KEEP YOUR SKILLS CURRENT
Meredith Miller is not afraid of much. After college, she spent two years with the Peace Corps in a tiny village in the Caribbean focusing on issues related to maternal health and women’s economic development. Then she worked as a child abuse prevention advocate seeing cases of such horror it could break a person’s heart. Eventually she landed her dream job in Africa as the Swaziland Country Manager for the Clinton Foundation.
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Along the way Meredith married and had two children. The stress of work, living the life of an expat, and parenting without the support of extended family was “intense,” Meredith told me when I interviewed her. When her husband had the opportunity to return to the Bay Area from Africa, allowing them to be closer to family and for Meredith to take time off and “just be a mom,” she jumped at the chance.
After four “glorious” years, she was ready to return to paid work. Her biggest fear wasn’t finding a job; it was overcoming the vast changes in technology that had occurred while she paused.
“I’m afraid I’m a technical dinosaur,” Meredith said.
Her fears are not without merit. Given the rate of technological change in the past decade, taking a career break without maintaining one’s skills can be one of the biggest impediments to career reentry. But programs like Silicon Valley’s ReBoot Accelerator, co-founded by Diane Flynn whom I wrote about in chapter 1, are helping women overcome their deficiencies with technology.
“So much has happened and continues to happen in terms of how work gets done,” said Diane. “If you are not on top of it, you can quickly become overwhelmed. That said, it doesn’t take long to gain technological competence. It just takes confidence to know you can.”
Petrice Espinosa has that confidence now, but she didn’t always. She took thirteen years off from full-time paid work. Then, in 2009, the unthinkable happened: Her husband became seriously ill and could no longer support the family. They lived on savings while he recovered, but by 2011 they needed benefits. Petrice went on Craigslist and found a role as a customer service manager for a start-up clothing line.
“I wasn’t looking for the perfect job,” Petrice told me. “I just wanted to get back in the game.” That experience laid the foundation for her next job as office manager at ZOOM Marketing. Now Petrice is the co-founder of an outdoor apparel line. She said, “I am so much more with it now than I was when I first went back. My technical skills weren’t up to speed and I had to learn everything from scratch. It would have all been so much easier if I had stayed current.”
Put simply, if you value your career, stay abreast of the latest technology. By this I mean not just the latest social media craze, but also productivity and connectivity tools such as Slack, Evernote, UberConference, Dropbox, and the like. Doing so will make your re-entry much smoother and help you overcome potential biases employers may have about your ability to be immediately productive.