Remember when you were in school and had to write about ‘What I did on my summer holidays’? I am returning from a little bit longer leave – my maternity leave – and once again preparing to enter the full-time workforce. A new year, new opportunities and a little different perspective.

The most unusual thing about my maternity leave is its length – 15 years. (What?) While I’ve continued to work part-time as a consultant, I don’t fit into the template recruiters look for when trying to fill traditional job vacancies. The combination of a series of both national and international moves, my partner travelling for work and extended family no closer than a 5 hour flight, I put my full-time career on hold and made a choice to be work flexibly while raising our sons. Fast forward to 2015, we’ve put down new roots 12,000 km from our original home, our boys are teenagers and we have a transit system which gets everyone from point A to point B without a convoluted journey.

I loved working! Being so focused on what I was doing that before I knew it, it was 6pm and the office had emptied around me. The comradery of a team, the variety of people, ideas and opportunities. So what do I have to offer an employer now when I don’t fit the traditional candidate profile? I’ve been using my time wisely to develop a whole new set of skills I had never used before kids.

What I did on my maternity leave

  • I walked into meetings with CEOs with nothing more than an inquisitive mind and intuitive questions to uncover a need. I succeeded in gaining approval to move ahead with 90% of the work I quoted.
  • I succeeded in using the power of an elevator pitch at a networking meeting to securing a project to analyse the engagement of a 4000 employee company.
  • I was hired to re-do projects undertaken by other consulting firms in three different companies and continued to do follow on work with each.
  • I rebuilt my business network and client base from scratch 3 times through relocations between 4 cities and 2 countries.
  • I continued to educate myself studying Structural Thinking with Robert Fritz, Facilitation skills with Alex Wray and achieved certification to consult with corporate boards and their Human Resource and Compensation Committees.
  • I embraced technology and all things social to develop my voice on topics I am passionate about. I joined LinkedIn in 2003 (member #150,877) and Twitter in 2009 before either became commonplace using Twitter to build my network and client base in Perth.
  • I have worked for clients in a multitude of industries in which I’d never held a traditional job: Security, construction, biotechnology, medical devices, communications, telecommunications, book publisher, logistics, digital media, hydraulics, place making.

What I learned

  • To enter every new company with ‘empty hands’. Having no expectations of what the issue may be or how it’s generally solved allows me to take my cues from the organisation’s vision, values and the trends I glean from discussions and data.
  • How to blend the client’s needs with current business thinking to develop systems which would work in their organisation’ culture and strategy.
  • Building relationships on trust, transparency and a little outside the box thinking can open the door to new possibilities.

My CV looks different than my peers who have worked for one company, one industry or one role over the past 15 years. Instead, it is packed with a lifetime of learning, growth and a multitude of business relationships built on trust, collaboration and forward momentum.