Friday, 5 February 2016

Answers to some common return-to-work questions

Julianne and I were delighted to meet a large number of returners at the SW London Back to Business event we spoke at last week. We were asked lots of interesting questions and thought it would be useful to share our answers to a few of these which we find to be common concerns after a career break.

I've done nothing in my break apart from bring up my children. What do I say about my break on my CV?

We always advise returners to specify that they have taken a career break rather than leaving an unexplained gap. It can be stated simply, with dates (e.g. 2008-date Parental career break), and does not need further detail if you were totally focused on caring responsibilities. It is important to state in your profile statement and cover letter that following your career break you are now motivated and committed to returning to work. In addition, don't dismiss unpaid or low-paid work that you have done during your break which employers could find useful and relevant (e.g. organising a large event, setting up a small home business, studying for a qualification). Finally, if you are getting ready to go back to work, now could be the right time to find some relevant work experience, or to update your knowledge by studying for a qualification, to demonstrate your renewed interest in the field you are returning to.

For further reading:
How to write your post break CV
The 'CV gap' barrier: evidence it exists & how to get over it

I'm an experienced doctor with no wish to return to practising medicine following my break. How do I work out what my transferable skills are and who would find me useful?

We suggest that you approach the question of what to do next in a different way: rather than try to work out where your experience and interests might fit, we recommend that you start with investigating what your personal strengths and interests are so that you can focus on finding work that you will find satisfying and fulfilling. There are a number of books listed on our website which can help you to do this self-analysis. Alternatively, some people find working with a career coach is helpful to support you with working out your new direction.

For further reading:
Setting your career compass: identifying your strengths
How to identify work you will find fulfilling

I've relocated from overseas and don't know how to get started with building a new network.

A useful way to think about your network is that it consists of people from your past, your present and your future. Your past network includes your previous work colleagues, suppliers and customers and school and university class-mates. Even if they are based in your prior location, they might well have contacts in the UK which they can introduce to you. Your current network includes all the people you engage with in your community in your daily life while your future network consists of people you can connect with through new activities you intend to start or training you plan to do. If you have a professional qualification, make sure that you contact the equivalent professional body in the UK to find out about membership, conversion requirements (if any) and networking events. An essential tool for building your network will be LinkedIn so make sure that you create a basic profile and build your online network too.

For further reading:
Five ways to build your back-to-work networks
Top tips for enjoyable networking
LinkedIn - an essential tool for your return to work

If you have other questions you'd like to ask, please get in touch with us or join our private LinkedIn group and share ideas with other returners.

Posted by Katerina

Friday, 29 January 2016

Returning to architecture after a career break

It can seem daunting to contemplate a return to architecture after a prolonged period away. My focus in this post is on where to acquire the knowledge and skills you should think about on returning, and where to find help and CPD (Continuing Professional Development).

We find that people coming back after extended absences often need help in two areas:  building their self-belief and confidence, and updating their technical, statutory and regulatory knowledge.

As Head of CPD at the RIBA, I have a strong belief that CPD and lifelong learning will not only keep you up to date, they can change your life and offer personal and professional benefits.  And thus, using CPD tactically to prepare for your return can make the landing smoother.

The skills specific to the practice of architecture you might need to brush up on are around new legislation (for example the new CDM Regulations), regulatory updates, planning law and planning changes, new forms of contracts, procurement, changes to the building regulations and new ways of working (digital design and construction, including Building Information Modelling)

Keep in the know by reading trade magazines, especially the free online versions: AJ, Building, Building Design, Construction News and Blueprint. A couple of hours a month reading RIBA Journal can keep you up to date on a wide range of issues. Websites I consider essential are Dezeen and Arch Daily. Don’t miss essential information on the RIBA and NBS websites: sign up for weekly bulletins, or bookmark the websites. Take part in the discussion on the RIBA’s Facebook, Twitter and Linked In pages.

There is a great deal you can do online, like doing a MOOC. What in heck is a MOOC? It’s a Massive Open Online Course – always free, generally offered by a university, and with thousands of courses available. I myself did a MOOC on music theory through the Edinburgh College of Art. I was one of 70,000 people around the world enrolled. The best MOOCs – like the one I did – have live chat and collaboration integrated. Start here with Coursera

However, MOOCs aside, I really recommend that whenever possible, you get together with other people for information sharing, learning, support, help and just enjoyable socialising.

For something more formal, the RIBA’s core CPD seminar (core seminar programme) offers seminars in 13 cities throughout 2016 (two venues in London, at the RIBA in Portland Place and at the Herman Miller showroom in Aldwych). The ten seminars relate to the ten core required CPD topics, with a current, topical take on what you need to know. Our free CPD Roadshows are relevant and valuable learning and free to attend.

The November GuerrillaTactics small practice conference and Speed Mentoring event are essential, and includes a day of CPD.

And finally, your regional RIBA office, and RIBA branches are essential points of contact, events, CPD, networking and more.

A few other industry groups for networking, events and mentoring: Chicks with Bricks  is a proactive network connecting young women in the construction industry to their female peers and role models. 

The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) encourages  individuals to pursue, establish and sustain successful careers in the construction industry. They organise regular events across the regions focusing on networking, education, site visits, skills and mentoring. 

And don't forget your local Chamber of Commerce for networking, training and more.

The RIBA team is here to help and advice. I can be personally contacted at or on 020 7307 3697. I can hopefully either help you myself, or refer you to one of my expert colleagues here in London or at one of our 11 regional offices.

Written by Joni Tyler, Head of CPD, RIBA

Friday, 22 January 2016

Be flexible about flexibility

This week I contributed to a Guardian online live webchat Q&A on improving your work-life balance. It struck me that the vast majority of the questions people posted were on job flexibility: how to find it, how to ask for it and how to make it work once you have it. 

A flexible interesting job can seem like the Holy Grail if you're a working mother, enabling you to find time for both work and family with the stability of an employed role and without running yourself into the ground. Unsurprisingly, questions about how to work flexibly feature regularly in the conversations I have with women returning after a career break. 

I've found that many women get off on the wrong track. They translate a desire for flexible work into a rigid quest for a part-time job, 3 or 4 days per week. Yet if you just look at online part-time job ads, you're likely to get disillusioned very quickly. Of the 10,000+ 'family-friendly' jobs advertised on Mumsnet today there are only 37 in the part-time category, 12 of which have a >£30k salary. Timewise are doing their best to change this, but the numbers of higher-level part-time roles on their job board are still limited. 

This doesn't mean that flexibility doesn't exist at a more senior level, even in large corporates. In my conversations with organisations, I hear an increasing openness to flexible working and a recognition that many (if not most) of their more senior employees do work flexibility in some shape or form. But flexible rarely translates into 3 days part-time. In most cases, it's more about full-time hours, but with flexibility about where & when you do them.

Don't rule this out - considering flexible full-time jobs as an option will greatly increase the range of positions available to you, and many women have found the work-life balance they want in these type of roles.

Types of Flexibility

Here are some of the most common options; think whether any (alone or in combination) could create an attractive working pattern for you:

Typically this means that you choose when you start and end work. This can fit well with parents of school-age children wanting to make the school pick-up. One returning banker negotiated an 8.30-3.30 schedule for a senior wealth management role, where part-time work was seen as out of the question.

Working from home (remote working)
Increasing numbers of professional roles don't involve being in the office all the time, reducing commute time & meaning mothers no longer have to miss important school events. Kate, a lawyer and mum of four featured in our success stories, found a role with a public regulator which was mainly home-based. Even within large corporates, you may now be able to work from home on a regular basis (e.g. every Wednesday), or to find a company culture where the team works from home on an ad-hoc basis whenever this suits the individual and the business.

Compressed hours
You work your weekly hours by starting early and finishing late on 4 days to create one day off. This is more likely to suit you if you don't have young children, maybe if you want to continue to have time for voluntary work, hobbies or other activities.

Extended holiday leave
It's not only in the education sector where you can enjoy extended time off to manage the school holidays. In the web chat the HR Director from Deloitte said that they had introduced Time Out, where employees can request an unpaid block of 4 weeks leave each year. Taking unpaid leave can suit the business too if summer is a quieter period for them. If the lost salary is a problem, look for companies who allow you to accrue leave from overtime to use as 'time off in lieu' when you want it. 

Finding a flexible role

Finding a flexible job is more about learning about company culture and effective negotiation than combing the online job boards. Timewise research in 2015 reported that only 6.2% of UK roles over £20k salary are advertised as flexible. However they have also found that 91% of managers are willing to discuss flexible working possibilities during the recruitment process. See our previous post for advice on negotiating flexibility.

And if you still see part-time work as the ultimate goal, remember that once you're in a company it's much easier to develop all forms of flexible working schedule (helped by the new right to request flexible working legislation). Most of the senior professionals featured in Timewise's Power Part Time List didn't start in part-time roles but reduced their hours once they were established and could make the business case for doing so.

See also previous post: How do I find a high level flexible role?

Posted by Julianne

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Life after a returnship. Q&A with Credit Suisse Real Returns 2014 participants

What happens to participants after a returnship programme? How do their careers develop and are they happy in the longer term to be back in the corporate world? We spoke to Adriana Ennab and Sinead O'Regan who were part of the first Credit Suisse Real Returns cohort (April to July 2014) to learn about their experiences since the programme. They also have some great advice for future participants. [If this inspires you to apply for the 2016 Real Returns programme, get on to it quickly as the deadline is this Sunday 17 January. See here for details]

Adriana, what is your current role and remit?
Currently I am a Director in the Public Affairs and Policy Department in London. The team advises senior management and select clients on policy and regulation affecting Credit Suisse’s strategy, its clients, Private Banking and Wealth Management and the Capital Markets. We maintain an active dialogue and advocacy effort with policymakers, trade associations, regulators, and international standard setting bodies. The team covers a broad range of topics including Prudential, Securities, Tax and Political Risk. Given my former background in Securities in my previous life, my initial remit was covering Shadow banking, Collateral and Margin requirements on OTC Derivatives.

What are your reflections on what you gained from the programme?
I have gained my independence again. I remember who I was before I took time off to raise a family. I am confident and feel fulfilled in a different way than the fulfilment I got from raising a family. I feel like I am in control of my life. I learn something new every day and I also teach something new. I am able to help others through mentoring. I also feel like I am able to be a great role model for my kids managing to work and raise a family.

How has your career developed since the programme?
When I began my new role at the end of the programme, I started with a blank page. I knew about the markets back in my day but had no idea about the world of Policy. I have been learning daily and building my knowledge. As mentioned earlier, my original remit was securities focused as that was where my previous experience was. I now cover areas such as Digital and am working on the bank’s Brexit committee as well other exciting projects.

What advice would you give to future returnship participants?
I would advise you to not box yourself in. Do not only think of the job you did previously but what your skill set is, what are your strengths and how can you transfer those. The team working on recruiting for the Real Returns programme did more than any head-hunter I had spoken to in the past. They did not try to place me in the same role I had before but looked at how I could transfer the skills that had made me successful previously into a new role. I would also recommend reading the papers daily and keeping up to speed with trends in the market and current affairs. If you have time, take classes that could help you get up to speed faster when you start. Excel, PowerPoint, coding-anything that you feel you are a bit behind the curve on. Not only will that help you once you get a job you will also feel like you can hit the ground running.

I would also suggest asking questions once you land at Credit Suisse. There is a very open door policy from management. If you do not know, ask. Learn as much as you can about your area, your division, and the bank. Meet as many people as you can. Find a sponsor. Attend all the workshops that you can, use all the fantastic resources at your disposal at the bank. Join the networks available. You have much at your disposal at Credit Suisse but it’s up to you to take advantage of it!

Sinead, what is your current role and remit?
I am currently working in the Compliance and Regulatory Affairs group. I am responsible for contributing to various team initiatives, such as the Risk and Control Self Assessments process, which leverages my previous professional skills

What are your reflections on what you gained from the programme?
Most importantly, the Program gave me an entry point back into the corporate work environment. It was always my intention to return to my professional career as soon as all my children were in full time education, but after a four-year absence and four children, I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. The Program was the perfect opportunity to test drive a return to work and I valued the excellent support, mentoring and training immensely, both from within my team and the Program. It gave me a chance to re-fresh knowledge and re-use technology, all in a safe environment. Over the course of the Program, I felt that I was brought back to the level of professionalism and understanding that was standard for me in my prior position. It was also a chance for me to try something new by working in a new industry which would not have been possible outside of the Program. My background is in Accounting and Tax and I qualified as an Irish Chartered Accountant and member of the Irish Institute of Taxation. Prior to my absence, the bulk of my career was spent with Andersen and subsequently Deloitte within their respective taxation practices in Dublin, Luxembourg and laterally London and my most recent role was with Deloitte London’s real estate taxation group specialising in tax structuring of international real estate funds. Although it is a complete change of industry, I have found that I have been able to leverage my previous professional experience and knowledge. At the end of the Program, I had built up valuable relationships both within and outside the team especially the network of my fellow 16 ‘Real Returners’ as we supported each other throughout the Program.

How has your career developed since the programme?
The program was a great start and I have remained in the same team, now as a permanent employee, becoming more integrated, building relationships both within and outside the team and taking on more responsibility as my confidence and knowledge has grown.  I have also been able to combine the role very well with family life through a great part-time arrangement. The biggest hurdle for me in making a return to work manageable was the school holidays, especially the long school summer holidays. So I agreed an arrangement giving me a 4 day week and extra holidays. This works very well and gives me one day a week on a Friday to organise the house and extra time to spend with the children during the holidays. I am looking forward to my future within the team as we grow and continue to tackle new and interesting work.  I am delighted with the direction my work has taken and could never have imagined that I could combine a great job and family life so well.

What advice would you give to future returnship participants?
Make full use of the program’s amazing training, networking and mentoring opportunities, as the Program passes by very quickly. Use the Real Return cohort and alumni as it is a great resource and ready-made network, this is invaluable in the initial settling-in period as there will be good days and bad days! And going forward, they are a great point of contact in the different sectors throughout the bank

Any other comments?
I can’t recommend the Program enough, it has given me a chance to come back to a corporate working world that I thought was behind me.

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 8 January 2016

Will you stick to your New Year resolutions?

Every January it is hard to avoid the talk of 'new year - new you' wherever you look. For women on a career break, the new year is often a time to set goals and make plans for returning to your career or re-inventing yourself. All too frequently, however, your initial enthusiasm and drive can quickly wane, everyday life takes over and the project of returning to work becomes too hard to pursue.  

Why don't resolutions work?
There are four key reasons why new year resolutions fail. It is usually because they are one or more of the following: 
  1. too general and vague e.g. find a part-time job; do more networking
  2. too big and daunting e.g. retrain for a new career in x; work out what to do next
  3. unrealistic e.g. land a new role by Easter
  4. not sufficiently action-oriented, with little idea of the steps required for achievement
All of these factors can lead to a rapid drop in motivation, as discussed by Julianne in her post on maintaining New Year motivation at the start of 2015.

A new approach
I was reminded of how often resolutions fail by a friend challenging me about how I would achieve my stated resolution 'to create more space for myself'. When she asked how I would achieve this, I had no answer. Her question forced me to acknowledge that my resolution was too general and vague and that I hadn't taken the step of converting my idea into action. I saw failure looming!

Her suggestion was to try a new approach to make the resolution stick: do something specific, simple and quick and do it daily for a month. By doing something new, even for only five minutes each time, on a daily basis, I will be able to make tangible progress on establishing a new habit. This approach is backed up by psychological research into how new habits get established. Linking the new behaviour to a specific cue, such as 'on waking' or 'before dinner' can also reinforce the habit formation.

Your 5 Minutes a Day return to work plan
How could you use this 'specific, quick and daily' approach to support your goal of returning to work? Here are some ideas to get you started:
  • Research useful updating or skills-development courses
  • Read a relevant news/journal article or book chapter
  • Connect with old and new contacts on LinkedIn
  • Read &/or contribute to a professional post on a LinkedIn Group
  • Email a contact to set up an informal chat
  • Work on a single section of your CV or LinkedIn profile
Of course you are likely to frequently spend more than five minutes a day, if returning to work is an important priority for you. However, by following the principle of doing a small thing every day, you will get into the habit of creating time to work on your return, so avoiding the common trap that everyday life gets in the way. This means that you cannot fail to make progress and will find it much easier to stick with and achieve your resolution by year end.

For further reading
How to form a habit - BPS Digest

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

When life speeds up .. slow down

It's that manic run-up-to-Christmas time again: finishing off the year's projects, fitting in school end-of-term events, making holiday arrangements and somewhere in-between finding presents and writing cards. If your To Do list is feeling overwhelming, you can best reduce your stress levels by acting against your natural instincts ...

Pause and Breathe
  • Resist the urge to race around and do three things at once; instead consciously slow your pace and focus on doing one thing at a time. Often we pride ourselves as Queens of Multi-tasking, and a whirlwind of activity can feel productive. However cognitive research has found that it's far more efficient for our brains to focus on just one task - we tend to complete it faster, better and with less energy (here's the science behind it, if you're still sceptical: Multitasking Switching Costs).
  • Rather than not stopping from the moment you wake in the morning to the moment you collapse at night, take 5 minutes once or twice a day to sit quietly, slow your breathing down and do nothing (yes, not even checking your emails). Our minds need time to recharge, otherwise our energy gets more and more depleted until we reach collapse point. Even a short pause can break this cycle.
You can build these actions into habits through regular practice. This will enable you to better manage your energy levels all year round, at home and at work - these tips aren't just for Christmas!

Season's Greetings

Thank you for following our Back to your Future blog. We hope that we have been a source of advice, support and inspiration to you this year.

We're taking a festive break for a few weeks and will be back in the New Year!

All Best Wishes for 2016 from 
The Women Returners Team

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 11 December 2015

Dipping your toes in the social media pool

Today we introduce Muriel Clark who will be a regular contributor to our blog. Muriel has joined Women Returners as our Digital Media Expert, following her own career break. She will be managing many of our online communications from now on and we are delighted to have her on our team.

After a 4 year career break and no Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter accounts, I felt out of touch with social media platforms. While I was contemplating returning to work, I realised I had to do something. I had to jump in. So I embarked on a mission to familiarise myself with social media and develop a professional credible online profile.
If you are looking to get back to work and are Twitter shy or LinkedIn adverse, fear not, you can teach yourself a few basic things that really can help to kick start your career.

Before you start, it is worth assessing your online presence by “googling” yourself. Potential employers will check your online credentials. With this in mind, and if you have been prolific on Facebook with personal matters, consider removing inappropriate posts.

LinkedIn and Twitter are the best tools for building your professional network and staying current with relevant information. Start by building your profile on LinkedIn. This can be daunting, but start with a skeleton of your CV, an outline of your career, your interests, education and volunteering experience. Read our previous blog for details on how to set up your profile, develop your network and job search on LinkedIn. Your new network will be invaluable for job searching, gaining references and endorsements and getting introduced to new contacts.

Twitter is another useful platform to rebuild your professional network. I know what you are thinking. What shall I tweet about? Well, you do not need to tweet to get started; you can adopt a rather passive approach that will show your areas of interest and more importantly keep you abreast of real time news on topics, individuals and organisations that you have carefully chosen. You can be a follower (on Twitter that is) and that’s fine for now.  Look at potential employer campaigns, find out about their current issues, research topics related to women returning back to work and employment diversity. Follow your favourite publications. Once you are confident, you can start “retweeting” useful information. And if you get the twitter bug, you might start tweeting your own thoughts before you know it.

Social media is not rocket science. Embrace it as little or as much as you want. You can make the most of social media without having to post something groundbreaking every 5 minutes. It is about embracing an effective medium to revive your career by growing your network and uncovering a new world of opportunities, sharing content as you see fit and not falling into a pool of information overload.

As for me, I have gained confidence and expertise in social media by doing the above and completing courses which were paramount to revive my career in marketing communications. I was lucky to be part of the Back2BusinessShip course (sponsored by Golin, Starcom Mediavest and F1), an excellent programme for women wanting to go back to their PR/Media/Marketing/Communications careers. I have completed comprehensive social media online courses (more on courses in a future blog). And thanks to my expertise in social media and refreshed marketing communications skills, I have recently joined Women Returners as their Digital Media Expert. 

Posted by Muriel

Friday, 4 December 2015

Anticipating the empty nest

Last month my youngest child turned 18 and I suddenly found myself in the position of being a parent of two adults. While this has been a long-anticipated state, my focus has been on my daughter's multiple celebrations not what her new adult status meant for me. Now, as she prepares to follow her brother to university next year, I am finally contemplating my empty nest.

In reality, I've been preparing myself for this stage since my children were born. Indeed, it was the fear of facing the prospect of an empty nest which ultimately propelled me into action with returning to my career, along with my desire to make a difference to society in some tangible way. When I retrained as an executive coach eleven years ago, I didn't have a clear idea of where I would be going with my new qualification or how I would rebuild my career. But I was clear that I wanted to be engaged in work where I could lay foundations for a time when I would be freer to focus more on my own work than my family responsibilities.

My return to work was small scale at first. I was content to work with just a few clients and to continue to put the majority of my energy and focus into my family. As I gained experience (and with it confidence in my abilities) and my children grew up, I actively sought more clients and even accepted the occasional overseas assignment. Self-employment allowed me to forge a new career while retaining the parental role I wished to have. At the same time, it hasn't always been easy and I had plenty of self-doubts along the way. The next major step I took in building up my work role was co-founding Women Returners, which has unintentionally provided another buffer to the empty nest effect. Our business and network are rapidly expanding, with the time and energy commitment that entails, as my involvement with my children's lives is decreasing. 

If you're also motivated to return to work by the looming prospect of the empty nest, the good news is that there are many more routes back to work than existed even 10 years ago, with the arrival of returnships and our innovative supported hiring approach. Companies and government are also acknowledging that returners are a neglected population who have skills, training and experience which are valuable. If you are seeking ideas and inspiration for how to return to work before your children fly the nest, take a look at the success stories on our website and the blog posts in our advice section.

Posted by Katerina

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Carla: Returning via the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Returning Talent Programme

With the launch of the 2016 Bank of America Merrill Lynch Returning Talent Programme, we caught up with Carla who told us all about her experience of the 2015 programme. 

I recently returned to work after a long career break, to the Global Banking and Markets COO group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. This was made possible through my participation in their 2015 Returning Talent Programme. 

After several years of staying at home to raise my children, I began to think about returning to the workforce last year.  During my break, I had stayed active with a couple of board positions and a small accessories business, which I founded and ran. However, as my children grew up, I was eager to return to a full-time corporate role.  Previously, I had worked as an Institutional Equity Salesperson and I wanted to find a position that was a good fit for my skills and experience.  However, when thinking about my return and job search, I was unclear about other areas in financial services to target and unsure how to market myself as a candidate. 

The Bank of America Merrill Lynch Returning Talent Programme helped me to address these uncertainties. The conference and follow-on coaching workshops not only provided me with advice and information about the job search process but also gave me the tools to consider what types of role and organisational workplace would suit me best. This reinforced my decision to target a clearly-defined role at a large established organisation. I also benefitted from the talks from senior female leaders, which offered exposure to different areas of the bank and a means of developing networking contacts.  Just as importantly, taking part in the Programme was also a great way to meet and connect with other returners. This created a back-to-work support system for me, which I had found difficult to do within my regular social group and school network.  

My advice to other women wanting to return to a City role is:
  • Be resilient and open-minded to new and different opportunities
  • Take the time to understand what type of work will best suit you
  • Commit time to your job search – putting aside a couple of days a week was essential in keeping me focused and active
  • Focus on returnships and other returner programmes, like the Returning Talent Programme. These are an ideal platform to restart your career with a high level of support and resources from the organisation.
I am delighted to be back at work in a full-time role in financial services. My family has adjusted well to my new schedule and I would definitely encourage others considering a return to take the step. 

If you would like to apply for the 2016 programme, follow this link. The closing date for applications is Friday 18th December, 2015.

Posted by Katerina

Saturday, 21 November 2015

How to avoid living with regrets

Any of these sound familiar ...?

I should have chosen a more flexible career
I should have spent more time with my kids when they were babies/teens
I should have carried on working rather than giving up my career
I should have spent more time with my mother/father when they were ill
I should have taken that job opportunity
I should have stayed in better touch with ...
I should have studied [..] instead of [..]

On top of guilt, regret about past actions or choices can be another way in which we endlessly beat ourselves up. 

Fear of future regrets can also stop you from making important life decisions. If you're thinking about going back to work, you might be worrying that you will regret spending less time with your family, or alternatively if you're considering taking a career break, you might be afraid of regretting 'giving up' your career. 

How can we manage regret? A good start point is understanding more about why it exists and what is most likely to trigger it.

Psychology of Regret
Regret involves blaming ourselves or feeling a sense of loss about what might have been. Like all negative emotions, it exists for a reason. Regret is useful if it encourages you to re-evaluate your past choices and then galvanises you to refocus on what's important or to take a different path. Regrets can be a call to action - pushing you to pick up your career or to spend more time with people who matter to you. Neal Roese from Kellogg University, who has studied regret among younger people, found that overall they see regret as positive as it motivates them to make changes. You can also be encouraged to take action by fear of future regrets: one of the factors that strengthened my decision to retrain in my 30s was that I knew I would regret it if I didn't give it a go.

However, there is a powerful potential down-side. If you have limited opportunity to change the situation, which is more likely as you get older, regret can be destructive - leading to self-blame, frustration, an inability to make decisions and sometimes even to stress and depression.

Our greatest regrets
Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University spent a decade studying the psychology of regret, mainly by asking people to look back over their lives and to describe their biggest regret. Over the long term, 75% of people regretted not doing something more than the actions they had taken, even those which had led to failure and unhappiness. The top 3 regrets were not working hard enough at school, not taking advantage of an opportunity and not spending enough time with family and friends. 
Psychologist Richard Wiseman explains the rationale. It's far easier to see the negative side of a poor decision you made than the consequences of something that didn't happen. You can see the tangible results of making a bad career decision on your life now. However, if you didn't accept that job offer, then the possible positive benefits are endless and it's easy to fantasise about the great life you would have had if only you'd made the right decision at the time.

How to tackle regrets

If you have regrets about actions you took or didn't take in your past:

  • Recognise that everyone makes mistakes, and that the best thing you can do is to look forward. What actions you can take now to correct the situation: go back to study/retrain; take small steps to restart your old career; make more time for friends; make that phone call?
  • If you can't take corrective action, Wiseman suggests "Ring-fencing Regret" to create a more balanced perspective. Imagine a ring fence around the 'what might have been' benefits that you keep thinking about. Instead of focusing on these, think about 3 benefits of your current situation and 3 negative consequences that might have happened had you taken the action that is causing your regret.  

If you're worrying about future regrets from actions you want to take now:

  • Remember that you're more likely in the long-term to regret the things you don't do than the things you do
  • Seize the opportunities that come to you and take small step actions rather than procrastinating: make the time, face your fears, try things out. This is the best way to prevent looking back in 10 years' time and thinking "I should have ..."

Refs & other reading
59 Seconds, Richard Wiseman. One of my favourite books on how psychology research can change your life, including a chapter on regret
The Psychology of Regret. Online article in Psychology Today

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 13 November 2015

How 'strategic' volunteering can support your return to work

If you've been out of the workplace for many years, we often recommend that you consider strategic volunteering, but it may not be clear to you exactly what we mean by this or how it can be a route back to work. For me, strategic volunteering was a crucial step in getting back to work after my career break; I reflected on this during a trustees' meeting this week (taking time out from Women Returners). As with so many people who take a career break, I had lost any sense of myself as a professional person possessing management and leadership skills that would be of use outside my domestic role. Through joining a charity board, in a non-executive role, I had the opportunity to rebuild my self-belief in a variety of ways:
  • talking with other professionals, as equals, on matters of strategy, policy and operations reminded me that I knew about this stuff!
  • taking on specific projects, such as overhauling the financial reporting systems, was a concrete opportunity to contribute and make a difference
  • feedback from my colleagues was positive and encouraging (in contrast to the normal complaints from my children)
  • I learned that my different way of looking at matters (from being the sole female and not steeped in the charity's historical way of operating) was valued.
What separates strategic volunteering from the other unpaid roles you may have taken on during your break, from class rep to community volunteer, is that the work you are doing creates a platform for your return, either through refreshing or developing your skills, or by being an entry route to a new role. 

Strategic volunteering comes in many guises. These are examples of other people who've used it as a starting point for their new career:
  • Jill volunteered as a business start-up adviser which allowed her to create a portfolio career with a number of NED positions.  You can read her story here
  • For Suzanne, being PTA chair was a perfect way to revive her dormant people management and influencing skills (there is nothing harder than engaging a group of volunteers), allowed her to be creative in a public arena and gain experience in presenting and speaking to large groups. A bonus was that getting to know her co-chair led to them setting up a business together when their term of office ended.
You can read some other inspiring examples in our previous post: Finding your way back through strategic volunteering.

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

Posted by Katerina   

Saturday, 7 November 2015

You're not a fraud! Tackling Imposter Syndrome

I first learnt about the impostor syndrome when I was studying for my psychology masters. I remember feeling hugely relieved that it was normal to be asking myself "What are you doing here?" as I sat in the lecture hall and started working with clients. Although not naturally plagued with self-doubt, I had found that retraining and practicing in a new profession after a long career break made me question my abilities. I felt like a fraud when I introduced myself as a psychologist, and wondered if I would ever truly feel like a competent professional in this new field.

The Imposter Phenomenon

It was reassuring to find out that even highly successful people can feel like frauds, and that these feelings are so common that they have a name. The 'imposter phenomenon' was first identified in 1978 by two clinical psychologists, Pauline Clance & Suzanne Imes*. They interviewed 150 successful women who, despite their qualifications, achievements and professional recognition, still considered themselves to be impostors in their fields. Clance & Imes drew out three main aspects: a belief that others have an inflated view of your abilities, a fear that your true abilities will be found out, and a tendency to attribute your success to luck or extreme effort. Since then, there have been many follow-on studies supporting the findings of this research, with mixed-gender samples across a range of occupations finding that up to 70% of people have feelings of impostorism at some point. Unsurprisingly, researchers have found that these feelings are most common when people are making a move outside of their comfort zone, such as starting a new job or taking on new responsibilities. Although it's not an area that's been studied, it's clear that returning to work after a career break is also a likely trigger for this irrational fear of incompetence, even if you're returning to the job you did before.

A decade ago, the impostor syndrome was little known outside of psychology, so I've been happy to see that it's now more broadly known & discussed. A recent article on the topic in the New York Times quoted Maya Angelou, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’" 

There is sometimes a misconception that this is another 'women's issue' - lumped in with low self-confidence as something that holds women back more than their male colleagues. In fact, despite the initial focus on women, research now suggests that men are just as likely to experience impostorism. But maybe they are less likely to admit it?

How can you tackle Imposter Syndrome?

One of the most useful steps is to recognise that these fears are very normal & that many other people have them. Nobody knows everything and even the people at the top of your company or your profession probably have times when they too feel out of their depth. Don't blindly believe your self-doubts or let them hold you back.

If you're coming back to work after a long break, understand that you are more likely to doubt your abilities in this time of change and give yourself a boost. Spend time identifying what you do well and the part you played in your achievements, both in your pre-break career and during your career break. And remember that no-one's successes are just down to luck!

* Psychology research ref: Feeling like a Fraud, Christian Jarrett The Psychologist, May 2010

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 30 October 2015

Reflections on Suffragette - How much progress have women made?

Following a weekend when, with my teenage daughter, I attended a feminism conference and watched the harrowing and dramatic new movie, Suffragette, I have been reflecting on the progress of women in society in general and in the workforce in particular.

The conference reminded me that there are still many aspects of life where there is inequality for women, but the film brought home how much has changed for women since we were given the vote, which is itself a relatively recent event, happening less than 100 years ago in this country. Since then, our family law has enshrined that women are no longer the property of men, maternity rights and pay have been extended and the right to request flexible working and shared parental leave have been introduced. And in recent years there has been a focus on balancing the boardroom and addressing the gender pay gap. Indeed in the past week, the Government has announced a process requiring companies to report on the gender pay differential in their organisations and Lord Davies has announced an extension of the 25% target for women on boards, to 30%. This success is, in large part, a result of the work of the 30% Club.

Thinking about my own experience of the world of work, I again see progress. 20 years ago, I was the first person in my organisation to request to work part-time following my first maternity leave! When I stopped work after my mother became terminally ill and I was pregnant with my second child, there was a complete absence of support for women in my position. I resolved then to put my energies into contributing in some way to changing the experience for others. Since returning to work 10 years ago, I have been encouraged to see how enlightened employers now offer KIT days, maternity coaching and a variety of flexible working arrangements as they have recognised that they want to retain their female workforce. And Julianne and I have been delighted with the reception we continue to receive from organisations which are waking up to the neglected, but amazing, pool of talent that is women on extended career breaks. Our experience is that companies are acknowledging that women on career break are highly skilled and motivated and the companies are starting to work out ways to get you back into work.

Although many of these innovations seem normal now, none were easy to achieve and I'm very aware that there continue to be problems for women in the workforce which need to be resolved. But I am hopeful that things will be different - and better - for my daughter's generation. Our conclusions from the conference were that we need to do more to get men on board with these issues and that to paraphrase Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women's Equality Party, change will only happen through action, not words. We will be continuing to pursue the goals of Women Returners: what action will you take?

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Regain your (email) identity

Amir ... RichardYoung@ ... Sarah & Simon ... TheJohnsons@ ...

These are all variations on email names and addresses which have recently shown up in my inbox. Stay-at-home dads looking to get back to work? Emails from friends? No, all of these messages were from professional women wanting advice about returning to work. 

What's in a name?

It sounds like a small thing, but don't underestimate what your email name and address say about you. An email is often your first point of contact in your job exploration, be it for a networking connection or a recruitment application. In the same way as recent research* has found that you're less likely to appear hirable to recruiters if you have a funny or informal email address, using a family, joint or husband's mail name/address can affect how people see you. Your electronic identity risks labeling you as a mum or wife, with all the accompanying stereotypes, rather than the giving credible professional image you want to convey. 

There is also something symbolic about setting up a personal email address for your back-to-work communications. If you're at home looking after your family, it's easy to lose sight of yourself while you're caring for others and being someone's mum/daughter. This is one simple way to start regaining your own independent identity.

How to create a professional email identity
  1. If you only have a family or joint email, set up a personal one - it's a 5 minute task using a provider such as hotmail or google mail.
  2. Make sure that your work email address is a formal one, ideally some variation on your full name (eg.
  3. Use the name you'll be using for work and on your CV. Be consistent - don't make your email your family name if you'll be using your maiden name.
  4. Whether it's a new or an existing address, check how your email name appears when it's received. You can see this by sending a test email. Make sure it's your full name that comes up & if not change the user name in your email settings.
  5. And, of course, make sure you add the new address to Outlook, your phone and anywhere else you monitor emails so you can easily monitor and promptly reply to all your work-related emails.  
Research from VU University Amsterdam in Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking journal

Related posts on the psychological side of regaining your identity
Reconnecting with your professional self
Who am I anyway?

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 16 October 2015

Return to work inspiration from the Great British Bake Off!

As one of the 14 million people who watched the Great British Bake Off final, I was as moved as many others by the winner, Nadiya's spontaneous tearful declaration that she would never again place limits on herself. Nadiya's comments resonated with me both as a fellow shortie and because of all my experience of women who've overcome their self-imposed limits to return to work after a long break. Nadiya, herself, stopped working 10 years ago when her first child was born.

I thought about all the people who tell me that they're:
  • too old
  • too out-of-date
  • too far behind in their knowledge and understanding
  • too low in confidence
  • too low in skills
  • unable to manage work and their other commitments
  • unable to decide among too many options
  • lacking a network and even
  • unemployable
and so are unable to return to their career.

And at the same time, I thought of all the women I've worked with and met through the years who have overcome what appeared to be insurmountable barriers and found a way back to work they enjoy, whether it be through a returnship, their revived network, further study, creating their own business or a direct application. You can read some of their stories here.

For those of you who are still uncertain about your next move, you don't have to take the extreme step of applying for a national TV baking competition, but do think about some small steps that could put you onto the path towards returning to work and read some of the posts highlighted below. Above all, remind yourself of Nadiya's comments to The Times: "You may be scared, you may doubt yourself but it doesn't mean you can't do it."

Recommended posts to get past your barriers:
Am I being selfish by wanting to work?
Where's my confidence gone?
Tackling perfectionism: is 'good enough' not good enough for you?
Too many choices
Too few choices: advice on identifying post break options
Do all working mothers have to feel guilty?
Are 'shoulds' ruling your return to work decisions?
How to make time for your return to work job search

Posted by Katerina

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Changing the image of work-life balance

What image comes to mind when you think about work-life balance? When I googled the term the most common pictures are 

... the Work-Life scales ...

... and the Work-Life seesaw ...

No question here that it's a Work versus Life trade-off. If this is your mental view of balance too, it's hard not to feel that going back to work will inevitably conflict with your family and personal life. 

In fact, as we've discussed before in this blog, work can be re-integrated into your life in a positive way, improving your life and family satisfaction. With this in mind, I'd like to suggest an alternative image. Think about your life as a jigsaw puzzle that you are in control of creating. The puzzle pieces are the different elements of your life: friends, parents, children, partner, community, hobbies, exercise, religion, voluntary work etc. It's up to you to select the pieces you most want to include at this stage of your life. To incorporate a new piece - 'paid work' - you need to consider how large a piece of the jigsaw you would like this to be right now. Which other pieces are you going to put aside or shrink in size, to make space to slot the work piece in? Bear in mind an image of choosing and fitting together the pieces in a way that works for you - and be flexible to adjust the shape and form as your circumstances change. 

I really like the jigsaw image, as it reflects the way I integrate work within my life. If you can suggest any other alternative images to replace the scales/seesaw, do let us know!  

Related posts
Creating your own work-life balance

Posted by Julianne