Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Routes back to law: Setting up in Private Practice

There are many routes back to work after a career break. Taking a more entrepreneurial route may allow you to create your own culture and flexible working practices. Katie Rainscourt, our guest blogger this week, offers the benefit of her experience of establishing her own family law firm. Her advice is equally relevant to other professionals thinking about setting up in private practice. And read to the end if you'd like a return to law mentor.

If you are or have been a solicitor, are you using your legal skills to your best advantage?

I am managing partner of Rainscourt Family Law Solicitors, a firm of solicitors based in Milton Keynes, working exclusively in family law. I am delighted to be able to write a blog for Women Returners, and I do so because I would like to bring to your attention the option of establishing your own firm as an alternative option to joining an existing firm elsewhere.

Many skilled solicitors are currently lost to the profession when they decide that they are unable to return. One option that these individuals may not have considered is that of establishing their own firm of solicitors, instead of returning to the traditional firm environment, or choosing to opt out of the profession altogether. My firm is a signatory to the Law Society diversity and inclusion charter, and I hope that this blog may encourage returners to consider this alternative route, and lead to greater inclusion within our profession.

Is this an option for you?
In terms of whether this is an option for you, think about the area of law you practise or practised in. Do you have skills that people will pay to access, and ask for advice from you, in your area of expertise?

Your first step will be to sketch out your business plan:
How familiar are you with the market in which you operate or operated?
What is your product? What is your brand? 
Where will you base your firm? 
What area of law is your expertise focused in, and how can you best offer this to your clients? 

This will require in-depth planning and research on your part. Think about your existing contacts or friends who may be able to help you with your brainstorming.  These contacts need not necessarily come from the legal world, but may come from a finance or business background. Think of how best to promote yourself and your skills, and what will be unique to you and your business.

There will be many decisions that you need to make, but ultimately, you may end up with a product that you take a great deal of pride in, and which will enable you to make best use of your legal skills.

Mentoring
I would be delighted to act as a mentor for a returner to law, or to speak to any of you who are interested in taking this path, so please do get in touch with me via Julianne or Katerina at info@womenreturners.com.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

How to avoid the Top 10 Return to Work Job Search mistakes

Over the years that I have been working with returners, I've noticed how many women make the same job search mistakes that can completely derail their return to work. To stop you falling into the same traps, here's my summary of the Top 10 and a few tips on how to avoid them.

1. Relying on headhunters and recruitment agencies to find you a role
Headhunters and other agencies are paid for filling specific vacancies and if your profile doesn't exactly match they won't be interested. And a long career break labels you as a risky candidate. Do let any headhunter contacts know that you are looking for work, & look for agencies sympathetic to returners, just don't make this your sole strategy or be deterred by the negative reception most will give you.

2. Sitting at home scanning LinkedIn, job boards and website for vacancies
Only an estimated 20-30% of vacancies are ever advertised, so if this is your approach to finding a role, you are missing out on the the majority of positions that are filled through recommendation, word of mouth and former colleagues. To access the 'hidden job market' you need to be more active, start networking and tell everyone you meet about your search.  

3. Defining yourself too narrowly by your previous role
It's easy to restrict ourselves to roles similar to our last job title or specialist qualification. This narrows your options and can make you feel that you're not qualified for any role that fits with your life now. Instead, look out for roles that ask for the broader skills and strengths you possess within fields that interest you.

4. Sending one application at a time...
If you get excited about having found The Ideal Role and wait to see what happens with it before making other applications, you could be waiting a very long time. Hiring decisions are rarely quick, company priorities can change and you may not ultimately get the job for a variety of reasons. Keep networking, and seeking and applying for other opportunities in the meantime, until you actually sign the contract.

5. ... Or making scatter gun applications
Don't fire off applications or direct approaches to everyone you can think of. You waste time applying for roles that aren't a good fit for you and you'll appear unfocused in your application & under-motivated in an interview. Decide what to target and treat each application with care, researching the organisation and the specific requirements of the role and tailoring your application accordingly.

6. Applying for roles that are too junior
If your confidence in your abilities is low, you may apply for 'less demanding' roles as a way of easing yourself back into work. The trouble is that you will appear over-qualified to the hiring manager and are likely to become rapidly frustrated once you're back up to speed. If you have a strong reason for choosing this route, clearly explain the rationale in your application.

7. Looking just for part-time or flexible roles
You might have decided that your job needs to be part-time or flexible. However many employers will consider flexible working 'for the right candidate' even though they don't state it in the job ad. Consider whether the content of the role appeals and whether there could be a business case to do it flexibly.

8. Apologising for your career break
Explain the reason for your break on your CV (eg. parental career break) and in interviews and then don't dwell on it, justify it or apologise for it!

9. Undervaluing what you've done in your break
If you have done something that has built your broader skills or opened new perspectives to you during your break, this is valuable to a potential employer, so don't minimise or ignore it on your CV.

10. Not asking for feedback after rejections
When you are rejected after online tests or interviews it is easy to blame yourself and to become dispirited. By requesting feedback you can find out what you need to work on to make future applications stronger. 

Other useful posts:

Posted by Katerina

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Who are your best return-to-work supporters?


What do we normally do when we're thinking about making changes in our lives? Our natural instinct is often to talk things through with friends and family - to get their opinion and test out our ideas. I remember many mornings spent discussing future plans with other mothers over coffee when I was on career break.

It can be useful to chat about your return to work ideas - setting up a business, returning to your old field, retraining, or whatever your inspiration may be. As you speak about your thoughts, this can help them to become more concrete and move you to action. 

But this can also be a risky strategy as your trusted friends might not be the supporters you need to develop your fledgling ideas. If they pour cold water on your tentative plans, this can be a major knock to your confidence, raising more doubts and worries in your mind and stopping you moving forward to action. 

These are some reactions potential returners have told me they received:
From other at-home mums: "What do you want to go back to work for - you're so lucky to be able to be at home?" 
"I can't imagine having the energy to work. All the working mums I know are exhausted"
From family & ex-colleagues: "I never saw you as a [creative person / entrepreneur / mature student ..]"
From partners: "Well, if you're absolutely sure that's what you want to do ..."
"If you think you can manage that and the kids without getting too stressed ..."

There's a big difference between these generalised negative comments, which can make you want to give up, rather than helpful specific questions that encourage you to reality check your ideas. If you're facing comments like these, rather than simply taking them at face value, it's worth putting them in context. Here are a few things to bear in mind:
  • Your friends who are also on career break may want to keep you 'on their team'. They don't want to lose you to the workplace!
  • Your plans to return to work may raise doubts in their minds about the decisions they've taken. When we experience 'cognitive dissonance', where our actions don't directly align with our beliefs (eg I should be using my education but I'm not in paid work), we feel uncomfortable. They may subconsciously try to convince you that it's too hard to be a working mother to prove to themselves that their decision is correct.  
  • Your ex-colleagues tend to define you by the role you used to have. This is similar to the cognitive bias called 'functional fixedness' where we find it hard to see familiar objects in a different light. Which is a real advantage if you're returning to the same field, but limiting if you're considering a new direction.
  • Growing up within a family we all often have set roles (the smart one, the creative one etc). If you're stepping into a sibling's role, they may feel challenged or disorientated.
  • Your partner and children naturally will prefer the status quo if it's comfortable for them. Accept they may not be your cheerleaders initially at least!
To balance the naysayers, think about creating a group of return-to-work supporters:
1. Identify & seek out friends and family members who are encouraging and positive and fill you with a sense of possibility 
2. Partner with one or more women who are also looking to return to work
3. Seek out a mentor - find a woman in your field who has successfully returned after a career break and ask for advice.

As our network grows we're thinking about setting up a return-to-work support group. Also a number of successful returners have offered to be to mentors. Would you find either of these useful? In what format (eg.LinkedIn)? Let us know in the comments below or on info@womenreturners.com.
Posted by Julianne

Friday, 7 November 2014

How to write your post-break CV


When you're launching yourself back into the market after a long career break, updating your CV can feel daunting, but it's worth taking time and effort as CVs are the most important self-marketing document for your job search. Employers typically receive hundreds of CVs for every advertised job, so yours will need to stand out by being focused on what you can offer and avoiding looking out-of-date. Gill Lambert, one of our associate coaches, provides her advice on some of the main issues to consider for your post-break CV, including how to address your career break. Most of these ideas apply to your LinkedIn profile too.


Start with a profile not a gap
Avoid starting with a job that ended many years ago, looking like you've fallen off the planet since then. Instead open with a profile statement, describing your background and qualifications. State you are returning to work after a [parental] career break. If you are shifting sector/role, you can also state that you are looking for opportunities in [target sector]; otherwise you don't need an objective. You then have the option of including a short 'Key skills & achievements' section, to draw attention to a few highlights. Avoid a laundry list of generic skills (strong team player, highly-motivated, etc) as this won't impress anyone! In the Career history section, clearly state the years of your "[Parental] Career Break" and include any skilled volunteering roles (eg School Governor, Charity Treasurer) - don't hide them in a voluntary work section at the end. For more advice see The CV Gap Barrier post.

Sell your achievements
The point of a CV is to tell others what you are capable of, so they want to talk to you further. It's the time to take credit for what you've achieved.

Base your CV around your relevant achievements and skills, don't just list the duties in your role. Firstly find out what skills, qualifications and experience employers are looking for in the types of role you are seeking. I would do this by reviewing a good number of job descriptions, highlighting the key words and identifying the most common. 

Now go back through your work experience, study, volunteering and other personal achievements both before and during your break to find examples that show that you meet these criteria. When giving evidence of a skill, show what you achieved by using the skill and try to quantify your contribution if at all possible. 

For each job application, tailor your CV to fit the requirements in the job description, to show that you clearly fit the role. Take this to the level of using their key criteria words in your CV (as the first screen is often now performed automatically by keyword sifting software). 

CV Content and Style
  • Appearance:  Use font size 10 or 11 and write in the third person with no pronouns, for example “Reduced the month-end accounting timetable by 3 days”. 
  • Structure: Use a clear structure, my recommendation would be: name and contact details top centre, Key skills and achievements, Career history, Education, Other qualifications, Languages (if fluent), Interests (optional). I don't recommend a skills-based CV to try to 'hide' your break - recruiters usually find these irritating as they have to piece together your work history
  • Length:  Keep your CV to 2 sides and aim for about 1,000 words. This means you need to include only the most important pieces of information, so prioritise and leave the rest out.
  • Checking: Make sure the CV looks good on the page, that the formatting is perfect and there are no spelling or grammatical mistakes. Check that you have been consistent in tense with all your verbs.  
To avoid looking out-of-date, DON'T:
  • Use the heading “Curriculum Vitae, as the sifting software can think that is your name. Always have your name as the central heading
  • Include a photo or your date of birth, gender, marital status or details about your children as these have become inappropriate on CVs following discrimination legislation
  • Include your A-Levels, O-levels (GCSEs) or school
  • List bland interests (reading, cinema etc); only include if relevant or impressive (eg. society memberships, triathlons) 
  • Give details of references or say “references available on request”
And Finally: If you get stuck, talk it through with a friend or get help from a coach, don't let it delay your job search. Once you are happy with your CV, ask a friend to check it over, to point out any errors and give you marks out of 5 for impact .. and congratulate yourself for getting over another return-to-work hurdle!


Gill Lambert
Women Returners Associate Coach http://wrpn.womenreturners.com/about/ 
Owner of Tailored Career Coaching http://www.tailoredcareercoaching.co.uk/

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Return-to-work advice for Allison Pearson's Kate Reddy


This month saw the return of Kate Reddy, Allison Pearson's fictional working mother who started in a Telegraph column in the 1990s and ended up in the best-selling novel and Hollywood film  "I Don't Know How She Does It". Many of us remember the pangs of recognition in the shop-bought cakes 'distressed' in the middle of the night before a school cake sale, and Kate's ultimate decision to leave her over-demanding City job to get more balance in her life.

Thirteen years later, Kate is back every Friday in the Daily Telegraph as Sandwich Woman: 49-and-a-half with two teenage children, a husband with a mid-life crisis retraining as a counsellor and frail elderly parents. And she's about to fly the flag for women returners, returning to full-time work after a six year career break. At least we hope for a (fictional) role model, but in the first few weeks Allison Pearson has focused on the dispiriting side of returning to work, as Kate says "Amazing how fast all the confidence you built up over a career ebbs away". So far our heroine has been patronised by a dismissive headhunter when she targets a non-exec role, wondered whether anyone will want to employ her and she's decided to lie about her age & her recent experience ...

Allison Pearson says she is bringing Kate back to show other 'sandwich women' that they are not alone in their struggles. So we decided that it's time to get Kate on track for her return to work with some words of motivation and advice:

1. Your timing is great. Businesses are waking up to the fact that returners are a high-calibre talent pool and are actively targeting them. The 2014 innovation of 'returnship' programmes is aimed at women like you (see here for more details) and many are in City firms. And Goldman Sachs stated this month in the FT that they are actively targeting their alumnae for senior roles.

2. After a long break you are not a 'square peg fitting into a square hole' so avoid most headhunters and recruitment agencies. The exception is firms who specialise in flexible working &/or women returners (try Sapphire Partners if you're looking for a non-exec role).

3. Don't lie on your CV! You don't need to reveal your age as CVs no longer include date of birth (or gender & marital status). And miss out your decades-old school qualifications. Include voluntary or paid work and studies during your break experience where they (honestly!) used or developed your professional skills. 

4. Focus on building your network of contacts. You've only been away for 6 years and your old colleagues will remember you as a highly talented senior manager. Set up a (brief) LinkedIn profile, connect with ex-colleagues and get into the City to meet them for coffee. Look for university and organisational alumni groups too. Tell everyone you know that you want to get back to a corporate role - you never know who might be able to help.

5. Above all don't undervalue yourself. Focus on the benefits your age can bring to an employer: maturity, stability and a huge amount of training and experience which will enable you to get back up to speed very quickly once you've got your foot back in the door. We have many success stories of women who have got back into satisfying roles & hope that your imminent successful return will inspire many more!

Update 31/10/14: Great to see Kate is now taking the contacts route to finding a new job!

Posted by Julianne

Thursday, 23 October 2014

How to make time for your return to work job search

Two recent conversations with returners have reminded me how difficult it can be for women to focus on their return to work activity: there always seems to be something more important or time-consuming for them to do.

As former professionals used to managing busy careers, women on career break often fill their lives with activities that keep them busy, engaged and feeling productive. As well as looking after family and home, they frequently take on voluntary roles or small paid projects, develop new hobbies and simply 'help others out'.  

The difficulty comes when trying to return to work: how do you fit a job search into an already busy life? The truth is that finding a new role, especially when you have left the workforce, is a job in itself.  Your return to work will only happen with dedicated time, energy and commitment.

Carving out this space is hard for returners for a number of reasons:

  • you might not be sure whether you are ready to return, so you don't give it your attention to avoid having to make a decision
  • you don't know how to get started on your return to work, so you procrastinate
  • you've made some small efforts and have been deterred by the response (or lack of) you've received 
  • it's the wrong time of year (eg pre-Christmas/Easter/summer holiday)
  • it feels selfish to be focusing on yourself after so many years of putting others first
  • you don't know which of the other activities to cut out, in order to make space for your return to work plans
Here are some ideas on how you can start to create time for yourself, so you can address some of these barriers, both practical and psychological: 
  • start small - make a date with yourself!  It could be sitting in a coffee shop for half an hour after school drop off, on your own with the purpose of doing your own thinking and planning. If you can do this once, you can start to make it a regular habit and then expand the time you devote to it
  • enlist a buddy - this could either be someone in the same position as you with whom you can meet regularly and share experiences and ideas. Or it could be someone who is simply there to support, encourage and celebrate with you and keep you on track
  • give your search a project name - to give it focus and make it more like a work project
  • sign up for a relevant course - this will enable to you dedicate time to your new direction, introduce you to others who might be helpful to you and signify that you are taking positive steps for yourself
  • address your reluctance to put yourself first - by trying it out! This post on Banning Selfish may be useful
  • delegate - perhaps you don't have to keep doing all the things you currently do whether at home or elsewhere
  • work with a coach - this will commit you to spending time (and money) on your return to work in a structured way and get you into the habit of giving time to this activity.  
Remember that no-one else can do the work required for you, so your return to work will only happen if you give it - and yourself - the time and attention you deserve.

Other useful posts and links:

Posted by Katerina


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Improve your Return-to-Work Confidence



The Problem with Confidence
It's often reported that women's self-confidence plummets during a career break. A recent study* found that women on maternity leave start to lose confidence in their ability to return to work only 11 months after giving birth.

The problem with labelling return-to-work doubts as a 'confidence issue' is that we use the same explanation for a wide range of setbacks that women face in the workplace: from presentation nerves to not putting ourselves forward for a promotion or (as Sheryl Sandberg would say) 'not taking a seat at the table'. It's become too much of a general catch-all.

I would suggest that we need a different term to describe the (often extreme) self-doubt that women can experience when they consider returning to the workplace after a long time out. This is the doubt that stops you even believing that it's possible to get back into a satisfying role .. the doubt that made a highly talented MBA with 15 years' experience say to me after her 6 year break "I'm a write-off - no-one will want to hire me now". 

Self-Efficacy
From a psychology perspective, what you're experiencing in this situation is better termed "low self-efficacy". The psychologist Albert Bandura described self-efficacy as a person's belief in their ability to succeed in a particular situation. If you have low self-efficacy about getting back to work, then you feel less motivated and behave in negative ways that make you less likely to achieve your goal; you see barriers as insurmountable blocks rather than challenges to overcome, you lose focus and interest more quickly, and you struggle to pick yourself up again when you hit an inevitable setback. 

Building Self-Efficacy
The encouraging thing about self-efficacy is that it's not fixed - there are specific ways to boost it. Bandura identified four key sources of self-efficacy, three of which are within your control and the other you can influence:

1. Mastery. Performing a task successfully through hard work and effort improves self-efficacy. If you haven't worked for many years, you will feel 'rusty'. Create opportunities to do work-related tasks that feel daunting to you, but in a low risk environment, such as offering to chair a volunteers' meeting or taking a training course which involves group & presentation work. 

2. Social Modelling. Seeing other people being successful raises our belief that we can do it too. We need role models! That's why we're collecting success stories of women who have successfully relaunched their careers. Read our stories & actively seek out women who have already gone down the road you want to take.

3. Social Persuasion. Getting encouragement from others helps us to overcome self-doubt. Spend more time with people who will encourage you and give you a boost, and less with the downbeat 'energy vampires' in your life! Remember that the people you are closest to may be discouraging about your return to work because they are worried about the impact it will have on their lives.

4. Psychological Responses. Better managing your stress levels and emotions can improve your confidence. Work out what helps you to feel calmer under stress - maybe having time to prepare, going for a run, or just taking a few deep breaths - and use these techniques consciously next time you're under pressure. Think about taking a yoga or mindfulness course if you find it difficult to manage your stress levels and emotions. 

And you can use this framework to build your self-efficacy once you're back at work too!


Related Posts

* AAT, 2013



Posted by Julianne


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Preparing for your first months back at work

You’ve been offered a new role or returnship, you’ve updated your wardrobe and sorted out your household – but you might still be full of uncertainties and doubts about how you will actually perform and be effective. 

With a returnship you have 10-12 weeks to demonstrate your value to your potential future employer. With a permanent role, you feel the pressure to establish yourself quickly as a contributor. At the same time, it is essential that you return to work with realistic ideas about what you can expect to achieve in your first weeks and months. By having clear goals you will find it easier to focus your energy on those aspects of your working life which will have the biggest positive impact for you and your employer. The biggest pitfalls for returners occur when they become caught up in the need to prove themselves in every way (to their employer or colleagues) or to please everyone (at home and at work) which can quickly lead to exhaustion and resentment. A realistic assessment of what is possible for you to achieve can help to minimise the risk of falling into these traps. 

We recommend you concentrate your preparation in the following areas:
  • Achievement (your tangible measurable impact)
  • Relationships (identifying key people and starting to build connections with them)
  • Brand (what values do you want to be known for)
  • Ways of working (establishing your boundaries)

Achievement

Think about the tangible and measurable business requirements that you will be working on in your first three months. Hopefully through the interview process you should have developed an idea of what the organisation expects of you. You will need to clarify these expectations and to shape them into specific and tangible results. This will demonstrate your competence to your colleagues and in doing so will help you to build your confidence and credibility in your role.

Very early on, you will need to check your view of what goals are important with your manager’s expectations, to ensure that you are aligned with each other. You will also want to build into your goals, opportunities for quick results that will enhance your reputation as someone who delivers.

Relationships

As a returner, you won’t necessarily have as much time for social interaction with your colleagues as you might wish, so it is important to identify those people with whom it is essential to build rapport and concentrate your time and energy on these relationships. 

If you are new to the organisation and don't have an established network, you may need some guidance from your line manager on the key people for you to meet and connect with early on.

You will need to be smarter about how you start to build these relationships too, as you might not feel able to go out for drinks after work or for longer lunch breaks. Being new, or recently returned, gives you a perfect excuse to introduce yourself to people and to ask for their advice and their views on your priorities (even if you don’t agree with them!). And do try to organise your home-life so that you make it to a few social events, as this is a great opportunity to get to know your colleagues on a more personal level.

Brand

Having a break from the workplace can give you the space to reflect on your strengths, values and priorities and you can return to work feeling much clearer about how you wish to be known in the workplace.

With clarity on your strengths and values you can work out how to bring these to life in your new role.  How can you demonstrate your 'personal brand' as you work towards achieving the goals you have set and start building new relationships?  What will your priorities be?  And just as importantly, what will you let go of?

Ways of Working

Starting a new role is an ideal time to establish sustainable working patterns.  By thinking through in advance how you wish to work you can protect yourself from being drawn into the need to prove yourself or to please everyone. 

Ways of working includes considering whether you will work beyond the standard hours, either at home or in the office and if so, how often.  And if you are working flexibly, how far does that flexibility extend?  How prepared are you to keep in touch (by email or phone) or attend meetings outside your agreed work time?  

Everyone will have a different view of their personal boundaries, but it is important to define what yours are and communicate them clearly.  At the same time, your employer is likely to meet your willingness to be flexible with a similar response.

Last thoughts

Finally, the key to making your return to work a success for you, your employer and your family is to make sure that you keep time for yourself to recharge your batteries. Not only will you feel better for it, but you will have more energy for your work and your family if you can allow yourself the time that you need.

If you would like some help with thinking through your return to work approach, Women Returners is now offering a Preparing for your Return coaching package which will enable you to clarify your goals and create a plan of action.

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The value of older women to the workforce

Many returners believe that being older makes them less appealing to employers.  Geraldine Bedell, former editor of Gransnet, co-founder of The Family Innovation zone and author of Mothers of Innovation outlines government data and other research which firmly rebuts this view and provides encouragement and insight for returners.

Lives are getting longer: we all know that. What is less often acknowledged is that the extra years haven’t all been tacked on at the end. They've gone into the middle. Many of us are contemplating lives that look vastly different from those of our mothers, let alone our grandmothers; anticipating a phase of life after child rearing that is healthy, mentally competent, energetic and prolonged.

Women returners understand this from the inside: we know we have skills, energy, judgement and competence that make us useful to the world of employment. It’s fair to say, though, that employers have taken a long time to realise this. Even as changing demographics open up possibilities for different life stages, we still assume that key career progress has to be made at the very time we are most preoccupied with small children.

Things are changing. Clever businesses have long understood that diversity is the key to successful teams. It may have taken them a while to realise that diversity includes age but they are doing so now, and for good business reasons: it has been estimated that there will be 13.5m job vacancies in the UK in the next 10 years but only 7m young people will be leaving school and college.

Beyond the need to fill desks, many of the myths about older workers are now known to be unfounded. A recent guide from the Department of Work and Pensions* insists that older workers:

·         are just as productive as younger workers
·         are just as successful in training and learning new skills
·         take less short-term time off sick
·         offset any loss of speed – with technology, for example – with better judgement
·         are just as likely to commit to an employer.

It’s understandable that women who have been on a career break assume that technology and ways of doing things have moved on. That may be true – but management of technology and of colleagues is a skill, and the point about skills is that they can be learnt, often remarkably quickly. There is no reason to suppose a woman returner is going to be much slower picking up ways of doing things than someone transferring from another company.  

What older women do bring – as enlightened employers are increasingly acknowledging – is a lifetime of skills, experience and wisdom. Increasingly, brain research is showing that what we have traditionally called wisdom is a demonstrable function of the older brain. As Barbara Strauch observes in her book The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain, we have ‘an increased capacity, as we age, to recognise patterns and anticipate situations, to predict a likely future, and to act appropriately.’

The DWP* also reports that organisations with an intergenerational workforce find that there are benefits for both older and younger staff, including opportunities for mentoring and an exchange of skills. The recent appointment of Ros Altmann as the government’s champion for older workers should help; and the demographics are in our favour. But the most important thing is that older women returners bring masses of experience, skill, discernment and sophistication. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: ‘A mature person is one who doesn't
think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and all things.’ Lots of reasons to be confident, then, because that’s a pretty valuable set of attributes.


Guest blog by Geraldine Bedell co-founder of The Family Innovation Zone


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Returning to Work - Is there a Middle Ground?

A guest post for mothers looking for greater flexibility from Amanda Seabrook, MD of Workpond.


The frightening thing about ‘leaving the workforce’, either when you have children or during their early years, is that you know instinctively that things will never be the same again. Even if you are able to return to your old company, the way that you value your time away from the office will have changed and however much you enjoy your job it won’t feel quite the same. 

This may be because you wish you could spend more time with your child/children or it may be due to the fact that your disposable income isn’t what it was! Whether you have a' babe in arms' or teenage children, the demands are much the same and you just have to work out a way to balance the two that suits you.

So is it worth returning to ‘the same old’ or reinventing yourself to suit your new life circumstances? Change is hard to achieve, until you know what options you have. Many people assume that it is normal to work on a full-time employed basis. It is therefore a surprise to many that, according to the ONS, only 46% of the labour force are employed on a full-time basis. 27.2% are either self-employed or working part-time – and this number is on the rise. A further 5.5% (2.3m) are economically inactive (not paying taxes or claiming benefits) but at the same time keen to work (largely mothers and early retirees). 

So there IS a middle ground –and this middle ground is growing. It is driven, not only by women looking for greater flexibility to allow more time with their children, but by a large number of people, both male and female and of all ages, who are becoming self-employed and selling their expertise directly to businesses. There are vibrant markets for Senior Interims (MD’s and FD’s that work for typically 6-12 months for large corporates, often when specific projects need to be sorted out). There are freelancers in the more creative sectors - such as design, web development, branding, copywriting and journalism. There are specialist consultants who can put together strategy, implement it and then move on to their next project. Some of them work for single clients consecutively and some have a portfolio of clients that they work for at the same time, billing on an hourly or daily basis.

Interestingly, it is the forward-looking businesses which are becoming more open to the benefits of employing more flexibly. Some are going a step further by developing their whole business strategy around it. They are also becoming more accepting of the fact that professionals in all disciplines can be of use on a self-employed or a part-time basis – great news for working mothers – particularly when it means you can save on childcare costs and potentially work closer to home (or even better, remotely from home).

Early stage and owner managed businesses are particularly open to engaging talent in this way as they tend to be much more cost conscious and need the best talent to enable them to grow. The innovative sector is booming – not only at Silicon Roundabout in the East End of London, but all around the country, and to work at a company that specialises in emerging technologies (even for someone with no technology experience) can be extremely stimulating. Some would balk at the lower salaries sometimes offered , but others recognise that the cost savings of reduced travel and childcare , the potential to grow with the business and the ability to balance their lives makes up for the short-fall.

Finding work in these companies may not be straightforward as many don’t enjoy parting with their cash to pay recruiters. However, a simple five step process might suffice in discovering potential flexible opportunities which may otherwise remain hidden:
1. Research your local area to see what businesses there are close by that you would like to work for – think broadly.
2. Work out what service you could offer them – what you would like to specialise in.
3. Update your LinkedIn profile and connect to everyone you know. Update your CV and send it through to your target businesses explaining what you believe you can offer them.
4. Tell your friends what you are trying to do and start going to business networking meetings.
5. Register your CV with specialist recruitment consultancies, like Workpond, who may be able to help you.

Don’t be afraid to tell people that you are a mother. In our experience, as long as you are realistic in your expectations of flexibility and are willing to offer flexibility in return, it will garner a great deal of respect.


Amanda Seabrook is the MD of Workpond, a recruitment consultancy helping businesses find professionals who wish to work on an interim, consultancy or part-time basis.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Re-connecting with your professional self

One of our top tips for returners is to remember that you are the same professional person you always were, you are just out of practice.

Why do we need to be reminded of this?

There are many reasons why, when we take a break from our career, we can develop a diminished view of ourselves from the one we held when we were working. In the mix are:
  • a change in priorities (our career is no longer our sole focus and might not be as important as it once was)
  • a shift in identity (taking a long break, especially when it involves taking on new responsibilities, changes our daily activities, what we think about and talk about)
  • refocusing of values (where we once valued position, responsibility and status, for example, we might now be more concerned with creating strong family relationships or working for a purpose).  
All these changes can mean that we no longer recognise the previous professional version of our self, or doubt whether we can be like her again.

Remind yourself of the professional you were

Even if your perspective and priorities have changed in the years you've been away from your career, the things you accomplished during your career and the skills you gained have not. You are still the person who built strong client relationships, managed a team, delivered complex projects, won sales pitches and gained qualifications.  These experiences are still part of you and you still have those skills and abilities even if you haven't used them (professionally) for a while.

You may find it hard to recognise and value your former self because the work you did before didn't fully fit you at the time. Maybe that professional identity felt false. Even so, you still achieved and gained experiences which you can take forward into a new role that will feel more authentic.

Regain your professional self

This is a really important step to take as you plan for your return to work.  It will help with developing your self-belief (if you need it) and will provide content for your CV, LinkedIn profile and your interview answers.

  • Reflect on what you consider your career highlights and think about what qualities you exhibited. Are those qualities still part of who you are today?
  • Talk to former work colleagues, who remember you as the professional you were, and ask them for some feedback on what they saw you doing well or admired about you.
  • Practice your career story, starting with your professional background and expertise rather than your career break
  • Find a project or volunteer position which allows you to refresh your skills (see Think Small and Routes back to Work posts). 
  • Subscribe to the industry journals you used to read and join on-line forums which are relevant.
  • (Re)join professional networks and attend relevant conferences.
  • Take refresher courses in your area of interest or expertise.
If you are still finding it difficult to re-connect with your professional self, then you might like to consider working with another returner or a career coach to give you the boost you need.

Posted by Katerina

Friday, 12 September 2014

What mindset can help your return to work?



I'm not going to tell you to ALWAYS BE POSITIVE: we don't claim that returning to work after a long break is easy - wishful-thinking can mean sticking your head in the sand. The 'unrealistic' optimist can wait for the perfect job to land in her lap or will keep going with an unsuccessful strategy (such as scatter-gun online applications) as she believes that 'it will all come right in the end'. 

On the other hand, we commonly find that the returner who claims she is being 'realistic' is actually holding a pessimistic perspective that too quickly dismisses the possibility of finding a rewarding job with a reasonable lifestyle.The pessimistic 'realist' tends to believe the worst, rapidly hits disillusionment when she hits a few setbacks and decides that it's hopeless and not worth the effort.

I prefer the perspective of psychologist Sandra Schneider who suggests that optimism and realism are not in conflict - we need both. She proposes that we aim for 'realistic optimism'. The realistic optimist finds out the facts and the data; she acknowledges the challenges and constraints she faces. Her optimism comes into play in her interpretation of ambiguous events - she recognises that many situations have a range of possible interpretations and chooses a helpful rather than an unhelpful one. She gives people the benefit of the doubt, is aware of the positives in her current situation and actively looks for opportunities in the future.

How to develop your 'realistic optimism' in practice
You face a setback, for example you've sent a 'getting back in touch' email to an old colleague and haven't received a reply after a week. Your first response might be to conclude that she's not interested in talking to you, she doesn't remember you or maybe she didn't like you anyway. So you feel dispirited, write her off as a network contact and lose motivation to pursue other contacts. Instead try this:

  • Think creatively of all the other realistic reasons why she hasn't replied. Maybe your email is sitting in her Junk Mail, maybe she put it aside to reply to later and it got lost in her inbox, maybe she's changed her email address, maybe she's on holiday or working abroad or just frantically busy ... there are so many possibilities.
  • Thinking about this wide variety of explanations, decide how to respond so you are in control. Send the email again to check you have the correct address, contact her through a mutual friend or pick up the phone and call her.
  • If she still doesn't get back to you, choose a realistically optimistic interpretation that doesn't knock your self-confidence (e.g. even if she's too busy, you can still contact others) and try a different strategy. Continually weigh up the facts and creatively consider all your options to decide the best course of action.
There's evidence that realistic optimism can boost your resilience and motivation, improve your day-to-day satisfaction with life and lead to better work outcomes. And it's not about your genes - we can all learn to be realistic optimists.

Posted by Julianne

For those of you interested in the research
Schneider, S.L. (2001). In search of realistic optimism: meaning, knowledge and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist56(3), 250-263.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Six Essential Steps for Successful Interviewing

When was the last time you were interviewed? When it's five, ten or fifteen years since you last spoke about your professional achievements, facing an interview can be a daunting hurdle. With the arrival of 'returnships' in the UK, we are being asked increasingly for advice and support on interviewing skills from returners applying for these programmes. Morgan Stanley, for example, recently conducted 150 telephone interviews, with follow-on face-to-face interviews for successful applicants, to select their returnship programme participants.

While styles of questioning have become more structured, the basic goal of the interview process remains the same: the employer is trying to assess your suitability and fit for the role and their organisation. At the same time, it is vital to remember that you are also assessing the organisation for its suitability and fit for you.

The two key ingredients of successful interviewing are passion and confidence.  Both of these come from being clear about what you're looking for and what you have to offer.  If you believe you're a good fit with the role and organisation you're applying for, it will come across.  


Six Essential Steps

1. Research
You need to research all you can about the role, the organisation, the industry and the people interviewing you.  There is so much available online: company website, LinkedIn and Facebook pages; corporate videos; news articles; Twitter.  Your network can provide other sources of information which might not be publicly available whether your contacts are employees, suppliers or customers of the organisation, or in the same industry. The more knowledge you have and can demonstrate in your interview, the more impact you will have. For example, reading a LinkedIn profile will give you some idea of the interviewer(s) and could help you to find common ground.

2. Develop examples of your skills and competencies
You will talk most eloquently – and passionately - about those roles and experiences which are the highlights of your career, so pick one or two and decide what you want to say about them. The biggest change to interviewing in recent decades has been the prevalence of the 'competency-based interview'. You are likely to be asked to demonstrate the specific competencies or skills that the role requires (such as analytical ability, influencing senior stakeholders or teamwork), through detailed examples. Read carefully through the job description, identify the job requirements and think back through your experience to identify examples of your achievements which show these competencies. Examples don't all have to be work related: they can be equally valuable if they have come from education, sport, voluntary work or community activities. 

Avoid doing the following:


  • apologising that the situation was a long time ago or saying 'Back in 2001', just say which role it related to
  • spending too long talking about the detail of the issue you faced and not long enough about the successful action you took. Your interviewer is more interested in what you accomplished than the intricacies of the background story. 
  • talking in the third person when it was you who did the work (and not your team)! Use 'I' as much as possible, otherwise you can appear overly modest, even unconfident.

3. Prepare answers to typical questions
These include:


  • Why do you want this role?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your strengths and development areas?
  • What else would you like to tell me?
These questions have two things in common.  They are all open questions and they are all an invitation to you say precisely why you are the right person for the role.  In preparing your answers, think about what you most want the interviewer to remember about you when you leave the room.

4. Rehearse
If you've not been to an interview for a while, it can feel strange to be talking about yourself in the way that an interview requires, so it is a good idea to practise saying your answers out loud. 
You may find it helpful to role play the interview experience with a friend or another job seeker. If you have someone whose perspective you trust, feedback on how you are coming across will be useful. 

5. Prepare your own questions 
Remember that interviews are a two-way process. While the interviewer is assessing your suitability for the role and organisation, you need to be doing the same.  Make sure that you ask the questions that will help you to decide if the role and organisation is a good fit for you and your requirements. You will also show that you have done your homework.

6. Send a Thank You
Always send a thank you email. Not only is this good practice, but it gives you a further opportunity to reinforce your suitability and enthusiasm for the role.


Additional resources
Further ideas on help with re-building your confidence
Women Returners now offers interview skills coaching 


Posted by Katerina