Wednesday, 25 April 2018

How to Write a "Back to Work" Cover Letter

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?
  • Do I mention my time away from my career and how do I explain it?
  • Is my previous work experience relevant when it was so long ago?
  • How do I avoid just repeating my CV?

We’ll give you our top tips and help to answer these specific questions below.

General Principles
  • It’s essential to create a new cover letter for every application. Employers sometimes receive hundreds of applications for each job role, and will be quick to disregard generic applications. It’s your job to make it as easy as possible for the hiring manager to understand how you would fit into their organisation. 
  • Length: No longer than a single A4 page. Your cover letter shouldn’t rehash your CV, but is the opportunity for you to pick out the most salient points for the role and put them across to the hiring manager in the most succinct way possible.
  • Address your cover letter to the hiring manager if you can find his/her name.
  • Your email address: As you’re likely to be emailing your cover letter, make sure that you have a professional email address that ties in with your CV. Don’t use your husband’s or family’s email address, or an email based on your married name if you’re applying using your maiden name. We would recommend creating your own personal email address for job applications, based clearly on the name in which you are applying.
  • Check for grammar and spelling mistakes – it’s easy to miss these, so try to get someone else to proof your letter too.

Suggested Structure

Start with a clear introduction
  • Start with your background and your target role, not your career break (e.g. "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. Keep mention of your career break short, simple and factual (e.g. “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 that is relevant to the role (such as further study, refresher courses, volunteer or paid activities and projects), stating how it has kept your knowledge/skills up-to-date and/or allowed you to develop new skills.

Explain your suitability for the role
  • Show how you fit the top 4-6 requirements of the role (in the job advert), using evidence from your previous work experience and relevant activities from your break. Resist the temptation to list other skills that are not specifically mentioned in the job ad.
  • Avoid stuffing your cover letter with meaningless buzzwords, such as ‘team player’ or ‘good eye for detail’ and instead, give concrete examples of your accomplishments that match the role requirements.
  • 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 soft 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 soft skills don’t go away, and many will have grown during your break. For example, although we don’t recommend using parenting as a direct example in your cover letter, if your break was to bring up your children, you will have enhanced skills such as time management, empathy and negotiation!
  • You might be having trouble remembering some of the details of your earlier career. If so, dig out your old performance reviews 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. You could also contact old colleagues, who will have a more objective view of your achievements and could provide you with a much-needed reminder of what you did.
  • If you are applying for a role where you are overqualified, address this in your cover letter. Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager, consider the possible concerns from the company's side, e.g. that you may be too expensive, that you might get bored, etc. and explain why you are applying for a less senior role than you previously held.
  • For returnship programme applications:
    • Make sure you mention that you have been on a career break, including the length of your break at the time the programme starts. This is a key criterion for candidates and you risk being excluded from these opportunities if you try to cover up your break!
    • There may not be specific role requirements, beyond ‘significant experience in one or more relevant areas’. If this is the case, use this space to list out 3-6 bullet points explaining the experience you have in the relevant area(s).

Finish with your motivation
  • Explain why you are interested in the role and why you would like to work for the organisation. Make this specific to show your interest and understanding. Base your comments on your research into the company and the job/department, using social media such as the company LinkedIn page, Twitter account and Facebook page alongside the website.
  • For returnships and/or flexible/remote working roles, it’s very important to show that you're motivated by the organisation (and the specific job role if relevant), and not just the opportunity to get back into the workforce and/or work flexibly/remotely. Show how you can benefit the company, not the other way around!

Good luck!

For further advice and support in your return-to-work journey, you can sign up to our free network here.

Note: This is one of our most popular posts from 2015; updated in April 2018.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

4 Ways that Social Media can Support your Return to Work

Using social media for return to work

Many of you use Facebook every day in your personal lives and you may have completed your LinkedIn profile, but did you know that there are many things you can do on social media to get ahead of the curve in your return to work?

Build your network:

  • On Facebook, you probably primarily interact with your family and close friends but you’re likely to be connected to many people beyond that circle, such as old school friends and former colleagues. You may assume that you don’t have any contacts in your field of interest, but you don’t know who your network is connected to, and who they have in their own extended circles. (Find out how to map your network)
  • Facebook groups can help you to build a support network of people in the same position as you, e.g. there are several working mother, freelancing women and women in tech groups. Whatever your circumstance or background, there’s almost certainly a group for you! Do some research in the Facebook search bar and you will also see suggestions of related groups. Don’t forget that you can easily leave groups so there’s no harm in joining a few to decide which ones are right for you.
  • Twitter and LinkedIn both provide a fantastic opportunity to find and connect with individuals and companies that you don’t know in real life. Once you have found them, get on their radar by engaging with their posts (replying to and sharing their content). Once you’ve established a relationship, if appropriate, try taking it a step further and sending them a private message to ask for information or advice to support your return to work.
  • Sharing relevant posts on your own LinkedIn and Twitter accounts is also a great way of establishing your own voice in the sector and attracting like-minded individuals to you, including prospective hiring managers and recruiters.
  • Did you know that LinkedIn has a huge number of groups? Most of them have a more professional objective than Facebook groups and again, you can search around to find those that are relevant to your industry. Women Returners have our own LinkedIn group where we list the latest opportunities for returners.
  • LinkedIn is also the perfect way to get back in touch with former colleagues if you’re not already connected on Facebook. 

Research prospective employers:
  • Most companies will have accounts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Track those accounts to glean information for use in your job applications and interviews to stand out from the crowd and show that you’ve done your homework.
  • This will also give you a glimpse into company life, helping you to decide which organisations offer the best cultural fit for you and which ones may be more open to applications from returners and/or accommodate flexible working/job share requests, etc.
  • Some companies post new job openings on their social channels and/or have separate accounts for careers.
  • You can add all of the companies you’re interested in to a Twitter list, which you can have a quick scroll through every day for updates. Find out how to use a Twitter list.

Stay up-to-date:
  • This is where the Twitter list feature really comes into its own. Add accounts that are talking about your industry and regularly scroll through the list on the Twitter app on your phone whenever you have a spare five minutes. You can make the list private if you prefer to, although in my experience, nobody minds being added to a list called ‘thought leaders’ or ‘industry experts’ and this may even be a conversation starter!
  • Find and follow relevant individuals and companies on LinkedIn, which has a timeline feature where thought leaders regularly post interesting articles relating to their industries. 
  • LinkedIn and Facebook groups can be a fantastic source of discussions around current issues in your sector. Use them to find out the current state of play and join in the conversation when you’re ready! This will be great practice for interviews.
  • Look through job advertisements on LinkedIn to make a list of the most sought-after skills in your sector, and take steps to refresh your knowledge as necessary.

Be proactive in your search:
  • You’ve built your networks, brought yourself up to speed with your industry and filled in any skills gaps. Now it’s time to tell people what you are looking for and ask for help! Write a Facebook status and a LinkedIn update to announce that you are looking to return to work. Be specific about what you’re looking for.
  • Set up job alerts on LinkedIn and mark your profile as being open to contact from recruiters.
  • As a final note, don’t forget that recruiters also use social media to find information about applicants. If you’re applying for jobs, it’s a good idea to complete your profiles, including your career and education history, on both LinkedIn and Facebook, and use a professional photo on all platforms. On Facebook, check you’re happy that any content could be seen by potential employers if they Google you. Check what your LinkedIn profile looks like when viewed by both connections and non-connections, and make sure that you’re projecting a professional image.

Posted by Elaine

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Katherine’s story: Forging a new career after a 15-year break

Returning to work after a 15-year career break
Credit: Ray Wells, The Sunday Times
"My advice would be: just go for whatever you want to do. However unlikely or impossible it might seem, you never know what may happen." Katherine, 15-year career break

I’d love to tell you I had a glittering career before my three boys came along. But I can’t, because I was an actor. Given that only 3 out of every hundred actors are in paid acting work at any time, this meant I did lots of promotion work to pay the bills, along with some actual acting.

Anyway, it became very clear when I started having babies that this was not a ‘career’ which was easy to combine with children. I simply didn’t earn enough to cover the childcare, and acting hours and auditions are not regular and so are difficult to plan for.

In any case, I wanted to look after my boys myself. Actors are after all people who are paid to play for a living, so I was in my element on the floor engineering elaborate train networks or chasing them around the house pretending to be a monster. As they got bigger, I became heavily involved with their schools, and am currently a governor at both primary and secondary level.

But increasingly I yearned for the career I’d never had. I’d studied English Literature at university and had been torn between acting and journalism: both hideously competitive professions. At 48, and having been home for 15 years, I thought I had no realistic chance of becoming a journalist.

And then I saw a tweet from The Spectator magazine. They were looking for (paid) interns and didn’t want CVs; just to see what you could actually do. I knew this was my chance because they wouldn’t know my age, or that I’d been at home for years. I wrote about politics and economics and sent it off with a covering letter saying I was ‘different’ and ‘older’.

Getting the internship has transformed my life. The Spectator published an article I wrote about being an older intern and it became their 12th most read piece of last year. The Sunday Times did a feature on me, I led the Evening Standard Diary (above George Clooney!) and was back and forth to the BBC, doing interviews for Radio 4’s The World Tonight, 5Live’s Pienaar’s Politics, World Service Weekend and then BBC Breakfast with Dan and Louise. The whole experience was wonderful, scary and surreal.

I hadn’t realised that starting again was that unusual and certainly hadn’t expected the commotion I caused. But why ever not start over? Given we will soon be working into our seventies I could have a thirty-year career. I couldn’t care less that being an intern means you are ‘starting at the bottom’ (though I suspect that interning at The Spectator is more like starting at the bottom of the top!).

The Spectator have given me lots of help and support, and I absolutely loved working there. I didn’t feel odd being older, and everyone was lovely to me. I’ve been back there since to help with the Christmas rush, and they’ve now published five articles I’ve written. I also did an internship in News at The Sunday Times. Again, everyone I met was positive, encouraging and helpful. I had four by-lines in two weeks.

So now I am making my way as a freelance journalist, often writing at home, and getting experience working at different organisations. For now, this suits me – my family are still adjusting to my working and my eldest son is about to take his GCSEs. But after that I want to work full-time as a journalist, going into an office and being out and about meeting people.

I’ve joined a fantastic organisation called Women in Journalism and have been accepted onto their mentoring scheme. Other women in the industry are an invaluable support network, and I’ve already met several fabulous and inspiring female journalists.

If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be published in The Spectator and The Sunday Times, and that Kate Adie would introduce me on Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent, I would not have believed them. I can barely believe it now. So, my advice would be: just go for whatever you want to do. However unlikely or impossible it might seem, you never know what may happen.

Read Katherine's article about being an older intern in The Spectator here.

If you would like support with your own return-to-work journey, you can sign up to our free network here.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Returner Programme Guidance - Benefits for Employers & Returners

Now is the perfect time to return to work after a career break!

8th April is International Women’s Day, with a theme this year of #PressforProgress. At Women Returners, we continue to #PressforProgress in supporting women back into suitable roles in the workplace after an extended career break. Alongside the free support we give to returners through our Network, our main way of achieving our objectives is through our efforts to make 'returnships' and other returner programmes a normal part of annual recruitment across sectors and across the UK.

Rise of Returner Programmes 

Since we first started promoting the returnship concept in the UK in 2014, the number of returner programmes has increased year on year, to over 40 in 2017, helping hundreds of women to pick up their careers. Recognising and supporting the concept, the UK government on IWD last year committed £5M to support returnships and now have a team working on returner initiatives in the Government Equalities Office (GEO). The Scottish Government has also got behind returnships, providing funding for our current cross-company programme in Scotland.

Returner Programmes: Best Practice Guidelines for Employers

The "Returner Programmes: Best Practice Guidelines for Employers" was launched this week by GEO. We're proud to have co-written this guidance with our friends at Timewise, as we're keen to ensure that returner programmes work well for both organisation and returners. Employers can now get free practical advice and information on how to engage and support this fantastic talent pool. 

We had the opportunity to highlight the benefits to employers of returner programmes and the Guidance in this week's GEO blog: Why Creating Returner Programmes Makes Business Sense

Benefits for Returners

If you're returning to work, here's why the Guidelines are great news for you too:

1. New knowledge 
You can gain a clear understanding of what a returner programme entails, and what companies are aiming towards, so you can be more informed and proactive during the application process and once you are accepted on to a programme. You can also find a clear business case for hiring returners and could use this information to reach out to companies who do not yet offer programmes.

2. More opportunities
The guidelines offer a toolkit for companies, providing practical advice for every stage of designing and running a returnship or supported hiring programme, together with the business case to obtain senior buy-in. With this free help so readily available, it’s now easier than ever for companies of all sizes to set up returner programmes.

·      3. Fairer hiring processes & pay
The report also sets out to create more understanding around the needs of returners, your varying reasons for taking time out, and the support you may require in returning to the workplace. We hope this will lead to improvements in recruitment and induction processes and make it easier for you to integrate into your new role. There is also a clear recommendation for returners to be paid at a competitive level which recognises your skills and experience and the nature of the work you are doing.

·      4. Promotion of talent
By encouraging employers to make hiring great talent their key message, rather than promoting returner programmes as part of a corporate social responsibility agenda, the guidance paves the way for you to be truly valued and respected in your new role.

Upcoming Guidance for Returners

More good news to come ... We are currently writing a follow-on guide for returners, to give you a step-by-step roadmap back to work. Once again we're partnering with GEO and Timewise on this toolkit, to be published later this year.

With all of this progress, we truly believe that there has never been a better time for women on a career break to return to the workplace! So what are you waiting for? Join our free Returners Professional Network to stay informed of the latest opportunities, events and resources for returners.

Posted by Julianne and Elaine