Tips On Profile Building When Working Flexibly

Inge Woudstra Are you worried you have become invisible after you had a baby? Have you started to work more flexibly and now find no one seems to know about your achievements anymore? Or worse, people seem to think you are now on the ‘mummy track’ and are no longer interested in achievements anyway, or promotion for that matter.

In fact you feel you are starting to miss out, as a colleague that you started with has recently made promotion. And he got a new client you never even knew about. You wonder, whether they have been discussing this at some of those evening events that you couldn’t make. You start worrying it might be personal, have you lost your knack?

Actually now that you think of it you’re starting to doubt yourself and lose confidence. There’s no need for any of this. You can work flexibly and keep your career on track. You can still make promotion, and some women do! It requires a different mindset though. One in which you need a pro-active mindset. You need to pro-actively keep your profile, manage expectations and network more formal and deliberate. Read on to find the key tips I have picked up for you.

So what’s going on, have you really changed?

If you have become a parent, many things change. After having a baby, most women find that hormones make them more focused on caring, and more aware of society and the impact of what they do on the community.

So, now is the time to re-assess: ‘Is your career really still very important?’, ‘What career-family balance would work best for you?’ and ‘What therefore should your next steps in this organisation look like?’

However, even if you haven’t changed, the perception of everyone around you has! You are still focused, good at what you do and working hard, just at different times, or in different locations. But others see you differently. They might think you want to be on the ‘mummy-track’, and would no longer consider travelling regularly to China. They might think you are “working from home” nod-nod, wink-wink, and really either just drinking Pimms in the garden, doing the school run or only checking a few e-mails during a feed.

On top of that, it’s only natural that, no matter how good you are, they just don’t think of you at all. Many projects or clients are just given to someone that happens to be there, someone at the forefront of someone’s mind at that point. Someone they have just ran into at the water cooler, during a meeting or that was just mentioned to them. Remember ‘out of sight, out of mind’ You are just being seen less when you are working from home, go home early, no longer take part in evening-networking events or aren’t in the office on Fridays. So, no you have not become terrible at your work, or invisible, but you do have to start doing things differently.

Key tips to keep your career on track when working flexibly:

I have gathered for you some key tips on what you can do to keep your career on track when working flexibly. This is what you can do to make sure you are in the picture for promotion. Or if you are not worried about promotion at this point, the things you can do to get passed the projects and clients you want, and develop at the pace you want. The tips are based on interviews with senior women, insights MyFamilyCare shared with me and my own experience.

1. Discuss your career with your manager

Have a career & development plan and tell your manager clearly what your expectations for the future are.

Perhaps you have decided you would like to take a back seat for a few months or years. Then discuss what this means for you, what sort of projects and clients you can and cannot take on, how you think you can still make a valuable contribution, and how you think they can fill the gap this might leave for the department. Make sure you do let them know in time when you are ready to accelerate again.

Remember, even if you have always done this, make sure you are more pro-active and clear about it, as now you are countering fixed assumptions.

2. Discuss your career at home

While reviewing your career, make sure you involve your partner. Do they know you are happy to take a step back now, but intend to head back full force next year, which is when they need to step up at home? What would they like the balance to be? What kind of support would you need of them, when you have a busy week or month?

3. Make your achievements visible

Discuss targets and priorities with your manager (and your team). Then feed back your achievements. Often this can be done quite informally with a one-liner text or e-mail even. ‘Just met top-client X, they loved our proposal!! Thanks for your help too’.

You just need to be aware you have got to be more pro-active about this than ever before, as people no longer see you working, see your clients come in, or hear your enthusiastic ‘YES!’ when you’ve just clinched a deal. Of course, it would be nice if they would just trust you were making great progress, and were being your fabulous former self, however, in my experience this is often not the case.

Better to build trust by being pro-active and transparent.

4. Manage your boundaries

It’s easy to feel you just have to be there more, and join in all these breakfast and evening events people go to. By all means, go to some, but prioritise ruthlessly. After all, you probably only get paid for the flexible hours you work, rather than the extra hours you put in. Besides, there was a reason you wanted to work flexibly, and that hasn’t changed. So, if you are meant to go home early on Thursday, do, and manage what others think about you. I have published a great article on managing your boundaries by Jacqueline Frost on my portal Mum & Career.

5. Do more formal networking

When you work full-time a lot of networking happens informally. You run into someone in the lift, the car park, the tube, or a lunch-time event. When working flexibly you no longer have the same amount of opportunities, but you still want to be as visible. It’s key you design a more formal networking method.

Make a list of key people you need now and those you might need for your next step.

Set up formal meetings with them. Don’t be shy, most people love being invited for lunch, dinner or breakfast. Most people, no matter how senior, love to be asked for their expert opinion or talk about themselves and how they got where they are.

6. Identify a mentor/sponsor

An (internal) mentor or sponsor can help you with networking. They can identify the right people to get in touch with, and could even give you an introduction. Also ask them to help you build your profile. They could for instance mention you to the right people. Ensure they know your achievements, your aims, and your next dream step or project.

Don’t be shy!

7. Work on self-development

People learn a lot from working with others, and exchanging information about clients and work methods. If you are not in the office much, you need to look for ways to make up for this. Perhaps there is an online network you can get active in?

Alternatively you might need to invest in more formal training programmes. This can work especially well as certificates and titles are another way you can make your progress and skills visible.

Consider finding ways that you can fit in flexibly. Nowadays there are plenty online forums, webinars, self study options or distant courses. Many professional associations offer flexible options too.

So, you see, there are many things you can do to build your profile and keep your career on track. If this all sounds like hard work, do remember that there’s plenty of research confirming that flexible working makes you more happy with your work-life balance, motivated and engaged and less stressed! (See research from: Opportunity Now, MyFamilyCare and Lancaster Uni/Working Families)

Go ahead, start getting pro-active and build your profile. And do let me know how you get on. I would love to know what strategies you use for remaining visible. Were they effective? Do share as it is just so relevant for all of us!

Author Bio

Inge Woudstra is a working women’s expert and founding Director of the successful web-portal Mum & Career. She also works free-lance in Corporate Responsibility, Change Management and Executive Development. She has a Masters in Business Management from The Netherlands. Her experience includes working full-time for blue-chip companies, 4×9 hours, and running her own venture from home.

Are you interested in shaping your life in a way that works for you and your family? Why not join us at the ‘Navigating career around your children’ workshop. It’s high-impact, practical and includes speakers from Ernst & Young, Sapphire Partners Executive Search, The Thinking Woman’s Coach, and an expert on flexible working.

Tuesday 9 October 2012, 6-9.30 pm, Central London, Now Only £45,- Places are strictly limited, do not delay your booking!

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