Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Morgan Stanley London launches Return to Work workshop

Returnship programmes are taking off in the UK! Companies are recognising that returning professionals are a strong talent pool and may need support to get back into corporate roles.

Morgan Stanley have just announced a Return to Work workshop on 20th May, prior to launching their own 'returnship' programme in September.

Morgan Stanley's workshop is targeted at professionals who:

  • have been out of the workforce for over 2 years, particularly those who have been caring for their family
  • have prior experience in financial services or a related professional field 

The workshop will run from 10am-4pm at the Morgan Stanley office in London E14 and will include sessions on CV writing, preparing for interviews and networking. The workshop is focused on building up confidence and skills in preparation for applications and recruitment processes.

To apply send your CV and a covering letter explaining why you would like to participate in the workshop to:
The deadline is Monday 5th May. Places are limited and successful applicants will be notified by Monday 12th May.

Posted by Julianne

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Are you overthinking your career decisions?

Do you find yourself having lots of work ideas but for some reason not actually doing anything about them? Do you spend hours talking about & researching options & thinking about pros & cons .. but never making any real progress? 

The Overthinking Trap
I’ve worked with many women considering what to do after a career break and many of them fall into this overthinking trap. In our former working lives we often succeeded because of our ability to mentally work through solutions to problems and this is our default. We get fooled that we can think ourselves into a decision. 
But the 'what shall I do with my life?' career questions can rarely be solved just by brain-power. What you really need to do is to start taking practical actions. And I don’t mean firing off your CV when you’re not yet sure what you want to do – it’s about finding ways to try out your options before deciding where you want to commit.  Professor Herminia Ibarra in her career change book ‘Working Identity’ calls this a ‘test & learn’ approach. She warns that waiting to act until you know what to do next can keep you stuck: “Doing comes first, knowing second”.

Start Doing
  • If you’re wondering whether to go back to your old company/field: Get back in touch with old colleagues for an initial exploratory chat; ask about small projects or freelance work; take a refresher course.
  • If you’re not sure if you want to do something new: Find people who are doing the job - go to an industry event or look for friends of friends – and talk to them about their roles; take a short course; do related voluntary work or find/create an internship.
  • And if you’re thinking of setting up a business, find some entrepreneurs to talk to or go to a start-up workshop like Enterprise Nation's Start Up Saturday.
  • For more ideas see our return-to-work success stories.
Once you have some ideas on future options, it is more doing not more thinking that will get you clearer on the route you want to take.

This is an amended version of our guest post for the Mumsnet Workfest blogWorkfest is on 7th June 2014 in London:"an inspirational and helpful day for women returning to work post maternity or an extended career break, those looking to switch jobs, as well as those embarking on a new business venture. We're running 2 sessions:
  • Returning to work after an extended career break 
  • Tackling your fears, doubts and guilt
Hope to meet some of you there!

Posted by Julianne

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Project 28-40 - What's the news for returners?

You might have seen or heard the press coverage this week on the findings from Project 28-40, a report from Opportunity Now, the gender campaign arm of Business in the Community. It's the largest ever study of women and work in the UK, with 25,000 responses. 

The media focused on the difficulties women face with work in general and with combining careers and families.  
But having read through the whole report, the pessimistic coverage doesn't tell the whole story.  There is some 'myth-busting' with the recognition that women are just as ambitious and confident as men and actively seek opportunities to advance their careers.  At the same time, the message is that companies' policies are often not effective in practice.  There is plenty more for employers to do to move women's progression 'from a diversity initiative to a core business priority'. Recommendations include setting targets for numbers of women at each senior level in the organisation and ways to defeat the flexible working stigma. 

We particularly like the call to 'allow for non-linear careers - your top talent will have times in their lives they need to take a step back'. 

Hidden in the detail there is a practical recommendation for longer-term returners, that employers consider return(er)ships for women who've had a career break of 2+ years:

'Returnerships offer a potential win-win solution for business and women returners – women returning from a long term career break to work could work for a fixed internship with the possibility of a permanent role at the end, allowing both the employer and the employee to ‘try before they buy

We are delighted to have been asked by Opportunity Now to work with them to inform and persuade businesses to take up the returnship concept.  We will also continue to promote returnships in the media and through our networks and will actively publicise any new returnship programmes that are introduced.

You can also take the initiative and suggest an individual returnship to a potential employer, as a possible route back to work. You can read the example of Stephanie who created her own returnship to give you more ideas. Let us know of any successes you'd like to share.

Posted by Katerina

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

How organisations and individuals can ease the return-to-work 'sticky door'

Last week Nemat Shafik, the new Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, proposed that instead of breaking the 'glass ceiling' to reach senior levels, women need to push through the 'sticky door':

"women and girls should not look up to a glass ceiling but switch their gaze straight ahead to a “sticky door” which is blocking women from breaking through. It helps if there are allies on the other side pulling the handle too, ... But it is not everything – it’s mainly up to women to put their shoulders to the door and give it a hard shove." 
Interview of Nemat Shafik with Jane Merrick, The Independent, 19/3/14

This metaphor definitely feels more possible and a lot less painful than breaking a glass ceiling. I think it works just as well for professional women returning to work after a long career break as for women employees aiming for Board level ...
How organisations can ease the door
We need 'allies on the other side pulling the handle'. Our allies are organisations which recognise the value of this neglected pool of highly-qualified and experienced senior women and are prepared to facilitate their re-entry into the workforce in practical ways:
  • developing specific recruitment channels to get round the HR 'CV gap' screening block
  • offering returning professional internships (returnships) as a targeted route back.
  • providing coaching & mentoring for the transition period
  • keeping in touch with alumnae while they've left the workplace so they feel the door is still open!

How individuals can ease the door
And returning women need to give a 'hard shove'. No-one says that getting back into a satisfying and fulfilling role after a long time out is easy. But it is possible if:

Our role 

At Women Returners, we recognise the return-to-work door is still very sticky and we're aiming to add some oil to ease it up. We're encouraging you to keep shoving and organisations to pull harder!

(OK, I've taken the metaphor as far as I can now ...)
Posted by Julianne

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Setting your career compass: identifying your strengths

When you're planning to re-start your career after a break, one of the challenges is working out whether to go back to your old field or to try something different .. and if so, what? One of my clients told me she wanted to develop an internal compass to point her in the right direction towards a job she would enjoy and find fulfilling. 

How do we go about developing our own internal career compass? Thanks to recent positive psychology research, we're now much clearer on what makes us happy at work. Studies consistently find that one of the key aspects is using your strengths. A true strength is something that you are good at AND energised by - maybe developing new ideas, analysing, seeing the big picture or empathising with others [We can be good at things but find them draining; these aren't strengths in this sense]. 

Why focus your career choices on your strengths?
People who use their strengths more*: 
1. Are happier 
2. Are more confident 
3. Have higher levels of self-esteem 
4. Have higher levels of energy and vitality 
5. Experience less stress 
6. Are more resilient 
7. Are more likely to achieve their goals 
8. Perform better at work 
9. Are more engaged at work 
10. Are more effective at developing themselves and growing as individuals
*Source: Centre for Applied Positive Psychology.

Convinced? So, it's clearly a good start point to ask yourself which jobs would best play to your strengths.  However first you need to work out what your strengths are ...

Identifying your strengths
I've found that most people can give a long list of their weaknesses, but few can describe their strengths in detail, and even fewer can pinpoint what strengths differentiate them from the next person. Often we don't value our natural strengths: if you naturally get on with most people, you may assume that it's nothing special and not realise that building relationships is a core strength for you. 

Ways to build up your personal strengths list
1. Use an online strengths assessment: Strengthsfinder 2.0 is a good choice & one of the easiest to interpret yourself 
2. For another perspective, get strengths feedback from your friends & family: ask them what they think you're good at and to give you specific examples so you don't just think they're 'being nice' (& resist the temptation to ask them for your weaknesses too!)
3. Keep a note over the next few weeks of times when you are engaged in an activity and feel highly energised. Think about whether you are using one or more of your strengths at these moments. It can be helpful to talk this through with a friend who can help you to 'strengths-spot'.

Once you've better understood your strengths & thought about where you can best use them, you're on the way to setting your career compass. We'll talk more about other aspects to consider (such as values and interests) in future posts.

Further reading
For more tips and advice on career decision-making see: using your instincts, too few choices and too many choices.

Posted by Julianne

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Are you trying to be a work-home Superhero?

Do you feel you have to do everything for your family and find it impossible to let go of even the smallest detail?   Do you tidy your house before your cleaner comes or run to school with a child's forgotten homework?  Do you volunteer for lots of local committees and take on more than your share of work?  If so, you are probably feeling taken for granted and resentful of others who aren't doing their bit.  And at the same time, you can't see how you could possibly return to work when nobody else can do what you do!  

If this sounds familiar to you, you are probably trying to be a superhero.  It is also likely that you behaved like this at work, before your career break, so it is even harder to work out how you could combine work with all your more recent non-work responsibilities.

What is behind being a superhero?

This superhero behaviour is common enough for psychologists to have recognised and researched it.  It is often referred to as pleaser behaviour as it arises from a need to gain approval from others (work colleagues, family, children).  To gain approval, the pleaser will do whatever is asked of them, hates to say no and will always say that they are 'coping' no matter what is going on.  The downside of the behaviour is that the pleaser doesn't balance what they are doing for others with their own needs and the lack of balance builds resentment.

How can you get back to work without being a superhero?

  1. As mentioned in previous posts on unhelpful thought patterns, becoming aware of your pattern is the first step, so try to catch yourself when you're about to put your hand up for a project or about to save your children from learning by their own mistakes
  2. Work out which of the non-work tasks you do that others could do instead. And decide which tasks don't really need doing and just won't be done when you go back to work 
  3. Accept practical or emotional support.  Asking for help is not a weakness, we all need it.
  4. Get some practice with saying 'no' and learn to handle any unpleasant feelings and fears this brings up in you.  You might discover it is easier than you expected!
  5. Take care of yourself: build some activities into your schedule that are things you enjoy doing.  Read our post about guilt if you find this idea difficult
  6. Remember that you will be a more effective worker and more fulfilled parent if you balance what you are doing for others with taking care of your own needs too

Posted by Katerina

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Why work needs to be energising as well as family-friendly: Nicola's story

We always advise women returners to target roles that will be energising and motivating for them and not to solely focus on finding a job that is part-time and flexible. If you find your 'family-friendly' work boring then you are unlikely to be happy with your work-life balance. Nicola's story illustrates this perfectly ...

Nicola's story: Back to insurance (via nursery teaching)

Before I had children I worked in insurance broking and risk management. When I had my first daughter I went back to work 4 days a week but when I had my second daughter I didn’t want to delegate to a nanny anymore and decided to become a full-time mum. By the time my youngest was 2½ and at nursery I needed something to fill my days to stop getting frustrated. So I took a job as a nursery assistant teacher and worked there for 5 mornings a week term-time for 5 years. I enjoyed meeting new people but there was no mental challenge. The death of a close relative led me to reassess my life and I realized I was drifting. I considered training to be a schoolteacher but didn’t have much enthusiasm for it. I kicked my heels for a while and then contacted my old boss who I had kept in touch with over the 10 years since I left insurance. I asked him to let me know if he heard of any job, provided it was flexible. I also told all my friends and old work contacts that I was looking.
By pure chance one of my husband’s friends was having lunch with another mutual friend and mentioned that I wanted to get back into insurance. This friend worked for a risk management consultancy which was recruiting and approached me about a role there. I asked for 3 days a week, flexible according to demand but not Fridays. This was agreed because I was clear about what I wanted and what could work for the business.
I now absolutely love my life – it was definitely the right decision to go back. Even though I am working longer hours, my life feels more my own and I have got back my self-respect. I thought I’d be exhausted but in fact I have more energy than when I was working a few hours a day in the nursery. I’d rather be busy than bored!

For other inspiring return-to-work stories see www.womenreturners.com/success

Posted by Julianne

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

How to Ditch the Guilt - Top Tips from Work+Family show

On Friday and Saturday last week, we ran workshops on the topic of Learn to Juggle and Ditch the Guilt for visitors to the Work+Family show.  We introduced our coaching process for tackling guilty feelings and shared our top tips.  For those who were not able to attend the event, the three step process consists of:
1. Acknowledging the guilt feelings
2. Investigating their source(s). When is the guilt happening? What are the triggers? Is there any real justification or are beating yourself up for no reason?
3. Define actions to address the guilt. Take small practical steps focused on your guilt triggers. And let go of the pervasive 'working mum' guilt!

Our top tips are:

•Use our process to Acknowledge-Investigate-Act on guilty feelings

•Remember that working parents don’t have to feel guilty 

o Children thrive with happy parents
•Aim for good-enough not perfect

•Work out your priorities & delegate the rest where you can

•Look after yourself to better look after others

•Ignore other people’s judgments – they have different values

•Put practical & emotional support in place – we all need it!

Additionally, there have been some excellent articles written recently in The Washington Post and the Talented Ladies Club online magazine as well as our earlier post on guilt.

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

10 return to work tips from successful returners

We have recently launched our first ten return-to-work success stories on www.womenreturners.comIf you're finding it harder than you thought to relaunch your career after a long break, reading real-life stories of women professionals who have successfully done so can be very encouraging. They both demonstrate that it is possible to find fulfilling work after a long absence and offer a great source of ideas and inspiration for how to do so.

We asked our story contributors for their tips for other women returners. These are some of their words of advice:

Finding a role

1. "Set aside your ego - think about the level of work that you'll be doing in the job rather than the title"

2. "Think outside the box to find work that fits in with your family life - don't define yourself too narrowly by what you did before"

3. "Prioritise what is important for you: what makes work worthwhile and what you want to hold on to in your personal life"

4. "Tell everyone you know that you are looking & don't undervalue your friends and family as contacts. Bypass recruitment agents and go direct"

5. "Consider starting small and getting yourself and your family used to working before ramping up"

Starting back

6. "Buy some new work clothes so you feel you fit in and get a confidence boost"

7. "Don't underestimate your ability to learn fast when you do return - you did it before and you still can now!"

8. "Don't feel you have to know everything when you go back. Technology is changing so fast that people are always learning new systems ... and you can always Google what you don't know!"

9. "Don't be ashamed of being a mother and your career break"

10. "Believe in yourself, be brave and give it a go!"

Posted by Julianne

Other related posts

Ideas for routes back to work
How do I find a high level flexible role?
7 tips for your return to work after a career break

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Returnships arrive in the UK: Credit Suisse Real Returns

We talked about the mutual benefits of returning professional internships (returnships) for returners and employers back in November. At that time we couldn't identify any UK initiatives - all were US/India based. So we are delighted to report that the first UK returnship has just been launched by Credit Suisse in London - hopefully the first of many. 

Real Returns: Restart Your Career At Credit Suisse

The Real Returns programme will run for 8-10 weeks starting on April 28th 2014 and is aimed at experienced professionals returning to the workplace after an extended absence. The application deadline is February 21st 2014 so if you're interested, you'll need to get an application in quickly. 

The programme includes:

  • A short-term project-based assignment, working on an important initiative in one of the business areas. Projects will be based on your experience, interests and skills set
  • A series of orientation/training events
  • A programme mentor and a day-to-day project manager
  • The opportunity to broaden your network within your business area and to participate in events hosted by the bank's diversity networks, including the EMEA Women's Network and Family Network

For more information, including details of how to apply see:

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Are you worrying too much about returning to work?

Some people thinking about returning to work find they are consumed by worries. These often start with 'What if...?'

What if ....  I can't do this work anymore?
What if ...   no-one will employ me anymore? 
What if ....  my children/partner/family miss me?
What if ....  I'm not able to take time off for emergencies?
What if ...  I can't find a flexible role in my field?
What if ...  I fail?
What if ...  I can't get good childcare?

The volume and variety of doubts and fears can be enough to cause paralysis and prevent any further progress with activities that might eventually lead to a new role.  Everything feels too risky.

Getting beyond worry

If you are finding that your worries crowd in every time you think about how to return to work, what can you do?
  • Write down all your worries.  Getting them out of your head and seeing them written down can reduce their power over you.  Some of them might seem more manageable once you lay them out.
  • Talk your worries through with a trusted friend or your partner. Articulating your concerns, and investigating them with a compassionate and understanding companion, can help you to see them from a new perspective and loosen their hold on you.
  • Ask yourself 'What's the worst that can happen?' - you might find it is not so bad.
  • Think about how you could test out your worry with an experiment which feels less risky.  For example: take a refresher training course or find a small volunteer project to remind you of your professional skills; commit to an activity you enjoy which means you are unavailable to your family for a fixed, regular but small amount of time and see how they cope.
  • Remember that worries and doubts are normal in any change, so don't wait for them to go away before taking action.
  • If your worries stem from needing to let go of certain domestic roles or jobs that you have always held, work out how you might be able to delegate or renegotiate and get some practice.
  • For more ideas and to address specific worries, take a look at our posts on being a martyr or perfectionist, feeling selfish, regaining confidence and being overly self-critical.

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Creating your own work-life balance: are you a separator or an integrator?

There seems to be a constant stream of articles dismissing work-life balance and saying that now we have to integrate our personal and professional lives:
"Forget work-life balance: It's time for work-life blend" 
"Work-life integration is the new norm"

This is a confusing about-turn from the more traditional advice that drawing a clear line between work and home will bring you greater balance. So which is right? Is work-life balance a thing of the past? Blurring the boundaries between work & personal life seems to work for the home-based journalists & entrepreneurs writing these articles ... but will it work for you? 

If you're thinking about returning to work and wanting to maintain your balance, do you need to focus on creating clear boundaries between job & home? Or do you need to be always contactable? Is it better to have fixed work & home time? Or to work from home when you can?

The answer from the psychology research, as so often in psychology (& life), is that it depends on you ...

What do we know about balance?
1. Balance is an internal state of feeling balanced and energised not an externally-set recipe. I see this all the time in my coaching. Some women who work full-time in demanding jobs still feel generally balanced - often if they have high control over their workload and keep weekends mainly clear. Other women work 3 days a week in unstimulating roles and feel drained and out of balance.
2. Balance is completely individual - your balance is not my balance. I enjoy the flexibility of having my own business but that may well not work for you if you prefer more standard hours and structure.
3. Balance changes day to day & through the lifespan. I don't need to tell you that what you need to feel balanced when you're 20 & single is not the same as when you're 35 with 2 children. Don't try to evaluate your balance at a point in time; think about whether you've felt more or less in balance over the last month or the last few months.

Are you a separator or an integrator?
Psychology research* has drawn out important differences between individuals in terms of the boundaries we want between home and work:
  • Some people are naturally integrators. They will love the idea of work-life blend as they prefer blurred boundaries and changing roles through the day. You'll see the integrators switching effortlessly from watching a sports match or cooking dinner to taking a work call. Many energised entrepreneurs and home-workers fall in this camp.
  • Other people are more naturally separators. They prefer a clear split between work & personal life, closing the door on their work life at the end of the day and focusing on their friends, family & leisure (& vice versa when they're at work). They may prefer to go into an office rather than to work at home and to finish their day's tasks at work rather than bringing them home to finish after the kids are in bed. One of my clients went back to full-time working as she found this was a better fit for her separator preference than blending the work/mum roles on her day off. 
What does that mean for finding your own balance?
What's important for balance is not whether you are more of a separator or an integrator, but whether you have a good match between the degree of separation you want and what you have. So ignore blanket advice about having to blend or to separate the personal and the professional and work out what suits you. You may not get to the ideal situation (often working mothers are integrators through necessity rather than desire) but you can consider what small actions you can take to bring your life more in line with your choices. Where you can, try different ways of working (eg. finishing work at home or in the office; working from home one day) and evaluate what works best for you. 

And whatever your preference, don't neglect setting some boundaries, such as not checking your emails at 11pm on Sunday evening ...we all need time to switch off and recharge our batteries!

Further Reading
* This is a simplified version of the 'flexstyle' research findings reported in CEO of Me (2008) by Professors and work-life balance experts, Ellen Kossek & Brenda Lautsch. They also identify a 3rd grouping of 'volleyers' who prefer to switch from integration to separation according to their priorities. An extract is available here

Posted by Julianne

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Join us at the Work & Family Show

If you're looking for more ideas and inspiration on returning to work, the first ever Work & Family Show might be just what you need.

It's on February 21st and 22nd 2014 at the ExCel in London and will host speakers, panels and employers who are all there to help women to get back to work and to find more balance in their lives.  There will be practical sessions on childcare, flexible working, finding a job and starting a business as well as personal development sessions on image, the language of success and finding your balance.  There will also be debates on future family policy, negotiating role sharing and other aspects of family life.

Julianne and I are delighted to be the main speakers at one of the morning sessions (Personal Theatre, Fri & Sat) on Learn to Juggle and Ditch the Guilt. We will be looking at how you can help yourself to get more enjoyment out of your working and family life ... identifying simple changes that you can make both to your thoughts and actions.  In this blog, we've already written about the destructive effect of guilt and about finding your balance and we'll be developing these themes in our session.  

If you'd like to come to the show, we have a couple of complimentary tickets to give away. To win one of these tickets, either send us some feedback on our blog/website (what you like, what you'd like us to add/change) or send us your return-to-work story to add to our success stories.  We'll offer the tickets to the first people we hear from.   

After our sessions we will be around for the rest of the morning, so please come to introduce yourself & ask us any questions - we look forward to meeting you there! 

Posted by Katerina

Monday, 20 January 2014

Routes back to work stories: Changing from Law to CSR

Last week we outlined some of the many routes back to work after a multi-year break. One option we encourage you to consider is creating your own 'returnship'. Here is Stephanie's story of how she used an internship to get back to work after 6 years and to begin a career change from her previous career as a lawyer into the area of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). 

This is one of the first of our return-to-work stories, which we will be featuring on www.womenreturners.com

Stephanie: En route to a new career

"Prior to taking a 6 year family break I had worked as a City lawyer with a linear career path and clear promotion journey. During my 6 years out of paid employment I realised that working was part of me. I had never imagined not working before I had children and now was the time to return. Both my children were at school and I had time to think about what I wanted to do. Working that out was harder than I thought and it is still “work in progress”. I had a clear picture of what I didn’t want to do and with the help of Julianne Miles and the iRelaunch conference, understood my skillset and what I had enjoyed in my previous career. This reflection time also brought out my strong interest in the links between the corporate and the not-for-profit sector.

An opportunity presented itself, thanks to a good friend, to undertake a 3 month internship with a global organisation whose head office was in London. My self-confidence and self-belief were both low and just getting back to work and putting on work clothes again felt alien but exciting.  I knew this was what I wanted – to be working in a role that could accommodate me as the main carer of our children. The internship led to 2 short-term contracts within the HR department.  My role was project based and internal facing so accommodating a flexible working pattern was a little easier. Successfully completing the projects I was given led to a permanent position, again within HR. Due to the nature of the organisation, I have been given the chance to work on a wide variety of projects and can now see a long term direction.  Part of my role is to manage the company’s corporate and social responsibility agenda. I love it. It gives me the chance to work with colleagues around the world and shape how the company interacts with its stakeholders. Whilst I am not challenged academically, for now, this role is perfect.

While I have a long-term dream to become a CSR consultant for small to medium sized businesses looking to establish a CSR programme for the first time, I have a lot to learn. The company I work for at the moment is expanding rapidly and this gives me the chance to get involved in many new projects touching different parts of the business.  I am not discounting that I might experience another area of HR which I enjoy just as much as CSR. I am keeping an open mind.

It’s easy to forget how many working years you have left, even after a first career and then a family break, but not being part of the pack forging their careers in their 30s means you have the luxury of being able to take the meandering path to your long-term goal. This means you are able to accept opportunities even if they don’t appear to take you straight to the next step on the career ladder. This in itself can be empowering.

I am excited about where my journey will end and whether it will be as an employee or a consultant.  Watch this space – it is all work in progress."

Do you know of any other inspiring return-to-work stories we can feature on our website? 

Posted by Julianne

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Ideas for routes back to work

In previous posts we've identified a selection of ways in which you can find your way back to work: returnships; networking and creative crafting of a role.  But these are just a fraction of the options that are available!

So, what other possibilities are there?  And has anyone actually found work like this?  Routes we've come across include:

Applying for advertised roles - although an obvious option, the places where roles are advertised might be less apparent, especially on the web (see our resources section for some ideas).  If you sign up to online recruitment agencies, be aware that you will be competing with thousands of others for attention, so be selective and don't expect too much.  Most organisations now use their own websites as a recruitment vehicle and you can usually sign up for alerts that are issued when new roles are posted.  Many organisations use LinkedIn to search for people so make sure your profile is up-to-date and relevant to the kind of role you want.  You can also search on LinkedIn for the thousands of role which are advertised.

The following options can provide more flexibility and allow you to ease yourself gradually back to work if you are not ready for the bigger commitment of a permanent role (see thinking small for other examples).

Freelancing - Sarah* formerly a market research agency director became a freelance researcher for her previous employer as a first step to marketing herself as an extra resource to other agencies.  She became so successful at this that she soon created her own business taking on whole research projects which she designed and managed herself, drawing on additional freelance resource when she needs it.

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 and so having different associate relationships can provide necessary variety. Also, from a tax point of view, it means you won't be classed by HMRC as an employee. I still do some work as an associate of the coaching organisation I joined when I first launched my own business.

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 and can open doors for you there.  Alternatively, you could discover that you enjoy working in this way and develop your own consultancy.

Interim roles - joining an organisation in a defined role for a defined time can be a great way to use your skills and experience without making a long-term commitment to returning to work. Opportunities arise as cover for maternity and long-term sickness and also when organisations are in transition and need someone on a temporary basis.  While there are established interim management agencies, you are likely to have more success finding these kinds of roles through networking.

Skilled or strategic volunteering - Amy*, a former city lawyer, chose to volunteer in the legal department of a major national charity as her route back to work.  She started out advising on contracts which was her expertise and after a while negotiated a move into the trusts and legacies team.  Here she was able to build up the right experience to apply for permanent paid roles as a private client lawyer in private practice, her ideal new role.

And finally, there is the option of starting your own business.  Sometimes this can develop from freelancing or project work and sometimes you have an idea for a product or service you want to develop.  A business can develop from a hobby, as it did for the woman who made my new curtains and for Helen* who now combines her PR and communication expertise and great interest in human stories with her business partner's film-making skills to create personal and corporate videos. 

On our success stories page you see more examples of the different routes people find for getting back to work.  If you've returned to work, we'd love to hear your story too!

Posted by Katerina

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Using your instincts in career decision-making

"I'm thinking about applying for corporate jobs again and have been approached about a part-time Marketing Director job. I know it would be a good move and work with the family but for some reason I'm putting off making the phone call to the recruiter." 

Marion had left the corporate marketing world 6 years before to spend more time with her two children who were approaching senior school age. She now felt keen to return to work and had been focusing on the logical plan of using her past experience and networks to get back into a leadership position. She'd had a few promising leads but noticed that she was dragging her feet and putting off following up on them. Why was she making this so difficult for herself?

As we talked, I noticed that Marion's energy soared when she spoke about friends who had set up their own businesses and about her own 'impractical' entrepreneurial ideas. When she reverted to talking about the 'realistic option' of going back to mainstream corporate life her energy drained away like a pricked balloon. Her tone of voice and body language were telling a different story from her words. As we talked, she identified a strong reluctance to give up her freedom and autonomy and the focus of our conversations switched to the feasibility of entrepreneurship. Having turned down a second round interview for the Marketing Director role, she is now enthusiastically developing her own venture.

Rational vs Instinctive Decision-Making

Many of us tend to believe that our decisions should be directed by our rational brains and we distrust our emotional response. But we need to remember that our experience of working, be it positive or negative, is subjective. Whether we enjoy a job depends just as much on how we feel about it as how good it looks on paper. Our emotions are often linked to underlying values, like Marion's pull towards freedom. And an instinctive reaction can pick up something intangible (like a company culture or a manager's personality) that does or doesn't feel right before you can explain the reason why.

And there's another reason to listen to your intuition. It's true that 'gut feel' can be misleading and lead to faulty conclusions*. On the other hand, psychology studies show that we do not always think best when we rely on reason alone. For more complex decisions (like career choice) our rational brains can hit information overload. If we put our attention elsewhere and allow our unconscious mind time to work through all the factors and come to a decision, we are more likely to make an 'instinctive' choice that we will be happier with over time, even if goes against a logical pros & cons evaluation**. 

Ways to incorporate the emotional & instinctive in your decision-making

1. Follow your energy. When you talk about each of your options, notice when your energy levels rise and when they drop. What are you most drawn to investigating? Ask your friends/family what they have noticed too. 
2. Try describing yourself out loud in each of the different options: "I'm running my own business", "I'm a Marketing Director". Which intuitively feels best? Which feels more like 'you'?
3. When you find yourself over-deliberating about your options, take a break, engage in an activity that distracts your mind for a few hours and then write down your decision before consciously thinking any more about it.

And in general, when you're considering your next move, value your emotional reactions just as much as your logical analyses.

Note: names and some details have been changed to maintain confidentiality

Further Reading
* For examples of biases see Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast & Slow
** One study by Dijksterhuis & van Olden asked participants to look at 5 posters and choose which one they liked best using 3 different techniques: 1) pros & cons 2) gut feel 3) look, solve anagrams, look again, decide. A month later the 3rd group were happiest with their choice. This Unconscious Thought Theory effect has been replicated in more complex decisions such as renting an apartment (See Richard Wiseman, 59 Seconds).

Posted by Julianne

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Am I being a martyr?

When you think about going back to work, do you find yourself thinking:
'how will my partner/children/parents manage without me?'
'how will I get through all my work on reduced hours?'
'how will I build relationships in my organisation if I can't stay late?'
'how will I keep my clients satisfied if I'm not in the office every day?'

These are all common concerns among women who have taken a break from work and find it hard to envisage working in the way that they used to before.  They also often have families which have become accustomed to them being completely available and dedicated to their needs  For everyone involved, your desire to return to work means a change to the status quo and, as you are instigating the change, it can leave you feeling ambivalent and guilty about your 'selfishness'.

One underlying issue is actually that you have spent so many of the years you were on your break not thinking enough about you and have lost the habit of taking care of yourself.  If your child leaves their PE kit behind, do you run it to their school?  If your mum wants you to meet her for coffee, do you cancel your own plans? Are you responsible for running the whole household? Do you make your children's packed lunches when they're perfectly capable of doing so themselves? Do you take on a variety of voluntary jobs that you don't really enjoy? You may answer yes to all or most of these questions.  But what about the question 'how often do you spend your time doing something you've chosen for yourself?'  If your answer is 'not very often', my view would be not often enough!

I'm not suggesting, by any means, that you have to put yourself first in every single situation: it's a question of achieving more of a balance.  You need to develop or regain the habit of balancing your needs with those of the people around you, putting down some boundaries and getting comfortable with saying 'no'.

How might you start to do this?

  • Listen to your internal response when you are asked to do something. For example, if your child texts you asking for their PE kit, notice that your automatic reaction might be to drop everything to respond, but PAUSE before you actually respond.
  • In the pause, think through the options you have (delivering the PE kit, saying no and sticking to your plans, asking someone else to drop it off) and then make a conscious choice of the action you will take. Sometimes it is helpful to ask yourself is 'what's the worst that can happen...?'
And while you are learning to notice your responses ...
  • Become used to being less available to those who make demands on you by using some of your time for activities that you would like to do (eg a new hobby, a skills-based voluntary role, planning your job search)
  • Make time to work out for yourself what you need to ask from others to make your return to work possible (eg help around the house, emergency childcare back-up, school run rota) and start to have these conversations
As you become more used to balancing your needs with the demands of those around you, you will start behaving less like a martyr.  And this will be really useful preparation for when you actually do return to work.

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

How to create your own returnship

We have already talked about returnships as a way of building confidence, skills and current experience in a short-term role before applying for more permanent positions. It’s a new concept in the UK so if it appeals, you may well have to get creative and develop your own.

1. Think about what you’re looking for
  • Are you looking to refresh skills and experience in an industry you previously worked in or to develop skills and experience in a new area?
2. Prepare
  • Do as much research as you can before you make any formal approaches. Speak to old colleagues or people working in the industry you are keen to enter, sign up for relevant e-newsletters and look at professional body websites or magazines.
3. Be clear on what you can offer
  • Remind yourself of your skills and achievements and update your CV.
  • Be realistic about the hours & days that you can be available and the length of project you will accept.
  • Can you afford to work free of charge? It is easier to gain opportunities if you aren’t a cost to the business. But if you are not charging for your time, you must be sure to clearly define the scope of the project to ensure it is valuable experience. You may be able to scale your offering – maybe begin with a couple of weeks of unpaid observation/shadowing, then offer to undertake a specific project review. If your proposal is well-received, you could negotiate to be paid to deliver it.
4. Identify your targets
  • Smaller &/or local organisations are likely to have more flexibility to accommodate an intern and to value more highly your professional skills and experience. You can also potentially make more impact.
  • Larger organisations may have established internship programmes that you could base your returnship on and may have more opportunities for permanent positions afterwards.
  • Start with your network, including friends, family and local businesses you deal with as well as old colleagues and clients (use LinkedIn to renew connections).
  • Don’t rule out entry level internships. Employers which use sites such as www.enternships.com may be open to mid-career interns as well, particularly if you are looking to change career direction.
5. Develop your pitch
  • Prepare your ‘pitch’. What are you asking for (a short-term placement, a project, specific experience)? What are you hoping to achieve? How could you benefit the organisation that you are contacting? Practise this with family and friends.
6. Be brave
  • Often the hardest part is the initial approach. Remember that you have little to lose and a lot to gain.
7. Check the details
  • If you get the go-ahead, be clear about the scope and timing of what you will be doing.
  • Make sure that any work you do will look meaningful on your CV, with a specific outcome that you can talk about at future interviews. Aim for work at a professional level, using your skills and experience.
  • Establish a ‘go-to’ person within the organisation with whom you can discuss your experience and ask for advice if you come up against unexpected challenges.
8. Create a good ending
  • At the end of the project, leave the door open for future opportunities or projects. Connect with everyone you worked with via LinkedIn.
  • Arrange a review with the person who managed you for feedback about what you did particularly well and gaps they saw in your skills. Develop an action plan for any additional work or learning you need to do before you start looking for permanent roles.
You can read a few real-life examples of how UK returners have successfully created their own internships on our website: Stephanie and Fiona.
We would be really interested to hear from you if you have experience of a returnship. Did it work well for you? Did it help you to find a permanent role? Maybe you work for an organisation that has hosted such a programme – was it valuable for the business? Please get in touch with your stories… 

Guest Blog by Tamsin Crook from Making Careers Work

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

How do I find a high level flexible role?

Do high level flexible roles actually exist?
This is one of the most common questions that we encounter from former professionals who are investigating their options for returning to work. Fortunately, is it also a topic that more UK employers are starting to address with the help of specialist recruiters such as Capability JaneTimewise Jobs and Ten2Two

For example, last week Capability Jane was advertising a 3 day a week Marketing Director role and a Managing Director role for 16-24 hours per week. Both these opportunities come from SMEs, organisations which often value part-time working because it provides a way of acquiring the skills they need at a lower cost than a full time employee.

Speaking at the Mumsnet Workfest earlier this year, Karen Mattison, the founder of Timewise Jobs, suggested that while many large private-sector organisations are open to offering flexible working as a way of retaining valued talent, SMEs may be more likely to consider flexible working for new hires. 

Timewise Jobs in 2012 initiated the Power Part Time list of 50 senior business women and men, demonstrating that high-level part time working is possible. The 2013 list will be launched in early December, supported by Red magazine.  I hope that these initiatives, combined with the Opportunity Now 2840 survey results will increase the debate on flexible employment opportunities and the creation of more senior flexible roles.

So how do I find a flexible role?
What options does a returner have, apart from signing up to the job websites highlighted above?  

Networking. As with all other job searches, a key component will be networking.  Personal recommendation and validation will get you a lot further in your discussions and negotiations than applying remotely for advertised roles.  If you are nervous or uncomfortable about networking, check our previous posts.

Apply for full-time roles. You also have the option of applying for full-time positions in the hope that you can negotiate flexible working arrangements once you've been offered the role.  You can mitigate the risks of this strategy by learning as much as you can about the organisation's culture, its openness to flexible working and the existence of other flexible roles.  You will need to build a convincing business case for how you will fulfill all the role requirements in a less than full-time schedule.  

Go self-employed. Often the most flexible way of working is to work for yourself; consider freelancing, associate work, project work and interim roles as well as starting your own business. We'll be looking at these options in more detail in future posts.

Create your own flexible role. Identify gaps at a previous employer (eg. talent management or business development) that you could propose to fill. Or develop a portfolio of roles, such as non-exec board positions or higher education lecturing. 

Success stories
We will shortly start to publish stories of returners who have successfully found or created flexible roles and will continue to highlight opportunities as we hear about them.  We'd love to hear your own experiences of seeking or gaining flexible work.

For more resources to help you to find a flexible role, see our resources section on www.womenreturners.co.uk.

Posted by Katerina