Careers have peaks and troughs. Many people decide to “park it” for a few years while caring for children or elderly parents, or while dealing with a health issue or a boss who inspires hunkering down. But at some point the situation can change. So how do you show you’re back in the game?
I asked this question on the blog a few weeks ago. I thought one of the responses I got was so thorough that it deserved its own post.
Blog reader Tracie is a lawyer with three young kids. Since having her first, she’s been on a 60% schedule at her law firm (meaning she needs to bill about 60% of the hours that a full time associate would bill). It is wonderful that her firm offers part-time arrangements, and given the three kids thing, it was fine for a few years to sit where she was. “I did good work, but didn’t do any of the ‘extras’ like courting clients, speaking, writing, etc. that are expected of someone who is trying to make partner,” she tells me. Consequently, she didn’t move up any levels as an associate.
However, since her kids are getting older and she’s not anticipating having more, she’s trying to get back on track with a goal of being in contention for partnership when her youngest starts kindergarten. Knowing “it is going to be hard to shake the reputation of being on the ‘mommy track,’” she’s drawn up very specific steps to achieve her goal. For instance, during 2015, she:
- Visited an important client in another state to reboot that relationship (she hadn’t traveled out of town to visit clients since becoming a mom).
- Went on a “secondment” in which she was loaned out to a client with its corporate office in her area. “Essentially, it means that I’m working in their offices as though I’m one of their employees. I am getting a lot of valuable face time with them. However, it means that I need to do all of the work for other clients at night and on the weekend. That has been hard, but the month and a half of double shifts has more than made up for the slow start that has normally plagued the years I return from maternity leave.”
- Greatly exceeded her billable hour target. She could have chosen to increase her target from the get-go in order to get paid more, “but after consulting with a few mentors I decided it would be good to get a year on the books in which I billed a lot more than I was required to bill.” This established her as the kind of person who exceeds expectations.
- She started expanding her skill set into an area of the law in which her firm doesn’t have enough specialization.
Since she still has three young kids, this ramping up has required a few changes. First, she let go of trying to wholly separate work and home life. “I used to think that I would have more balance with more separation. However, I have started doing the ‘split shift’ that you recommend in IKHSDI, and it’s working really well. I try to get home by 5 or 5:15 (which means leaving work at 4:30). I log back on at 8:15 once the kids are in bed and work for an hour or two.” Her firm gave her a laptop, so she can work remotely. She also hired a nanny instead of using daycare.
While the daycare was across the street from her office, “I felt guilty about leaving them there for long hours.” But “Now that they are home with the nanny, I feel less guilty. They are all happier in their own environment in the late afternoon/evening.” The family’s nanny can help get dinner started if she’s running late.
And, of course, the key: “My husband has stepped it up. He has been covering more child tasks (e.g. taking them to doctors appointments and soccer practice) and household tasks (e.g. cooking dinner and grocery shopping).”
She has a plan for 2016 too, to ramp it up more. She will:
- Raise her hours to 70% and exceed the requirements. “I have basically been working this much this year, but this will mean more pay and a show of greater commitment. In a few years, I’ll bump to 80%, which seems to be the ‘magic’ number if you want to make partner on reduced hours.”
- Visit two clients who have given her work in her new skill area to solidify those relationships.
- Attend a major conference for lawyers who practice in her area of law. “The firm does not pay for associates to attend this conference because all of the partners in our group go,” she notes, but she and a few associates are planning to attend and room together and participate in the networking aspects of the conference.
- Speak at an event in front of potential clients. Her firm gave associates public speaking training, so she’s feeling more confident here.
Ramping up her hours means she’ll earn more, and she’s got a plan for that, too. “With higher pay, I am going to experiment with outsourcing some of the tasks that are less enjoyable to me than spending time with my family (e.g. cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.),” she says.
A version of this post appeared on Laura Vanderkam’s website where she writes about strategically managing time between her work and family.