Thursday, 30 October 2014

Return-to-work advice for Allison Pearson's Kate Reddy


This month saw the return of Kate Reddy, Allison Pearson's fictional working mother who started in a Telegraph column in the 1990s and ended up in the best-selling novel and Hollywood film  "I Don't Know How She Does It". Many of us remember the pangs of recognition in the shop-bought cakes 'distressed' in the middle of the night before a school cake sale, and Kate's ultimate decision to leave her over-demanding City job to get more balance in her life.

Thirteen years later, Kate is back every Friday in the Daily Telegraph as Sandwich Woman: 49-and-a-half with two teenage children, a husband with a mid-life crisis retraining as a counsellor and frail elderly parents. And she's about to fly the flag for women returners, returning to full-time work after a six year career break. At least we hope for a (fictional) role model, but in the first few weeks Allison Pearson has focused on the dispiriting side of returning to work, as Kate says "Amazing how fast all the confidence you built up over a career ebbs away". So far our heroine has been patronised by a dismissive headhunter when she targets a non-exec role, wondered whether anyone will want to employ her and she's decided to lie about her age & her recent experience ...

Allison Pearson says she is bringing Kate back to show other 'sandwich women' that they are not alone in their struggles. So we decided that it's time to get Kate on track for her return to work with some words of motivation and advice:

1. Your timing is great. Businesses are waking up to the fact that returners are a high-calibre talent pool and are actively targeting them. The 2014 innovation of 'returnship' programmes is aimed at women like you (see here for more details) and many are in City firms. And Goldman Sachs stated this month in the FT that they are actively targeting their alumnae for senior roles.

2. After a long break you are not a 'square peg fitting into a square hole' so avoid most headhunters and recruitment agencies. The exception is firms who specialise in flexible working &/or women returners (try Sapphire Partners if you're looking for a non-exec role).

3. Don't lie on your CV! You don't need to reveal your age as CVs no longer include date of birth (or gender & marital status). And miss out your decades-old school qualifications. Include voluntary or paid work and studies during your break experience where they (honestly!) used or developed your professional skills. 

4. Focus on building your network of contacts. You've only been away for 6 years and your old colleagues will remember you as a highly talented senior manager. Set up a (brief) LinkedIn profile, connect with ex-colleagues and get into the City to meet them for coffee. Look for university and organisational alumni groups too. Tell everyone you know that you want to get back to a corporate role - you never know who might be able to help.

5. Above all don't undervalue yourself. Focus on the benefits your age can bring to an employer: maturity, stability and a huge amount of training and experience which will enable you to get back up to speed very quickly once you've got your foot back in the door. We have many success stories of women who have got back into satisfying roles & hope that your imminent successful return will inspire many more!

Posted by Julianne

Thursday, 23 October 2014

How to make time for your return to work job search

Two recent conversations with returners have reminded me how difficult it can be for women to focus on their return to work activity: there always seems to be something more important or time-consuming for them to do.

As former professionals used to managing busy careers, women on career break often fill their lives with activities that keep them busy, engaged and feeling productive. As well as looking after family and home, they frequently take on voluntary roles or small paid projects, develop new hobbies and simply 'help others out'.  

The difficulty comes when trying to return to work: how do you fit a job search into an already busy life? The truth is that finding a new role, especially when you have left the workforce, is a job in itself.  Your return to work will only happen with dedicated time, energy and commitment.

Carving out this space is hard for returners for a number of reasons:

  • you might not be sure whether you are ready to return, so you don't give it your attention to avoid having to make a decision
  • you don't know how to get started on your return to work, so you procrastinate
  • you've made some small efforts and have been deterred by the response (or lack of) you've received 
  • it's the wrong time of year (eg pre-Christmas/Easter/summer holiday)
  • it feels selfish to be focusing on yourself after so many years of putting others first
  • you don't know which of the other activities to cut out, in order to make space for your return to work plans
Here are some ideas on how you can start to create time for yourself, so you can address some of these barriers, both practical and psychological: 
  • start small - make a date with yourself!  It could be sitting in a coffee shop for half an hour after school drop off, on your own with the purpose of doing your own thinking and planning. If you can do this once, you can start to make it a regular habit and then expand the time you devote to it
  • enlist a buddy - this could either be someone in the same position as you with whom you can meet regularly and share experiences and ideas. Or it could be someone who is simply there to support, encourage and celebrate with you and keep you on track
  • give your search a project name - to give it focus and make it more like a work project
  • sign up for a relevant course - this will enable to you dedicate time to your new direction, introduce you to others who might be helpful to you and signify that you are taking positive steps for yourself
  • address your reluctance to put yourself first - by trying it out! This post on Banning Selfish may be useful
  • delegate - perhaps you don't have to keep doing all the things you currently do whether at home or elsewhere
  • work with a coach - this will commit you to spending time (and money) on your return to work in a structured way and get you into the habit of giving time to this activity.  
Remember that no-one else can do the work required for you, so your return to work will only happen if you give it - and yourself - the time and attention you deserve.

Other useful posts and links:

Posted by Katerina


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Improve your return-to-work confidence by building your self-efficacy



The Problem with Confidence
It's often reported that women's self-confidence plummets during a career break. A recent study* found that women on maternity leave start to lose confidence in their ability to return to work only 11 months after giving birth.

The problem with labelling return-to-work doubts as a 'confidence issue' is that we use the same explanation for a wide range of setbacks that women face in the workplace: from presentation nerves to not putting ourselves forward for a promotion or (as Sheryl Sandberg would say) 'not taking a seat at the table'. It's become too much of a general catch-all.

I would suggest that we need a different term to describe the (often extreme) self-doubt that women can experience when they consider returning to the workplace after a long time out. This is the doubt that stops you even believing that it's possible to get back into a satisfying role .. the doubt that made a highly talented MBA with 15 years' experience say to me after her 6 year break "I'm a write-off - no-one will want to hire me now". 

Self-Efficacy
From a psychology perspective, what you're experiencing in this situation is better termed "low self-efficacy". The psychologist Albert Bandura described self-efficacy as a person's belief in their ability to succeed in a particular situation. If you have low self-efficacy about getting back to work, then you feel less motivated and behave in negative ways that make you less likely to achieve your goal; you see barriers as insurmountable blocks rather than challenges to overcome, you lose focus and interest more quickly, and you struggle to pick yourself up again when you hit an inevitable setback. 

Building Self-Efficacy
The encouraging thing about self-efficacy is that it's not fixed - there are specific ways to boost it. Bandura identified four key sources of self-efficacy, three of which are within your control and the other you can influence:

1. Mastery. Performing a task successfully through hard work and effort improves self-efficacy. If you haven't worked for many years, you will feel 'rusty'. Create opportunities to do work-related tasks that feel daunting to you, but in a low risk environment, such as offering to chair a volunteers' meeting or taking a training course which involves group & presentation work. 

2. Social Modelling. Seeing other people being successful raises our belief that we can do it too. We need role models! That's why we're collecting success stories of women who have successfully relaunched their careers. Read our stories & actively seek out women who have already gone down the road you want to take.

3. Social Persuasion. Getting encouragement from others helps us to overcome self-doubt. Spend more time with people who will encourage you and give you a boost, and less with the downbeat 'energy vampires' in your life! Remember that the people you are closest to may be discouraging about your return to work because they are worried about the impact it will have on their lives.

4. Psychological Responses. Better managing your stress levels and emotions can improve your confidence. Work out what helps you to feel calmer under stress - maybe having time to prepare, going for a run, or just taking a few deep breaths - and use these techniques consciously next time you're under pressure. Think about taking a yoga or mindfulness course if you find it difficult to manage your stress levels and emotions. 

And you can use this framework to build your self-efficacy once you're back at work too!


Related Posts

* AAT, 2013



Posted by Julianne


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Preparing for your first months back at work

You’ve been offered a new role or returnship, you’ve updated your wardrobe and sorted out your household – but you might still be full of uncertainties and doubts about how you will actually perform and be effective. 

With a returnship you have 10-12 weeks to demonstrate your value to your potential future employer. With a permanent role, you feel the pressure to establish yourself quickly as a contributor. At the same time, it is essential that you return to work with realistic ideas about what you can expect to achieve in your first weeks and months. By having clear goals you will find it easier to focus your energy on those aspects of your working life which will have the biggest positive impact for you and your employer. The biggest pitfalls for returners occur when they become caught up in the need to prove themselves in every way (to their employer or colleagues) or to please everyone (at home and at work) which can quickly lead to exhaustion and resentment. A realistic assessment of what is possible for you to achieve can help to minimise the risk of falling into these traps. 

We recommend you concentrate your preparation in the following areas:
  • Achievement (your tangible measurable impact)
  • Relationships (identifying key people and starting to build connections with them)
  • Brand (what values do you want to be known for)
  • Ways of working (establishing your boundaries)

Achievement

Think about the tangible and measurable business requirements that you will be working on in your first three months. Hopefully through the interview process you should have developed an idea of what the organisation expects of you. You will need to clarify these expectations and to shape them into specific and tangible results. This will demonstrate your competence to your colleagues and in doing so will help you to build your confidence and credibility in your role.

Very early on, you will need to check your view of what goals are important with your manager’s expectations, to ensure that you are aligned with each other. You will also want to build into your goals, opportunities for quick results that will enhance your reputation as someone who delivers.

Relationships

As a returner, you won’t necessarily have as much time for social interaction with your colleagues as you might wish, so it is important to identify those people with whom it is essential to build rapport and concentrate your time and energy on these relationships. 

If you are new to the organisation and don't have an established network, you may need some guidance from your line manager on the key people for you to meet and connect with early on.

You will need to be smarter about how you start to build these relationships too, as you might not feel able to go out for drinks after work or for longer lunch breaks. Being new, or recently returned, gives you a perfect excuse to introduce yourself to people and to ask for their advice and their views on your priorities (even if you don’t agree with them!). And do try to organise your home-life so that you make it to a few social events, as this is a great opportunity to get to know your colleagues on a more personal level.

Brand

Having a break from the workplace can give you the space to reflect on your strengths, values and priorities and you can return to work feeling much clearer about how you wish to be known in the workplace.

With clarity on your strengths and values you can work out how to bring these to life in your new role.  How can you demonstrate your 'personal brand' as you work towards achieving the goals you have set and start building new relationships?  What will your priorities be?  And just as importantly, what will you let go of?

Ways of Working

Starting a new role is an ideal time to establish sustainable working patterns.  By thinking through in advance how you wish to work you can protect yourself from being drawn into the need to prove yourself or to please everyone. 

Ways of working includes considering whether you will work beyond the standard hours, either at home or in the office and if so, how often.  And if you are working flexibly, how far does that flexibility extend?  How prepared are you to keep in touch (by email or phone) or attend meetings outside your agreed work time?  

Everyone will have a different view of their personal boundaries, but it is important to define what yours are and communicate them clearly.  At the same time, your employer is likely to meet your willingness to be flexible with a similar response.

Last thoughts

Finally, the key to making your return to work a success for you, your employer and your family is to make sure that you keep time for yourself to recharge your batteries. Not only will you feel better for it, but you will have more energy for your work and your family if you can allow yourself the time that you need.

If you would like some help with thinking through your return to work approach, Women Returners is now offering a Preparing for your Return coaching package which will enable you to clarify your goals and create a plan of action.

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The value of older women to the workforce

Many returners believe that being older makes them less appealing to employers.  Geraldine Bedell, former editor of Gransnet, co-founder of The Family Innovation zone and author of Mothers of Innovation outlines government data and other research which firmly rebuts this view and provides encouragement and insight for returners.

Lives are getting longer: we all know that. What is less often acknowledged is that the extra years haven’t all been tacked on at the end. They've gone into the middle. Many of us are contemplating lives that look vastly different from those of our mothers, let alone our grandmothers; anticipating a phase of life after child rearing that is healthy, mentally competent, energetic and prolonged.

Women returners understand this from the inside: we know we have skills, energy, judgement and competence that make us useful to the world of employment. It’s fair to say, though, that employers have taken a long time to realise this. Even as changing demographics open up possibilities for different life stages, we still assume that key career progress has to be made at the very time we are most preoccupied with small children.

Things are changing. Clever businesses have long understood that diversity is the key to successful teams. It may have taken them a while to realise that diversity includes age but they are doing so now, and for good business reasons: it has been estimated that there will be 13.5m job vacancies in the UK in the next 10 years but only 7m young people will be leaving school and college.

Beyond the need to fill desks, many of the myths about older workers are now known to be unfounded. A recent guide from the Department of Work and Pensions* insists that older workers:

·         are just as productive as younger workers
·         are just as successful in training and learning new skills
·         take less short-term time off sick
·         offset any loss of speed – with technology, for example – with better judgement
·         are just as likely to commit to an employer.

It’s understandable that women who have been on a career break assume that technology and ways of doing things have moved on. That may be true – but management of technology and of colleagues is a skill, and the point about skills is that they can be learnt, often remarkably quickly. There is no reason to suppose a woman returner is going to be much slower picking up ways of doing things than someone transferring from another company.  

What older women do bring – as enlightened employers are increasingly acknowledging – is a lifetime of skills, experience and wisdom. Increasingly, brain research is showing that what we have traditionally called wisdom is a demonstrable function of the older brain. As Barbara Strauch observes in her book The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain, we have ‘an increased capacity, as we age, to recognise patterns and anticipate situations, to predict a likely future, and to act appropriately.’

The DWP* also reports that organisations with an intergenerational workforce find that there are benefits for both older and younger staff, including opportunities for mentoring and an exchange of skills. The recent appointment of Ros Altmann as the government’s champion for older workers should help; and the demographics are in our favour. But the most important thing is that older women returners bring masses of experience, skill, discernment and sophistication. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: ‘A mature person is one who doesn't
think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and all things.’ Lots of reasons to be confident, then, because that’s a pretty valuable set of attributes.


Guest blog by Geraldine Bedell co-founder of The Family Innovation Zone


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Returning to Work - Is there a Middle Ground?

A guest post for mothers looking for greater flexibility from Amanda Seabrook, MD of Workpond.


The frightening thing about ‘leaving the workforce’, either when you have children or during their early years, is that you know instinctively that things will never be the same again. Even if you are able to return to your old company, the way that you value your time away from the office will have changed and however much you enjoy your job it won’t feel quite the same. 

This may be because you wish you could spend more time with your child/children or it may be due to the fact that your disposable income isn’t what it was! Whether you have a' babe in arms' or teenage children, the demands are much the same and you just have to work out a way to balance the two that suits you.

So is it worth returning to ‘the same old’ or reinventing yourself to suit your new life circumstances? Change is hard to achieve, until you know what options you have. Many people assume that it is normal to work on a full-time employed basis. It is therefore a surprise to many that, according to the ONS, only 46% of the labour force are employed on a full-time basis. 27.2% are either self-employed or working part-time – and this number is on the rise. A further 5.5% (2.3m) are economically inactive (not paying taxes or claiming benefits) but at the same time keen to work (largely mothers and early retirees). 

So there IS a middle ground –and this middle ground is growing. It is driven, not only by women looking for greater flexibility to allow more time with their children, but by a large number of people, both male and female and of all ages, who are becoming self-employed and selling their expertise directly to businesses. There are vibrant markets for Senior Interims (MD’s and FD’s that work for typically 6-12 months for large corporates, often when specific projects need to be sorted out). There are freelancers in the more creative sectors - such as design, web development, branding, copywriting and journalism. There are specialist consultants who can put together strategy, implement it and then move on to their next project. Some of them work for single clients consecutively and some have a portfolio of clients that they work for at the same time, billing on an hourly or daily basis.

Interestingly, it is the forward-looking businesses which are becoming more open to the benefits of employing more flexibly. Some are going a step further by developing their whole business strategy around it. They are also becoming more accepting of the fact that professionals in all disciplines can be of use on a self-employed or a part-time basis – great news for working mothers – particularly when it means you can save on childcare costs and potentially work closer to home (or even better, remotely from home).

Early stage and owner managed businesses are particularly open to engaging talent in this way as they tend to be much more cost conscious and need the best talent to enable them to grow. The innovative sector is booming – not only at Silicon Roundabout in the East End of London, but all around the country, and to work at a company that specialises in emerging technologies (even for someone with no technology experience) can be extremely stimulating. Some would balk at the lower salaries sometimes offered , but others recognise that the cost savings of reduced travel and childcare , the potential to grow with the business and the ability to balance their lives makes up for the short-fall.

Finding work in these companies may not be straightforward as many don’t enjoy parting with their cash to pay recruiters. However, a simple five step process might suffice in discovering potential flexible opportunities which may otherwise remain hidden:
1. Research your local area to see what businesses there are close by that you would like to work for – think broadly.
2. Work out what service you could offer them – what you would like to specialise in.
3. Update your LinkedIn profile and connect to everyone you know. Update your CV and send it through to your target businesses explaining what you believe you can offer them.
4. Tell your friends what you are trying to do and start going to business networking meetings.
5. Register your CV with specialist recruitment consultancies, like Workpond, who may be able to help you.

Don’t be afraid to tell people that you are a mother. In our experience, as long as you are realistic in your expectations of flexibility and are willing to offer flexibility in return, it will garner a great deal of respect.


Amanda Seabrook is the MD of Workpond, a recruitment consultancy helping businesses find professionals who wish to work on an interim, consultancy or part-time basis.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Re-connecting with your professional self

One of our top tips for returners is to remember that you are the same professional person you always were, you are just out of practice.

Why do we need to be reminded of this?

There are many reasons why, when we take a break from our career, we can develop a diminished view of ourselves from the one we held when we were working. In the mix are:
  • a change in priorities (our career is no longer our sole focus and might not be as important as it once was)
  • a shift in identity (taking a long break, especially when it involves taking on new responsibilities, changes our daily activities, what we think about and talk about)
  • refocusing of values (where we once valued position, responsibility and status, for example, we might now be more concerned with creating strong family relationships or working for a purpose).  
All these changes can mean that we no longer recognise the previous professional version of our self, or doubt whether we can be like her again.

Remind yourself of the professional you were

Even if your perspective and priorities have changed in the years you've been away from your career, the things you accomplished during your career and the skills you gained have not. You are still the person who built strong client relationships, managed a team, delivered complex projects, won sales pitches and gained qualifications.  These experiences are still part of you and you still have those skills and abilities even if you haven't used them (professionally) for a while.

You may find it hard to recognise and value your former self because the work you did before didn't fully fit you at the time. Maybe that professional identity felt false. Even so, you still achieved and gained experiences which you can take forward into a new role that will feel more authentic.

Regain your professional self

This is a really important step to take as you plan for your return to work.  It will help with developing your self-belief (if you need it) and will provide content for your CV, LinkedIn profile and your interview answers.

  • Reflect on what you consider your career highlights and think about what qualities you exhibited. Are those qualities still part of who you are today?
  • Talk to former work colleagues, who remember you as the professional you were, and ask them for some feedback on what they saw you doing well or admired about you.
  • Practice your career story, starting with your professional background and expertise rather than your career break
  • Find a project or volunteer position which allows you to refresh your skills (see Think Small and Routes back to Work posts). 
  • Subscribe to the industry journals you used to read and join on-line forums which are relevant.
  • (Re)join professional networks and attend relevant conferences.
  • Take refresher courses in your area of interest or expertise.
If you are still finding it difficult to re-connect with your professional self, then you might like to consider working with another returner or a career coach to give you the boost you need.

Posted by Katerina

Friday, 12 September 2014

What mindset can help your return to work?



I'm not going to tell you to ALWAYS BE POSITIVE: we don't claim that returning to work after a long break is easy - wishful-thinking can mean sticking your head in the sand. The 'unrealistic' optimist can wait for the perfect job to land in her lap or will keep going with an unsuccessful strategy (such as scatter-gun online applications) as she believes that 'it will all come right in the end'. 

On the other hand, we commonly find that the returner who claims she is being 'realistic' is actually holding a pessimistic perspective that too quickly dismisses the possibility of finding a rewarding job with a reasonable lifestyle.The pessimistic 'realist' tends to believe the worst, rapidly hits disillusionment when she hits a few setbacks and decides that it's hopeless and not worth the effort.

I prefer the perspective of psychologist Sandra Schneider who suggests that optimism and realism are not in conflict - we need both. She proposes that we aim for 'realistic optimism'. The realistic optimist finds out the facts and the data; she acknowledges the challenges and constraints she faces. Her optimism comes into play in her interpretation of ambiguous events - she recognises that many situations have a range of possible interpretations and chooses a helpful rather than an unhelpful one. She gives people the benefit of the doubt, is aware of the positives in her current situation and actively looks for opportunities in the future.

How to develop your 'realistic optimism' in practice
You face a setback, for example you've sent a 'getting back in touch' email to an old colleague and haven't received a reply after a week. Your first response might be to conclude that she's not interested in talking to you, she doesn't remember you or maybe she didn't like you anyway. So you feel dispirited, write her off as a network contact and lose motivation to pursue other contacts. Instead try this:

  • Think creatively of all the other realistic reasons why she hasn't replied. Maybe your email is sitting in her Junk Mail, maybe she put it aside to reply to later and it got lost in her inbox, maybe she's changed her email address, maybe she's on holiday or working abroad or just frantically busy ... there are so many possibilities.
  • Thinking about this wide variety of explanations, decide how to respond so you are in control. Send the email again to check you have the correct address, contact her through a mutual friend or pick up the phone and call her.
  • If she still doesn't get back to you, choose a realistically optimistic interpretation that doesn't knock your self-confidence (e.g. even if she's too busy, you can still contact others) and try a different strategy. Continually weigh up the facts and creatively consider all your options to decide the best course of action.
There's evidence that realistic optimism can boost your resilience and motivation, improve your day-to-day satisfaction with life and lead to better work outcomes. And it's not about your genes - we can all learn to be realistic optimists.

Posted by Julianne

For those of you interested in the research
Schneider, S.L. (2001). In search of realistic optimism: meaning, knowledge and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist56(3), 250-263.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Six Essential Steps for Successful Interviewing

When was the last time you were interviewed? When it's five, ten or fifteen years since you last spoke about your professional achievements, facing an interview can be a daunting hurdle. With the arrival of 'returnships' in the UK, we are being asked increasingly for advice and support on interviewing skills from returners applying for these programmes. Morgan Stanley, for example, recently conducted 150 telephone interviews, with follow-on face-to-face interviews for successful applicants, to select their returnship programme participants.

While styles of questioning have become more structured, the basic goal of the interview process remains the same: the employer is trying to assess your suitability and fit for the role and their organisation. At the same time, it is vital to remember that you are also assessing the organisation for its suitability and fit for you.

The two key ingredients of successful interviewing are passion and confidence.  Both of these come from being clear about what you're looking for and what you have to offer.  If you believe you're a good fit with the role and organisation you're applying for, it will come across.  


Six Essential Steps

1. Research
You need to research all you can about the role, the organisation, the industry and the people interviewing you.  There is so much available online: company website, LinkedIn and Facebook pages; corporate videos; news articles; Twitter.  Your network can provide other sources of information which might not be publicly available whether your contacts are employees, suppliers or customers of the organisation, or in the same industry. The more knowledge you have and can demonstrate in your interview, the more impact you will have. For example, reading a LinkedIn profile will give you some idea of the interviewer(s) and could help you to find common ground.

2. Develop examples of your skills and competencies
You will talk most eloquently – and passionately - about those roles and experiences which are the highlights of your career, so pick one or two and decide what you want to say about them. The biggest change to interviewing in recent decades has been the prevalence of the 'competency-based interview'. You are likely to be asked to demonstrate the specific competencies or skills that the role requires (such as analytical ability, influencing senior stakeholders or teamwork), through detailed examples. Read carefully through the job description, identify the job requirements and think back through your experience to identify examples of your achievements which show these competencies. Examples don't all have to be work related: they can be equally valuable if they have come from education, sport, voluntary work or community activities. 

Avoid doing the following:


  • apologising that the situation was a long time ago or saying 'Back in 2001', just say which role it related to
  • spending too long talking about the detail of the issue you faced and not long enough about the successful action you took. Your interviewer is more interested in what you accomplished than the intricacies of the background story. 
  • talking in the third person when it was you who did the work (and not your team)! Use 'I' as much as possible, otherwise you can appear overly modest, even unconfident.

3. Prepare answers to typical questions
These include:


  • Why do you want this role?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your strengths and development areas?
  • What else would you like to tell me?
These questions have two things in common.  They are all open questions and they are all an invitation to you say precisely why you are the right person for the role.  In preparing your answers, think about what you most want the interviewer to remember about you when you leave the room.

4. Rehearse
If you've not been to an interview for a while, it can feel strange to be talking about yourself in the way that an interview requires, so it is a good idea to practise saying your answers out loud. 
You may find it helpful to role play the interview experience with a friend or another job seeker. If you have someone whose perspective you trust, feedback on how you are coming across will be useful. 

5. Prepare your own questions 
Remember that interviews are a two-way process. While the interviewer is assessing your suitability for the role and organisation, you need to be doing the same.  Make sure that you ask the questions that will help you to decide if the role and organisation is a good fit for you and your requirements. You will also show that you have done your homework.

6. Send a Thank You
Always send a thank you email. Not only is this good practice, but it gives you a further opportunity to reinforce your suitability and enthusiasm for the role.


Additional resources
Further ideas on help with re-building your confidence
Women Returners now offers interview skills coaching 


Posted by Katerina

Friday, 29 August 2014

How to return to work after a long career break



Telegraph Wonder Women, The Telegraph's online section for women, has recently launched a new Work section: "a witty, informative and intelligent look at working life". This week, we have contributed our top tips on our favourite topic: 

How to return to work after a long career break (click to follow link)

It might not be witty, but hopefully it is an informative and intelligent summary of some of the topics we've covered in more depth on this blog. Useful to check which of the steps you have already taken on your route back to work and what you want to add to your action plan for September.

Posted by Katerina & Julianne

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Making the most of the summer



With Wimbledon and the World Cup behind us, you'll probably be thinking about the long summer ahead and how to fill all those weeks until school starts again. You're unlikely to be thinking much about how you can get yourself back to work, at least until the summer is over. However, the summer can provide you with time to step away from your usual routine, to think and reflect and to implement some changes at home, all of which will lay strong foundations for your return to work. At the same time do take time to relax and recharge so that you are refreshed and full of energy when autumn comes around.

Here are some ideas of helpful and simple activities you can do during the summer:
  • Create a network chart
Even if you aren't ready to start networking, it is never too early to start creating your network chart. Divide your chart into three distinct categories on which you list everyone you can think of from different phases of your life: people from your past (your school and university classmates as well as former employers, colleagues and employees); your present (fellow parents and people you meet through voluntary work, hobbies or neighbourhood); and future (networks and groups you have yet to join). This is the kind of activity you can do all summer long, adding names as you think of them. Even if you start the summer thinking that you don't have a network, you'll be surprised how your chart grows.
  • Get clearer about what will fulfill you and what you might do next
Whether you have too many choices or too few, a useful way to think about what to do next is to think back to a work role (or part of a role) that you found fulfilling and reflect on what made it so. Our recent post describes a process for uncovering more about what gives you fulfillment.  As these factors are related to your deep values, they will continue to be of great importance to you in the future. By working out what's important to you, you'll gain motivation to search for your next role. And you can identify clues about what you want to do next: there might be elements of a previous role that you can craft into a new one or an idea for a business or a desire to retrain in an area which interests you.
  • Practise your story 
If you are going away somewhere and meeting new people that you are unlikely to see again, this provides a low risk way to practice telling your story. You can test out an answer to the dreaded question of ‘what do you do?’, refine it and get used to saying it. Telling your story might even lead to a networking opening, as I discovered when telling my story to the father of a family with whom my family had shared a hot, dusty and uncomfortable beach buggy ride.  He turned out to be a partner in a big four accounting firm and after the holiday introduced me to his head of HR, a great addition to my network.
  • Prepare your family
The summer is a great time to make changes to the family routines and responsibilities away from the hectic schedule of the school year.  If you're hoping to go back to work, you'll need to prepare your family for the changes that will be required of them.  For younger children, this might be a new kind of after school care or route to school.  For older children, you might want them to start taking responsibility for organising their sports kit, making their own packed lunches or doing laundry.  You'll know best what adjustments you will need your family to make, to support your return to work, and the more preparation they have the easier it will be.  Read our posts on combating guilt feelings if these get in the way of making the changes that will help you. 

Have a good summer, rest and recharge.  We'll also be taking time to relax and recharge and will be back in a month's time.


Posted by Katerina

Monday, 7 July 2014

How to Negotiate Flexible Work

Anna Meller, a work-life balance specialist, offers her advice on how to negotiate flexible working, as a returner.

On 30 June 2014 the legal right to request flexible working was extended to cover all employees after 26 weeks' service. Many forward thinking employers have already embraced the benefits of flexible arrangements and extended these to new joiners. While this is good news for returners and everyone concerned about their work-life balance, an employer is still able to refuse a request if they believe it will have an adverse impact on their business.

Preparation is key
Time spent preparing to negotiate - reviewing your desired working arrangements and the potential business benefits of working flexibly - will be time well spent. Before you start attending interviews, develop a compelling business case that can provide a foundation for future negotiations.

Building your business case
Begin by clearly identifying the key skills and experience that make you valuable to an employer. This will not only enable you to craft a flexible role from one that’s full time, it will also enhance your confidence as you begin negotiating. In every job there are specialist tasks that will require your skills and experience and more general ones that could be delegated or eliminated.

Questions to consider
  • To what extent could your new job allow time and location flexibility?  How will you manage the work/non-work interface?
  • Will you always need to be in the office to carry out every aspect of your role (an increasingly unlikely proposition with technology) or can you do some of your work at home?
  • What additional support will you need to be able to work from home?
  • What’s the likely impact on your workplace colleagues, your clients and customers?
  • How can you minimise the disruptions to them and ensure smooth working arrangements?
  •  Are you happy to receive calls and emails from colleagues outside working hours or do you guard non-work time for non-work activities?

And, finally, but most importantly, how will the business benefit from you working flexibly?

By now you should have a clearer picture of your preferred flexible working arrangement and the business benefits. While you may not always be able to work to your preferences, understanding them will enable you to agree clearer ground rules with your future boss and colleagues.

It’s also useful to have a fall-back position. Are there alternative arrangements which might also suit you, or issues on which you could compromise?

Having completed this ground work you’re ready to begin negotiating.

When to start negotiating
It’s best to be upfront about your need for flexible hours. Raise the matter at the end of your first interview. The response you get will give you a good indicator of the organisation’s cultural attitude towards flexible working.

Rather than starting with a request for a specific arrangement, begin with questions. Almost every organisation now has a flexible working policy, so ask what arrangements the policy covers. What options are there for arrangements not covered by the policy? What experience does your potential manager have of managing flexible workers? Is there anyone else in the team already working flexibly?

The time to discuss the details of your preferred arrangement is when the organisation asks you back for second interview. Make it clear that, while you have a preferred option, you’re open to negotiation. And don’t feel you need to agree to an arrangement there and then. If you need time to consider alternative suggestions ask for one or two days to mull things over.

For further support
A series of forms that can help you in your planning can be found on my website here: http://www.sustainableworking.co.uk/negotiating_flexible_working.htm

By Anna Meller

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How to identify work you will find fulfilling

As Julianne highlighted last week, when we think about returning to work we can focus too much on family-friendly work rather than work that will be fulfilling. In our effort to find work that will fit with the rest of our lives and commitments, we can miss this fantastic opportunity to identify what we will find sustaining and will give us a sense of purpose for the years ahead. It can be very easy, as a career break mum, to fill the days with voluntary roles, hobbies, seeing friends and caring for others.  I know - I've done it! These activities can make you feel useful and valued and busy but will they sustain you in the longer term?

The hidden bonus of being on a career break is that it allows the time and opportunity to do some thinking about what gives you meaning and what is really important to you. This is great preparation for your return to work, when you are ready, as it helps you to get a clearer idea on the direction you want to take. If you're not sure of your future path, and would like to investigate the type of work you find fulfilling and purposeful, this is a process you can follow:


  1. Take yourself away to a quiet place where you will not be distracted by tasks or people and are able to think for an hour or so.
  2. Think back over your working life and focus on one or two times when you felt a sense of personal fulfillment. Make a note of what you were doing, who else was around you, your location, your emotions and any other details you remember.
  3. Think about what it was that gave you a sense of fulfillment. This is about more than simply feeling successful, although that might be a component.  To get to what's underneath feeling successful, ask yourself what you felt successful in and what this meant to you. For example, were you solving an impossible problem, helping others & making a difference, being recognised as an expert, ...? 
  4. Think about what you were doing and what was going on around you in these times of fulfillment. For example, were you:
    1. Working alone or part of a team
    2. Part of a large organisation or striking out on your own
    3. Working with data, working with things/products or dealing with people (or a mixture of these) 
    4. Thinking through ideas and theories or carrying out practical actions with concrete results
    5. Developing/influencing others and/or developing yourself?
You might find it useful to talk this through with a trusted friend to help you to reflect on what was most important to you in these situations. Through asking yourself these questions, you will gain more clarity about what success at work means to you and the nature of the work and the surroundings you need in order to feel most fulfilled. In this way, you will start to form a clearer sense of your own purpose which can guide your search for a new worthwhile role.  What better way to spend an hour or so this Summer?



Posted by Katerina

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Are you focusing on family-friendly rather than fulfilling work?

"I think I'm going to have to retrain as a teacher"
Why do our imaginations desert us when we're considering our job options after a long career break? There are 949 job occupations listed in the O*Net database, yet there's only one that is mentioned consistently in the career conversations I have with returning women: Teacher.

Some of you may be inspired by the day-to-day reality of creating lesson plans and motivating a class of schoolchildren. But from my experience you're in the small minority. For most women thinking about teaching, the strongest appeal is the long holidays and a belief that it will 'fit with the family'. 

Are you asking yourself the wrong question?

This isn't the moment to go into the realities of teaching (which can be far from family-friendly as there is almost no flexibility about where and when you work). The point is that you may be starting with the wrong question. Rather than "What job is family friendly?", ask yourself "What job will I find fulfilling and energising?", then work out how you can make it family-friendly. Going back to work after a break is a wonderful opportunity to pause and consider what you really want to do: what motivates you, what do you most enjoy doing, what do you have a real pull towards? Do you need to retrain or can you create a role in your old field or something similar that fits with your family life.

Why is this important?

Working will inevitably make your life more complicated; the trade-off of work for family time needs to feel worthwhile. As I've mentioned before, research shows that satisfying work can make for a happier home life and give you more energy as a parent. If standing up in front of a class of 30 children day in day out brings you out in a cold sweat rather than brings a smile to your face, then you're likely to feel drained and exhausted as a teacher and the long holidays will never compensate. This is not the route to work-family balance. And the same 'Will it be energising for me?" test applies to any other positions you are considering.



Is it this a realistic strategy?

Our experience working with returners and the success stories on our blog demonstrate that flexibility can be found in a huge variety of sectors and roles. If you're clear what you want,what you can contribute and the working pattern that will best suit you, then you are far more likely to find and/or negotiate a fulfilling role that gives you the balance you are looking for. 

Is it time to consider a few of the other 948 occupations?

Posted by Julianne

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Find your way back to work through Strategic Volunteering

Volunteering is a common activity among former professionals who are on a career break, whether or not they wish to return to work at some point. Charities, PTAs and local campaigns are always in need of additional support and committed people: for women on a career break they can provide the companionship and sense of purpose that they previously found in their career, as well as essential flexibility.

It is very easy to fill your time with voluntary roles, especially once your children are in school and you can quickly feel very busy, productive and valued.  If you are thinking of returning to work at some stage, though, it is worth thinking about volunteering that can help you with your return either through developing your existing skills or acquiring new ones and, additionally, building your network. This is what we mean by strategic volunteering - work that does more than just make you feel that you are giving something back.

We have worked with many women for whom strategic volunteering was their launch-pad back to work. In some cases this was a deliberate approach and in others, there was a more organic development with the woman discovering a new interest or uncovering a previously hidden talent. You will find more details about some of these examples in our success stories

These returners planned their volunteering deliberately as a route back to work: 
Sue* was a volunteer Games Maker Selection interviewer, with me, for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. She'd previously had a career in HR and used the opportunity of our weekly shift to connect with the London 2012 HR team to find out about other permanent roles in the organisation. Three months into our volunteering she was employed there.

Amy* a former City lawyer volunteered in the legal department of a national charity, advising on contractual matters which was her expertise. After some months she negotiated a move to the trusts and legacy team where she built the knowledge and expertise that enabled her to apply for employment in her target area of private client practice.

In our success stories you can read about Caroline Boyd who joined the Parent Gym as a volunteer trainer/facilitator following a 4 year break from a career in marketing. She loved this new type of work so much that after a year she successfully applied for a permanent training role with the Mind Gym, the commercial arm.

Lynda* a former radio producer used a series of volunteer roles as stepping stones to a new career, starting from the school PTA where she ran a portfolio of increasingly successful fundraising and social events for a number of years. Having regained her professional confidence she volunteered as the campaign manager for a London mayoral candidate, using her journalistic instincts to develop an effective PR campaign from a standing start. Armed with this experience and many new contacts, Lynda was employed by a new political party to manage its PR activity.

If you have a strategic volunteering success story to share, we'd love to hear it!

*names have been changed

Posted by Katerina