Jul 5, 2009

Guest Post: Flexi-working: Break the 9-to-5 Career Barrier

Guest blogger Shonalie is an XLRI alumnus with an undergraduate degree in Psychology. She has worked with Asian Paints and ICICI Bank before a long, stint with Mercer HR Consulting in Gurgaon and Bangalore.

Since leaving Mercer Shonalie has worked with various clients, consulting firms on a retainership basis.

At the moment she is engaged with Sasken Communication Technologies Ltd, Bangalore. She works in the area of Assessment Centers, Competency Mapping, Position Evaluation and HR Audits.

She can be reached at shonalie@gmail.com

Motherhood & a Fulfilling Career

Money and Motherhood need to go hand-in-hand today. Most contemporary, educated women choose to continue working – even after giving birth to a child
As a working mother working flexi-time for the past few years, I find there are many valuable lessons I have picked up on the way.

My story is that I started this mode of working when I needed to balance the responsibilities of being a young parent with a pre-term baby who needed special care. I was also determined to grow professionally earning the remuneration that felt I deserved. Happily I managed to strike the right balance between balancing family and career. So how did I do achieve it?

Here are some Dos and Don'ts I intuitively followed and I hope these are useful tips for other women readers who may be contemplating a similar path:
  1. Be highly motivated, passionate and self-driven about your work. It helps – as you will not have a regular appraisal schedule, increment or bonus time-table or peers who are getting promoted to egg you on towards achieving higher milestones. Ok - its not all work! There are days when I can spend an extra hour playing with my daughter before she falls asleep for her afternoon nap, I can curl up and draw cartoons with her on a less-hectic day and often join her in the evening for a stroll when she is playing with other toddlers.
  1. Position yourself: Network with people in your profession. Don’t hesitate to expand your network even to acquaintances of your friends albeit in a mutually complimentary and graceful way. The more you help and assist others with information, the larger and more receptive your network will be. Be open to the idea that some newly acquired contacts are not going to be relevant in finding new assignments but will be interesting to know to build your perspective about different industry sectors, and professions.
  1. Your are your own Talent Manager: It’s important to understand that now the onus of developing and building your own skills lie with yourself. Peers working in 9-to-5 jobs will have organizations who will invest in their professional development, plus they have access to various resources at the organizational level including peer level interaction in order to enhance their skills. Unlike them, you will have to be in-charge of your own skill building. So taken on projects that will add to your professional depth – and be vigilant towards new trends in the industry for which you may need to take up formal training courses.
  1. Build Your Brand: In the initial period as a freelancer/ retainer it helps to go with established brands so in turn that enhances your credibility. You can then approach small to medium segment companies/ start-ups that need the expertise from established brands but can’t afford to pay for a full-time resource. You on the other hand can earn much more than a conventional 9-to-5 resource – if you attach yourself to more than one such firm - and lend your expertise on a flexible basis to several such firmsOf course the strongest brand building tool is a good referral from your past client(s).
  1. Invest in your infrastructure: Get the highest speed of broad band connectivity, uninterrupted service, a good laptop and an on-call IT resource person who can assist you in case of a technical problem. It is important that your client feels you are available at all appointed hours and do not have to excuse your unavailability due to connectivity problems.
  1. Be aware that your career will be an unconventional one: Learn to deal with the uncertainty. Your reference group can no longer be the 9-to-5 conventional workers.
  1. Break the mental social stigma that you won’t be perceived as a serious career person if you don’t follow the 9 to 5 routine. This stigma may be a significant reason why many men shy away from taking on such a flexi-option career.
  1. Be market savvy: Get a realistic about your resume. Speak to trusted friends and mentors in the industry to gauge the marketability of your skills and then plan your move into the flexible work-world. If you are in a field of work that mostly demands conventional working hours, then it will be difficult to find such assignments. I chose to build my skills in HR consulting (rather than as a generalist). Being a specialist helped me to build skills in a niche area and build strengths in an area where not many professionals are available. This allows me to support to companies who prefer stand-alone boutique outfits/ consultants who provide better-bang-for-their-buck and personalized attention.
  1. Be a good time manager: Make sure that you spend 8 hours working and 8 hours sleeping and these two time periods are not the same hours! Celebrated and practical author Ken Blanchard’s book ‘The Present’ – talks about prioritizing and focusing on the present to make the most of the given moment. This is a valuable lesson that allows me to avoid time-wasters and get concentrated work done whenever the environment is suitable.

  1. Take on more than you can chew: Focus on the quality rather than quantity on your assignments. If required, compromise on your fee for the sake of client brand equity and nature of work assignment if you feel it will add more value. Especially in the initial period when you are learning the ropes of working on your own
  1. Be shy about negotiating for your fee: You are providing quality work so you should be compensated accordingly. Avoid verbal discussion if it makes you uncomfortable. Opt for an email instead – explaining your deliverables, amount of work you will be putting in and the regular market rate for similar work. Then quote your fee. Avoid keeping a large ‘negotiation’ range for reducing your fee – try and quote as realistically as possible at the first instance. It will help your client to feel at ease if you use a direct approach. This has been my experience.
  1. Downplay the seriousness of your profession: Make sure your family takes your work commitments as seriously as you do. Just because you work-from-home doesn’t mean you are doing inconsequential or non-skilled work. Be firm about your working hours and devote weekends to run errands. Take your ‘at-work’ time seriously. I always remind my family that ‘tomorrow is working day for me’ so I gotta get my rest. So that they don’t forget I am as much as a working person as anyone else even though I work flexible hours.

In Conclusion

Be proud of you’ve achieved. Too often, we women fight shy of acknowledging our own achievements and appreciating ourselves. We are our own severe critics and need to give ourselves some slack for being good mothers and dedicated professionals (two demanding jobs at the same time). Make sure you speak up at social gatherings about what you do and the recent clients you’ve worked for. Many of my contacts and networks have been strengthened by sharing such information with new acquaintances.