Friday, 17 May 2019

Advice from Successful Returners to Work


Did you miss our Women Returners 'Back to Your Future' Conference this week in London? For those of you who couldn't join us, our next few blogs will talk about the takeouts from this sellout event.

Our Returner Panel session was chaired by the wonderful Jane Garvey from BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour. Five women who have successfully returned to work after a multi-year career break spoke about their experiences. Two had taken a break to care for small children, one for fostering and setting up a business, one to focus on family time with older children and one to take time out from a long career in a high-pressure role. Three had returned to work via a returnship, the other two via networks or stepping-stone roles.


Here are some of the highlights from their comments, including the panel's advice for other women wanting to get back to work:

On where they are now:

“It’s been a revelation to me - the whole returnship process, the support the firm has provided me, the support from Women Returners and the whole promotion of the idea of being able to return to work... I managed not only to return to work but to start a whole new career in the finance industry." 


"I didn't know that returnships existed. I had set my standard of returning to work as 'perhaps I could take a few steps back if someone would have me' - I really had no expectations and not a lot of confidence that I'd be able to step back into a senior role...honestly, the programme has been transformative for me and my career."

“It’s amazing - I didn’t think that from where I was two and a half years ago to where I am now was going to be possible."


On how they first felt being back at work:

 
"It was a bit of a shock, I wanted it but it was quite challenging. The most interesting thing for me was the progression over a number of weeks. And what I learned from day one was not to crucify myself by setting totally unrealistic standards about what I wanted to achieve.”

"I think we all have that slight reservation that we’re not quite up to it or that we won’t know what to do when we (arrive) and sit down or go to a meeting. But I was amazed at how quickly it all came back. After about three weeks the senior management team were saying 'we feel like you’ve been in the organisation for years - you’ve just fitted back in'."

"My first day was a mixture of terror and excitement.”

“My employers were really welcoming...I was nervous about photocopiers and phone systems."

"Don't worry - within a week you'll be back in the swing of it."

"I was made to feel incredibly welcome from day one. I was given a senior woman as a mentor and meetings were set up for me to meet other people in the department."



On setting boundaries/managing work-life balance:

"You have to decide what you’re going to do in a week, what you’re going to deliver and make sure you communicate that to people around you."

"It's really important for you to take responsibility (for managing boundaries). No-one is going to do that for you."

"Don't set unrealistic standards about what you can achieve when you first get back to work."



On what to wear for interviews:

"A friend gave me some brilliant career advice once. He said - when you’re going for an interview don’t do things that will enable people to write you off from the beginning. If you’re going for an interview where - like it or not - they wear suits then wear a suit. Do your research."

"For me, it’s about feeling confident. - if you feel confident in what you’re wearing that’s what’s important - and the fact that you project that confidence."

“It's very dependent on the workplace. I don’t think it’s to do with wearing a suit - it’s about getting the dress code right.”

"I went to the hairdresser for the first time in two years - I wanted to feel 'put together' and confident."


General comments/advice:

"What I would recommend is lots of positive talk to yourself in front of the mirror before you go into the interview."

"We have to understand that we have skills - they don’t go away - they might be slightly rusty but I can reassure you that within a week you’ll be back in the swing of things and within three months you’ll feel you’ve never been away."

“You’ve had a break, you’ve developed lots of positive behaviours and that’s what you’ve got to offer a new employer."

“One of the women on my returner programme had been out of the workplace for 20 years and came back in and did the programme and got herself a job that she was absolutely thrilled to get and loves and is forging another career."



Sign up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities. You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.







Wednesday, 24 April 2019

How good posture can improve your return to work confidence



This week's guest blog is by Abi Wright, who explains how maintaining good posture can help you to feel calmer and more confident when you're returning to the workplace.

There is one habit that nearly all women share and that is the habit of making ourselves smaller. It’s something that is conditioned in us from a young age and it can have a huge impact not only on our posture, health and happiness but also on how we’re perceived. It wasn’t until I was in the position of returning to work after a maternity leave that I realised just how much this habit was impacting my confidence and presence and therefore impacting the ease of my return.

Being a posture specialist I’m only too aware that as women we need to start owning our space more in order to be seen and heard. This is especially important if you’re attending an interview, a networking session or starting at a new organisation. If we become aware of our posture, making a few small changes can be a huge support when returning to work.

There are three tips I want to share with you that have helped me time and time again. They are simple and you can begin to use them straight away.

1) Look up. Your head weighs approximately 11lbs, similar to the weight of an average cat, so if there happens to be one close by pick it up. It’s heavy, isn’t it? If you find yourself looking down, then the weight of your head will start pulling your shoulders forward and will impact your posture and presence. It will also hinder your breathing so you won’t feel as relaxed. If you walk into a room looking up, your posture will be better and you will have presence. You will feel more confident - and if you can see everyone in the room, it means they can see you.

2) Love your armpits. This might seem an odd request but bear with me. If you find you’re making yourself smaller and feeling tense then the likelihood is you’re squeezing your arms in and your armpits have no space. This quite simply means you can’t breathe fully because the movement of your ribs is constricted by your arms and so your lungs can’t fully inflate. If you bring awareness back to your armpits and allow space to be there then not only will you fill your full width and own your space but you’ll also be able to breathe so you’ll feel calmer and more confident.

3) Ground both your feet evenly on the floor – don’t put more weight on one than the other or sway between the two. When you allow both feet to release down you will naturally have better posture and feel more present and grounded.

So I invite you to give these simple tips a try and see how you get on.

One final thought I want to leave you with is to consider how to enter a room. This can massively impact what follows – whether it’s an interview, meeting or networking session – because we can make a first impression in as little as seven seconds. So, walk into the room looking up, breathe into your width and ground yourself through your feet.

Something that has really helped me is my ‘entering the room’ theme tune. We all have a song that makes us feel really energised when we listen to it. Well find that song and listen to it or sing it to yourself before entering the room. I promise you will notice a big difference.

By allowing yourself to stand tall and to own your space not only will you feel more confident and in control, but others will perceive you to be these things too. You deserve to stand tall. You deserve to own your space. And you deserve to be where you are. So hold your head high as you play your theme tune and step into the room. You’ve got this.


Abi Wright is a Posture Specialist and Alexander Technique practitioner with a background in business, performance and wellbeing. She goes into organisations working with the female workforce to increase confidence and visibility through posture. She is also passionate about raising awareness around the importance of women owning their space within the workplace and society  www.inspiringmargot.com



Sign up to our free Women Returners network for more advice, support and job opportunities. You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

How to prepare for networking at a conference



How to network at a conference



The Women Returners team are looking forward to meeting many of you at our Women Returners Conference in London next month. The day will be packed with return-to-work advice, support and inspiration, with plenty of opportunity to network with like-minded women and meet our 10 Employer Sponsors.

We know many returners find the idea of networking quite daunting, so here are some tips to help you make the most of our Conference or other similar events.
 
Set yourself a goal: This may be to speak to three people you haven't met during the breaks between sessions, or there may be a particular employer sponsor you'd like to speak to. Achieving your goal will be a boost to your confidence. Just make sure your goal is achievable so that you don't feel too much pressure. And don't forget to pat yourself on the back when you've achieved it!

Plan your introduction: Although one of the workshops will cover in detail how to craft your personal story, it's a good idea to have a brief introduction prepared. This needs three elements: your name, a brief description of your background, and your reason for being at the conference. You don’t need to talk about the reason for your break, or its length at this stage. If you are new to networking, it might help you to practise saying your introduction out loud or with a friend, to get used to talking about yourself in this way.

Prepare topics: Whether you're focused on meeting an employer, or still working out your future direction, it's a really good idea to do some advance preparation. This includes researching individual speakers and employers online and through your existing networks, and developing questions you can ask to specific individuals and generally to other conference attendees. If you find it uncomfortable to talk about yourself, ask questions when you meet someone initially - it's an easier way to start a conversation. Advance preparation means you can arrive at the conference confident that you’ll have something to say to the new people you meet. 

Use LinkedIn to connect with other people: LinkedIn is a great way to find and connect with other attendees at a conference. You can do this manually, simply by looking up the people you meet. Or you can use a tech way if you have a smartphone: 

  1. Enable Bluetooth on your phone. 
  2. Click on the two people icon at the bottom of the screen in the LinkedIn app and then 'find nearby' in the middle at the top of the screen
  3. You will then be able to invite anyone at the event who also has this screen open to connect. 
If you're coming along to our Conference in London on 13 May, and are on Twitter, do use the hashtag #WRConf and tag @womenreturners to join in the conversation on the day. We hope to see you there and know you'll have a great time - remember everyone at the Conference is a returner so you can relax - you've found your tribe!

If you don't have your ticket for the Women Returners 'Back to Your Future' Conference yet find out more and book here. And you can find information on our Conference's Employer Sponsors here.



For more tips on how to network successfully, see these blogs in our Advice Hub:




Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Boost your confidence for a successful return to work



How to build your confidence to return to work


Ask one of our career coaches what they believe to be the number one personal barrier to a successful return to work after a career break and the chances are they will say “lack of professional confidence”.

Women on a career break may be very self-assured when it comes to their home and social life, but the thought of returning to the workplace can bring on a crisis of professional confidence. One of the ways this lack of confidence is often expressed is in negative thoughts around the prospect of returning to work – “I’m too old”, “things have moved on in my industry”, “I'm not the same person as the one who did that managerial job” etc, etc. 


When we consider that much of our identity is tied up in our work, it’s not surprising that when we’ve been away from the workplace for any length of time, we can find our self-belief gets eroded. If you're feeling under-confident, don't let this hold you back - take steps to give yourself a boost and you'll be setting yourself up for success.


Top Tips for Boosting Your Confidence


  • Remind yourself of your achievements – Think about all you have achieved, year by year, both before and during your career break. It doesn't matter how long ago it was, or whether it was a big or a small achievement, so long as it feels satisfying to you. To help, look out old copies of your CV to remind yourself what you achieved in past roles. Bringing your successes back to the front of your mind can give your confidence a real boost.
  • Identify your key strengths and skills – Rather than focus on what you lack, focus on what you can personally bring to an employer. It can be a hard exercise to list your own strengths, so get feedback from your friends and family, and think about what skills you demonstrated in the achievements you listed. Don't minimise what you've done during your career break - for examples, caring and volunteer work create valuable new skills. Read our blog on setting your career compass for other advice. 
  • Adopt the right mindset – Your attitude has a powerful impact on your likelihood of success. We find that returners who work on their patience, persistence and positivity are more likely to make a successful return than those who give in to frustration and negativity. We discuss how to adopt a mindset of ‘realistic optimism’ in this blog and a growth mindset, in this blog.
  • Brush up your knowledge and skills - Don't let feeling that your IT skills or industry knowledge are out of date sap your confidence. Upskill yourself. Find courses locally through Floodlight and look at the free online MOOCs (Massive Online Courses) to help bring yourself back up to speed. Use industry events and professional associations to find out what's been happening in your field and meet ex-colleagues to get an informal update.
  • Update your image – If you look professional, you’re more likely to feel like a professional again. If you can afford it, it's worth investing in a new outfit (and maybe a new haircut) for networking and interviews. Read our step-by-step advice on updating your wardrobe for your return. Establishing a regular exercise routine can also make you feel and look better, as well as boosting your energy levels.
  • Volunteer – If you've had a very long break, strategic volunteering can be a good way to ease you back into your 'professional self' and to refresh your skills and experience at the same time.
  • Body Language - Focusing on looking more confident through the way you walk and talk can actually make you feel more confident. Read more here.

Get more advice on re-connecting with your 'professional self' in this blog. And don’t forget to take a look at the Success Story Library on our website - reading the wealth of stories of a wide range of women who have successfully returned to work after multi-year breaks can help you to believe that you can do it too!



Join us for our Women Returners 'Back to Your Future' Conference in London on 13 May. Find out more about our Conference and book your ticket now at the Early Bird price of £90 - but hurry - this offer ends at midnight 31 March.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

How best to use LinkedIn

How to use LinkedIn when you want to return to work


Recently we spoke to Victoria McLean - CEO and founder of City CV – to find out the best way to optimise your Linkedin profile. But once you have followed Victoria’s excellent advice, what happens next? Do you know how to use LinkedIn to its full advantage?

We asked Victoria for some tips:

Connect with people – spend time making connections and growing your network. The more first-degree connections you make the more second and third-degree connections you will then have, which will increase your chances of coming up in searches. And, of course, building your network will encourage more people to connect with you directly.

Join LinkedIn groups – every region and industry sector have their own groups and they are a great way to increase your visibility and connect with people who may be able to help you achieve your goal. You’ll be able to raise your profile by posting and commenting in groups, and LinkedIn allows you to message other group members free of charge. So, if you see someone in a group you belong to who is already working in a job/area that appeals to you - or even someone who has hiring responsibilities - you can contact them for advice.

Join LinkedIn career groups – these groups are often set up by recruiters so that they can make potential candidates aware of roles they are recruiting for without having to use LinkedIn’s paid-for service. Use LinkedIn’s search engine to find these groups and join them so that you’ll be the first to hear about new opportunities – once you have optimised your LinkedIn profile, of course!

Use LinkedIn Jobs – you can search for vacancies by job title and location, state where you are in your job search and select what kind of role you are looking for – eg, full-time, part-time, contract etc. You can also set up alerts and save jobs that appeal to you. If you are interested in working for specific companies, you can also choose to receive alerts when they post new job vacancies. Your activity in LinkedIn Jobs is not made public.

Ask for recommendations and endorsements – recommendations are similar to testimonials or references and can be from former colleagues, bosses or clients – you just need to send someone you have worked with a friendly request to provide you with a recommendation. And when you have listed your key skills, you can ask first degree contacts to endorse these skills on your profile. Both testimonials and endorsements are a great way of validating your profile and showcasing your experience. If you’re nervous about asking for support in this way, why not offer to endorse the skills of others and provide them with testimonials if you can? More often than not they will offer to do the same for you.

Sharing content and posting blogs – sharing useful content or even posting blogs you have written yourself are great ways to increase your visibility and credibility. You could even set up your own LinkedIn group if you spot a gap and feel it would be useful for your job search/future career.

City CV will be running a LinkedIn Key Essentials workshop at our Women Returners 'Back to Your Future' Conference in London on 13 May. And a professional photographer will be taking LinkedIn headshots. These options are subject to availability, so if you are interested in either do book your Conference ticket now.