Back in the Fast Lane

Ready to return to a full-time work schedule after being a part-timer? Here's how to avoid the road blocks that could slow you down.

Mary Graham thought her big presentation after resuming full-time work last summer would be a breeze. The 44-year-old vice president for public policy at the Charleston, S.C., chamber of commerce had done similar work on the economic importance of Charleston's naval base before she went part-time after adopting her son. The meeting would be a way for her to reconnect with old colleagues. Or so she thought. "I didn't know half the faces there," she says.

Instead of a collegial meeting, the association's board fired questions at her about her qualifications: With whom would she be working? What results did she expect and why? Graham was unnerved. "I should have realized that over four years things happen and people move on," says Graham. "I wasn't as prepared as I should have been."

Making the transition from a part-time or flexible schedule to a full-time one can be a confusing process. And given that many MBAs have some type of flexible work arrangement, according to workplace research group Catalyst in New York, it's a problem a lot of workers may face. While some companies help employees adjust to flex time, workers are often on their own if they want to go back full time. "It takes as much thought to undo a flex arrangement as to do it," says Linda Marks, a principal in San Francisco with Rupert & Co., which develops flex-work programs. "You need time to make it happen in an orderly way."

What's your best strategy for getting back on the fast track? Follow these pointers from those who've done it.

Show Off Your Track Record
When it comes time to discuss a full-time position and salary, "point out that while you were working only three days a week, you increased sales or grew your client base by X amount," says Maria Bailey, founder of BlueSuitMom.com, a Web site for executives who are mothers. "Then you want to say, 'When I'm full time, I expect to achieve this much more.'"

Dana LaChapelle, now 48 and a partner at the consulting firm Accenture, cut her schedule to three days a week after giving birth to her first child. When she felt ready to get back on the partner track, the retail-industry consultant, who lives in suburban Chicago, told her bosses that while she worked with just one or two clients at a time, the assignments broadened her experience. Plus, she brought in new clients as a part-timer.

"My peers had progressed faster than I had, of course, so I pointed out that I brought more maturity and experience to the work," says LaChapelle. It helped that a client wanted her to lead a bigger project, which sweetened the deal for Accenture to bring her back full time.

Cover Your Back
Face it, there may be people in your office who are none too happy that you figured out how to scale back your workload when you wanted to and then seemingly picked up right where you left off. How do you address this? "You want to be able to tell them you left for a reason. And now that you've accomplished that, you're looking forward to giving 100 percent to the company again," says Deborah Brown-Volkman, a career coach in Long Beach, N.Y. "It will help reduce resentment."

Another tactic: Cozy up to the people you've worked with who are on your side. Mary Graham would ask someone she knew from before to back her up on certain projects. "And if I had to approach someone in the community whom I didn't know to team up on a project, I'd have a coworker call or bump into the person at an event so they put in a good word about me," Graham says.

Inside Track
At 38.8 million, the Hispanic population is the largest minority in the nation and growing. And Hispanic Marketing Managers are in high demand. Dallas-based recruiter Doris Aguirre, president of DCA Professional Search, outlines how you can advertise yourself as one.

Education: An undergrad business degree is good; an MBA in marketing will put you over the top. Nonnative speakers will need to take advanced Spanish classes.

Experience: Seven years of advertising experience for a senior slot; 10-15 years for the VP level. If you have a background in consumer products, banking or autos-three industries targeting Hispanics-you're golden.

Don't bother if...you don't have a passion for cultural nuances. Ads targeting Cuban, Mexican or Puerto Rican communities might be very different.

Pay: $90,000-$120,000 for managers and directors, $150,000-$180,000 for VPs.

Perks: Because of the exploding demographics, Aguirre says, you'll have a lock on a job for a long time.

Speak Up
Simply taking on a full work load may not be enough to convince people you're serious about your career. "I didn't expect to have to tell people I was back in the game, but they would say, 'Well, she has a family, I'm not sure she'd be interested in that kind of commitment,'" says LaChapelle.

So LaChapelle made more of an effort to be involved by speaking up when new projects were up for grabs. "I was assertive," she says. And she would bring up with her bosses recent successes on her projects. "After six months they were willing to say, 'Okay, she's going to stay,'" says LaChapelle.

Get Rid of Old Habits
Brett Polloway, a 30-year-old outsourcing specialist at Accenture in Toronto, telecommuted after he became a dad two years ago. "Instant messaging was a huge thing for me," he says. "People knew when I was in or out, and it kept me in touch with people I wasn't seeing in the elevator."

When he returned to the office seven months later, he still instant-messaged his coworkers. "I'd IM to give them the opportunity to ignore me for five minutes if they were in the middle of something," he explains. But it backfired. He found out that, in fact, it made people uncomfortable that he wasn't getting up to talk to someone two seats down.

You've probably gained new habits working part time or out of the office. Be prepared to change them. Polloway started putting in more face time with his coworkers and now appreciates the disruptions. "At home it would be dark by the time I looked up from what I was doing," he says. "At the office people stop by and say, 'I need a break, let's go to the Starbucks,' so I've learned to take breaks."

My Favorite Interview Question
"What would you do if I gave you a year's salary not to come to work?"
— Stuart Gold, COO, The Republic of Tea, and coauthor of Dragon Spirit

"Show me somebody who wants to make a difference. If you say you'd go lie on a beach, which is probably the No. 1 answer I hear, then you're not the right person for the job. I want someone with the fire to live each day to the fullest. Maybe you'd want to work anyway because you absolutely love what you do. One sales manager answered, 'I'd spend that time with my kids because the years have gone by too fast.' I didn't wait to hire him, because this was someone who understood what it was all about. I said, 'Welcome.'"