantly, the CV needs to clearly convey the brand and for this to happen, the candidate for needs to do the self-exploratory journey to understand her strengths and skills. For a start, there should always be a positioning line that clearly tells the reader what your expertise is and will make it clear what kind of role you would be a good fit for. This is not an “Objective” section which is outdated but rather a headline along the lines of what you see on LinkedIn just below your name. This is critical as it allows you to take control over the first impression you make and over your branding when it comes to the expertise and position you want to be known for — AND gives your network the guidance to connect you with the correct job leads. When you do not take control of this first impression, you will simply be boxed into your last job title and that’s a missed opportunity, especially if you are looking into a career transition, looking at a step up in terms of seniority or… if your last status is Mom-at-Home… It’s about giving guidance in terms of where you see yourself rather than letting your last job title define who you are.
The next important block is the summary that should further support the positioning of your headline To develop a powerful summary, the best approach is to think of answering the question “Why do you think you are the best fit for that kind of role while ensuring that you clearly highlight what makes you different (and better) than other candidates and how your specific skills set will deliver added value for an employer.
Thank you so much Catherine for these valuable tips.
For more resources and support, check out the available online course or book a discovery call to explore private coaching options:
You can follow + connect with Catherine.