Friday, 17 April 2015

Responding to "You're overqualified for the role"



We are often asked by returners how to respond to the comment from recruiters that they are "overqualified" or "too good" for a position. In this situation, it is worth asking yourself whether you are aiming too low because your confidence is diminished after a long time out of the workforce. However, if you have purposefully targeted the role as being an appealing re-entry point, maybe wanting a less pressured role to better fit with the rest of your life, it is very frustrating to receive this feedback and hard to respond in a way that positively affirms your motivation.

When thinking how to answer, it is helpful to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. Recruiters often make this comment when they are concerned that you will quickly become bored with the role and so will either under-perform or not stay for the long term. They might not understand that you have deliberately applied for a role that is less senior than the role you held before your career break because you are coming back to the workforce with a new perspective on your career.

Understanding the interviewer's viewpoint, your response needs to include the following elements of reassurance:
  • you have thought through these issues
  • you have specifically targeted this level of seniority (explaining briefly why) 
  • you are committed to doing the best you can in the role
  • as with any other new hire, you hope that your career will progress over time 

Carol Fishman Cohen, who co-founded and runs iRelaunch, our closest US equivalent, provides some recommended wording which you might like to use if you are targeting a lower-level role to provide more balance in your life than your past positions:

"One of my top priorities is to deliver excellent results to my employer, while also managing the rest of my life outside work.  So while it might look to you like I am overqualified for this position, this level is exactly where I want to be in my current life stage, and I intentionally sought it out.  I feel confidence I can deliver excellent results to you at this level of seniority." (You're Overqualified! Carol Fishman Cohen)

If you think that this might be an issue with your application, it is worth addressing upfront, by including your explanation in your cover letter.  You will then hopefully have the opportunity to reinforce your message at interview.



Posted by Katerina


Friday, 10 April 2015

The two minute route to self-confidence

Amy Cuddy, 2012

When I work with women feeling nervous before a major event, such as their first interview in ten years, I give them an instant self-assurance tip that is often met with a look of incredulity. I recommend that they find a quiet place just before the event and make a 'Power Pose' - taking a Wonder Woman stance or adopting the 'starfish' pose which Mick Jagger is modelling so effectively in the photo above. This sounds like the type of 'too-good-to-be-true' advice that could give psychologists a bad name, but in fact it is based on a convincing body of research evidence. 

Amy Cuddy, a Harvard social psychologist, explained in a wonderful 2012 TED talk* how "making yourself big" for just two minutes changes the brain in ways that reduce anxiety, build courage and inspire self-expression and leadership. Changing our body language effectively changes the way we think and feel about ourselves. If you're interested in the science, lab studies found that a two minute power pose increased the levels of the power chemical testosterone by around 20% and lowered the stress hormone cortisol by about 20%. What's more, this has a knock-on effect on how we behave, how we are seen by others and the likelihood of positive outcomes. In another study Professor Cuddy reported that people who adopted high-power poses before interviews were overwhelmingly more likely to be offered the job by impartial interviewers.

This week I followed my own advice. My nerves kicked in before my first time on national radio, appearing on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour** to discuss returnships with Jenni Murray, Julie Thornton (Head of HR at Thames Tideway Tunnel) and Carmen Nuzzo, who joined Morgan Stanley in a permanent role following their 2014 Return to Work programme. So if you had walked into the ladies' toilets in a cafe down the road from Broadcasting House at 9.18am on Wednesday, you might have been surprised to see a blonde middle-aged woman in a green jacket striking a full-on hands-on-hips legs-wide Wonder Woman pose ... and now I can personally vouch for the benefits!


Amy Cuddy's TED talk
**Woman's Hour feature on returnships (07:53 minutes into programme, 10 mins long)




Posted by Julianne

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Starting your own service business as a route back to work


When I was thinking through how to return to work after my career break, I investigated both going back into employment and setting up on my own. I decided that because of my requirements for flexibility, my temperament, and the enjoyment I derived from an earlier experience of entrepreneurship, I was best suited to working for myself. That was 10 years ago, when I set up my own coaching practice. My business activities have evolved significantly since then and I can't imagine ever returning to an employed position. 

I read in an article this week that women-led businesses are often more successful, yet men are twice as likely as women to be entrepreneurially active. I know that many of you may be weighing up the pros and cons of setting up on your own; this is my personal experience of the benefits and drawbacks.

Advantages

  • Autonomy. You are in charge and don't have to take instruction from your line manager or deal with the corporate politics which exist when you are employed
  • Managing your own time. You can choose (subject to client requirements) when, where and how you want to work. If you want to take time away from your work for any reason, you don't need to get permission or negotiate with work colleagues. This has been invaluable for me in balancing the other demands from my family and volunteer activities. I also find that I am more productive as I can largely control my diary to suit the way I work best
  • Managing growth. You can set your own pace of business growth and development to fit with your life, your ambitions and your financial requirements
  • Pursuing your dream. You can pursue a business idea or a personal passion in a way that is rarely possible as an employee (as I did back in 2012 when I joined with Julianne to set up Women Returners)

Disadvantages

  • Isolation. If you set up as a sole trader you will be spending much more time on your own than you would have done in employment. You might miss the companionship of your colleagues and the availability of people with whom to bounce around ideas. In the early days of my business I worked hard at creating networks and communities to fill this gap and now I appreciate having a business partner and a network of associates
  • Being constantly on call.  Depending on your business activity, it could be harder for you to be 'out of office' as there will be no-one to cover for your in your absence .. and you don't get paid for sick days!
  • Uncertainty of income. Unless you are in the position of having guaranteed work or clients from the start of your venture, maybe from a former employer or colleague, it will take time to build your work pipeline and your reputation. Temperamentally and economically, it has been important for me to be resilient through the downturn of the recent recession
  • Having to do everything for yourself. If you are used to corporate structures and systems, it can be quite a shock to have to do everything for yourself from invoicing to diary management. It's particularly hard when your computer breaks down and there is no IT support to fix it!

How to get started

Sometimes returners are put off starting their own business by the belief that they have to offer an innovative service and so spend hours developing, researching and discarding possible options, in the search for an unique idea. In reality, starting your own business doesn't have to be so hard! Indeed, if you are working as a freelancer, an associate or on occasional projects, you are de facto running your own business. 

One of the simplest ways to start a business is to offer, for payment, a skill that you already have and which others value. So, whether you are offering tax advice, designing websites or conducting market research, you will be a business owner. You might even find that demand for your services builds to such an extent that you need to take on your own employees.

There are many sources of support for women starting their own businesses and the easiest first step can be to sign up for a short introductory workshop, such as a local Chamber of Commerce event. For a listing of useful resources, see our website. If you're close to London, Enterprise Nation run regular StartUp Saturdays and if you're a parent with a tech idea for a business, do look at the exciting Google Campus for Mums.

In our success stories we have a few examples of other returners who have successfully established their own businesses, so you can read about Alison and Barbara's experiences. 


Posted by Katerina


Friday, 27 March 2015

Challenging the stereotypes about returning professionals




This week I wrote an article for the Guardian Women in Leadership challenging the stereotypical views of women returners and urging employers to recognise the strong talent pool they are overlooking:

My aim was to highlight & question the attitude of so many corporate employers who reject those of you with a long CV gap purely because of their unconscious biases, in particular against women without recent experience. I hoped that it would make at least a few hiring employers question their stereotypes and be more open to considering returners as a result.

It has been great to see how this message has been spread on social media. The article has been shared nearly 1200 times around the world and picked up by Hearst Women who wrote a supportive piece:
Sharon Hodgson MP wrote on Twitter "As a returner I went on to become an MP! A career break should not be a career end!"

If you are one of the women experiencing rejection through conventional recruitment routes, we hope that the article does not make you feel more dispirited, but helps you to understand that it is not your personal failing - many other people are in your position. Remember that there are other ways to find a fulfilling business role, in particular using your network and building experience through freelance, voluntary or temporary roles. There are also increasing numbers of business employers who want to use returnships to bring you back.

We will continue to champion the abilities of returning professionals, to change employer perceptions and create routes back to fulfilling work so a career break is seen as a pause not an end to a corporate career.

Posted by Julianne


Thursday, 19 March 2015

Five ways to build your back-to-work networks




Why networking is important for a back-to-work job search

We talk regularly about the importance of networking as one of the key routes to get back to work after a long career break. The value of networking has really been brought home to me by two recent experiences. 

First of all, two highly experienced and qualified women who have successfully returned to work, one in investment banking and the other to a senior corporate role, told me how unhelpful headhunters were when they approached them. This included headhunters with whom they previously had relationships during their pre-break careers. The banker (who is now happily employed at Credit Suisse following a placement on the Real Returns programme) was told that her career break of 11 years was too long for the headhunter to place her. She was advised that the only way to find a role would be through her own network.

Separately in a meeting I attended to learn more about a new and growing professional women's network, my contact told me about two roles that she was trying to fill, in a discreet way, that might be suitable for a returner. These two roles are examples of the true 'hidden job market' that really does exist: often managers want to make a hire quickly, quietly, inexpensively and without lots of administration. They rely on their networks to do this as they view their own contacts as reliable and credible sources of talented candidates.

Five ways to build your networks

To access the hidden job market and circumvent unhelpful headhunters you need to get networking. Networking doesn't simply consist of walking into a room full of strangers and introducing yourself. More broadly, networking provides you with opportunities to connect with people who have similar interests, talents and concerns that you have. Through your engagement with them you will have opportunities to learn about potential roles and to talk about your own search. Ways to start making these contacts include joining any of the following:

  1. Membership organisations that match your professional interests. Networks exist for people with interests ranging from hedge funds to horticulture, oil engineering to oriental languages. These organisations commonly have informative newsletters, speaker events and training opportunities
  2. Relevant LinkedIn groups where you can initiate or contribute to discussions. In this way, you'll learn more about the issues that are current, raise your profile in the group and gain openings to contact people directly
  3. Alumni groups. All universities and business schools and many employers and secondary schools have these in place, as they recognise the value of a long-term relationship with you. Many of these groups actively encourage members to talk to each other for employment advice
  4. Professional associations. If you have a professional qualification, your accrediting body will also have a useful network as well as offering other career support
  5. Informal networks. Aside from these formal routes, you can make valuable connections through broadening or taking a more active role in social or community activities - a community group, a volunteer organisation, a school parent body, a religious community. We rarely know who our local networks are connected to and the 'hidden jobs' they might know about. 
As you build these connections, remember to talk to them about your background and what you are looking for, so that they will be able to help you. For your networking to be effective you have to be clear and convincing about the role you are seeking. See our previous post on Telling your Story if you are unsure how to do this.

For more advice on networking, see our previous posts
Do I really have to network?
Top tips for enjoyable networking
LinkedIn - an essential tool for your return to work


Posted by Katerina

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

One company's mission to provide new career paths for returning lawyers: the founder's view

I have long been concerned by the vast disparity between the number of women who enter the legal sector and the percentage of women who rise to the top of the profession. It is clear to me that there is one large, contributing factor, which is becoming less and less of an ‘elephant in the room’, and one which increasingly the sector needs to tackle. Women in particular, and parents more generally, who wish to combine a legal career with other commitments, most notably having a family, have been leaving the profession in the face of a constant struggle to balance work with life. The attrition rates speak for themselves – women have left, and continue to leave, the profession in droves. We know why they are leaving and so the key question is how can we, as an industry, stem this flow?

In 2010 I went on a trip to India to research my next entrepreneurial move. Whilst there, I witnessed a trend of outsourcing to offshore destinations which left me puzzled and frustrated given the amount of legal talent which lay dormant right here in the UK. This gave me a business idea, and thus Obelisk Support was born. I could see that we can offer a route back into the profession for exceptionally talented lawyers by allowing them to work flexibly. By tapping into this wasted talent pool, Obelisk Support could compete with offshore destinations on quality, flexibility, price and efficiency in its work with large multinational corporations and City law firms.

The last 4 years have not been an easy ride – and I did face something of an uphill battle in trying to convince clients that women could work flexibly, often remotely, without compromising on the quality of their delivery. But, the stories of our lawyers (80% of whom are female, many of them returning from a career break) who have succeeded in working flexibly around their family and other commitments is testament to the shifting attitudes of the legal industry (and, admittedly, four years of hard work from the Obelisk Support team).

Seeing the work coming through the pipeline and clients returning positive feedback on our lawyers’ work, some of whom never thought they would earn again by doing legal work, fills me with great pride. And so it is that I measure our success by the success of our lawyers.  Our success is best portrayed by the individual stories of the lawyers we have placed.

The stories are many and underpin just why we have become known as the legal business with a heart. Jane qualified at a top law firm, where she practiced for 13 years, before taking a 10 year career break whilst she started a family. After such a long break, re-entering the profession can be daunting. However, through Obelisk, Jane is now working for a large bank. She works remotely from home, for an average of 22.5 hours a week, all fitting around her other commitments.

Annie, who has a younger family, was able to work around her family commitments, working mostly from home and for around 5 hours a day. In Annie’s own words, working with Obelisk has benefited her enormously ‘both personally and professionally’.

Karina moved to Chile, but was keen to stay in full-time work. We secured her a full-time placement supporting a large telecommunications company in Ireland, where she was able to work completely remotely from home.

We really do put the client and lawyer at the heart of our legal solutions, and this is demonstrated by the unique way in which we approach each client and consultant, taking into account the needs of both parties and tailoring an efficient solution. My vision when I started Obelisk Support was to enable women like Jane, Annie and Karina to do the work they love, without having to make impossible compromises. That they have been able to do so, whilst simultaneously delivering exemplary service to large multinationals and law firms, should demonstrate to the legal profession that flexibility can, and does, work. 

Guest post by Dana Denis Smith, founder of Obelisk Support http://www.obelisksupport.com/

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Making your own choice on the working/stay-at-home mother decision



Daily Mail report this week that only 1 in 10 women are stay-at-home mothers, together with the judge's ruling in a recent divorce case that a mother should 'get a job' once her children are seven, have reignited the debate about whether mothers 'should' be at home with their children or remain in the workforce. We're at a strange point in history where there seems to be pressure both ways: a longstanding societal push, reinforced by some parts of the media, to be an at-home mother and a corresponding push from Government and other parts of the media to keep mothers working. Mothers are squeezed in the middle, torn as to the 'right thing' to do and feeling judged whatever path they take.

I hear these mixed messages played out on the personal level as well, from the mothers I work with. Some women feel pressure from partners/parents/friends to give total attention to the family, while others feel pushed to get back to work. And we then have our own internal ambiguity: "I'm being selfish and ungrateful if I want to work and leave my children" vs. "I'm wasting my education and sponging off my partner if I stay at home". It's not surprising that so many mothers feel guilty whatever they do.

What I'd love to tell all mothers wrestling with your work-home choices, either post maternity or career break, is this: There is no universal RIGHT answer. This is a time in your life when you need to acknowledge all the internal & external pressures you are experiencing, and then decide what is the best choice for you and your family, dependent on your desires and your personal circumstances (which can also change over time).

If you have no real choice and need the income, then avoid the 'pro-full-time mum' press, focus on managing your work-home balance, read our articles on how to ditch the guilt and stop labelling yourself as selfish. 

If you do have a choice, then focus on deciding what you want to do, not agonising over what you 'should' do. There are many options: working as an employee full-time/part-time/flexibly, setting up your own business, going freelance, pausing your career with a clear strategy to return later, or being an at-home mother. And it's fine to chop and change over the years as you create a life balance that works for you.

Personally, I was taken aback by the pull I felt to stay at home for a few years when my kids were small - I'd always pictured myself as someone who would never take a break. Being at home suited me best in the early years but after four years I was desperate to engage my brain again in other interests and went back to university to retrain, doing some consultancy alongside. I then worked part-time and grew my own business, working longer hours as my children got older. Many of my friends and colleagues had different experiences; from those who were very happy get back to full-time work after maternity leave to those have remained at home until their children are much older and are only now considering how they can find their way back into work. 

There is no single and perfect solution. But you'll know you've made the best choice for you when most of the time you feel (fairly) satisfied with your life and rarely feel frustrated and stuck in a place where you don't want to be. And if you don't feel satisfied, that's when you need to make a change, not when other people say you should.

Posted by Julianne



Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Returning to work after international relocation: culture, language and identity

Returning to work after a career break is challenging enough in itself. I know from my own experience of living in 4 countries in 30 years that when you are from a different country, you face a range of additional complexities, some being connected to culture, language and identity. The more you can gain clarity on these issues, the easier it becomes to turn these cultural and language differences to your benefit when returning to work.

Culture
Having spent most of my adult life in various countries outside my home nation, I feel that clich├ęs and stereotypes, although unfortunate, cannot be ignored from either side. For instance, one of my English colleagues shared with me as I arrived in the UK, that French people are perceived here as arrogant. Although it was a shock to me, as I would have never perceived us French as arrogant, it helped me understand what image we can give in the UK. So it will be useful to you to understand how locals perceive your culture, as much as what you truly think of those living in your host country.

Practical tips: if you are new to the country, take every opportunity to attend workshops on cultural differences. If you have been around for a while do investigate sensitively how your culture is seen locally, reflect on how you experience your own culture for yourself; and be open to conversations about cultural differences.

Language
If English is not your first language and you are reading this, your language skills are already strong.  If you are relocating to a country and you do not speak the local language, there is only one single piece of advice: it’s worth putting in the effort needed to learn that language. It could take time for you to feel confident so if need be, make this learning quite formal and put in the resources (group or private lessons, intense homework etc).

Trying to return to work when you do not speak the local language is a challenge. However I understand that in some cases, language structures and sounds are so different from what you are used to (e.g. for a European moving to China or Japan), that the effort might just be too much to take on. In such cases, my advice is to improve your English (if it is not your first language) and to look for opportunities in multinational companies or ways to offer your services to the expat community.

Identity
This is a wider topic than just culture and language. But there is a connection. If as a ‘trailing spouse’, you had to reluctantly give up a professional career, you are likely to have had your identity shaken in various ways at the same time: cultural, personal and professional. You will have experienced some loss and will need to recreate a balance and to invent a fulfilled new you.  Take action to create a satisfying life for yourself or you risk building resentment against your partner.

Practical tips: spending time acknowledging what is going on for you and what you need to create a balanced life is not wasted time: it is building precious self-awareness.  Sharing how you feel helps others understand you while asking for advice from those who have been there before you helps you realise that “it’s not you, it is the situation”. Getting support could be your best next step, whether through a buddy, a social network or a professional such as a coach.

If you pay attention to all three areas, culture, language and identity, as you investigate your return to work options, it will make your choices clearer and your decisions easier.


Post by Claire d’Aboville, a Women Returners associate, a multi-lingual and multi-cultural Executive Coach and founder of Partners in Coaching http://partnersincoaching.com/Welcome.html

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Returnship Q&A: The employer's perspective

As Thames Tideway Tunnel's new Returner Programme deadline approaches next Friday, Women Returners interviewed Tideway's Head of HR, Julie Thornton, to get her perspective on the business rationale for launching this innovative returnship, together with some information and advice for would-be applicants. 


WR: What is your motivation for setting up the Tideway Returner Programme? What is the appeal of returning professionals to your company?

JT: As a company, we are looking to increase the diversity of our workforce and this seemed an ideal way of doing so. Thames Tideway Tunnel is very active with early careers activities, graduates and apprenticeships, and the Returner Programme gives us the opportunity to fill an obvious gap – targeting and encouraging individuals who want to get back to a career after taking a break. We see returning professionals as a strong female talent pool which we are keen to access.  

WR: What can participants expect on the programme?

JT: They will experience a fulfilling role within the project, at an exciting time in our history as we move towards actually starting construction after more than 10 years of planning. They will also be fully supported by the management team to get them up to speed, have a dedicated mentor and receive expert coaching and support from Women Returners.

WR: Is your organisation expanding? Will there be ongoing job opportunities after the programme?

JT: In brief, yes. There are lots of vacancies currently on the project and there will continue to be over the coming months so this is an ideal time for people to join the project, get a feel for what we are about and apply for the roles they are interested in.

WR: In what other ways does Thames Tideway Tunnel support the careers of female employees?

JT: Our CEO, Andy Mitchell, is committed to achieving gender parity over the life of the project, and it is clear that to achieve this, we need to be a company that all people want to work for. We are focusing on getting the basics right, taking the values we promote, particularly flexible and inclusive working, through to practice. We also support employee-driven activities through our inclusivity forum, Encompass, which runs networking events and actively helps inform potential new policies or programmes.

WR: Do you see this programme as a one-off?

JT: No we are very much committed to making The Tideway Returner Programme a regular part of our overall resourcing and diversity plan. This is just the start of something we hope to see long into the future.

WR: How can people find out more and apply?

JT: Please visit http://www.thamestidewaytunnel.co.uk/about-us/tideway-returner-programme for more information and details on how to apply.

What advice would you give to prospective applicants?

A: If you are intrigued or interested, send in your CV because you have nothing to lose! Even if you aren't successful on the programme there may be other opportunities we can consider you for in the future.


Posted by Julianne

Friday, 13 February 2015

How to write a "Back to Work" Cover Letter

Many returnship and return-to-work programmes ask you to apply by sending a CV and a cover letter.  We know that this can be a daunting task for returners, hence this post.


We find that returners often struggle with cover letters, which can raise a lot of questions:
  • How do I introduce myself when I've been out of the workforce for so long?
  • How do I account for my time away from my career?
  • Is my previous work experience relevant when it was so long ago?
  • How can I be convincing when I'm not sure whether I would employ me now?
Introduction
  • Start with your background & your target role - not with your career break ("I am a marketing professional with 10 years of international experience and am writing to apply for the position of Senior Marketing Manager advertised on your website")
  • Then mention your career break. As on your CV, keep mention of your career break short, simple and factual ('Following a 5 year parental career break, .." is sufficient) and emphasise that you are now motivated and enthusiastic to return to work in the relevant field
  • Briefly mention anything you've done during your career break which is relevant to the role (such as further study, refresher courses, volunteer or paid activities and projects) and state how it has kept your knowledge/skills up-to-date or developed new skills
Show your suitability for the role .. and believe it!
  • Show how you fit the top 5-6 requirements of the role, using evidence from your previous work experience and relevant activities during your break
  • Remember that however long ago it was, you did lead a department, manage projects, produce reports, negotiate contracts or whatever your former role required. You still have these skills, even if you haven't used them for a while
  • Your former experience includes both what you did and how you got it done, i.e. both your technical abilities and your management skills.  Even if your technical knowledge feels a bit rusty, you have the same capacity to learn as you always did and you will get back up to speed. Your management skills have probably been enhanced significantly if your break was to bring up your children!  While we don't recommend that you use parenting as examples in your CV or cover letter, the chances are that your skills of negotiation, influencing and time management have all been fully utilised during your break
  • You might be having trouble remembering some of the content and detail of your earlier career.  If so, dig out your old performance reviews, 360 feedback and any other reports you might have kept.  Re-reading these can also remind you of what others valued about your contribution in the past: these will be the qualities that you offer a new employer too
  • For return to work or returnship programme applications, make sure you mention that you have been on a career break, where this is a key criterion for candidates. You risk being excluded from these opportunities if you try too hard to cover your break
Explain why you are interested in this role/organisation
  • Show an understanding of the organisation by doing your research into the company and the role - use social media such as the company LinkedIn page & Twitter account alongside the website
  • Even it's a returnship you need to show that you're motivated by the organisation and the area not just the opportunity to get back into the workforce
If the exercise of writing a cover letter hasn't reinforced your belief that you are ready to return, you probably need to do some work on regaining your professional identity and building your confidence.  Follow the links to our relevant posts and consider getting some support with increasing your self-belief.

More Information
For general information and tips on how a cover letter should look in 2015 look at Tailored Career Coaching (written by one of our associates).  

Posted by Katerina


Friday, 6 February 2015

How a MOOC can help you to test your career dream



I heard this week on Twitter about a free new online course just launched by coursera for fledgling social entrepreneurs, guiding people who want to set up a business with social impact to move from idea to action.  This is a fantastic addition to the rapidly increasing number of free online courses run by University-level experts that you can take part in from your own home in your own time. I'm a great fan of these MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and think that they are a wonderful resource for returners: I've heard very positive reports from colleagues, friends and coachees, who have followed courses on subjects ranging from creative writing to medical neuroscience. 

There are many ways in which you might be able to use a MOOC:
  • Testing whether you have the interest and commitment to invest in a masters programme, either to become more specialised &/or retrain into a new field. 
  • Updating/refreshing/upskilling before returning to your previous field.
  • Exploring more creative possibilities, either purely for fulfilment and enjoyment, to investigate whether you want to take your working life in this direction or to finally to write your novel.
  • Keeping your brain working & your CV current while you are prioritising caring responsibilities.
Returning to social entrepreneurship, I know that for many women returning from a long career break, there's a desire to find work with meaning and purpose; if you've been wondering how you can combine setting up your own business with doing something more meaningful, the coursera course could give you the impetus you need to test whether your dreams can become reality (see here for more details).

Let us know if you have studied a great free online course - we'd love to receive any recommendations!

Some MOOC Providers
coursera (courses from 115+ top universities including Yale & Stanford) 
edX (courses from MIT, Harvard, etc)
Future Learn (range of universities & cultural institutions)
Open Learning (free learning from The Open University)
Udacity (tech skills from Silicon Valley companies)

Posted by Julianne

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Is it possible to return to work at 50+ after a career break?

This is a question I discussed recently with Dr Ros Altmann, the UK Government's Older Workers Business Champion.  It is also a question I hear regularly from our Network, particularly those who have paused their career for health reasons or in order to look after elderly relatives.

While it might be true that some organisations fail to recognise the great value and benefit of hiring older workers, quite often the returners themselves are creating self-imposed barriers that need not exist.  It is necessary to develop the right mindset where your age is to your advantage.

The women I speak to who are hoping to return to employment, regularly tell me that organisations are only looking for younger people or those who have worked their way up a career ladder.  It is easy for them to fear that they are too old and too out of touch, to be considered employable.  They worry that they won’t fit into the office environment and that their prior experience, expertise and qualifications are no longer relevant. 
Instead of looking at what is missing from your CV, it is much more helpful to notice what your years of experience, both in and out of the workforce, have given you.  As Michele (who found full-time work in her 50s, following a divorce) says:
‘I was attractive to my new employer because at my age I was reliable, I brought a wealth of different experiences which meant I could talk to anybody and I was serious about my work.  At the same time, I wasn't going to take his clients and set up on my own.  And, I wasn't going to get pregnant which made a big difference in a small company’
A Harvard Business Review article, 3 years ago, which highlighted the concept of internships for returners mentions that such internships ‘… allow [companies] to hire people who have a level of maturity and experience not found in younger recruits and who are at a life stage where parental leaves and spousal relocations are most likely behind them.  In short, these applicants are an excellent investment’.  (HBR November 2012 ‘The 40-year-old intern’). 
Regular readers will know that we have been working hard for the past two years to introduce such 'internships for returners' into the UK.  Up to now, these programmes have mostly existed in the financial services sector but we will shortly be announcing one in a wholly new field and hope there will be more during 2015.
It is also the case that the 'internship for returners' route is only one of many ways to return to work and I list below the links to other relevant articles we've published. However you plan to return, you can help yourself by remembering all the qualities described above and knowing that you offer future employers commitment and stability.  You know you will stay a long time if you enjoy your work and are valued for what you bring to the organisation.

Dr Altmann has been tasked with making the case for older workers within the business community and challenging outdated perceptions.  She will be reporting to the Government in March with her recommendations on what Government policy needs to be to enable older workers to continue to be productively employed.  We hope that her work will help to dispel the fears of the over 50s that they are no longer employable and lead to more opportunities for older returners.

Related posts:
The value of older women to the workforce
Thinking small: an alternative route back to work
How to create your own 'returnship'
Ideas for routes back to work
Freelancing as a return to work option
Find your way back to work through Strategic Volunteering


Posted by Katerina 

Friday, 23 January 2015

A returner's success story - Business mentoring as platform for future

As we reach the end of January, you might be finding your good intentions of finding a way back to work are slipping.  We hope this guest blog by Jill Ridley-Smith will inspire you and give a boost to your motivation.


Over drinks at a Christmas party, my neighbour recommended I read, in his words, “a gripping Scandi Noir murder mystery novel” by Karl Ove Knausgaard.  Given the synopsis, I wasn’t expecting these words in the first few pages:     

“Time is slipping away from me, running through my fingers like sand while I … do what?  Clean floors, wash clothes, make dinner, wash up, go shopping, play with the children, bring them home, undress them, bath them, look after them until it is bedtime, tuck them in, hang some clothes to dry, fold others and put them away, tidy up, wipe tables, chairs and cupboards.  It is a struggle and it is not heroic.  Nothing I previously experienced warned me about the invasion into your life that having children entails.  That does not mean I do not love them, because I do, with all my heart, it simply means that the meaning they produce is not sufficient to fulfill a whole life.  Not mine at any rate.” 

He must have been having a bad day!  But nevertheless I recognise the sentiment.  After having my second child I quit the City but continue to find myself emotionally split between wanting to bring up my kids myself and wanting a career. Just like Karl Ove, I’m not completely fulfilled by full-time motherhood but nor am I willing give it up.  Consequently, I try to balance being with the kids and working whilst laying the ground work for a future when they need me less and I can work more.

To understand my work options better, a few years ago I went to a conference about returning to work after a career break. Based on their book “Back on the Career Track”, Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin introduced me what they call the “Three C’s of Career Relaunch”: Control, Content and Compensation.  It’s different for everyone, but for me, I want control over my time spent working (to meet my desire for balance between motherhood and work), I want intellectual stimulation in the content of the work I do and, because they said you couldn’t have them all, I decided I was willing to trade some compensation.

We were encouraged to see the career break as an opportunity for introspection: to critically appraise how much we enjoyed the work we did before and to realise that it might be a mistake to go back to an old role.  It dawned on me that in my previous career in Private Equity I had most enjoyed working with management teams to improve company performance; the deal doing or the returns from investing were not the big pull that they are for some people. I realised too that at Mums’ coffee mornings I was always drawn to conversations about business ideas and I relished chats with mum-entrepreneurs.  So plausible career paths seemed to be either pursing entrepreneurship (but what was the idea?), or business consultancy (I had been a strategy consultant), or “going plural” and taking non-Exec Director appointments. 

In December 2012 I went along to an Entrepreneurship conference at Olympia where I met the team from Start-Up Direct.  Then in its infancy, the Start-Up Loans initiative was to pair up Government loans with business mentorship for young entrepreneurs.   It struck me that being a business mentor could meet my personal “control” and “content” goals without being a huge time commitment. I volunteered and shortly thereafter was introduced to Karoline Gross, CEO of Smartzer.  Two years later, I still work with Karoline and my journey with her has been hugely rewarding.

Initially I thought taking on a mentee would keep me stimulated and treading water until I found the “real” job. However, I now mentor two young people through Start-Up Direct (an evolution of Start-Up Loans) and I have a third mentee who is a peer of mine from Business School.  For each, my mentoring focus is different and is adapted to their needs.  We meet roughly once a month and our conversations address both pressing business issues and planning for the future.  I love the work which involves providing a mixture of support, coaching and direct advice. 

We often talk about money, and my finance background is good for this, but other regular topics are sales and marketing, managing people and strategies for growth.  I’ve learned that entrepreneurship can be very lonely, so I am a sounding board, a person who holds you to your time lines and someone who helps you find solutions to problems.

Most of my work currently is volunteering, so I have compromised on compensation, but I see it as a launch-pad for the future.  I find the work uplifting, fun, challenging, stimulating and interesting.  Entrepreneurs by their very nature are engaged, ambitious and driven; their vibrancy and enthusiasm is contagious!  Also I know I make a genuine difference.  My wisdom and business experience is valued and put to good effect. 


Indeed, I have already used the mentoring as a platform for taking on additional roles including being Board member for Nottingham Trent University.  As for the future, entrepreneurship itself still beckons, I’m dipping my toes into being an Angel Investor and I may yet focus on “going plural” with NED roles.  I often feel I am the consummate juggler of work, school, kids, home and family but keeping all the balls in the air is the way I keep happy and fulfilled.  Karl Ove should try it; as the book is called “Death in the Family” I’m reading on in trepidation… 

Jill Ridley-Smith works as a Business Mentor and is a Non-Executive Director on three Boards.  She took a career break in 2009 after a successful career in Private Equity with HgCapital and prior to this she held management roles at GlaxoSmithKline and LEK Consulting.  She has an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

How to Prepare for Competency-Based Interviews


When you're facing a job interview after many years out, it can be difficult to know how best to prepare. It may be many years since you last had an interview and the structure of interviews has changed significantly in the last decade. One relatively new and increasingly common addition to the recruitment process is the use of competency-based interviews. These raise particular issues if you've had a long career break and if you have never encountered them before they can throw you off balance in an interview. The key to performing well is detailed preparation - this is not the moment to rely on 'thinking on your feet' as you may have done previously in less structured more conversational interviews.

What is a competency?
A competency is a particular quality that the recruiter is looking for in job applicants, covering both behaviours and skills. Common examples are:
.
  • Adapting to change
  • Analysing
  • Communicating
  • Creating and Innovating
  • Decisiveness
  • Influencing
  • Integrity
  • Leadership
  • Planning & organising
  • Problem-solving
  • Resilience 
  • Team work

What should I expect in a competency-based interview?
The purpose of competency-based interviews is to allow hiring managers to determine, more accurately, your fit with the precise requirements of the role through a systematic assessment.  All candidates for a role will be asked the same set of questions about the competencies appropriate to the role.

In the interview, you will be asked questions to test whether you have the desired competencies, by giving concrete examples from your past experience. 

During the interview you will be asked a series of questions like these: 
Describe a situation when you [produced an imaginative solution]?
How do you [determine your priorities]?
Tell me about a time when you [motivated others to reach a team goal] 
Give me an example of when you [were faced with a difficult problem]

The key to answering these questions is by giving specific examples from your prior experience and not just discussing the topic in a theoretical, impersonal or overly general manner. The interviewer is likely to dig further into your example by asking specific questions to examine your behaviours and attitudes.

How to prepare for a competency-based interview
It is essential to put time into preparing and rehearsing your responses.

You will usually be told in advance that you will be given such an interview. The first preparation step is to identify what competencies are being assessed, to give you the opportunity to prepare your examples. You may be told of these upfront. If not, do ask for this information and, if it is not provided, analyse the job description and the company careers webpages to pick out the competencies highlighted there. 

For each competency, think of two examples which give good evidence of the competency area. Draft a reply which focuses on the actions you took in each example which led to a successful outcome. One of the common pitfalls in these interviews is to give too much explanation of the context and background and not to give enough attention to what you did which is what your interviewer really cares about. A useful mnemonic for structuring your examples is STAR: Situation - Task - Action - Result.  Your answer needs to include all four elements to be effective, with most time spent on Actions. 

Make sure that you are clear about and emphasise your specific contribution. Talk about what you did using "I did" rather than "we did". Your interviewer wants to know about you not the team.

Further advice for returners
  • It is common for returners to underplay their strengths and skills, particularly after a long break. This is not the time for modesty or to underplay your role in achieving a task!
  • Your examples don't have to all be recent, so don't be concerned if you have had a long break and are using a few examples from 5, 10 or 15 years ago. Just take time beforehand to remember as much as you can about the example so that you can provide enough detail about your contribution.
  • Your examples don't need to be solely work-related. More recent examples from your leisure activities, studies or any skilled volunteering you have done are just as relevant to use alongside, provided they effectively demonstrate the competency asked for.
  • If you would like some pre-interview practice and feedback to test out your examples, enlist a buddy to work with you or contact us about our interview coaching services.

Related post: 

Posted by Katerina

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Credit Suisse Real Returns: Q&A with a Returner

As the application deadline for the 2015 Credit Suisse London Real Returns programme approaches next Friday, Julianne interviewed Julia Dawson, a 2014 Real Returns participant to find out more about her experiences and to get her advice on applying for and making the most of a returnship. 


What prompted you to apply for Real Returns?
I had read about returnships in the United States and so knew about the concept. I had been on a career break to raise a family for over three years and was interested in going back into banking but not into equity sales where I had spent the previous 11 years. The Real Returns programme at Credit Suisse seemed to open up new opportunities, allowing me to apply my skills and experience to a different area. 

What were the benefits to you of the Real Returns programme?
The programme offered an open door back to banking with no downside and great potential upside. The 10-week framework structured around the school terms allowed me to trial a return to the workplace without too much disruption to my family routines. It was an easier transition than going straight back into a permanent role and gave me the opportunity to really show what I could do. 

Real Returns gave me a lot of confidence - it was fantastic to see so many capable women finding their feet. The peer group was a really positive aspect, as we were all in it together. There was more involvement from very senior management than you might think - you get amazing access as everyone was interested in finding out more about the inaugural Real Returns cohort.

What type of work did you do?
I led a research project on diversity, The Credit Suisse Gender 3000, a subject that remains very relevant and incredibly interesting. [Julia's research report was published in September 2014 and can be viewed here]. All the participants were involved with business critical projects and made a significant contribution.

What support did you receive?
We had support from the programme managers throughout the 10 weeks. In addition, each returner was assigned a mentor - a great point-person for introductions, particularly for people looking more broadly within the bank for opportunities. We also received training and career coaching, which I was initially sceptical about but found extremely rewarding and eye-opening on a personal and professional level.  

What happened at the end of the programme?
I was offered a full-time job in equity research within the Thematics team. I was appointed as a Managing Director, the same level as I was prior to my career break, so I have not had to take a step down in my career progression at all.

What advice would you give to potential applicants to Real Returns or other returnships?
Be honest about who you are in your application and get your application in as soon as possible - you have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. It is a wonderful way to get back to work and maybe to try something new in a related field.

What advice would you give to future returnship participants?
Several things made this a valuable experience for me. I would advise other participants to network as much as possible - take the opportunities given to you. Keep an open mind about the areas that might interest you - coming back to work brings a great freshness and invigoration and many departments want to take advantage of this. Make the most of the coaching sessions as they can be very revealing and rewarding. And finally, really showcase your contribution on the program - you are part of a valuable talent pool so show what you can still do and have to offer.

Any final comments?

I was surprised how little pressure I felt once I got through the door. It was thoroughly enjoyable and invigorating. I am extremely happy to be back at work.


If you are inspired by Julia's experience to apply for the 2015 Real Returns programme, you can find more information and application details here. You'll need to be quick as the application deadline is Friday 16th January.

Posted by Julianne