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Q & A: Should I Choose Flexibility Or Structure?

Posted: July 30, 2013

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Life Coach Jaya Narayan answers readers’ questions and offers practical advice to handle the problems of working women. This month we deal with challenges of working at start-ups and getting back to work after a break.

By Jaya Narayan

1. “I have been working in content marketing since 2007, with a 3 year break in between. I have just recently started working after my kid has turned 2 and has started day care. Even so, I work about 4-5 hours in office, and then from home and have chosen to work with a 2 year old start-up to achieve this flexibility. I have been advised to work with a bigger organization and gain wider exposure, but I am sure such places will not offer the flexibility I have here. However, I prefer to work in structured environments, and start-ups are far from it. I know this, but I am unable to find a solution to my current situation.” – Aathira.

Dear Aathira,

Thank you for writing to me. What I hear you talk about is a way to balance your need to work in a structured environment and flexibility (in terms of working hours). Additionally, you want to gain exposure to different facets connected with your role & area of specialization, which is content marketing. Here are my thoughts to help you think through:

You seem to have an overall experience of 6+ years with a 3 year gap (effectively it translates to 3 years of experience). As a returning mother, the next 2-3 years should be focused on picking up current skills and competencies. To me, being in an organization that supports ‘on the job learning’ should be the No.1 criteria for “sticking on”. In addition I am happy to hear that this start-up offers you flexibility. At this stage it is an additional bonus.

Inevitably start-ups are built on the principle of “being in the moment”. Work culture and processes are often very haphazard. I am sure this impacts you in terms of the way work is assigned, reviewed and managed. Making work place flexibility a success is dependent on the communication between a manager and an employee. Even the bigger organizations – with great policies on work place flexibility – fail if the manager is not supportive.

In this context, I would suggest that you set up review and dialogue time with your immediate manager. You could use this meeting to talk about key accomplishments, what is working for you and where you need support. Do make specific requests that would help “structure” your work more effectively. Most managers are open to look at what is possible within their purview as long as you are adding value and are an important asset to the organization. Make sure you follow up on the actions and have this dialogue periodically.

It is upto you and not inherent to the organization you work in to help you gain exposure. Most people working in a start-up say they get a lot of exposure since the team is small and everyone is involved in everything. In many large organizations you could be just a ‘cog in the wheel’. I would think becoming active in professional networking groups would definitely help you understand new trends in the field and success stories in other organizations. In addition you will get a sense of the type of jobs available, level of flexibility and learning potential for you whenever you are ready to move out. I would strongly urge you to look at what could be reasons to stick with the current organization. It is always easy to quit but there is no guarantee on how the next organization is going to be.

…becoming active in professional networking groups would definitely help you understand new trends in the field and success stories in other organizations.

2. “I was working with HP in Bangalore for 5.4 years and then I quit for the reasons of marriage and then maternity. Now it has been 3 years since I quit. I was working as a technical consultant. I have uploaded my resume at job portals. I do not get any return calls due to the gap of 3 years. I am an MCA post graduate. What should I do so that I get job offers? Do I need to do any course? Will I get a job?” – Arti

Dear Arti,

Thanks for your query. You seem to be very qualified and experienced. A gap of 3 years is ‘normal’ for women and well accepted in the industry. Your work experience before the break was in HP which is a known name in the IT industry. This is an additional advantage you have.

A few questions:

1. Have you written your profile to bring out the key achievements, strengths, skills and competencies for the 5.4 years of work experience?

2. Does your profile have key words (technology, domain, certifications etc.) that can help it get picked up when someone is searching for technical consultant?

3. Is your profile updated on LinkedIn with endorsements & recommendations?

4. Have you explored other options for job search like employee referral?

Learning and adding additional qualification (certifications) is always welcomed in the industry. However what you choose should complement your past experience and vision for the future role. I would suggest that you find opportunities to get started (even if it is voluntary and pro bono) to gain back skills that you may have lost in 3 years. There are many people looking for technical contributors in the social and educational sector as well as start-ups. You will need to become an active job seeker by being in networks (physical & virtual) where a recruiter or a team manager may be looking out for someone like you. All the best. I am sure we will hear of you picking up your dream job soon.

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*Photo credit: tsaiproject (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

About The Author: Jaya Narayan is a Life Coach and Facilitator. An alumnus of TISS, Mumbai, she has over 15 years of experience in the HR field. Her current interests & engagements include behavioural assessments, HR in startups, behavioural training, writing, and blogging. She is also a full time mother of 2. You can follow her on her professional blog, No HR Gyan.

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