Friday, 19 January 2018

Tackling Fears about Returning to Work after a Career Break

Women returning to work after a career break


We are witnessing a very real change in the employment landscape for women returning to work after a career break. Employers are coming up with innovative ideas to attract and retain women, and showing willingness to implement the changes needed to entice returners. All in all, there’s never been a better time to return to work, so what’s stopping more women from taking advantage of these opportunities?

Elaine Russell, who heads up Women Returners in Ireland, and Karin Lanigan, Manager of Career Development and Recruitment Services for Chartered Accountants Ireland, 
talked to The Irish Times Women in Business Podcast about the common fears and challenges faced by women who are considering a return to the workplace. Below we have pulled out some of the key points and you can also listen to the full podcast episode here.

I’ve been out of the workplace for too long
You mustn’t let the length of time you’ve been out of work stop you from going back. We have worked with returners who have been out for 15 years or more and have successfully returned to professional-level work through returner programmes or through their networks. Remember that the length of your break doesn’t change your strengths, which are an integral part of who you are, and doesn't wipe out the career experience you had beforehand.

Also, you don’t need to talk about the length of your career break when introducing yourself to prospective employers. Do reference it - don't apologise or defend it - however, focus predominantly on your previous experience and what you want to do going forward.

I’m too old
Diversity is a hot topic right now, with many companies actively looking at ways of attracting older people. We’re seeing more and more women in their 50’s returning to the workplace, where they’re appreciated for their maturity, experience, perspective and stability.

I can’t get to grips with new technology
Technology moves quickly and some returners fear they’ll never catch up. However, it’s worth remembering that this rapidity of change means that everyone has to work hard to keep abreast of developments, even those people who have never had a career break. If you take some time to get yourself up to speed, you may actually be in a stronger position than others who haven’t had that time. It’s also worth bearing in mind that technology in the workplace is not so different to the technology we use at home these days, and so you might well find that you’re not as out of the loop as you may think!

I’ve lost my confidence
We know that women typically have less confidence when valuing their professional worth. Combine this with an extended career break, and professional confidence can truly plummet. It’s important to work on building your self-confidence so that you’re ready to go back into work with a positive mindset. Reconnect with your professional self and remember the value of your past qualifications and experience, and also of the skills you have gained outside of the workplace.

I can’t compete with applicants who haven’t take time out
Companies are actively looking for people like you, i.e. people who have taken time out and are coming back to the workplace with renewed energy. Remember that your time off is an asset in itself, and that during that time you gained a breadth of perspective and 
many new skills which you can feel proud of.

I’m scared of networking
While we often think of ‘networking’ as a process of selling ourselves, which can be a scary prospect, it’s more about meeting and chatting to people, which is what we do all the time. Networking can be enjoyable! You're not asking for a job - you're letting people know  about your previous work experience and what you'd like to do now, to see if you can get advice and information. Remember that most people want to help and are generous with their time.

I don’t have recent experience
Experience doesn't have to be recent to give you credibility. Think back on the successes from your career: make a list and remind yourself of your achievements, perhaps even contacting former colleagues who can jog your memory. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, it still counts.

If you want even more inspiration, take a look at the returner success stories on our website, and read about how those women and men overcame their own personal challenges to successfully return to work after an extended break.

Read more on Tackling Return-to-Work Fears and Doubts here.

Posted by Elaine

Friday, 5 January 2018

10 Tips to Get Back to Work after a Career Break




"If you had spoken to me this time last year, I never would have believed I would be in the position I am in now." - Charlotte 

Whether you've been out of the workplace for one year or many years, the thought of restarting your career can be daunting. The following 10 tips are directly inspired by our library of success stories of people like you who have taken time out from work only to return stronger than ever. Read on and you never know where you might be this time next year.

1. Prepare to step out of your comfort zone
No-one can deny that rejoining the workplace after an extended leave is a scary prospect, but it's also an exciting one. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and you never know what might happen. What have you got to lose? 
Read Natalie's story

2. Shape the narrative of your career break
There are as many career break stories as there are returners, and you are the only person who can tell yours. Think about all of the skills you have built up in your time off work, and how they could benefit an employer. You don't need to make excuses for your career break or try to hide it; it could actually end up being your biggest asset! 
Read Fiona's story

3. Work out what YOU need
Take time to have a serious think about what you want from a job, and consider how much flexibility and support you would need. It’s important to have those conversations with potential employers upfront to avoid conflict and frustration further down the line. Don’t forget that you’re assessing companies for their suitability just as much as they’re assessing you. 
Read Clare's story

4. Develop a new specialism
It’s never too late to learn something new. Whether you want to update your existing knowledge or head off in a different direction, there are more study options now than ever, including short courses, distance learning and on-the-job training. It's worth taking the time to do your research, such as looking at job adverts to find out which qualifications potential employers are looking for. 
Read Carolyne's story

5. Reach out to your network
If you feel like you've got a gap in your knowledge, then another option is to find someone to bring you up to speed. You're bound to have a contact in your industry who could help, either from a previous job or your studies. Don't be afraid to reach out, e.g. on LinkedIn, and tell people what you need without worrying about what you can offer in return. These same networks can also point you in the direction of opportunities and could even open a door for you somewhere along the line. 
Read Carolien's story

6. Apply your skills in a new field
Taking time out from work can provide you with the distance you need to come back with a fresh pair of eyes and reassess your career plan. This could be the perfect opportunity for you to move across to a new area. Take some time to look around, talk to people, and see what's available. 
Read Maria's story

7. Find your tribe
A good support network can make all the difference in ensuring a smooth transition back into the workplace. You can set up your own group with people you already know, face-to-face or on WhatsApp, or join our Women Returners group (for network members) on LinkedInRead Clare's story

8. Consider coaching
If you're unsure about how to explain your career gap, worried about the practicalities of juggling family commitments with a new job, or suffering from a lack of confidence or direction, you could benefit from some career coaching. (find out about Women Returners coaching here). 
Read Kate's story

9. Look for volunteering roles in your sector
If you’ve been out of the workplace for a long period, a volunteering role in your sector will bolster your CV with recent and relevant experience, bring you up to speed with new developments and provide you with references and new contacts in your industry. Some roles provide training too. 
Read Antje's story

10. And finally, don't give up! 
It's all too easy to lose confidence and feel demoralised when looking for a job using traditional recruitment routes if you have a non-traditional career path, but with more and more companies in the UK coming around to the benefits of offering returner programmes
 and/or flexible working, there are new opportunities available all the time. And one of them may well have your name on it! Read Anna's story

If you have decided to make the move back into the workplace this year, or you're simply considering your options at the moment, make sure you've signed up to our network (sign up here) to get return-to-work advice, support, information and opportunities.


Posted by Elaine


Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Season's Greetings from Women Returners

Many thanks for following our Women Returners Back to Your Future blog in 2017. We've been quiet recently but will be back to regular posting in the New Year.


Friday, 24 November 2017

Top Tips from Returner Employers




For those of you who missed our Conference on Monday, we'll be sharing tips, advice and video on this blog over the coming weeks. To get started, here's some advice from our returner employer panel.

Be clear on the skills you bring
The panel suggested that returners practice articulating what skills they bring, and also advocating for the skills they developed while on their career break. Sharmini Selverajah, Head of the Returner Policy Team at the Government Equalities Office said “Remember to recognise the skills you gained outside of paid work”. She confirmed that she is much better at her work as a result of experience raising her children, including managing and negotiating.
Flexibility is possible
The panel confirmed that many returners are working flexibly. Stephanie Marshall, Talent Acquisition Lead for Fidelity International, stated that flexible working is now requested by employees throughout the organisation, including millennials. Five years ago, no one would ask about flexibility. “Now, they are much more up front about it,” she said. 
Practice your negotiation skills
Tricia Nelson, Head of Talent at EY, suggested women returning to work should practice their negotiation skills, be direct about what they need and not talk themselves out of a higher salary or better terms. “Ask for what you want and then zip it,” she said. “Don’t unpack it live.” Alexander Clifford-Turner, EMEA chief financial data offer for Bloomberg, agreed: “It’s a very good tactic to say what you want and shut up.” 
Don’t sell yourself short
Returners are now seen by many employers as a valuable talent pool. Sharmini Selverajah said "The business case is clear". Of course, you need to find the employers who will value your skills and experience - looking for companies with returner programmes and/or family-friendly working policies is a good way to do that.




Monday, 30 October 2017

Antje's Story - Returning to work as a Civil Engineer

Antje returned to work this year via the Balfour Beatty Returner Programme. Read her story:

I have spent all my working life in the construction industry, starting with an apprenticeship as a traditional carpenter in my native Germany. After a few years, I decided to further my career and studied for a BSc in Civil Engineering in England. After graduating, I worked for a national contractor as a site engineer, constructing bridges for the M6 Toll. Different site projects followed within the water and transport sectors. I worked my way up to senior engineer, becoming involved with subcontractor supervision, quality management and some design coordination. I passed my professional review during this time and am now an incorporated civil engineer.
I then had a nine-year career break to bring up my two young children. During my break, I joined the local branch of the Institution of Civil Engineers. This enabled me to keep a connection with the industry and to continue networking.
I started looking into returning to work when my younger child started school. I found very quickly that jobs that were local and part-time were few and far between, even outside the construction industry. I thought about retraining, but felt that I would like to return to a role where I could utilise my previous training and experience.
One problem I encountered was how to approach the opportunity for flexible/ part-time working when this might not have been part of the original job description.
The Returners Programme offered by Balfour Beatty was the first role I saw which ticked the boxes of a technical role, as well as being part-time. The company was open to discussions around flexible and part-time working, which really helped with my transition back into work.
I have found Balfour Beatty to be very flexible. I am based in the office now, which enables me to work more flexibly than my previous site-based roles. I can access my work from home, so if I need to, I can catch-up on work, or work around meetings away from the office. I think recent developments in technology have helped with these changes. The team I work in have also been very supportive in helping me adjust and learn more about my new role.
The Returners Programme was supported by coaching sessions delivered by Women Returners. This gave me the chance to get to know my fellow returners, and we continue to keep in touch, which is a great support.
During the coaching sessions, we were given really good advice on how to overcome challenges during our first days and weeks. We also had the chance to think about potential stumbling blocks and came away with some great tools, like how to use LinkedIn effectively to network.
I am happy to be back at work in a role that utilises my training and experience; developing my skills within design coordination and management. Compared to before my career break, my life feels more balanced, which makes it worthwhile. Sometimes my role can be stressful, but, overall, things have been working out really well so far.
My advice for other women returning to work? I found that doing some construction-related volunteering gave me something relevant to include on my CV. This also helped me to keep up to speed with developments in the industry. I found a lot of help online, like the Women Returners CV writing webinars, which are often available at no cost.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

5 Tips for Retraining During a Career Break




If you're a mother thinking about retraining during your career break, this week's guest blog by Elvira Tynan, Co-Head of Learning at Digital Mums, is for you!

Retraining can be a great option if you’re thinking of getting back into work after a career break. Here at Digital Mums we train mums in social media marketing so they can find flexible work that syncs with family life. Many of the mums who come to us have been out of the workplace for some time and find our courses are a great stepping stone to new opportunities, not to mention a much needed confidence boost. On graduating many Digital Mums go on to work as freelance social media managers from home. But for others retraining is a route to a returnship. One of our graduates, for example, is currently part of a returnship at Mediacom after 24 years out of the workplace.

Making the decision that you are keen to retrain (or indeed just to do some training) is the first step but how do you make the most of the opportunity after a potentially long time away from studying?  Read on for our top five tips for making the most out of possible training opportunities (and not just ones with Digital Mums!):

1. Try something new.
Just because you’ve not done something before, it definitely doesn't mean you can't. At Digital Mums for example our courses are in social media marketing but many of our students come from really diverse backgrounds.  In fact some of our most successful social media managers and digital marketeers have come from the most - on paper - unlikely career backgrounds. Think teachers, solicitors and accountants.  

2. Choose the right course.
While there is no doubt there is a huge variety of courses out there, we would say many are ineffective because they replicate old fashioned ‘chalk and talk’ classroom styles like those you probably had at school. Avoid courses that focus too much on theoretical learning and instead find one that allows students to practically apply what they learn through real world projects or challenges. Online courses are also a great option as it should mean that you can study around your current family and life commitments.

3. Create a good working environment.
You’re likely to be studying at home a great deal so it’s important to set up your home in the right way. Devote an area to your studies and keep it distinct from the rest of the house. Don’t let your children near it if at all possible! Try to work out a routine for how you will fit your studies around other commitments. Many of our students will be up by 5am for example (providing the kids aren’t!) to get their studies out of the way earlier in the day. For others, being a night owl makes more sense. Find what works for you and try to stick to it - regular hours will help maximise your time. But also take advantage of smaller chunks of time during the day and use them to tick off the less ‘brain heavy’ tasks that make up your training.

4. Get digital.
You’re going to be busy juggling your current family or life commitments with training and this could be the first time you’ve learned anything formally since school. There are loads of great digital tools and apps out there to help you manage your time. Get a Gmail account to access Calendar, Google Drive, Docs and Sheets all of which can be used from your phone. Check out Trello which is a brilliant desktop tool and app to manage your tasks and time. Pocket allows you to save articles and blogs to read when you have the chance. And, the extremely nifty If This Then That (IFTTT) has great ‘recipes’ to connect your various digital tools together in useful ways.

5. Connect to your fellow students.
Studying online may make the most sense with the practicalities of your current commitments. But choose a course that has a student forum and where you can connect with your peers to brainstorm ideas and work collaboratively on projects. You can get some face-to-face time via Skype or Google Hangouts too. Research shows that peer-to-peer learning can be very powerful so you’ll benefit in lots of ways.


You can find out about Digital Mums Social Media Management Courses at www.digitalmums.com/learn

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Make Stress your Friend

It can feel very stressful going back to work: networking, knock-backs, interviews, and the inevitable pressures that a new job brings, no matter how happy you are to be back.

We're used to seeing stress as a bad thing to be avoided. That's why I love this 2013 TED Talk by Stanford Health Psychologist Kelly McGonigal. She explains how new research has found that how we think about stress transforms our experience of it - stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. If we see stress as helpful, it can help us to be more courageous and to rise to a challenge. She also explains how caring for others makes us more resilient  - less surprising, but good to hear the research!




Posted by Julianne

Friday, 15 September 2017

Setting up an architecture practice - Francesca's story



Hello to all the women returners!

My name is Francesca Romana Mazzenga. If you are reading this you probably are in the situation where for one reason or another you stopped working full, or part-time. I left the architectural practice where I had been working for 5 years, probably for the most common reason: I sacrificed my career, which was going so well, to follow my husband to be who was relocated abroad.
In Mauritius to be precise. Fantastic opportunity!

Back then I never would have thought I wouldn’t have worked in a practice for 13 years! I planned to go back to my previous job, as my boss had said to me to get in touch as soon as our two years’ relocation was over. That was the plan. But you all know sometimes plans and life don’t exactly coincide.

Little did I know that two years became three before we moved back to England, to another city. My daughter was born in Mauritius, she was two and a half by then and she was to become a big sister soon. But after four years, we moved again, to Italy this time, for another two and a half years.

The years were passing by and with moving and raising a family I hardly realised how many had already gone! What did I do all this time? Well, I worked as freelance architect, working in Liverpool, Mauritius and Rome, until we moved to Italy where I started teaching yoga and volunteering in the school my kids attended, becoming governor and getting involved with the Children’s University, creating a lecture for the kids regarding architecture and signing up many local points of interest to the scheme.

Once back in England I taught yoga for another year but I always wanted to go back to my professional job as an architect.  I re-registered as a professional at the ARB (Architect’s Registration Board) and started monitoring job advertisements in conjunction with lots of reading, CPDs and catching up, but sadly not a single advertisement was for a part-time architect to suit a mum who still had to do school runs.

I was getting discouraged and it was only when my husband sent me the link to the Women Returners' website that I discovered how many women shared the same difficulty. It gave me strength. I got in touch with the WR’s team asking for advice before the interview I was asked to go to in my previous practice. After that interview I realised that working in practice wasn’t exactly feasible for me at present, especially not in Manchester, where the interview was (we live in Liverpool at the moment).

I knew I had to go on my own. In December 2016, I had a plan of getting my own practice up and running by March 2017. Again, plans and life… I got my first assignment in January 2017, when I hadn’t even bought my CAD software to work with yet.

Everything happened really fast but all the experience from my previous jobs came flooding back and I asked myself why I hadn’t done it sooner. I am also learning a lot about social media, which, many of you can confirm, is a very important tool at present. My practice has just started but it’s keeping busy.

In all this I learned that if you really want something you can do it, sometimes you may need some self-encouragement, but don’t be shy to share your plans and objectives, via word of mouth or social media, because you may find the one person that needs your services as much as you need theirs. Spread the word.

I am feeling happy even if this means working evenings and weekends sometimes, I still have time with my family, take the kids to and from school and cook dinners. Good luck to all of us!

If you are an architect who had a career break, please do get in touch with me via info@womenreturners.com. 



Posted by Donna

Friday, 1 September 2017

Back to your future? Join us at the Women Returners Conference 2017


Following our blogging summer break, we are excited to announce the launch of our 2017 Conference, on Monday 20 November in London. We ran our first Conference last year (see here for how it came about), and had such positive feedback that we decided to make it into an annual event. 

If you can make it to London, do join us for a day of inspiration, advice and support, specifically designed for women professionals returning to work after a long career break. Alongside workshops and speaker sessions, you will have the opportunity to meet informally with other like-minded women and returner employers. You will also be able to hear the personal experiences of other returners, talking about what it's like to be on a returnship and how they've found being back at work after a long break. The Conference is supported by the 30% Club, and sponsored by Bloomberg and FDM Group (with other sponsors in the pipeline). The content will be relevant to you whether your background is finance, law, tech, engineering, marketing, retail or any other professional area, and whether your career break is 2, 5 or 15+ years.

See here for highlights and a video from our sold-out 2016 event. 


"Brilliant, a belief shifting event. I arrived feeling a lot of too - too old, too out of touch, too long a gap, too unwanted and left with all of those reversed, brimming with possibilities. Thank you." 2016 Conference Attendee
To find out more about the Conference including how to book tickets, see here.

If you're not able to join us, we'll make sure we post advice from our speakers and panelists on the blog after the event. These are our Top 5 Return to Work Tips from last year's Conference.

We hope to see you in November!

Posted by Donna

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The 5 Step Summer Return to Work Plan



With the school holidays in full swing and the general feeling that the whole world is slowing down, you may be tempted to postpone your plans to return to work until the autumn. However, away from the hectic pace and demands of the year, this is an ideal time to think about what you really want from a career and to start shaping an action plan for the months ahead. By taking a few simple steps now, you will feel more focused, confident and motivated about gearing up in September:

1. Identify your ideal role

A good starting point is to think about a work role in the past that you enjoyed and then focus on the elements that made it fulfilling. This exercise will help you to highlight your key skills and values and give you the direction you need to scope your job search. You may find that you look for a role in your previous field, or explore the option of starting your own business, or consider a role that combines aspects of your old job, but in a different sector, or you may even think about retraining.  Either way, the process will clarify your thinking and give you the confidence and motivation to pursue that new role. 

                                                                                                                            
2. Planning for courses, workshops or events

Whatever your career stage or length of your career break, everyone can benefit from sharpening their work skills. This is a good time to investigate which courses could best fill your needs. By doing a little research now, you will not only be on your way to plugging a skill gap, but you will also feel more in control.                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Feeling a little overwhelmed at the prospect of researching a return-to-work strategy? Put our Women Returners Annual Conference in your diary for November. It’s an intensive one-stop-shop for finding out about returner opportunities, meeting returner-friendly employers, attending workshops and being inspired by the success stories of other returners.  

3. Create a Network Map

You may be well aware of the benefits of networking – but uncertain where to start. Begin by listing people that you have met through the different phases in your life into three categories: Those from your past academic and work life, people from your current social circles such as volunteer groups, neighbours, parents or fellow sport enthusiasts - and also people who you are yet to meet – through groups and networks. You will be surprised how quickly the list grows and how receptive people are to meeting up after a summer break.

                    Top tips for enjoyable networking

4. Craft your story

Away from the everyday, holidays are often a time when we meet new people in relaxing surroundings. Use the opportunity to practise answering the often daunting but frequently asked question: “What do you do?” Include your previous work, what you are currently doing and what you would like to do in the future.

See our post: Telling your story

5. Prepare your family

Looking for a new position requires time and focus, let alone the actual return to work. Use the summer break to plan how you can free up your time – perhaps by introducing new childcare arrangements, booking after school clubs or reassigning responsibilities among family members.


Posted by Anna Searle, Sales and Marketing Manager, Women Returners