Skip to content

UXL Blog

Creating Successful Leaders

Tag Archives: margaret smith career coach

Business woman and building

One of the sad and disappointing effects of the COVID pandemic (aside from the tragic loss of life) is that a disproportionate number of women have had to leave their jobs, either temporarily or permanently. Time Magazine reports, “Between August and September, 865,000 women dropped out of the labor force, according to a National Women’s Law Center analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics September jobs report. In the same time period, just 216,000 men exited the workforce.”

Why is this happening?

It could be any number of reasons. For one, industries that are female-dominated (education, service industry jobs, child care, etc.) have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Also, due to at-home schooling and daycare centers shutting their doors, there’s becoming a greater need for parents to stay home with children. And, guess what? The lowest wage earner is inevitably the one who will stay home, which is typically the woman (As of 2020 women make an average of $.81 for every $1.00 a man brings in).

We can’t solve the gender pay gap in one blog post. Nor can we give women all the safety nets they need (affordable childcare, paid maternity leave, etc.). However, we CAN focus on one key question to attempt to turn around this grim situation:

How can women re-enter the workforce once they are able to come back?

I’ll be frank. Once you leave the workforce for an extended period of time, the cards are stacked against you. Resume gaps never look good, and you may fall behind on industry advancements and new skillsets. However, there ARE a few steps you can take to make yourself a more enticing candidate to future employers. Here are four steps you can take:

1. Never Stop Working

This may sound counter-intuitive, but it IS possible to avoid resume gaps by doing very part-time work at home. If you’re a graphic designer, for instance, you might take on the occasional freelance project. If you’re a writer, you could volunteer for your neighborhood newspaper. If you specialize in social media marketing, you could put in some hours volunteering for a friend’s business. If you have a finance background, you could consider becoming a virtual financial assistant (typically a very part-time gig).

Yes, not every job is conducive to part-time, at-home work. If you used to work in healthcare, for instance, you can’t exactly care for patients in your free time at home! Instead, consider volunteering in a relevant area or skip ahead to tip #2:

2. Stay Relevant

When you leave a job, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on your industry and refresh your skills, when you can. Sign up for newsletters, read articles, or listen to podcasts related to your industry.

If you have the time and bandwidth, consider taking an online class or pursuing relevant certification. You might even connect with a local college or university to see if they’re offering any useful classes for people who are not full-time students.

3. Network

Never stop networking. According to Diane Flynn, co-founder and CEO of Reboot Accel, “About 85 percent of women returning to work find jobs through their network.”

Even if you’re temporarily working as a homemaker, you can still continue to keep in touch with your network. Send the occasional email or LinkedIn message to former co-workers, join an online women’s networking group, or check out Toastmasters.

Once you’re ready to start looking for work again, don’t be afraid to make your job hunt public. Post about it on social media, send emails to friends who could possibly assist you, and drop your former co-workers a line. You never know who might say, “Yes! I know of a job opening that would suit you perfectly!”

4. Tap Into Resources

Believe it or not, there’s an entire industry set up to help people re-enter the workplace after a long break. Firms such as iRelaunch or companies offering reentry programs (sometimes called “returnships”) are actively seeking to hire people who have been out of a job for an extended period of time.

You might also contact your alma mater’s career center for guidance or work with a career coach who specializes in worker reentry.

5. Don’t Sell Yourself Short

If you are trying to re-enter the workforce after a significant break, there is absolutely no need to feel shame or embarrassment. Push those feelings aside and concentrate on your enthusiasm and your relevant skills and expertise. Demonstrate that you are ready to hit the ground running and willing to put in the legwork to do the best work possible.

If an interviewer asks about a gap on your resume, don’t shy away from the question. Instead, be honest! Tell them you had to temporarily stay home to care for your school-aged children, but you’re now ready, enthusiastic, and as prepared to work.

Remember: Your volunteering experience, memberships, and online classes/certifications count! If, for example, you sat on the PTA or organized an annual fundraiser for your church, be sure to tout that experience and demonstrate its relevance. For example:

“For three years I spearheaded my church’s annual walk to end hunger fundraiser. As chair of the committee, I was in charge of 30 volunteers, organized all the event logistics, and tracked over $10,000 in donations.”

In sum: Don’t sell yourself or your experience short!

Re-entering the workforce after an extended break is often not an easy task. However, with a little foresight, some planning, and the tenacity to seek resources and lean on your network, you CAN make a successful workplace reentry. The right job is waiting for you; be bold enough to seek it out and seize it!


Tags: , , , , , , ,

work from home

With the COVID pandemic, many of us have had to adjust to working from home (WFH), but unfortunately, not everyone has fallen into a groove. Some people still feel out of sorts or less productive at home than in the workplace. With the pandemic still lingering AND many companies thinking about making WFH a permanent state, it’s a good idea to think about amping up your productivity.

Here are 6 practical Work From Home tips to help you get on track:

1. Find Your Morning Groove

When working from an office, you naturally fall into a morning routine. You get dressed, perhaps make a cup of coffee, and commute to work by car/bike/public transit. With WFH, that comfortable routine gets obliterated. You might wake up later or stay in your pajamas or eat breakfast at odd hours.

This week, commit to following a strict routine. Get up at the same time, eat your meals on a consistent schedule, exercise at a set time during the day. Following a routine can help get your brain in “work mode” right away.

Another helpful tip: Do NOT check your email right away. Instead, tackle the one project that demands the most concentration. Work on it for an hour or 90 minutes, THEN check your email. You’ll find that you’re able to accomplish more during the day when you practice this healthy habit.

2. Get Dressed

Okay, sure. Maybe you DO get dressed in the morning when you work from home, but you probably don’t dress like you do when you go into the office. If you find that you’re feeling less attentive and less productive at home, try dressing in office attire this week. Notice how it makes you feel. Are you more productive? Do you feel more professional?

Dressing for the office can put you in a work mindset and make you feel more in control of your day.

3. Cut Distractions

If you find that you tend to check social media or hop onto YouTube during the day, try installing a browser extension to temporarily block those websites. Search for “block social media,” and you should find many different blocking programs.

If you’re distracted by your surroundings instead (dirty dishes, for instance, or laundry), try keeping yourself on a strict time schedule. For instance: From 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 you can only do work, but between 1:00 and 1:30, you’re allowed to take a short break to tackle a household chore or two.

4. Set Timers

If you’re having trouble concentrating during the day, trying focusing on a single project for a set amount of time. Pick a project, close your email, and set your timer for an hour or 90 minutes. ONLY work on that project. Do NOT multi-task! You might be amazed by how much you can get done when you’re singular in focus.

5. Take Charge of Emails

If you tend to get derailed by emails throughout the day and feel like you’re always trying to stamp out little fires (Urgent request! I need your help with XYZ! Please respond, ASAP!), practice setting healthy email boundaries. Try only checking your email three times per day–once in the morning, once midday, and once toward the end of the day–or even twice per day, if you can get away with it.

Taking charge of your emails can help free up your schedule so you can pay attention to the crucial projects that you have on your plate.

6. Set Your Own Schedule

If you’re feeling disjointed and fed up with all the video meetings, emails, and phone calls that seem to command your day, resolve to take charge of your schedule. If you keep a public e-calendar, be sure to set aside blocks that are strictly YOUR time–time for you to focus on the projects you need to complete.

(For more tips on setting healthy boundaries, take a look at my recent blog post.)

Part of controlling your own schedule means saying NO to certain requests. If you already have too much going on in a given day, don’t be afraid to draw a line in the sand and turn down a request to meet. You can always suggest meeting on a different date.

Developing good habits while you WFH will not only help you successfully navigate working out of your house, but can also assist you when you begin working out of an office. Many of these tips are applicable to work both in and outside of a traditional workplace. It’s all about establishing an effective routine and creating healthy boundaries.


Tags: , , , , , ,

gain control of conversation

We’ve all had conversations that didn’t go quite as we’d planned. Maybe you were trying to talk to a client about a new product, and they insisted on steering the conversation toward politics. Or maybe you were leading a Zoom meeting and certain people continued to interrupt and overtake the discussion.

How can you cope with those interrupters and take back control of the conversation?

Start with these 4 steps:

1. Believe that your voice counts

Enter every conversation with the confidence that your voice (your thoughts, ideas, and opinions) matters. Believe in what you have to say and you will find a way to bring it up in the conversation. Keep in mind: there’s a difference between confidence and arrogance. What you have to say is important, but it’s not the only opinion that counts. Your listening ear is just as important as your voice.

2. Acknowledge what the other person is saying

It’s important to let the other party know that, yes, you hear what they have to say. You can also use this tact as a way to step in and take control of the conversation. For example:

“What I hear you saying, Bill, is that you’d like to implement more customer service surveys. I think that’s a great idea that warrants more discussion. I’d like to focus on that more during our next meeting so we give that topic the time it deserves. In the meantime, let’s finish going over our quarterly reports and see what other ideas crop up…”

3. Keep your audience engaged

What you have to say is important; make sure your audience hears it! Instead of lecturing at others, make an effort to engage them. Ask questions, request feedback, and ask your audience if any clarification is needed. If you’re leading a Zoom meeting, request that everyone leaves their video feed on, so active engagement is easier (more tips for Zoom meetings HERE). Make others a part of what you’re doing, not just passive observers.

4. Be direct

Oftentimes, the best way to refocus a conversation is to be direct. Acknowledge what the other party is saying (see tip #2) and then transition into what you’d like to say. Your interaction may go something like this:

“Your family vacation sounds great, Susan, and I’d love to discuss it more tomorrow, but I’m afraid I have to shift the conversation back to business…”

Remember: What you have to say is important! Don’t sell yourself short. Have the confidence to interject when necessary (in a tactful way!) and let your voice be heard.


Tags: , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: