In the game of basketball, fans typically have preconceived notions about short players, despite the fact that 5’9” Isaiah Thomas of the Denver Nuggets delivers the goods game after game. Although Thomas is proof that short players perform at a high level, the bias against players of small stature persists.
In the working world, biases exist too. People who take a leave from work — whether due to having a baby, caring for an ill or elderly relative, sick child, or another reason — face several preconceived notions, and an uphill battle for respect, prize projects, and promotions once they return to work. If you’ve taken a leave, it’s important to be aware of these misconceptions and work actively to counteract them to raise your personal brand at work.
Let’s look at five impressions that employers have of those who take a personal leave, and what you can do during and after your leave to counteract them.
1.Impression: You won’t be as interested in the job or organization.
Solution: Once you’ve been away from your job for months or years, your professional interests may have evolved. So, your first step should be to decide what you want — your old role or a new career? You may decide to consult a career coach to discover your new interests and skills and update your resume and other marketing materials accordingly.
2. Impression: Your skills are outdated. This perception is not so far-fetched. The professional world changes quickly, particularly in fields like information technology and social media.
Solution: Even if you’re not working, though, you can still keep your skills current in the latest techniques, technology, and software programs by doing volunteer work, freelancing, or taking inexpensive community education classes. If you’re in a fast-moving field like IT and could be behind the eight-ball once you return, you may want to take classes to learn new skills or earn an industry certification.
3.Impression: Your family comes first, so you won’t put in many hours.
Solution: One of the best ways to combat this is to choose your words with your boss regarding hours carefully, according to Monster.com. Explicitly stating “my children come first” won’t get the right kind of attention come performance review time.
However, you can prioritize your personal life and still be committed. If you return to a former employer, even after a leave of several years, you’re a known entity, so the company may be willing to work with your schedule. Similarly, some large companies offer new moms a “ramp up” or reentry period, where you return to half-time hours after a 3 or 4-month maternity leave, and gradually increase your hours to full-time status.
4. Impression: You’re out of touch with your network.
Solution: When you’re out of work, don’t neglect your network. You can attend meetings of industry professional associations or local civic associations, or grab lunch with former coworkers (also a good excuse to get out of the house!)
Once you’re ready to return to work and look for a new job, it’s a good idea to let everyone know you’re looking. A former colleague or contact may know someone you can approach for an informational interview.
5. Impression: You’ve lost track with what’s happening in your industry.
Solution: Make an effort to learn about your industry, specifically what changes during your leave, by reading industry publications or websites and staying in touch with your network.
One more important takeaway: when you decide to return to the working world and begin interviewing, don’t try to hide your career gap or evade questions regarding it. Instead, it’s often both more effective to share the truth, framing it positively. Good luck!