Career.Move. (2) Learning a Thing or Two

November 30, 2012 By Marisa Rijpkema 0 Comments

Our jobhunting mama is back with lessons learned in soft skills and small talk. 

When I first moved to the Netherlands and before I transformed into ‘mama,’ I spent some time looking into job options. In my previous life, I worked for a lobby organization in Washington DC and during my early conversations, I learned that it doesn’t really translate to Holland. Let’s just say that if I had a penny every time someone suggested that I look for jobs in Brussels, I’d have a lot of pennies. The problem is, that Belgium isn’t exactly the kind of commute I’m hoping for. So in 2011, when I was already three months pregnant with Lady Bug, I decided to go back to school. I found a part-time masters program in English that was really quite perfect for me. It is very flexible, so I decide how often to register for a course, and with the exception of a few ‘in-class’ days, most of the work is done at home. This way, I am able to step out of my ‘mama’ routine every once in a while and meet people who are doing what I hope to be doing. Plus, the degree is listed on the top of my CV, while the 8 month maternity break that I took in the middle is listed at the bottom.

One thing that I learned during my time in Washington DC is the art of networking. And the truth is, that it really isn’t an art at all; it’s just a matter of approaching someone and striking up a conversation with them. Most people will be more than willing to talk to you and perhaps help you out, because that increases their network as well. The key to all of this is having the confidence to take that first step, which I didn’t really have when I was pregnant. It felt kind of strange trying to network while I was seven months pregnant. I was huge and I felt very conspicuous with my big belly. So for the most part, I laid-low, enjoyed the classes and didn’t initiate too many conversations.

In hindsight it turns out that my self-consciousness was all in my head. I realized this last month when I saw someone I hadn’t seen in a year, and the first thing she said to me was: “Didn’t you have something big going on last time that I saw you? Like a wedding?” Turns out, my belly and I didn’t make that ‘big’ of an impression after all. So here I am: back in school, unpregnant and ready to find a job. The classes are interesting and I’m learning new skills that are useful in my career hunt. It’s also a great place to brush up on my networking skills.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit rusty and a lot has changed in my life since the last time I did this. I realized that when I let my ‘proud-mama’ enthusiasm get the best of me last month. One of the women that I spoke with works for a large Dutch corporation and I wanted to ask her about possible job options in her company. She happened to be very, very pregnant, so I thought that would be an awesome way to strike up a conversation. I introduced myself to her and mentioned that I was trying to jump-start my career after taking time off to have kids. She responded by telling me about her little toddler and then she pulled out her phone to show off some photos to me and the others standing nearby. Ideally, I should have said something like: “it must be a real challenge to combine working for X corporation and parenting…” and kept the conversation on her work. In reality, I pulled out my phone to show her pictures of my kids. Then other women nearby did the same, and the conversation drifted off to mothering topics, so I lost my chance to ask her for career advice. This made me realize that becoming a mama has made me a little too quick to talk about teething and sleep patterns.

But at least now I’ve learned that sometimes I have to curb my mothering enthusiasm and stay on the topic at hand – my next career move!


Marisa is raising her kids in the Netherlands and figuring out her career as she goes. 


photo credit: Fortune Live Media via photopin cc

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