Whether you’re planning for a few months of maternity leave, or anticipating taking several years away from the paid workforce to take care of your kids (or even if you’re unsure of what you’re going to do), there are several simple things you can do to keep your job skills sharp and fresh, while also preventing your resume from accumulating those dreaded gaps.

I’ve spent the last fifteen years as a career counselor and coach, helping thousands of clients achieve career fulfillment and satisfaction. For the past six years, I have been a stay-at-home and work-at-home mama, so I have experienced first-hand the art of keeping my career skills sharp while juggling the demands of caring full-time for two small human beings.

Maybe you’re a planner and you have your maternity leave itinerary mapped out to the day, or perhaps you’re someone who prefers to take things one day at a time. Regardless of your plans, there are five simple things you can do starting today to keep your job skills sharp while you take a career break.

Strategy Number One: Stay Engaged

One of the easiest ways to keep your job skills sharp when you take time away from the paid workforce is to, well, not completely take yourself out of the game. For example, when my daughter was born, I did what I like to call “keeping my toe dipped in the pool” of career coaching by having a private practice and writing resumes and providing interview coaching on the side.

If you have a career that allows for contract work or to have a private practice, this is an excellent way to keep a consistent position listed on your resume and LinkedIn profile, as well as keeping your industry skills sharp.

You can do this several different ways. If you are someone like me who is not employed by a specific company when your child is born, you can do contract, freelance, or private practice work in your field as many or as few hours as your schedule permits.

In the past I’ve used websites like FlexJobs and Upwork to find freelance writing and career coaching positions. In fact, several months ago I found my most recent contract position through FlexJobs. You can also use job search sites like Indeed, Simply Hired, and even LinkedIn and in the keywords section type in something like “part-time / flexible jobs.”

Pssst, if you haven’t already, check out my recent post 30 Scam Free Side Hustles in 2020 for a list of credible websites featuring hundreds of legitimate side hustle jobs.

Strategy Number Two: Volunteer in and / or outside of your field

If you only have one or two hours per week to devote to work (especially in those early days when you have a newborn to care for), volunteering can be an excellent way to stay active in your field. If you are out on maternity leave but you need a little side project to keep yourself from going bonkers, check with your company or organization and see if you can write a blog post, or work on a side project.

I know many stay-at-home-moms who volunteer inside their child’s classroom and / or for the PTA, including myself. Did you know that you can include volunteer experience on your resume under your “Experience” section? There are so many skills you can acquire and hone as a volunteer: teamwork, fundraising, budgeting, writing / editing, event planning, teaching / mentoring, and the list goes on and on.

Volunteer experience counts. Even if the experience isn’t directly relevant to your field, you can highlight transferable skills like the ones listed above on your resume and LinkedIn profile.

Strategy Number Three: Keep Your Skills Up to Date

Keep your job skills sharp or acquire new skills through online and continuing education courses and training / certification platforms.

Check out your local community colleges, or if you want more flexibility, including the ability to take classes anytime, many colleges offer online courses and programs. You can do a Google search, including keywords like “online courses / programs in ______ (insert industry or subject).”

There are also platforms like Skillshare, which is currently offering two free months of unlimited access to over 30,000 online courses in a wide variety of subjects from art and design to web development and creative writing.

Strategy Number Four: Use Online Job Search Resources

Take advantage of the many online job search resources (including job search portals) specifically designed for stay-at-home-moms returning to the workforce.

In case you haven’t heard the buzz about “returnships,” this is a relatively new phenomenon specifically designed to provide caregivers who have been out the paid workforce the opportunity to become up to date on industry skills and certifications. The non-profit organization Path Forward partners with numerous organizations to provide paid internship or “returnship” opportunities.

Another organization, The Mom Project, partners with companies who are committed to helping working parents achieve better work-life balance. The employers working with The Mom Project are passionate about matching job seekers with opportunities that match their personal and work preferences.

Strategy Number Five: Network

Network, network, network. You might be thinking: why do I have to network if I currently have a job, or if I am not currently looking for a job? My answer is that even though you might not have an immediate need for a job, you never know what your situation will be in several months.

There are many simple ways to maintain your professional network when you are out of the paid workforce. The platform that I recommend the most is LinkedIn. If you are planning to go out on maternity leave or you’re already on leave, ask colleagues for recommendations. I can’t stress this enough.

If you are a contractor or freelancer, ask clients with whom you have a good relationship to write you a recommendation on LinkedIn or Yelp. This is one thing that I wish I had started doing much sooner in my career.

Picture this scenario: You’ve been out of the paid workforce for several years. Let’s say you’re a graphic designer. Suddenly your kids are in school a few days per week and you’re ready to wade back into the paid workforce waters. You’re interested in doing freelance work. But you realize you’ve got no reviews or recommendations and you know that one of the best ways to get hired as a freelancer is by word of mouth.

Try to make it a habit to ask for recommendations. Even when I help friends out for free with their resumes, I always ask for a LinkedIn review in exchange for my help. This also keeps me active on social media and helps build and maintain my network.

Also, every once in a while, add new professionals to your LI network. Share an industry article or try to like and comment on posts in your feed. I try to browse LinkedIn almost every day and share relevant articles when I can, which keeps me active in my field and also up to date on the latest trends and news.

Following these five easy steps will keep your job skills sharp and allow an easier transition back into the workforce.