When you think of “community,” the first images that come to mind are often digital: social networking, Facebook groups and message boards. These have their place in your professional story, but focusing just on building your digital community leaves an important gap to be filled -- broadening your actual in-person community circle, too.
Building a strong, personal community creates a valuable support system you can rely on at multiple touchpoints in your professional journey - from making a career change to taking a pause, returning from maternity leave and reentering the paid workforce.
Professional networking is an important tool to help you find a new job, especially because so few job opportunities are actually posted online. LinkedIn is an important social tool in your arsenal, and identifying micro-opportunities for networking like virtual happy hours are great ways to make new contacts who can help you in your job search.
Leaning in to community
Creating an #IRL community is essential for working moms. This community can be a source of vital support when you feel your work-life integration faltering. If members of your community are close by, they can be an essential source of last minute childcare for an important meeting or a last minute interview. And when you decide it’s time for a career change or you’re ready to return to paid work after a break, your community can be an often untapped source of referrals and introductions that can speed your job search.
How to build community
Creating community is all about making personal connections with people. Ideally, you’ll have at least one shared interest with these people - that’s usually what will begin bringing you together. But it’s also important to have diversity among your community because it expands your overall web of connections. The less connections you have in common with a new member of your community, the greater number of second- and third-degree connections you’re ultimately adding to your professional network, too.
The pandemic has changed how we move through public spaces and even how frequently we leave our homes. This can make it difficult to simply meet new people when you’re out and about. It’s more likely that you’ll create new community connections if you’re in the same place, for a good amount of time, around the same time every week.
As you’re working remotely
Think about your morning coffee run. Drive-thru or pickup service is super convenient but that in and out lifestyle makes it hard to meet anyone. Look for opportunities to become a “regular” in places you’re already familiar with.
If you can work one morning a week from a local coffee shop, begin chatting with the baristas and become friendly with other shop regulars. It’s not a formal job interview, but it is a good idea to have a sense of your answer to "tell me about yourself". When people ask what you do, give them a quick one-line overview that focuses more on your experience, not necessarily your current job title.
In your neighborhood
Only 26% of Americans say they know most of their neighbors. You can expand your personal community by starting right next door! Getting to know your neighbors isn’t just about what they can do for you. Becoming a trusted friend and go-to resource for your neighbors feels great, too. Depending on their schedules, they could also fill your need for a last minute sitter if something comes up for work that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. Bring some cookies by or drop a sweet note on their doorstep, and start waving hello when you see each other out and about. These small steps go a long way in creating new relationships in your neighborhood.
As you volunteer
Volunteering is a big opportunity for career growth even when you’re not currently working in the paid workforce. Not only does volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about help your sense of work-life integration, it allows you to flex important skills you can later add to your resume. Running a fundraising campaign not only gives you event and outreach management experience, you’ll also make good corporate contacts through the companies that sponsor a campaign. These contacts can aid in your networking outreach in the future.
A two-way street
Community, just like networking, works best when there’s give and take. Both community and networking are notably more valuable when you’re investing just as much as you’re receiving. In addition to showing up for your community in a personal sense by providing support and friendship, be open to potential mentorship opportunities or introductions you could make to help a community member out. Whether it’s personally or professionally, being available for your community draws everyone closer together.
The hope here is that not only are you building a sense of community that’s completely independent of your role as caregiver and employee, you’re also making connections that could bring new opportunities your way. Often, job searchers rely heavily on LinkedIn and purely professional contacts. Especially if you feel like your current job search is stalled, mentioning that you’re looking for something new to your personal connections could open new doors. Be open to sharing your search with your community.
The strength of community ties
Building community ties takes time and effort, but the more you put into your community the stronger the bonds will be. Professional connections, personal friends, other mothers to turn to for advice on everything from the best baby carrier to how they manage their school/kid/work schedules, and more are all benefits to building your community connections. And any of those are worth the investment of your time and energy as they will pay dividends to you in the long run.
Join a community that cares
Navigating work and parenting is a balancing act. Join The Mom Project to access job opportunities, career development resources and connect with a network of professionals that value work and family.