The one essential career skill most mums lack

For over a year now we’ve met and spoken to hundreds of talented working, freelance and business mums. And we’ve realised that many of them lack one key work and business skill – confidence.

Of all the professional skills, experience and insights you could have, confidence is the most important.

Without it, you risk being passed over for jobs, promotions and opportunities, and missing out on valuable freelance and business contracts. You’ll probably earn less than your colleagues and competitors, and have a far smaller network of contacts.

In fact, several career coaches that we have spoken to in the past year have cited lack of confidence as the single biggest barrier faced by mums attempting to resume their career after having children.

Why confidence is so important

But why is confidence so important for your career? The answer lies in how you project yourself to others.

I was inspired to write this article by an answer I read on Quora. The question asked was, ‘”What makes a person boring?”. And the most popular answer was very insightful. The responder said that people were interesting not because they did interesting things, but because they believed they were interesting.

And in reverse, boring people weren’t boring because they lived dull lives, but because they weren’t interested in themselves, and didn’t think anyone else would be.

And they were right. But more than that – I realised that this thought process could be applied to how mums returning to work or starting a business or freelance career, feel about themselves too. Because how we project ourselves, the things we choose to say, and the way we say them, is directly influenced by our opinion of ourselves.

How we feel about ourselves is how we are seen by others

And this is exactly why having confidence in yourself is so important. Because if you don’t feel confident that you’re up to a job you’re interviewing for, are experienced enough for a promotion, deserve a pay rise, or are the best person for a freelance or business contract, then no one else will either.

Your lack of confidence will shine out from you like a beacon, and any sensible person will pass you over for someone else – not necessarily for someone more capable or with more experience, but just someone who believes they are accomplished and worthy, and projects that faith in themselves.

Why you have more to be confident about than you think

Of course simply telling you that you need to feel more confident is easier said than done. If it was that simple, you could just snap your fingers and do it! But in fact, the truth is that you do have much more to feel confident about than you probably feel right now.

One of the key reasons women lack confidence in themselves is because we think that our skills and experience have dated or faded after a break from work. We assume that while our professional ability has been quietly stagnating, everyone else has been racing ahead – so why should anyone want to hire, promote or buy from us?

But in fact, while you’ve been off work on maternity leave, or working part time, you haven’t taken your foot off your career accelerator at all – you’ve just been nurturing your professional skills in a different way.

17 highly employable skills you’ve been honing as a mum

A few weeks ago, I was asked to write a list of desirable work skills that mums learn and use when raising a family – and I thought it was a great idea. I was pretty sure it would be easy to come up with nine or ten professionally-useful skills that mums use on a regular basis. But I was wrong – I easily rattled off 17.

Even I was shocked. You see, once I started looking at the things we do every day as mums through professional eyes, I realise just how accomplished we all are (and how little we give ourselves credit for the things we do). To give you an idea of what you do, here are the 17 skills I came up with:

  • Time management skills
  • Prioritisation experience
  • Planning skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Crisis management skills
  • Communication skills
  • The ability to influence
  • Negotiation skills
  • Project management skills
  • Event management skills
  • Responsibility
  • Financial management experience
  • People management skills
  • Mentoring experience
  • Creative skills
  • Counselling experience
  • The ability to learn new skills

Impressive list, isn’t it? And if you want to find out exactly why we think you’re probably pretty good at most (if not all) of them, you can read our blog about it for The Motherhood here.

Any employer would be very happy to hire or promote a candidate with these skills, just as any client or customer would happily stay loyal to a freelancer or business that practised them. And you have them in spades, thanks to being a mum. You just need to recognise them.

Make a list of your own skills

So you’ve seen our list of skills – now it’s time to make your own! If you feel uncertain of your skills and experience in any way, take half an hour and think about the abilities you use regularly as a mum. Think about all the jobs you accomplish around the home and for your children, and the qualities you need to do them. 

If you need a bit of help, refer back to our list and read our blog – it will hopefully help to inspire you.

Why you need to be proud of your skills

But knowing your skills is just half of the battle – you need to make sure you convey them confidently and proudly to ensure a potential employer, client or customer is in no doubt as to your abilities.

A few months ago, we revealed the three words women should never use to describe their work or business, and explained how our modesty could be self-sabotaging our careers. 

You see, the words you use to talk about what you do (and you can do) are essential. They reveal what you really think about yourself, and either convince the listener than you are accomplished, successful and confident, or leave them doubting your abilities.

Sometimes all someone has to go on is what you write and say about yourself, so it is important to believe in and project your suitability for an opportunity with confidence.

How confidence works – a true story

Why am I so confident that confidence works? Because I used it myself to secure my biggest career break.

In the mid-90s I was living in Hong Kong and had decided I wanted to be a copywriter. I knew what the role entailed and was convinced I’d be good at it. So when I heard a job was available at an advertising agency, I called the executive creative director and arranged to come in for an interview.

What I didn’t know at the time, was that the agency was looking for an experienced writer – and I had no experience. It also was (and still is) one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world, and is incredibly tough to get a break at – even if you are experienced.

I realised pretty quickly in my interview that the executive creative director was unimpressed by my (lack of) experience. But I was confident in my ability to do the job, so I made a passionate speech about how much I wanted it, why I thought I would be great at it, and what a quick learner I was.

And it worked – I was invited to do a written test for the job (which I passed) and was hired. My speech paid off, launching a successful career that I have loved ever since.

I know that I would never have had the opportunity to work as a copywriter if I had doubted my abilities, and not conveyed my self-belief so strongly. It was, without doubt, confidence that got me the job.

Feel (genuinely) proud of what you can do

So whether you’re writing your CV, LinkedIn profile or business website, interviewing for a job or promotion, or meeting useful business contacts, make sure you feel confident in yourself – and acknowledge your professional abilities and suitability for any relevant opportunities. (You can read seven simple rules to create a perfect LinkedIn profile here.)

If you need to, keep a list of your skills handy and read it when you need a boost. Make sure you genuinely understand why and how you have those skills, and believe in them – then convince anyone you talk to that you’re the perfect person for a job or opportunity, just as I convinced my executive creative director all those years ago in Hong Kong. Let confidence get you the job too.