From Full-Time Mom to General Counsel
Over the course of her career, Rebecca Thompson has had two major career transitions, three fully-grown children, and no regrets. Thompson, now the general counsel and VP of human resources at Special Olympics Northern California and Nevada, was a successful attorney in private practice before becoming a full-time mother. After taking time to raise her three children, Thompson made the transition back into the workforce. Although this career trajectory may have seemed unprecedented in the past, more and more women are choosing to balance motherhood with professional life.
For Thompson, the key is making conscious career decisions and putting her all into each position. Based on her own experiences returning to the workforce, Thompson has the following recommendations for mothers going through the same process.
- Find your purpose. As a result of her experiences, and time spent raising her children, Thompson became very interested in mission-driven organizations. “I love the mission and educational and special-needs components of Special Olympics. These issues have become very important to me after raising my children. And I’ve also realized the bigger picture – these issues are important to everyone generally.” She adds, “To this day I make it a point to attend the events that we organize for children and adults with special needs.”
- Ask questions and get feedback. Before embarking on your journey, Thompson recommends asking yourself many questions. What causes do you care about? What are you passionate about now? What do you want to learn about? What drives you to return to work? Get feedback from any friends or former colleagues who have seen you grow through your years of parenthood. Their assessment is a helpful piece of figuring out where to focus your energy during the career search.
- Be honest. Feedback from others can’t replace taking an honest look at how having a child and taking time off has changed you. As Thompson explains, your perspectives, interests, and priorities may have shifted. So, understandably, your ideal job may have changed as well.
- Be your best. Thompson’s work ethic and commitment to excellence kept her sharp and ready to tackle the next challenge. “When I was a private-practice attorney, I focused on being the best private-practice attorney I could be. Then I became a full-time mother, and focused on being the best full-time mother I could be. Then I became a general counsel and human resources specialist, and dedicated myself to being the best I could be at that,” she explains.
- Be prepared. Before jumping into networking, it’s a great idea to have your resume, LinkedIn profile, and elevator pitch ready. People will have questions about your absence, so you should be prepared to answer them. Thompson advises, “Be prepared to articulate what you can bring to the table. How has your work absence enriched you as a person and professional? You want all pertinent information at your fingertips and ready to flow naturally.”
- Rely on your network. It may take a village to raise a child, but it can also take a village to renew a career! “Tell your family, friends, neighbors, and former colleagues that you’re returning to the legal workforce,” recommends Thompson. “Consider reconnecting with former colleagues and classmates,” she adds. When she made her decision, Thompson told everyone in her network that she intended to return to work. She explains, “First, I told everyone I knew. Then, I told everyone at my kids’ school, where I was working part-time. Eventually, I told all my husband’s connections.” It’s through this kind of determined networking that Thompson found her next opportunity.
- Have confidence in your transferable skills. Don’t feel tempted to write off your time off from a traditional career as “just being a mom.” Take a good look at how you spent your time and identify any skills and perspectives you gained that are of value to a prospective employer. Thompson explains that if you do anything well, you will develop useful and transferrable skills – and that includes being a mother. “These are relevant and transferable skills, and they will give you and your prospective employer something to talk about,” she explains.
- Focus on relevant experiences. Did you volunteer at a school PTA during your absence? Did you fundraise, supervise projects, plan activities, review contracts, or run meetings? Did you use your superb interpersonal skills to accomplish a difficult task, become proficient in social media, or negotiate an amazing deal? Use these experiences to your advantage when transitioning back into the workforce.
- Explore creative opportunities. It may be a good idea to return to work gradually through part-time, freelance, pro bono, special, or temporary projects. This gives you an opportunity to build a more recent track record of achievements, show interest in returning to work, gain relevant skills, and sample several types of employers, job roles, and responsibilities. Thompson, for example, initially joined Special Olympics as a part-time general counsel. “It was a perfect way to return to work,” she explains. “I got a chance to make sure that I loved the people and the organization.” Over time, as the organization grew, she became full-time and absorbed the human resources function.
Transitioning back into the full-time workforce is challenging, but definitely rewarding. By being mindful and staying confident, you can transfer the skills, experiences, and interests you’ve gained over the course of your absence to an exciting new career. Thompson’s journey — from attorney, to mother, to general counsel — is an excellent example of how there is nothing a working mom can’t do!
This article was originally published by Above the Law.