What I Learned: 6 Lessons from a 10-Year Career Break

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Ten years ago, I left a successful high-tech career to take care of my mother, who was battling breast cancer. Today, I completed my first year back in corporate America and now drive communications for a highly profitable business unit here at Schneider Electric. While many things have changed since I last worked, several secrets to success remain the same. Here are a few I used this year that helped me make an impact.

1. Rely on your past work experience. 

It’s natural for someone who hasn’t worked in years to feel apprehensive about returning to work. However, you can overcome this by leveraging your experience as an asset. For example, during my first week in this role, I took the initiative and presented 20 communications deliverables I could successfully execute for our organization. I didn’t wait for inputs. Instead, I took immediate action.

Almost a year later, we still refer to my initial recommendations and implement components as needed. This experience helped me realize that a past win can be easily resurrected to serve as a win in the present. 

Don’t downplay your past experiences; leverage them for a win.

2. Research to raise the bar.

Set time aside every day to research something new. Before starting any assignment, I recommend diving into research. Go straight to Google, YouTube, and, of course, Harvard Business Review (for complexity) to collect information and assess insights available on your topic.

Evaluate videos, blog posts, news articles, and business frameworks to determine what you can extrapolate to assist with your project. Don’t just stop there. Use your organization’s key messages, strategic intent, and business objectives to raise the bar and tailor your findings to meet the specific needs of your new organization. 

In doubt? Encountering a problem you have never seen before? Head to online resources for answers. You will not be disappointed. It will help you close the learning gap since your break.

3. Find a void, step in, and create immediate value.

As a strategist, I am always looking to capitalize on new opportunities. For instance, I realized my team could use help with their PowerPoint slides. As a former owner of numerous executive decks in past roles, I recognized my expert-level skills could easily help my team members elevate their slides. I raised my hand and stepped in to lead the development of our executive presentation and made an immediate impact. Later, a director reached out and asked if I could assist with another presentation since the first one was such a success. It felt great to be recognized for my value. 

Always be on the lookout for ways to make yourself indispensable. Identify a void, seize it, and add immediate value to your brand.

4. Bring a human voice and increase connections.

Humans naturally gravitate to people who make us feel comfortable — people who take the time to listen and make us feel important. Since business is run by people, why not incorporate that in your day-to-day corporate posture? 

Thanks to my break, I am able to slow down and form deep connections. Morphing into a more humanistic colleague has increased my effectiveness and enabled me to build a strong network, even in a virtual world. Instead of kicking off a meeting or call as soon as I gain a quorum, I usually open up with a personal greeting and ask about others. Through this small step, I have formed personal connections and discovered similar interests that created strong connection points.

This management style will help you form deeper relationships with colleagues, who will appreciate that you’re interested in them as individuals, not just as co-workers. You will notice an eagerness towards collaboration, prioritization of your requests, and shared interest in mutual success.

Forming this network of allies has been critical to overcoming barriers around information, especially while navigating a large, highly matrixed global organization.

5. Discover an old book for new tactics.

Although technology has changed drastically over ten years, the core fundamental principles of business hasn’t. Therefore, head to your bookshelf and reach for proven books from your business library. Bring those learnings back to the forefront to restore your past business acumen.

One book that comes to mind is The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins. It provides proven strategies to shorten your learning curve and gain momentum to deliver a win within the first 90 days of joining any organization. Apply the framework discussed to effectively build credibility among your peers and activate your confidence to take on bigger initiatives and team projects. 

To reactivate your business prowess, refer to those tried-and-true business books, or search Amazon for new ones to give you that competitive edge.

6. Remember, you were and are powerful.

A break can make you a powerful employee. You have a fresh perspective and can bring many new ideas to the table. Take advantage of what you have learned in past jobs, establish a discipline toward research, identify a gap that you can fill for your team, and rely on books to allow you to fortify fundamental business practices and strategies to gain an edge. My final secret for all career returners is so important that I saved it for the very end. Try not to find just any job to return to work. Try, instead, to find the right job for you. One that allows you to be yourself, use your skills, and fully maximize your talents. If your break has allowed you to self-reflect and change, then you have used this time wisely!

Are you interested in returning to your career at Schneider Electric like Vera? Check out our website for more information!

About the Author 

Fascinated by the power of words, Vera Hicks currently leads communications for the Power Systems business units at Schneider Electric. Relying on a combination of roles in finance, marketing, strategy, and communications, she formulates winning strategies that enable corporations to meet the dynamic ambitions of customers seeking to capitalize on the power of next-generation technologies. But most of all, Vera aspires to form meaningful connections with change agents that seek to use technology as a catalyst to inspire the world and communities they live in.

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