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January 14, 2009

The Backup Plan

With the economy cratering, here's your chance to execute those pipe dreams and what-if schemes. Meet six women who already did.

business woman walking on cell phone.

Photo Credit: George Doyle/iStock Images

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"I convinced my boss to send me to Russia"

For five years I'd worked for Deloitte's financial advisory arm in Washington, D.C., conducting fraud investigations and doing forensic services. It sounds like CSI, but we just followed the money — investigating potential hires and suspected fraud, corruption, and money laundering. I'd been wondering how to advance my career when I took a business trip to our Moscow office. I speak Russian — I lived there until my teens. And when the company offered to transfer me there, I jumped at it. I'd recently broken up with a boyfriend, which I took as a kind of sign. Deloitte gave me a bonus to cover all my moving costs — real estate is incredibly expensive here — and it covers the occasional flight back home to D.C.

Emerging markets are sort of like the Wild West — there's always a lag before regulation and enforcement kick in, so it's easier for people to commit fraud. That may be bad for Russia's economy, but it's been pretty good for my career. When I arrived, the office had big news for me: There would be a restructuring, and as a result, I would be placed in charge of the whole team. I certainly didn't expect that I'd be running things! But I figured I might as well take the quote-unquote opportunity of a lifetime.

I learn new aspects of the job every day. It's like boot camp, but in the best sense. What I've learned in the three months since I started here would have taken years back in the States. I just wish I could get Internet access at home — I've been waiting to get hooked up for months. Customer service is a whole different ball game over here. —as told to Lauren Iannotti

MOVE IT OR LOSE IT Why you should reconsider relocation — from the Cubicle Coach, Marie Claire's HR guru.

It was easy to turn down your boss's offer to relocate when unemployment was at 4 percent. Today? Go west, young woman — or south, east, or north for that matter. Take it from the Coach: Unless you're a proven superstar, this is the time to go where you're needed. A few questions to ask first:

1. Do I get a salary bump to move from Hattiesburg to Hong Kong?
You don't need a huge raise, but be sure you don't end up making less because you're spending more on your dim sum and shoe habit.

2. Will I be guaranteed employment for a prescribed length of time?
Get it in writing, ideally for a minimum of two years.

3. Will they pay for trips home, or for my family to come visit if they don't come along?
They should; it's cheaper than moving the whole brood.

4. How will HQ know I'm still around?
Establish a schedule for communication with the home office, and measurable goals to shoot for.

5. And if business goes south at home while I'm away?
Vet the new city and make sure it's healthy. It's one thing to hunt for a software job in northern California, quite another to be a laid-off condo broker in Miami.

"The markets plunged — so I had a baby"

I'd been on Wall Street for eight years doing human resources for firms like Lehman Brothers. I was working all the time. The company even sent me to London for three months right after I'd gotten married. And when I wasn't traveling, I was in the office till all hours, basically eating every meal there, going home only to sleep and shower. It was impossible for me to think about anything but the job.

I knew I needed to take a step back, so I decided to try my hand at real estate. It was a major lifestyle change. I wasn't getting a steady salary or big annual bonus checks — I made money off commissions and had to build my own client base. But it was so much more flexible. I made my own hours and worked from home most days. My husband and I were finally able to enjoy dinner together. Even when the real-estate market slowed down, I wasn't freaked out about it. I saw it coming and prepared for it, learning to live on a budget and save more.

That's about the time we decided to start our family. Before, I was too stressed out to get pregnant. But reinventing myself has allowed me to relax and enjoy my life more. My husband and I agreed it wasn't worth waiting just to add another zero to our bank account — and our daughter, Maya, was born in September 2006. To stay in shape, I started a branch of Stroller Strides in my town — we're a bunch of moms who work out together with our kids in tow. I live such a healthier, more balanced lifestyle now. —as told to Lea Goldman

BRINGING UP BABY How to get ahead during your pregnant pause.

More than half of all new moms hustle back to work by the sixth month after their child's birth, according to the Census Bureau. But with everyone's job security suddenly tenuous and your career at a standstill, we have to ask: What's the rush? If you want (and can afford) to take extra time off to raise your newborn, do it. We asked Amy Keroes, founder of MommyTrackd.com, how to stay in the game even while temporarily sidelined:

Be a nudge.
Periodically call supervisors and colleagues and get up to speed. Some women even request that they be CCed on important e-mails while they're out.

Friend everyone.
Remind contacts that you're alive and well by pinging them on Facebook or LinkedIn. If you're not already a member, step away from this magazine and sign up now.

Not only will freelancing keep your skills sharp — and earn you a solid paycheck — but it fills any worrisome gaps in your résumé.

Take a class.
Yes, it's a time commitment, but enrolling in a course demonstrates killer devotion. The hard truth: Some employers may need to see this kind of bootstrapping before hiring someone fresh off the mommy track.

Schedule playdates — for you.
Meet up with colleagues for lunch or drinks. It'll force you out of those drool-stained sweatpants and score you the latest office dish. You'll feel less isolated once it's time to get back to work.

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