For the vast majority of people, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of life to some degree. As the world has tried to adapt to the crisis, millions of women have found themselves without the career they envisioned because they were laid off, furloughed or pushed to resign due to increasing demands outside of work.
Unfortunately, employment pauses even in the best situations can be challenging to come back from. Often, after an extended time away from work, professionals (and women specifically) have a hard time securing new jobs with equivalent titles and/or salaries as the ones they previously held. This is a frustrating statistic in general, but it’s especially disheartening in the current situation because many working moms are not choosing to leave their jobs—they were left with no other option.
While unexpected (at best), this involuntary time away from the workforce doesn’t have to completely stall your career growth. If you’re one of the women who have left the workforce because of COVID, with plans to re-enter at some point, there are things you can do to keep your skills sharp while you’re home if you find yourself with the time and mental energy to spare.
1. Focus on professional development
While you likely don’t have a ton of free time on your hands right now, you might be able to carve out a few hours a week for professional development courses. Since many of these types of programs are self-paced, finding the time may be easier than you think because you’ll have the flexibility to complete coursework on your schedule.
As for choosing a course, you can seek out industry or job-specific classes, or you can take the opportunity to brush up on some of your soft skills. Not sure where to start? A good first step is to figure out what you want next in your career and then assess your skills gap. Think back on promotions you were passed over for or didn’t apply to, a dream job you’ve always considered or just what you are seeing in the marketplace around you. Then consider how your current skills stack up against those things and where you can add value to your resume.
Additionally, things like communication, teamwork, conflict management or negotiation will always be essential in the workplace. Also, consider taking courses that will help you stay up-to-date in the evolving workforce, like managing a virtual team, remote employee engagement or, if you don’t have experience working from home, read up on succeeding as a remote employee.
There are many ways you can access professional development courses, including some that are free of charge. LinkedIn has a library of lessons through LinkedIn Learning, your local community college likely offers professional-level classes, and if nothing else, a quick Google search will help steer you in the right direction.
👉 If you’re looking for a way to put your new (or existing) skills to work, check out platforms like Catchafire to find virtual volunteer opportunities that flex your mental muscles. Added bonus: It’ll also give you the chance to network with other like-minded professionals.
2. Develop and refine your personal brand
There’s never been a better time than now to start developing your personal brand because it will definitely help you stand out as a candidate when you’re ready to rejoin the workforce. Your brand goes deeper than your resume because it encompasses who you are as a whole—professionally, personally and philosophically.
Use this time to build out a webpage that not only calls out your career highlights but also tells the story of how you got to where you are, provides real examples of your work, and shows off your personal style in a way that a traditional resume can’t. Rest assured, creating your own site isn’t a huge undertaking as there are plenty of easy-to-use tools out there. Take some time to look into website builders such as WordPress, Wix or Squarespace that tend to have reasonably clear cut instructions that can walk you through the setup.
This is also a good time to look over your social media presence and make sure you represent yourself in a way you are comfortable with professionally.
Networking is always important, no matter what stage of your career you’re in, but it’s especially important when you’re seeking employment. Even though you may not be job searching (yet) and likely have a lot going on right now, continuing to build out your professional network should be on your list of priorities.
You don’t have to attend happy hours and schmooze with people to successfully grow your network in the middle of a pandemic. (In fact, don’t do that.) It can be as simple as catching up with former colleagues, attending a few COVID-safe Zoom gatherings or even joining The Mom Project’s community to chat with other working moms. You never know whose company will be hiring when you’re ready to return to work, and candidates with personal referrals are usually the first ones to be considered for job openings.
There’s no getting around the fact that just keeping your head above water as a mom in this pandemic is more than enough effort on most days. As moms, we are in crisis mode between remote learning, health concerns, layoffs/furloughs/work uncertainty, and all of this togetherness with our immediate family but separation from our social support systems. Without a doubt returning to the workforce will be challenging once the COVID-19 crisis is under control. But, remember that this situation is totally new and a COVID-pause should not carry the same weight as other employment pauses might. So, if you don’t have the capacity right now to do anything other than care for yourself and your family you are doing just fine. Your mental health is a priority and self-care is a necessity.
If you do happen you find yourself with a little downtime right now, use it to your advantage by continuing to invest in yourself professionally until things go back to normal and you can go back to work. If you find your way into a side hustle, consulting or freelance work and end up loving it, or you meet a fellow mom who has some great contacts within your industry, then congratulations are in order! While it is possible to come out of this situation as an even more desirable candidate than you were pre-pandemic, no one expects that from any of us. And if nothing else, these efforts are at least a positive distraction during an otherwise pretty tough stretch.
Ashley Ziegler is a full-time writer with a passion for telling stories through the lens of motherhood to help fellow moms feel seen and understood (especially the ones who, like her, are totally winging it).