Friday, 7 December 2018

Make your CV stand out: Use Action Verbs

CV tips for retuners


If you’ve taken a long career break it could be many years, and possibly even decades, since you last wrote a CV. Don't just redo an old version, as CVs are now written in a very different way (see How to Write Your Post-Break CV).

One of the major changes is the shift from talking about your past responsibilities to highlighting your achievements. Gone are the days when simply describing your previous roles was enough to secure an interview. Now you need to explain what you achieved in previous jobs which made you stand out. 

We suggest you aim for 3-5 bullet points for each of your previous roles (and for your career break if you have done any work/volunteering/studying or developed skills in other ways such as relocation). 

Beginning your bullet point with an action verb is a great way to start off.


What are action verbs?

These are some examples:


achieved     completed     conducted     implemented    improved     negotiated
produced     secured        created         established       launched     developed
organised    revitalised     evaluated      restructured     simplified    drove


Why are action verbs important in your CV?

  • Action verbs describe your past achievements in a compelling way that highlights your strengths and suitability for the role you’re applying for. 
  • Action verbs keep bullet points short - particularly important if you have lots of past experience and are trying to keep your CV to the recommended maximum two sides of A4. For example, ‘Delivered XYZ project on time and within budget’, reads better than ‘I was responsible for delivering XYZ project on time and within budget.’
  • Action verbs have more impact. They are specific, strong and powerful. If a recruiter has lots of CVs to sift through, action verbs make your achievements stand out. They also help if employers use applicant tracking software programmed to look for specific words to describe the experience needed for a role. 
  • Action verbs help you to be specific in describing what the results of your actions were and how you achieved them.
  • Action verbs can highlight your relevant skills/competencies (see below)

Which action verbs should you use? 


  • Scan the job advert and job description, similar job ads in the same industry, and the company's website to see which verbs they use. Describing your past experiences using these words will give you the best chance of making your CV fit the bill. 
  • Look at this action verb list which groups action words by skills group. Think about which skills you want to demonstrate - again, matching this back to the skills/competencies asked for on the job advert
  • Don't use the same action verb more than twice. Use an online thesaurus or the action verb list to avoid repetition and keep the recruiter's interest.


Do read our other blogs How to Write Your Post-Break CV and Return to Work CV Tips for other advice on writing your back-to-work CV.


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Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Rachel's story: Returning to work with Mastercard

Mastercard returnship programme

"Women Returners was the only website I found which offered an opportunity to re-engage with respected corporates on a dedicated, supported programme." Rachel, 10-year career break


Prior to my career break I worked for a global IT company. I had joined from University and stayed with the company through different market sectors from Local Government to Telecommunications across client facing Business Development and Account Management roles to then leading the market sector.

I had my family whilst still working for my first company and I was lucky enough to benefit from a great HR department and to be able to flex my time down to four days per week after each child, moving back up to full time shortly afterwards.

I wanted the best of both worlds – to be a hands on parent and to have a career, but this became increasingly challenging as my husband travelled and worked long hours. In the end something had to give and we agreed that something was my career.

I knew if I stayed at home I would need something to keep me engaged so I joined the school Parents Teachers Association and quickly became Chair. I found this sense of giving back to the community so rewarding that by the time I finished my term I was already looking for something else which would work around the children and a busy home life.

My husband had been a Non-Executive Director on the Board of an NHS Trust and knew this would be perfect for me, so he connected me and it grew quickly from there. I became a Governor for a Mental Health Trust, and then a Non-Executive Director for Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust (BHT). I still sit on the Board at BHT where I chair the Commercial Development Committee. I am also a Director of Buckinghamshire Healthcare Projects Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trust which I set up to drive commercial income for the Trust.

I then joined Citizens Advice as a Trustee and was then headhunted for other Non-Exec roles across other sectors. At this point, my husband suggested I go back to work full time.

Easier said than done.

I was at a loss to know how to re-engage. I had a few false starts – I knew returnship was a theme and found a few different websites, most wanting money and delivering very little value, before I was told about Women Returners. Women Returners was the only website I found which offered an opportunity to re-engage with respected corporates on a dedicated, supported programme. After 10 years it was very obvious that although I had built a portfolio Non-Exec career, I needed support to transition back into a full time role at a level comparable to my skills and experience.

Mastercard stood out for exactly this reason. The seniority of the role offered and the fit with my skills was unique. Most of the other roles on offer were looking for specific professional qualifications in either Project Management, Accountancy or Programming rather than General Management and Account Management experience.

The application process was a wholly supportive and positive experience. It wasn’t drawn out or onerous. After the initial online application I was contacted for a telephone interview with HR, then I had follow up interviews in person with my prospective Manager before I was contacted again by HR with the offer to join.

I was absolutely delighted.

Mastercard recruits for potential, weights emotional intelligence and is open minded enough to consider that not only could the skills I had developed in my career transport into Payments, but also that I had the opportunity to add value and innovation by bringing a different perspective.

I joined Mastercard in January 2018 and am delighted to say I am still here. I’m having the most amazing time. It feels like I’ve always been here – a part of the Mastercard family.

Would you like to Relaunch your Career at Mastercard? Find out more here

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Friday, 2 November 2018

How to develop a growth mindset






Psychologist Carol Dweck is one of the world's leading authorities on motivation. Throughout her career she's focused on why some people succeed and others fail.

In her TedTalk (above) - Developing a Growth Mindset - Dweck explains that those who have a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence and abilities are static and that they don't have the capacity to change. On the other hand, those with a growth mindset know that these qualities can be continually developed and improved through hard work and persistence. 

In adults returning to work, a fixed mindset can manifest itself in thoughts like "I'm too old to move into a new area", "I'm hopeless with new technology" or "I'm no good at networking". Remaining open to growth and self improvement will greatly improve your chances of success in finding a satisfying and fulfilling role.

How to adopt a fixed mindset

1. Believe in the power of 'not yet'. In her TedTalk, Dweck gives the example of a school in Chicago which replaced a 'fail' grade with 'not yet' and saw a huge improvement in student performance. If your job application is rejected, a 'not yet' attitude can stop you from giving up and encourage you to explore different option and strategies to achieve your goal.
2. Don't see obstacles that stand between where you are now and where you want to be as immovable barriers, but rather as challenges or hurdles to overcome - opportunities to develop new skills and acquire more experience.
3. Seek out feedback with an open mind. We know it's difficult, but try not to see negative feedback as a judgement of your competence but rather as an opportunity to learn and grow. Listen to what family, friends and former colleagues tell you, and make sure you ask for specific feedback if your job application is rejected after interview. What you learn can help you make changes to bring you closer to success next time around.
4. Take action. Adopting a growth mindset means believing in the power of neuroplasticity, that the brain can continue to make new connections in adulthood or strengthen connections that you haven't used for a while. You can help to realise your own potential through learning new skills or practising ones that are a bit rusty.
5. Move out of your comfort zone. Conquering something that scares you is a useful way to teach yourself that you can grow and move forward. Celebrate your successes and seek out yet more opportunities to challenge yourself! 


Carol Dweck is the author of Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential


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Thursday, 18 October 2018

How to look more confident than you really are

Appear more confident

Self-confidence - if only we could create and bottle it we would make our fortune! The reality is that many women who have taken a career break suffer from a lack of professional confidence. And it’s really not surprising - it’s natural for confidence to fade when we take a long break from an activity that formed a large part of our identity.

The good news is that your professional confidence quickly comes back after a successful return to work. However if you’re struggling with your self-confidence at the moment, take heart from the fact that neuroscience and psychology show that our actions can change our thought patterns to build self-belief. So ‘faking it until you make it’ can often lead to a real increase in confidence.

Top tips for appearing more confident than you really are

Appearance

Body language 
  • Walk into the room positively, make eye contact and smile to help build rapport and convey confidence. 
  • Avoid fidgeting with pens or rings - gently closing your hands can help with this.
  • If you're standing, stand up straight with your feet apart. If you're sitting, adopt a wider posture with your feet on the floor. 
  • Avoid crossing your arms as this can make you seem defensive. 
Speech
  • Speak more slowly and deliberately. 
  • In interviews, don’t be afraid to take your time when answering a question. 
  • In a networking situation, instead of being preoccupied by what you want to get across, concentrate on listening to what the person you’re talking to is saying and show interest in them. For more tips read Are you missing the point of networking at an event?

And if your confidence needs a quick boost - here's what to do: 

The Power Pose 
  • For a quick boost of confidence before a stressful event try Amy Cuddy’s two-minute ‘Power Pose’. In her 2012 TED Talk, Cuddy asserted that adopting a dynamic physical stance can make can make us feel more confident. And we can personally attest that the Power Pose works!


For more help and advice on increasing your professional confidence, we've a range of articles on the Advice Hub on our website.

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Wednesday, 3 October 2018

How to Stay Motivated in your Return to Work Job Search

Stay motivated in job search


"When you get into a tight place, and everything goes against you till it seems as if you couldn’t hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that’s just the place and time that the tide’ll turn." Harriet Beecher Stowe

Searching for a job after an extended career break can leave you feeling overwhelmed and demotivated. We often find returners have no idea where to focus their job search. They find themselves applying randomly for jobs which becomes demotivating as nothing seems to fit or work out. Alternatively, you can get stuck in “either/or thinking” where you fix on only two options and then become demoralised and give up when neither work out.

We all know that effective job search requires effort, energy and sustained motivation. But how to maintain motivation in the face of setbacks, disappointments and the sheer length of time needed to pursue options, is the difficult part!

At Women Returners, we recognise that a clear focus for getting back into the job market and also strategies to maintain motivation are needed.

We work with returners to help them identify a good rationale for exploring particular career options based on what they want and need in any job role. We also help you to formulate action steps which are behavioural, specific and motivating. We understand the psychological blocks that can reduce your motivation to carry out actions after the coaching has ended, even though you were committed at the time.

Here are our top tips for maintaining motivation: 


  1. Imagine yourself 3 months in the future when your enthusiasm for action is dwindling. What would you like to tell your 3-months-from-now ‘self’ to keep up motivation? Alternatively write a motivational letter to yourself and ask someone to post it to you in 3 months' time.
  2. Remind yourself of your autonomy in choosing which action steps to follow; no one is telling you what you have to do. That notion can be empowering in itself.
  3. Revisit the end goal and remind yourself of its importance, especially if the action steps feel removed from what you are aiming to achieve. Consider linking the goal to your sense of identity, self worth and values.
  4. Identify role models who have achieved their goals through their own hard work and effort. Use the same techniques that they used.
  5. Remember when you succeeded in achieving your goals in the past. If you did it before you can do it again!
  6. Make it easy to achieve action steps by physically removing all distractions and having all the materials you need to hand and elebrate. Reward yourself with treats for periods of concentrated activity and actions accomplished.
  7. Find a group or a buddy going through the same experience and motivate each other. If you're in the Women Returners network, our LinkedIn group can help you to find the returners in your area. It's also a good idea to identify your return-to-work supporters.
  8. Break down steps into manageable chunks and make them specific and achievable. And find a way of physically marking off action steps when achieved. One technique is to physically throw away action post-it notes to symbolise completion. 
  9. Visualise the steps you will take to achieve your goal. 
  10. Finally just ‘get stuck in’ and commit to action and momentum will build!  As Goethe said, ‘whatever you can do or dream you can, boldness has genius, power.'
For more advice on Motivation see this previous post. Make sure you have signed up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities.

Friday, 21 September 2018

How to be a Successful Returner Candidate

Return to work successfully


There are many reasons why employers want to attract those returning to the workplace after an extended break. Returning professionals offer a wealth of experience, maturity and a fresh perspective. Employers are now starting to recognise this and other positives of bringing returners into their organisation. By hiring returners an employer is able to tackle skills shortages, improve gender and age diversity, tap into a high-calibre talent pool, and improve their organisation’s attractiveness to potential employees in general.

But what do employers look for in individual candidates and how can you make the most of your skills and experience when you apply for a returner programme or any open role?

Here are our five top tips:
  1. Don’t try to hide your break on your CV or make excuses for it in the interview. If you're applying for a returner programme, it is especially important to mention that you have been on a career break, including the length of your break at the time the programme starts. You risk being excluded from these opportunities if you try to cover up your break. If it’s been a while since you updated your CV and cover letter, read our blogs How to Write Your Post-Break CV and How to Write a Back-To-Work Cover Letter.
  2. Don’t undersell yourself. Learn to tell your story. Make sure you’re aware of, and appreciate, all the skills, experience and perspective that you can bring to an organisation. It’s likely that you will return to the workplace recharged, refreshed and enthusiastic to take on the challenge with new skills developed during your break. Make the most of this in interviews. This is the time to blow your own trumpet!
  3. Low professional confidence is common in women who have taken a career break. If you feel this is an issue for you, take steps to build your confidence back up again so that you believe in yourself and in your skills and experience. And don’t forget to read the success stories on our website for proof that, no matter how long your break, you can get back into a great job.
  4. Research and prepare thoroughly for interviews. Consider why you are a great fit for the organisation/role and articulate what sets you apart. Develop detailed examples of your competencies and skills - including transferrable ones - and prepare answers to typical questions.
  5. Show your enthusiasm and positivity. How you behave and the way in which you communicate is just as important as what you say in an interview. Make sure the interviewer can see the energy and motivation you'll bring to their organisation!
Remember that employers aren't doing you a favour. They have sound business reasons for encouraging returners back into the workplace to take on stimulating and rewarding roles. Taking the time to prepare yourself to make the most of this will put you in a strong position to resume a successful career.

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Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Adopting the right mindset for your return to work

How to get into the right mindset for a return to work

For many people, September brings with it that old ‘back to school’ feeling – a sense of fresh starts, renewed energy and optimism. And, of course, September is a great time to kickstart your return to work journey as companies tend to start hiring again after the summertime lull. So how do you capitalise on this 'new start' feeling to help you achieve a successful return to work? One of the most important things is to adopt the correct mindset. 

If you’ve been out of the workplace for a number of years, it can be hard to approach your journey with unremitting optimism and indeed this can be damaging to your progress and self-esteem. Being too optimistic, without adding a dose of realism, can lead to unrealistic expectations. For example, underestimating the effort needed or a feeling that if you just keep using the same job search methods, even if they're not working, everything will ‘come right’ in the end. 


On the other hand, we often find that the returner who claims she is being 'realistic' actually has a pessimistic perspective and that she too quickly dismisses the possibility of finding a rewarding job. The ‘pessimistic realist' tends to believe the worst, quickly becomes disillusioned when she hits a few setbacks and decides that returning to work is hopeless and not worth the effort. 



A more effective mindset

Far better to adopt a mindset of ‘realistic optimism’ - as 
psychologist Sandra Schneider advocates. Schneider tells us that optimism and realism are not in conflict - we need both. Realistic optimists are cautiously hopeful that things will work out the way they want and will do everything they can to ensure a good outcome. The realistic optimist finds out the facts and 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 future opportunities. 


Here's an example in practice. You send a ‘getting back in touch’ email to a former work colleague and don’t receive a response after a week. It’s all too easy to conclude that she just isn’t interested in talking to you, but consider other interpretations. Perhaps she’s on holiday, swamped with work and hasn’t had time to reply, or the email has landed in her junk mailbox. Now decide how to respond: contact her through a mutual friend, resend the email in a week, contact her via LinkedIn or even pick up the phone and call her. If she still doesn't respond, choose a realistically optimistic interpretation (e.g. she's too busy) and focus on making other connections.


Tips to develop your mindset

Here are 5 of our tips to help you adopt a more ‘realistic optimism’ mindset for your return to work:

  1. Combine a positive attitude with a clear evaluation of the challenges ahead. Don’t expect your journey to be a smooth one - you are likely to have setbacks - but trust that you have the ability to get yourself back on track
  2. Avoid dwelling on the negatives or jumping to overly negative conclusions. Recognise this ‘negativity bias’ is a result of how our brains are built (read more on this here)
  3. Don’t wait for the right time – it may never come. Simply taking action will move you forward
  4. Focus on what you can control rather than worrying about what you can't 
  5. If you think that lack of confidence is making you pessimistic, check out our advice on how to re-establish your confidence  
There is evidence that 'realistic optimism' can boost your resilience and motivation, improve your day-to-day satisfaction with life and lead to better outcomes. And be reassured that it's not about your genes - we can all learn to be realistic optimists!


If you are interested in Sandra Schneider's research see:
Schneider, S.L. (2001). In search of realistic optimism: meaning, knowledge and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist, 56(3), 250-263.


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Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Routes back to work after a career break

How can I go back to work after a career break

Once you’ve made the decision to return to work, the next big question to ask yourself is HOW? There are many different routes back into the workplace. Here are some ideas to help you with your job search:

Employed Roles

Returner programmes – this is a generic term for initiatives targeted specifically at returning professionals, eg, returnships, supported hiring programmes, returner events, return-to-work fellowships and returner training programmes. You can read more about what these terms mean and find listings of both open and past programmes on our website. And don’t forget to sign up to our free network to hear about the latest launches.


Applying for advertised roles – if you apply for online jobs, be aware that you may be competing with thousands of others for attention, so be selective and keep realistic expectations. Most organisations now use their own website as a recruitment vehicle, so identify those you are most interested in and see if you can sign up for alerts when new roles are posted. Some employers are now welcoming returner applications for a variety of open roles (for example, see O2 Career ReturnersM&G Career Returners and Willmott Dixon Welcome Back). You can also search for roles which are advertised on LinkedIn, making sure your profile is up-to-date. Another more focused channel is specialised job boards and recruitment agencies such as those listed here: recruitment agencies specialising in flexible/family-friendly roles

Interim roles - joining an organisation in a distinct role for a defined period of time can be a great way to use your skills and experience without making a long-term commitment to returning to work. Short-term roles also usually receive fewer applications than permanent jobs. Opportunities arise as cover for maternity and long-term sickness and also when organisations are in transition and need someone on a temporary basis. There are established interim management agencies (such as 
Russam GMS and Alium Partners), however returners with longer career breaks usually find these kinds of roles through networking. 

Apprenticeships – there is usually no upper age limit for apprenticeships and the advantages for employers – who are able to bring in new expertise and experience by hiring older apprentices – is clear. You can find information on higher and degree level apprenticeships on this Government website.

Self-employed options

Freelancing – this can give you flexibility and may be an ideal solution for those of you with significant family commitments. However, lack of security can be an issue and many freelancers find they have peaks and troughs in their work. For practical advice, see our blog on how to set yourself up as a freelancer and the freelancer resources page on our website.


Associate work - if you have a specific skill or expertise that you want to offer, associate work can provide advantages over freelancing: as an associate, the company you contract with is normally responsible for winning new work. However, companies which use associates rarely guarantee the amount of work, so consider having different associate relationships.

Project-based work - although organisations rarely advertise this kind of work, offering to work on a project can be a great introduction to an organisation. It may open doors to a full-time role or you could discover that you enjoy working in this way and develop your own consultancy.

Starting your own business - sometimes this can develop from freelancing or project work, or you may have an idea or a hobby that you want to develop into a product or service. In previous blogs, we gave some tips for starting a home business and advice for starting your own service business. You’ll also find links to many useful resources for starting your own business on our website.

Other routes


Strategic Volunteering – Volunteering can be a great way to refresh your skills and networks. a LinkedIn survey found that 41% of the professionals surveyed said that when evaluating candidates, they consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience. Do think strategically if you decide to look for a volunteering role, looking for opportunities to develop new skills or brush up on the ones you already have. You could also use a volunteering role as a way to explore a new area that you may be interested in working in.

Retraining/further study/updating your skills – if you decide that study is the best route for you, you’ll find links to useful websites here. There are also many vocational retraining options, such as those listed here.

There are many examples of different routes back to work in the Success Story Library on our website. Remember that the route back can be a windy one and that it's likely to take more time than you think. If you’ve already returned to work, we’d love to hear your story too - please email info@womenreturners.com.


Note: updated from a 2104 post