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THE QUESTION

In a couple of months, I'll be returning to a full-time job in the public sector. I'd love to have some tips about how to play it cool and look professional returning to work after a year's [parental] leave. I really want to show my boss that having a baby doesn't mean I'm any less of a worker. My workplace is very supportive, but I still want to make a good impression.

THE FIRST ANSWER

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Bill Howatt

Howatt HR Consulting, Kentville, N.S.

Typically, employees who ask this type of question are already highly committed and driven. The good news is that you are returning to work with a positive outlook, believing that you have a supportive employer. That support comes from a proven track record.

As well, your question implies that you are open to new ideas and interested in learning, so others are unlikely to question your commitment. However, having a re-entry plan can help you focus on your role so you can spend less time worrying about what others may be thinking. Your results will speak for themselves.

You know your role, but things may have changed in your absence, so let's consider a three-step plan:

First, make a list of eight to 10 questions for your manager and co-workers to determine what changes may have taken place in management, policies and procedures over the past year.

Next, determine what training, mentoring or self-study will get you up to speed as quickly as possible. Discuss your plan with your managers to get their support and input.

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Finally, implement your plan and report back to your manager when you have completed it.

Within two weeks, you will be surprised at how quickly you will have blended in with your colleagues and any worries about others' perception of your commitment to your job will be gone.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Pamela Jeffery

Founder, Women's Executive Network, Toronto

Congratulations. It's an exciting time and a busy one for you, particularly as you transition back to a full-time job.

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The best way to return to work and look professional is to be professional. Start by making sure you are confident in your choice of day-care provider. This will lessen your anxiety about leaving your child (a common experience for new mothers) and allow you to focus on your job and not feel compelled to check in repeatedly throughout the day.

Stay in touch with your employer and colleagues while you're away. It is the best way to show your boss that you are committed and engaged. It will also help you hit the ground running when you return because you will know what has been happening.

Read. Get up to speed on the goings-on in your sector and in the world around you. It will give you something to talk about other than your baby. Remember, while parenting may be new to you, not everyone wants to hear about every milestone your little one experiences.

Put effort into your appearance. You may have spent the past year in yoga attire, but those are now your weekend clothes. Dress smart. Do a little back-to-work shopping and refresh your wardrobe so you look tailored and professional. Clothes that fit are critical to building and projecting confidence.

Finally, manage your time at work, and home, effectively. You want to do your job well without having to stay late. And when you are at home, don't try to do it all yourself. Ask family and friends for help when needed.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns here.

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