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Break ke Baad: Tips for Moms re-entering the IT-workforce after a break

(Last week, Persistent Systems played host to a week-long workshop by “Break ke Baad”, a newly created group in Pune which aims at helping women who are looking to re-enter the IT-workforce after taking a pregnancy/children related break in their career. As a part of this workshop, I was on a panel discussion about opportunities amongst startups and other smaller companies for such ‘break-ke-baad’ moms. This article is based on that discussion, and an email discussion that I had initiated on the Pune Startups mailing list)

Let me first start with the common concerns of break-ke-baad moms:

  • Cannot work full-time: Even when a break-ke-baad mom is ready to get back to work, in most cases, she cannot work full time. Typically she can work part-time (maybe 9am to 2pm – when the kids are in school), or she needs to work from home for a significant fraction of time. This means that she is unsuitable for some roles, and/or some companies will simply not consider her.
  • Out of Touch: After having taken a break (typically of 5 years or more), most are out of touch with the latest trends in their field, and would typically not have skills in the latest technologies. The fear is that they are less employable because of this.
  • Lack of confidence: Both of the above issues result in many break-ke-baad moms significantly lacking in confidence that they will be able to perform, or in fact even at their ability to get a job.

My experience is that none of these are real problems and break-ke-baad moms can not only get good quality jobs with flexible timings, but there are certain circumstances where companies might actually prefer them over other candidates. Here are some suggestions:

  • Target startups and smaller companies: Consider a typical small company with 10 to 20 employees. This will usually have a couple of co-founders who’re senior people, and most of the other employees would be freshers or juniors. They desperately need a few senior people in the company who can serve as team leads – for their maturity and experience. And they find it very difficult to hire senior people for two reasons – first, most seniors prefer to do jobs with larger companies, and second, many companies at this stage are not able to afford the salaries of seniors.
    This is an situation tailor-made for break-ke-baad moms. First, since they can only work part-time, their salaries will also be proportionately lower, making them more affordable to the small company. Second, larger companies are much less accommodating as far as the time-constraints of break-ke-baad moms are concerned and hence the small company and the mom are made for each other.
  • Be aware of your strengths: Most break-ke-baad moms are not aware of their own potential. Here is a list of skills that companies would look for because their junior employees are typically missing those:
    • Maturity – which pretty much any mom will have!
    • Team-lead skills – if you have any team-lead experience in your background, this is valuable
    • Communication skills – if your English is good and/or you’ve done presentations in the past, then you have a valuable skill
    • Ability to handle customers – the sad truth is that most junior employees in India are just not good enough to be allowed to talk to customers directly. So if you have some customer facing experience, or good communication skills, you should highlight this during your interview
    • Ability to help with hiring – Seniors at a small and growing company spend a very large fraction of their time in interviewing or other hiring related activities. So if you’ve any experience of that in your past, you will have a skill that most juniors don’t have. Even if you don’t have hiring experience, your seniority and experience put you in a position to pick up this skill easily.
  • Appropriately highlight your past experience: I’ve noticed that most break-ke-baad moms behave as if they are inexperienced juniors appearing for their first interview (or at least this is the impression I get). The reason for this is their break, lack of information about latest trends, and the general lack of confidence. However, this is a mistake. Any experience is valuable in some way or the other. I’ll just give two examples:
    • Suppose you’ve done 3 years of J2ME programming for mobile phones. You’re concerned that your J2ME experience is worthless because nobody does J2ME programming these days, and you don’t have any experience with Android/iPhone/Blackberry etc. However, you need to separate out the short-term, not so useful skill (J2ME programming) from the long-term, useful skill (domain knowledge of mobile phone development). Try to look for companies that are doing some mobile development (Android, iPhone) and they will value your past experience
    • Suppose you’re a teacher who taught herself programming (or did a core Java + advanced Java course) during the break. Now if you go looking for a regular development job, you’ll be treated as a developer with zero experience. This is a bad situation, and few companies will prefer you over a fresher out of college who’s willing to work until 10pm. However, if you approach companies building educational or e-learning software (and trust me, there are many of those), and tell them that you are a teacher who knows Java, they’ll probably start jumping with joy at having found such a unique combination that is ideal for their needs.
      My point is this – look at what part of your past experience has long-lasting value, and then search for companies that would value that. While doing this, don’t forget to take into account the skills from the previous bullet point (hiring, communication, team lead, etc.)
  • Approach companies through references: Most of the hiring at smaller companies happens via references. Sure, they have websites where you can submit resumes, and they have HR email addresses where you can send an application, and they even employ recruitment agencies. In spite of all of that, most hiring happens through references. Which means that if you’ve found some interesting small company, you should try to find someone who knows you, and knows someone in the company, and get them to forward your resume.
    How do you do this? Linked-in is your friend. I’m sure most of you have a linked-in account. If you have a very small number of contacts on linked in (i.e. less than 50), then focus on increasing it. Link with all your past colleagues. Link with your friends from college. Link with recent new contacts you’ve made in the industry (you do attend some tech events, don’t you?). Once you’ve 100 or 200 contacts (takes some effort, but not very difficult to do), you’ll find that searching for any company will give you some employees of that company who are “2nd degree” links in your network. This means that if you go to that employee’s profile, linked in will give you a list of people you know, who also know that person. Mission accomplished!
  • Learn about latest trends: Pick a domain or domains you’re interested in. Use some Google searching to find the top websites/blogs in that domain. Figure out how to use Google Reader (or some other RSS reader), and use that to “subscribe” to those sites, and read daily. A few months of doing this will make you almost as knowledgeable as someone who never took a break, and will boost your confidence significantly.
  • Be flexible about the role: It is very likely that given your constraints, the company might not be able to give you a role that is exactly like the role you had before the break. First, smaller companies tend to give more responsibilities to individuals, and hence you’re likely to be given a role with a combination of multiple responsibilities. Second, the company is likely to create a special role just for you, based on your constraints and their requirements. Hence, you should be willing to take on roles different from what you originally had in mind. For example, testing, quality assurance, training, customer support, are roles that you might be offered, and where you maturity and experience as well as your previous development background will actually help you do a very good job.
    Other areas/roles to look at would be documentation, pre-sales support, project/program management, content creation (writing articles / white papers), and KPO (knowledge process outsourcing).

There are also some common misconceptions that I would like to clear out.

  • Part-time doesn’t stay part-time: Many are worried that a company might promise a part-time job, but in reality expect you to stay late on a regular basis and it becomes pretty much a full-time job. This is not true in most cases. Most companies will honour the time-constraints as long as they were made very clear during the interview process. Once in a while, there can be a deadline due to which you might have to stay late for a day or a few days. But this would be an exception, and shouldn’t happen more than once a month or once in two months.
    There are a few bad companies where due to bad time management, or simply because the founders are evil people, everybody is forced to work more than is reasonable. Hence, it is important that you talk to the founders and/or your immediate managers during the interview process, and reject the job offer if you don’t feel comfortable about those people. Do not get desperate and accept a job just because you think you won’t get another one.
  • Late night calls: In most Indian IT companies, it is very likely that there will be some conf-calls with people in the US or UK; but especially with smaller companies, this situation is not very bad. My guess would be that in most cases, there would be an average of 1 or 2 calls of this type per week. Most companies will be OK if you take the call from home. Most companies will also try to accommodate your constraints, but it is not always possible, as the timing depends upon various factors. Most of these calls will be “regularly” scheduled calls, so you know their timing beforehand, and can make arrangements at home to be able to take the call undisturbed; once in a while calls might get scheduled at the last minute and you’ll need to scramble a bit. My experience is that most break-ke-baad moms manage this without causing too much of a strain on their home-life balance.

How to find interesting small companies where you might find a good role? If you’re in Pune, here are some suggestions:

  • Join the Pune Open Coffee Club. It’s free, and there are lots and lots of small companies represented there. Poke around on that website, the various forums there and sub-groups. You’ll find interesting people and companies.
  • Join the Pune Startups mailing list. Follow the discussions there. See who’s posting, and use google/linked-in to find out information about their companies.
  • Subscribe to the PuneStartupJobs mailing list and watch who’s making job postings. None of those job postings will be an exact fit for your profile, but this is how you find out about interesting companies who are hiring. You should then approach the companies directly and try to explore whether they might have a role for you.
  • Subscribe to the PuneTech Calendar to keep track of latest tech/startup events in Pune. Attend the ones you find more interesting. Most importantly, talk to as many people as possible before and after the event. Let them know your background and the fact that you’re looking for a job. Good things will start happening after a few months of doing this.

Last week, I asked a bunch of entrepreneurs on the Pune Open Coffee Club whether they would hire break-ke-baad moms, and what qualities they would look for. And, one of the most common answers I got was this: “We don’t care about time-constraints, and part-time vs. full-time, and other things. The most important consideration for us is the attitude and passion – everything else is secondary.”

So my overall recommendation is this – realize that you are a valuable commodity in the job market, identify and highlight your strengths, approach the right companies, and go with confidence.

(Thanks to Rajeshwari Godbole, Shekhar Sahasrabudhe, Santosh Gannavarapu, Arun Kadekodi, the “Break ke Baad” group, and the Pune Startups mailing list for inputs and feedback on this article. Note: I’m obviously not a domain expert in this area, so if you’re a break-ke-baad mom who has actually been there, and done this, your inputs would be very valuable – so if you have additional suggestions, please leave a comment below for the benefit of future moms.)

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Comments

18 responses to Break ke Baad: Tips for Moms re-entering the IT-workforce after a break

  1. Parag Shah says:

    One very good option may be self employment. This trend is not very popular in India, but in the west many people (men and women) make a career of being a “one person” company.

    Typical services they would offer are
    1. Contract programming (on an hourly rate)
    2. Training
    3. Writing
    4. Creating info products
    5. Maintaining a web community

    This mode of work gives a lot of flexibility along with control of how much time you want to spend and on which items.

    I am a guy and have been running a one person company for over 10 years. I will be glad to talk about this if anyone is interested.

    • Gauri says:

      Hello Sir,

      I am looking to start a one person company.
      It will provide some services ( training, maintaining webcommunity) mentioned in your post.

      As a first step, I am going to register a domain name.

      Could you help me with steps I need to take in order to make it a legal entity? How to manage financial transactions, tax implications and so on.

      Thanks in advance.

      • Navin Kabra says:

        @Gauri,
        1. If you know some CA, best to take advice from him/her.
        2. You’ll get different opinions from different people, but here’s mine: Don’t set up a legal entity yet. For now, you can do everything (domain name registration, financial transactions, etc) in your personal name. Focus on growing your business. It will probably take you an year or more to have a reasonable business going. After that you can worry about setting up a legal entity (LLP or Pvt. Ltd.)

    • Mohini says:

      hello Sir,
      I am looking to start a one person company.
      It will provide some services like teaching and training mentioned in your post.
      please guide me how to start one person company
      thank u.

  2. Radhika Ghadge says:

    After reading the article above, I felt the discussion and
    the concerns are so practical that it seems that the panel members have
    themselves stepped into the break-ke-baad mom’s shoes and undergone the
    experience.

    I went through some of the similar situations and emotions.
    And I would love to share my experience here just in case it helps someone like
    me to take a decision.

    I had taken a break of nearly three years before I decided
    to join back again. But for me being a mom has always been the first priority
    and will be so for many more years to come. When my child started the
    playgroup, I started my hunt.

    As mentioned by Navin, reference really helped. I was
    employed by my husband’s previous employer. But while applying itself I had
    laid my terms firmly that I will not be working full time. They were not sure
    how it would work so we initially decided on 6 months basis. So it was agreed
    that I would put in a few hours in the office in the morning and then work from
    home. It worked wonders. Me being an independent developer and sole member on
    the project and with the  only other counterpart in US made it more feasible.
    After six months I was pressurized to join full time again. But I kept firm on
    my decision keeping only the alternative of quitting open. I have never been
    asked ever since to come full time again. This February I completed three years
    in my organization and they have nothing to complain.

    Obviously this doesn’t come easy. There are many compromises
    and sacrifices. I have kept my position because I have to put in a hell lot of
    hard work to prove my worth. Working from home is more difficult than full time
    job as you have to simultaneously juggle both home and office unlike full time
    job where you have to concentrate only on your work. If I am unable to complete
    a task during the day I have to work late nights as well. Once a week I have to
    make a conference call with my US counterparts or clients from home.

    Other sacrifices include your pay. Though I complete 9 hours
    daily I get much less salary than my other counterparts as I have the privilege
    of going home early. But there is also a brighter side to it. Seeing my
    performance I have been given a regular increment and it’s satisfactory when I
    do not compare it with my colleagues’ compensation J .  I also have to be complacent with my post as I cannot be
    expected to be promoted when I have so little time to spare in the office. I
    have forgotten the fact that I was once a team lead with 6-7 years experience
    on my hand.

    But again I have no regrets whatsoever as I am happy that I
    can spend some quality time with my kid and also have the satisfaction of
    working at the same time. It all finally depends on what your priorities are
    and what you enjoy doing most. For me my success is when I see my son’s happy
    face to see me home when he is back from school.

  3. Sunanda says:

    Not exactly the same position as I rarely took a break of more than 6 months after having kids but it sure helped getting into the job profile mentioned in the article(part-time). Its a win-win situation for the company as well as for the employee/contract consultant. Company gets a senior person in the team(mentoring of juniors happens naturally). Employed person gets the benefit of working in the desired domain keeping in consideration their own restrictions.

    However instead of just talking about the break-ke-baad category, we should have more acceptance for this concept for even employees(need not be new mom’s it can be dad’s too) who do not want take a break but need more flexibility.

    • Navin Kabra says:

      @Sunanda, I totally agree that more employers should start taking part-timers, since this is a win-win situation. This is easier in smaller companies; since larger companies have processes and rules that make it difficult to make exceptions – however, there are some large companies who are accommodating, especially if you know somebody senior in the organization.

  4. Vikram Karve says:

    A very nicely written article.
    I agree with Radhika – it boils down to the choice you make – career vs children.
    I feel working from home is not the same as working from office especially if you have small children.
    Like Sunanda says, the best option is a change in job profile to a more flexible and suitable job.

  5. Aparna Kalantri says:

    Great to see such articles on Punetech. Because of the work I do, I come across a fair amount of women trying to balance family and work. I must say Radhika’s experience (from comments above) is not very uncommon experience. What she did well was to stick to her being part-time as per her priorities. But again, as she says there is disparity in pay/ timings there. Some of the issues I came across are:
    1. Part-timers (most often working mothers) are viewed by others as getting an easy deal. There is a misconception that they are not putting in as much. And so they (in most cases) need to work harder than others to avail of this so-called ‘privilege’.
    2. A lot of positions do start as part-time, but eventually there is expectation for the person to work full-time or then complete full-time work in part-time hours.
    3. Another practical problem which occurs is things like school holidays, children falling sick, school days etc. This can be taken care of by building a good relationship in one’s working environment and having good policies.
    4. Another big issue which needs a whole new write-up ?, is once you do decide to get back (say after 5 years or so), what do you select to do. A lot of new type of options have opened up and so its important to take into consideration your current strengths and priorities.
    5. One very important positive which employers should consider is that by being a mother (most of us try to be our best at this), she has gained a lot of soft-skill experience in terms of maturity in behaviour, negotiation skills, patience, communication skills etc.
    One thing is for sure its not easy and there’s bound to be a lot of small heartaches and small wins. The trick I guess is to keep going. Its very important to keep your confidence and belief in yourself up.

    • Navin Kabra says:

      @Aparna, Thanks for sharing your experience.
      1. As far the problems #1, #2, and #3 are concerned, any tips/suggestions as to how to deal with them?
      2. It would be great to discuss the new options you referred to in #4 on the Break ke Baad mailing list.
      3. Absolutely agreed with #5. It’s important for employers to realize this. The moms should also realize this – that will help boost their confidence.

  6. Aparna Kalantri says:

    I have seen quite a few mothers going back to work and having to leave the role again (more so in finance than IT). More often than not, the reason is not the role/ profile but the relationship with the immediate boss. They are leaving the boss and not the job. There has to be awareness in the company culture that having a part-time job for parents is not a privilege. Its just a normal & efficient way of working.
    1. Managers who manage such a team need to be trained in being sensitive to this issue. Break ke Baad programs should include employees as well as their managers.
    2. There has to be more transparency & communication in terms of the work the parent-employee is doing. The onus for this is more on the employee I think. She should communication to the whole team+boss regularly on what she has been working on/ achieving etc. If you’re working from home, then make sure you communicate what tasks you have done at home and be accessible on phone.
    3. Working mothers themselves should not be apologetic of this type of situation. You should be assertive in your behaviour. Eg. If someone is scheduling meetings (which you need to attend) regularly out of your working hours, then please let them know.
    As for the issue of looking for what to do when you decide to get back; I mean that there are options other than core-technology ones. Eg. Training, Tech-writing which might suit your lifestyle better.
    Also, before taking a break, if you’re fairly sure you’ll get back to the workforce, then make effort to ‘be in the loop’ during your break. Eg. Be in touch with your team members/ boss and keep yourself updated of the latest happenings. Another Eg. If you’re interested in getting back as a trainer, then meet trainers during your break, get some once-off assignments just for experience, try and do some course etc.

  7. vasudha rao says:

    I read the article, with lot of interest.I have joined Fleximoms on the net.I am not an IT person but most of your suggestions should work with others as well.

    I have changed myself so much so, that I am ready to do writing work rather than General Insurance in which I am a Fellow (a technical qualification).I also blog @ http://vasu-smaran.blogspot.com/

    Though I haven’t yet landed a job after the break,I am sure ,I will.

    Thanks, for your words of encouragement.

  8. shaloo shalini says:

    Excellent article Navin!

    Well, with respect to ‘breaks’, for any IT person the best thing about being in IT is that ‘Change is paramount’ and technological upgrades and innovations are a great leveller, whether you are in the arena for decades or are returning from your sojourn back into the arena. As long as you have your basic bearings intact and passion to learn and renew periodically – you are as good or as bad as anyone else simply trying to ‘stay’ in the game.

    Once you realize that the playing field is ever changing, you can see the brighter side of being on the other side of a break, you can start with a fresh mind and can choose to be in the game of your choice at a pace of your choice, and in a setup of your choice be it employment in an organization or entrepreneurship. Your own patience, perseverance and acceptance levels are the key. Its futile to even consider changing general attitudes and what others think about something as ephemeral as ‘break ke baad’. Once you are on the other side of the break, it is over and you are in a different territory. There, it is what ‘you’ think, believe and act – that matters the most.

  9. manisha says:

    Hi,
    I am Manisha having total 2.5 yrs of expt with IT out of tht 1.5 yrs as Java Developer and now having 2yrs of gap due to maternity.
    Now I am looking for job as developer and facing some problems due to gap.

    Plz inform me anything for me.

    Manisha.

  10. Kanakadurga says:

    Hi, This is a wonderful article on career come back and what ever suggestions given I have followed when I had to look out for jobs after a break.
    I think mostly women in IT or any technical domain find it very difficult to make a come back. I was in the education field and fairly good writer, so I got the job combination of the two, e-learning….a promising field today. I am happy with the pay for the I have compromised with the timings to get back earlier to take care of my kids -their homeworks…dinner ..etc…I completed MPhil during my second pregnancy where i had to take a break due to health issues. so I filled the gap and recruiters were happy to fill in a qualified person even though I didn’t have any experience in e-learning before.

    Ladies must stick on to the joint family set up if possible, it helps a lot.

    Thank you

  11. Aparna Bhatt says:

    Can anyone help me in suggesting some companies in hyderabad which are ready to take break-kae-baad moms. I am passionate about working as software developer. I loved my work when i was working as a software developer.
    Thanks in advance.

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