How to get on the right people's radar and get ahead when you're back

Get involved

“Meet up socially with your favourite clients before you go back or shortly afterwards. In the private sector, power is held by clients not partners. If clients feed back that they are happy to have you back, you will get support."

Kate Temple, solicitor, non-departmental governmental body

"I would say that the most important thing is simply to let people know you are back. If there are people you have had a good business relationship with pre-maternity leave then it is worth dropping them an email simply to say you are back. The other way to let people know you are back is to start working on active cases - clients will realise you are back doing the work and, normally, are pleased to hear from you.”

Lynsay Kelly, solicitor, J & A Boyd

1 Go to meetings you wouldn't ordinarily attend

Returning from an extended leave is the perfect 'excuse' for asking to attend, or simply joining without prior approval, meetings you wouldn't ordinarily go to. Focus time and attention on meetings where: projects are being worked on that you'd like to be part of; practices you could learn from are being discussed; or, there's a person or people present that you would like to notice you. Listening attentively and remaining silent for the majority of the meeting then asking an incisive question or making a suggestion (based on the fresh perspective you have) will help you be positively memorable. Following up with a call or email to anyone at the meeting whose radar you'd like to be on is a natural next step that could open up opportunities.

“Network with pre-existing contacts and get up to speed on the work chat.”

Alison Stuart, lecturer, RGU

2 Seek mentoring conversations

Why have one mentor when you can benefit from a series of mentoring conversations? Most people are far more willing to give an hour of their time for a one-off mentoring conversation than accept a request to be someone's mentor ad infinitum - especially if he or she doesn't know you. Contacting individuals by email with a brief description of why you'd like to chat with him/her demonstrates focus and is more likely to get you in their diary. You can cover a lot of ground in 60 minutes, especially if you've primed the person for what you'd like to get out of the session. Remember to end with ’is there anyone else you think it would be useful for me to talk to? Would you be comfortable making an introduction?’ Mentoring can work two ways and you might also suggest some insights/knowledge you could usefully share with him or her. The Society runs a mentoring programme - see the resources section of this guide for details.

3 Go to after-work socials for 30 minutes

Consistently putting in an appearance at socials - without apologising for leaving early - is powerful. If it's an after-work drink session, decide on the one or two people you'd really like to have a catch-up with, make a beeline for them and once you've had the conversations, scram. If the kind of after-work socials your team does currently aren’t ones you want to or can’t attend, be the one to change the game. For instance, bring warm croissants and coffee at 8am in winter months (close to where you park your car or arrive by public transport) or organise a game of rounders in summer instead. Simply getting on the front foot and organising something new and different signals desire and commitment, which is particularly vital if you work flexibly. Research has found that, where line managers think a person is making use of flexible working practices to increase productivity rather than because of personal reasons, the employee will not suffer career penalties - see this short piece for more:

“Face-to-face and/or telephone communication. Don't assume everyone will realise you are back or be aware of your hours. Also, grit your teeth and count to ten when people make irritating assumptions. I found when I worked four days with a full day out lots of people said on the phone ‘I didn't know if I would catch you since you work part-time’. Clearly, they had an 80% chance of doing so! Just ignore. Be visible if you can at social events, seminars etc, until you feel established again.”

Partner, private practice

“Don't try too hard, it will be obvious. With the best will in the world, you cannot hit the ground running and if you try to muscle in on the best work too soon and too aggressively, you will only irritate your colleagues who haven't been off. Be firm, be polite and make a point of doing a bit of floor walking if the opportunity presents itself. So, go and speak to someone about something you might previously have done by email or phone. Also, I'm afraid you will need to turn up at social events, difficult as that can be to manage with children, if only briefly. But make good use of the time you have and make sure you either speak to or have been seen by the right people.”

Fiona McGowan, solicitor, in-house private sector