I decided to take a career break in 2018. This was after my son was born and being a new mother the guilt of not spending enough time with him was consuming me. Prior to my break, I was a software engineer working in a top gaming company. With a career spanning seven years and working in top technical companies, I was confident to come back into the workforce that next year, but life had its own plan, and my break was extended. Spending time with my son allowed me to create those precious moments, and not once did I regret being home. We were bonding over park outings and picnics. Seeing my son develop new skills was amazing. My mental and physical health, which had been degrading earlier, was getting better. I started exercising and became more active which was definitely required with a growing toddler.
In 2019, I decided to get back into the workforce. My son was going to preschool, and I had more time on my hands. I did not want to be in the same role I had been in prior to my break. It was a difficult task to decide what to do. I felt lost. So, I wrote down what I had done during my working years and what I was good at. This was the starting point for doing my research on what role will be good for me. On further research, I came across the importance of doing certifications and how they give a boost to your career. This was also a good way to demonstrate that I was keeping myself up to date with the industry.
All the research took me more than six months and by that time 2020 was welcomed with Covid. My son's preschool had closed; he was again at home. The one good thing that happened was that everything had moved online. I took this opportunity and completed two certifications online without having to leave my house. But as my son was home, my job search had stopped again. During these times, I became a teacher to him. Explaining things to a child in his own language requires lots of patience, which gave me a new confidence that I can talk to anyone and explain things.
As 2020 was ending, being at home was a new norm now. Again, I slowly started with my job search. I was confident that doing the certifications would help me in landing a job. Unfortunately, that was not true. This time I was lacking actual job experience and due to that, interviews were not coming my way. Then I discovered volunteering. In the US, volunteering is very respected and is treated as authentic job experience. I started working as a volunteer Project Manager, a role that I was aiming for in my career. Volunteering gave me confidence, introduced me to people, and gave me a platform for real on-the-job training. As 2020 ended, I updated my LinkedIn profile, adding the volunteer opportunity.
In 2021, my son restarted his preschool with all the Covid precautions, and with that, my job search began again. My first step was to network with people. LinkedIn and Facebook groups were great platforms for that. That's how I found the Facebook group of iRelaunch. As online meetings had become a norm, I was able to network with people near and far. I got my first interview as a Project Manager through networking. As I was out of practice, my confidence level was very low. I reached out to my network to help, and they did not disappoint me. Though I was rejected in my interview, their support gave me a lot of confidence. Every day, I would sit in front of my laptop, open LinkedIn, and apply for thousands of jobs, not being limited to any region or coast. Apart from the US, interviews were coming my way from UK and India also. There was just one instance when I had to say no to an interview because there weren’t any open slots available on my calendar.
As I was getting interviews, rejections also became a norm for me. With every rejection, my self-confidence would grow. I took the rejections as teachings and learned from every interview. Social media became my escape platform. Writing about my failures and how I am working through them, gave me a chance to connect with people from around the world. The Facebook group of iRelaunch became my go-to group of online buddies. I would write about my failures and how, despite them, I was moving forward. Little did I know my writing was inspiring other women, and I became a mentor at two organizations, Her Nexx Chapter and The Mom Project, for women like me who were struggling to get back into the workforce. Talking to people, listening to their problems, and providing guidance had become my other job, first being a mother and giving interviews. Doing live sessions, talking to women face to face, and sharing my lessons learned with them made me very happy and content. This time I felt my purpose in life coming alive as a mentor and leader. Who knew that this was preparing me for my next job?
I applied for the Return-to-Work roles at many tech companies but was rejected by all. My self-confidence took a downturn, and I had started questioning my abilities. The question of whether I return to work or not came to haunt me, but my belief in myself never went away. I knew that something would come to me. At this moment, mentoring and networking helped me stay strong. Women in the same boat were looking up to me, and I did not want to disappoint them.
Being active on LinkedIn, I was able to move into my current role as Technical Project Manager in CellNetix Pathology and Laboratories. I am very proud to be a part of this organization. It is a growing organization, and everyone is ready to hear your ideas. When my son was at home as his school got closed due to Covid infection, everyone in my team adjusted their work hours. I couldn't have asked for a better second inning.
Looking back at my journey, some points which I emphasize are:
Believe in yourself
Research what to do next
Be well-prepared for interviews
Don't hesitate to ask for help
We caught up with Garima to dive a little deeper into her relaunch story and the advice she has for other relaunchers...
How did you determine you wanted to pivot into a new role after your career break?
So it took me a couple of attempts, but I did some short-term courses in different fields to explore what courses and topics I liked and which I didn't. I also realized that I didn't want to return to doing the same work and in the same role. I then branched out to begin volunteering as a project manager and found myself doing really well with documentation and talking to people. Through this experience, I finally felt like I found my niche and that I had to pursue this path.
What was the most exhilarating part of relaunching for you?
The best part for me was that I actually received a lot of compliments when I was interviewing. I remember one of my interviewers, when she was interviewing me, she herself was a relauncher and so she was very happy to see me pushing through and was very encouraging. Despite all the rejection and failures, I was still pushing through, applying and interviewing for the roles. So receiving those type of compliments and encouragement from fellow relaunchers and even people who were interviewing me, these were the confidence-boosts which kept me going.
What was the most frustrating part of relaunching?
The most frustrating part for me was actually getting that first interview...the one with human resources. Unfortunately, as many relaunchers know, when you're out of the field for a long time, recruiters and hiring managers are not lining up to interview you.
Once I did start getting interviews with HR, it was still frustrating because during the initial interviews with HR they would look at my previous engineering experience and would guide me toward open engineer roles and openings. I kept on being pigeonholed and typecast into applying for the engineering roles where I knew I wasn't interested and didn't want to be.
It took me a while to refine my approach so that I could translate my experience and skills and help HR relate my prior experience to what I wanted to pivot into.
What advice would you give to other relaunchers?
But I have a lot of advice, but the one advice is to keep pushing forward, not to stop, keep pushing forward, even if the role is not meant for you. And if you think you can do it, just go ahead, apply. And the other thing is, keep educating yourself, keep studying something.
Something or the other in your field, even if it's a small certificate, if it's a two month certificate, even if it's a two week certificate, just go ahead and do it because these things really help and showcasing that you are on a break, but still you did something to increase your knowledge.
What did you find most helpful during your relaunch?
The thing I found most helpful was the participating in the iRelaunch Facebook Forum. I joined that group and I had no idea what to expect. When other relaunchers would post their journey it was inspiring and uplifting to me and kept me going. When I used to post about my failures and my questions, the entire community was supportive and many relaunchers responded to me, which was really helpful.
The other thing that was helpful was when I started posting and sharing my thoughts on social media. I started posting on my LinkedIn about my failures, about how my journey is going through and people were very receptive to my posts and would respond to me. Some of them even reached out to me personally, asking if they could help me in the interviews. And a few even helped me with mock interviews which was very helpful.
What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience?
I'm most proud of the self-confidence that I build up...that was the biggest thing for me. I also was able to talk to a lot of relaunchers who were in the same boat, especially on the iRelaunch Facebook Forum, I started talking to others about my failures. I started talking to others about my interview experiences. And then other relaunchers started reaching out to me. So that gave me confidence that I am doing the right thing.
What was the most challenging part of your relaunch journey?
The most challenging part for me was figuring out my own time management because I also have my own child and have to manage his time schedule as well. So it was very challenging to successfully manage my time and make sure I could coordinate everyone's time efficiently and schedule interviews when his father could care for him or when my son was occupied with other activities.
What do you feel are some of the most transferable skills that you honed during your career break that you're bringing to your current role?
During my career break, the one thing that I did that was very helpful was to start volunteering as a project manager. This really helped me to boost my confidence and refreshing my skills on things like how to conduct a meeting, how to best communicate and talk to people, how to document everything like project manager, all of these things that really helped me. And all of these skills I continued developing during my career break I've brought with me into my current role.
Any parting words of advice for other relaunchers?
Keep pushing forward. There will be a lot of failures and there will be times when you feel bad and you should give yourself the permission to feel bad. If you want to cry it out, just cry it out. I used to do the same thing and I will use to vent it out in the iRelaunch Facebook Forum as well. But after you give yourself the permission to feel bad, your next step is to keep pushing forward. Don't take anything personal. Don't perceive failure or rejection as you cannot do it...the most important thing is that you have to believe in yourself, you have to believe that you can do it. And once you start believing in yourself, people around you will see that confidence coming out.
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