Tuesday, 24 November 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Katerina

Saturday, 21 November 2015

How to avoid living with regrets

Any of these sound familiar ...?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to tackle regrets

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 13 November 2015

How 'strategic' volunteering can support your return to work

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

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

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

Posted by Katerina   

Saturday, 7 November 2015

You're not a fraud! Tackling Imposter Syndrome

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

The Imposter Phenomenon

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

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

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

How can you tackle Imposter Syndrome?

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

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

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

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 30 October 2015

Reflections on Suffragette - How much progress have women made?

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

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

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

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

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Regain your (email) identity

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

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

What's in a name?

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

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

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

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

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 16 October 2015

Return to work inspiration from the Great British Bake Off!

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Katerina

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Changing the image of work-life balance

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

... the Work-Life scales ...

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

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

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

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

Related posts
Creating your own work-life balance

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 2 October 2015

Don't write yourself off - employers want returners!

I'm following up Julianne's post from last week to reinforce her point about UK companies being interested in returners with an array of recent evidence.

In September alone, we introduced a new initiative for returning professionals in partnership with Centrica, Mars and Vodafone, which are combining their efforts in the HitReturn returners programme: we also provided the coaching support at the start of the RBS Strategy ComeBack programme. At the same time, Deloitte, Allen & Overy and Cushman & Wakefield welcomed their first cohorts of returners and Morgan Stanley's second programme commenced. In October, the first UK JP Morgan programme gets underway and we will have news of other upcoming programmes. 

Simultaneously, our supported hiring innovation extends the range of options available to companies which wish to hire returners directly into open positions, while still providing support through the transition period. We are delighted that major employers, in particular M&G Investments, have signed up to this approach and we have more opportunities in the pipeline with smaller as well as larger employers. One employer we've already worked with told us that she was delighted to have accessed "a pool of top quality people" which she would otherwise have missed out on. 

Despite all this encouragement, we recognise that there are still too far few openings for women returning to work after a career break and are focused on widening the range and variety of options available. We'd love to hear from you if you've been able to return to fulfilling work after your career break.

Posted by Katerina

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Career break women: don't write yourself off!

This week I listened to Allison Pearson speak at a Working Families event about the challenges of the Sandwich Generation - juggling work, elderly parents and teenage children. As I laughed at her anecdotes, it rang a few too many bells as I'm currently recovering from my daughter's 18th birthday house party and making plans to support my parents during my mother's imminent hip operation  ... while fitting in the day job of course! 

Allison also talked about her frustration that so many women she knows - all amazingly talented - have given up hope of getting their careers back after taking many years out of the workforce to bring up their children. This I can also relate to; I regularly meet talented and experienced women on career breaks who have similarly written themselves off. 

Typical is Jackie, who stepped back from a high-flying 18-year career when jetting around the world for client pitches became impossible with three young children. She told me apologetically: "I've mainly been just a mum for years now, doing bits of consultancy for small businesses, nothing exciting." Approaching her fifties, with teenage children, she was sceptical of her chances of restarting her career: "I'd love to have a great job again but it's been too long. Who would want me now? Media is a young person's world and I'm too old to start again."

I can remember my own doubts and insecurities after four years out. It is so easy to give up when well-crafted job applications are ignored and recruiters dismiss your chances. Keen to relaunch in your previous field, you can start your job search with a burst of enthusiasm, but then rapidly become disillusioned. 48-year-old Carmen, who had wanted to resume her career as a City macro-economist, was told by a headhunter that she had "no chance on earth of going back to the financial sector" after a seven year break. So she wrote off this option, decided she'd have to start again at the bottom and took a minimum wage internship with a charity.

At Women Returners we are fighting hard at a business level to tackle this waste of female talent, by working with organisations to create more routes back into satisfying corporate roles. But if we're going to succeed in this objective, we also need you to remove any limits you are placing on yourself - to value yourself and what you can bring to the workforce:

1. Don't minimise yourself. You're not "just a mum", you didn't run "just a small business from home" and your previous professional success wasn't down to luck.

2. Remember you are still the same talented professional woman you were and you will quickly get back up to speed. You also have a wealth of new skills developed during your break, combined with maturity and a fresh perspective.

3. Know that UK businesses want you back. Companies from Credit Suisse to Thames Tideway Tunnel are launching returner programmes. I talk every week to many companies who see returners as an untapped talent pool which can both fill capability gaps and build diversity.

4. Be open-minded about new possibilities. If you don't want to go back to your old career, you are not too old to retrain into a new career or set up your own business and, most importantly, all those years of experience will still count.

5. Don't give up. We're not claiming that getting back into a great job after many years out is easy, but it is possible with determination and persistence, as our many return-to-work success stories demonstrate.

Carmen didn't give up and is now back working as an Executive Director in the City through participating in Morgan Stanley's returnship programme. And Jackie is starting to explore other options as well as reconnecting with her ex-colleagues who remember her as an amazing boss, not "just a mum". If you want to restart your career, remind yourself of Henry Ford's words ...

Posted by Julianne; Adapted from a Mumsnet Guest blog I wrote in April.

Friday, 11 September 2015

How Informational Interviews can help with your Return-to-Work

What is an Informational Interview?

The start of a new academic year is often a time when returners start thinking about going back to work. If you are at the stage where you are considering a variety of options, you'll need to do some detailed research to help you to narrow your focus or even generate new ideas before embarking on a full job search. An essential source of information is people who have done or are doing the kinds of roles you are interested in: the way to approach them is by requesting an informational interview.

Informational interviewing is absolutely NOT about asking for a job and it is vital to separate the two. When both parties understand this, it takes away any discomfort about the meeting and allows for a more relaxed and informative conversation.

Uses of Informational Interviewing

Information interviewing is a research activity, for gathering data and getting advice. The range of potential uses include:
  • Finding out about the skills and qualities needed for a particular role that you are investigating and any specific qualifications that are required
  • Understanding the content of a role and the day-to-day responsibilities
  • Learning how a specific company is on the inside - information which isn't communicated on the website e.g. the company culture and values and what it is like to be an employee
  • Gaining industry sector insight and finding out practical market realities
  • Making new contacts in your field of interest

How to set up and conduct an Informational Interview
  • Identify people in the role you are researching via your own contacts, LinkedIn or other networks (eg. alumni groups)
  • Contact people directly or request an introduction from your network
  • Email the person to ask for a short meeting or phone call: 15-20 minutes is a good length
  • Make it clear that you are looking for information, not a job. Don't send your CV unless you are asked for it
  • Prepare your questions to make the best use of your time and keep the conversation friendly, brief and focused
  • Always send a thank you to the person you met (as well as the person who introduced you)

Overcoming your fears about this activity

Sometimes returners find it hard to ask for help in this way as they question what it is they can offer in return. Just remember:
  • People enjoy being asked for their advice and to talk about themselves and their careers
  • The people you are meeting may well have been in your position themselves and they know the value of the activity you are doing
  • Often people in a role don't make time to read about current industry trends and news. As you gather insight, you may have useful, up-to-date knowledge to share with the people you are meeting

Posted by Katerina

Friday, 4 September 2015

Our Top 5 Return to Work Books

For our first post-summer blog, there's a back-to-school / back-to-work theme. As my teenagers have been coming home with their reading lists for the new term, it struck me that we have never put together our own reading list for returners on this blog. So here it is - our top suggestions - short, targeted and no essays required!

Our Top 5 Return to Work Books

1. If you have no idea what to do next ...

2. If you're thinking about a complete career change ...

3. If you're concerned about fitting work with your family life ...

4. If you'd like a step-by-step guide to support your return ...

5. And, finally, if it's all feeling too daunting ...

This is only a selection of our favourites from the hundreds of relevant books out there. We'd love to hear your recommendations for books that you've found useful during your own return to work, so do let us know by commenting on this blog, posting on our LinkedIn group or emailing us on info@womenreturners.com 

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 24 July 2015

Summer preparations for your return to work

In recent weeks I've had many conversations with mothers who've told me that they will be starting their back to work job search activity after the summer break, once their children are settled back to school. Having been in this position myself, I'm very aware how September rushes past in a whirl and so before you've made a start on your search, you're caught up with plans for the October half-term. Somehow, your return to work search hasn't progressed!

My advice is not to wait until September to get started. There are a variety of ways in which you can begin to prepare for your search while still taking care of your family - and having a break! This way you'll already have made a start when September comes around and will be able to use your time more productively.

What you can do during the summer

  • Make a to-do list for your own actions: In parallel with the lists you may be making to remind you to buy new shoes and PE kit, organise music lessons, book the dentist and research your 2016 holiday, create your own back to work list. This could include: buy a work/interview outfit, subscribe to industry journals, create/update LinkedIn profile, shortlist childcare options.
  • Work out what you will stop doing: You will need to dedicate time to your return to work search and so you will have to eliminate some of the things that currently fill your time. This could be the volunteer roles that you've taken on to keep yourself busy and engaged, your role as family chauffeur or tidying your kids' rooms. Starting to let go of some of these roles and tasks during or after the holidays will be great preparation for when you do return to work.
  • Identify specific time that you will dedicate to your return to work activity: You will need to commit to yourself that you will use this time for you, rather than for all the other multiple demands that mothers experience, otherwise you won't make progress with your to-do list. You could start with an hour a week, to get used to this new habit of taking time for yourself, and build it up gradually. It will naturally be easier if you can stop doing some of the things you've identified above.
  • Stay connected: Although recruitment activity slows during the summer months, we have been struck by how many employers are contacting us to discuss their hiring needs, wanting to advertise supported hire roles now or to launch programmes or run events in September. Some applications will open during the summer holidays so make sure you check your emails so you don't miss out on any interesting opportunities.
We're also taking a break and will be back in a few weeks. Enjoy your summer!

Posted by Katerina

Friday, 17 July 2015

How to build your post-career break network as a nervous freelancer

A common route to return to work following a career break is by working as a freelancer, offering your specific skills to companies or individuals on a project basis. I took the freelance route when I first started building my executive coaching practice following my career break and being quite shy and reluctant to ‘sell’ myself, I found the process of networking to find clients intimidating. Mary Jane Boholst, a self-described ‘shy, introverted, geeky freelancer’ shares her expertise on how it’s possible to build your network despite your fears.

If you are like most introverts or you are just unused to talking about yourself as a professional then the idea of networking to get clients or jobs as a freelancer can be a daunting one.

There are a great many problems that arise, the most pressing of which are where to go, who to talk to and how to talk to them. We’ll tackle those one by one in a moment.

What you offer
Before we do I want to make networking less daunting by sharing something that helped me to overcome the scary task of actually going networking to get clients and connections when I decided to take the leap into self-employment from my job.

This is something that I teach during my talks and seminars, which attendees and clients alike tell me makes such a difference to how they feel about networking and it’s:

Your service is a gift!

Now whether you are an employee or a freelancer, whatever it is that you do as a job or a career, it makes a difference to the people you provide it for.

That makes it, and you, a gift.

Whether you are an artist who brings a slice of beauty to everyone who sees your art, or a digital media professional who advises growing businesses on how to make the most of the social media channels or a business consultant who can carry out research and analysis and present recommendations, the service you provide is a gift that others need.

If you don’t know what your gift is then take some time to get clear on that first! Photography, cooking, interior design, counselling, coding, editing, copyrighting - take your pick! (I highly recommend choosing something you are passionate about doing.)

Once you know you are offering something special to the people you meet, where should you meet them?

Where to find potential clients
If you are a freelancer or new to business then it is going to save you time (and money) to think about who you would love to work with.

Who are the people who you think would benefit the most from your gift and who you would love to share your gift with?

Companies, individuals, busy professionals, couples, techies, creatives - the list is endless!

When you know who you are looking for it becomes easier to find them and talk to them.

The best way of finding who you are looking for is to think about places they would go and be at those places. If you struggle to find events eventbrite and meetup have great events that you can go to meet people with various interests. For more corporate/ professional individuals, Internations could be a great way for you to meet people.

Each of these sites has a search facility so you can search for the people, interests and topics that you, and your people, enjoy.

What to say
When you are at events meeting people, there are several steps to having a great conversation and making sure it is effective.

Firstly, keep in mind that you are offering people something that is a gift! 

This will help you to feel less salesy when approaching people and starting conversations.

Then I find it is useful to start the conversation by asking a question like what’s your name? Or what brings you here?

Actually I find that curiosity is the key to having great conversations: the more that you are interested in the people that you meet, the more they respond positively and the less self-conscious you’ll feel because you are focusing on the other person.

It also means that you listen to what people say, and who doesn’t want to feel heard?

When it comes to what you ask questions about, the key is to find out if you can help or support the people you meet in some way.

If you can help them with your product or service then you can ask them if they are interested in hearing more about it, before telling them more about it.

If not then you can give them a referral to a resource or opportunity/event that might help them move toward their goals. Then you can still ask them to be open to sharing about your work too, once you are done.

Networking and building a network is a long term strategy and game plan, so if the first few people you meet are not your clients, still be open to speaking with them because they may be able to get you one step closer to an investor, referral, potential client, event or opportunity.

If you are introverted, shy and geeky, like me, then you could find it especially useful to be curious and listen because it doesn’t require you to be extroverted and someone you are not.

In fact I know that networking works best when you are being yourself, because it is something my clients say to me all the time and something I discovered for myself when I discovered how to build my network effectively.

If you want more support to do this then please get in touch with me!

Mary Jane Boholst is the founder of Conscious Cocoon helping women in tech and shy introverted business owners to step out from behind their computer screens, speak up, speak out and share their expertise. Find out more here.

For other posts on freelancing see:
Freelancing as a return-to-work option

Posted by Katerina

Friday, 10 July 2015

Thames Tideway Tunnel returnship success

Great news! All seven ‘returners’ have been offered positions following completion of the first engineering/construction sector returnship, the Tideway Returner Programme, on which we partnered with Thames Tideway Tunnel. 

The programme ran for 12 weeks from April-July and was the first UK returnship to run outside the financial sector. Participants were from diverse professional backgrounds and had taken career breaks of between 2 and 17 years. All have now been offered ongoing roles, in a variety of areas, from legal to finance to communications to engineering project management.

Participant feedback
Rachel Tomkins, who has taken up the role of Operations Manager after completing the returnship, said: “The past 12 weeks have provided me with an invaluable opportunity to prove myself in the workplace after a considerable career break. With Thames Tideway Tunnel and Women Returners, we’ve been offered great mentoring support and advice to successfully make the transition back to full time work. I am absolutely thrilled to have been offered a permanent role on such an exciting project and I hope many more women and companies can benefit from this scheme.”

Business Sponsor feedback
Julie Thornton, Head of HR at Thames Tideway Tunnel, said: “We have been delighted with our first cohort of returners; each has been a huge asset to our team over the past 12 weeks, demonstrated by the fact they have all landed positions on the project. I hope this encourages other engineering and construction companies to follow suit, and to realise they could be missing out on a hugely valuable pool of talent.”

Evidence of success
The programme success adds to the growing body of evidence that experienced professionals can quickly and effectively contribute to the workforce even after a very long career break. This is not news to us, but is vital information to challenge the stereotypes that still blind so many employers and recruiters to the talent they are missing by bypassing candidates with a CV gap.

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 3 July 2015

Take Action to Increase your Return-to-work Confidence

Regular readers of our monthly newsletter will be aware that in the past four months, Julianne and I have presented or joined panels at a large and varied number of events on getting back to work after a long career break. At one of these, a CFA Women's Network panel, I was asked for ideas on how to build confidence, a very natural question. In my coaching work, this is often an area where returners wish to focus and I have also run dedicated workshops and written advice columns about it many times. As I have so much to say on this topic, I initially wondered how I could do it justice in a short answer. Ultimately I responded simply with a single effective method for improving confidence ... just get on and do stuff!

I can illustrate this idea best with my own experience of speaking at all these events in the past months. I've always believed that public speaking doesn't come naturally to me and so I haven't actively sought speaking and presenting opportunities. In fact, prior to 2015, I've given maybe 6 or 7 public presentations in total through my whole career. However, since the profile that we have generated for Women Returners has led to multiple speaking invitations, I've had plenty of chances to gain experience.

As is normal when doing new things, the first few times didn't go smoothly at all: I made many 'rookie' mistakes and felt what confidence I had at the start was draining away. Although I would have found it easy to decide that it was all too difficult and uncomfortable and decline to do more, I didn't have that option because I had already committed to more events. So, I had to persevere, learning from my earlier errors and gradually developing an approach to public speaking which works for me. Each time I've presented or participated I've learned something new and as I've gained experience, I've learned to take the positives from it, rather than focus on the bits that aren't perfect. 

Over time I've noticed that I can stop my voice from wobbling and my heart from racing, that I know my topic and don't need copious notes and that I can pause and take a drink without losing my connection with my audience. Through doing this - keeping taking action, while focusing on what has gone well - I've experienced a noticeable increase in my confidence at speaking. Even though it still doesn't feel natural to me, I no longer dread it. Indeed I find myself looking forward to opportunities to test out my new skill!

When returners ask about how to improve their confidence, I will ask them what it is they would like to feel more confident about: we all have areas of our lives where we feel confident as well as areas where we don't. Two areas where returners commonly tell me they feel low in confidence are re-establishing a professional network and going to interviews. Based on my experience of building confidence through taking action, these are some ideas for actions I recommend:

Re-establishing your network
  • Draw up a list of all the possible people you could get in touch with, including people from your past, your present and those you'd like to meet in the future
  • Starting with those who you find easiest to approach, set yourself a target of a number of calls to make, or emails to write, on a weekly basis. 
  • Ask friendly former colleagues if you can meet for a coffee to talk about industry or sector developments
  • Join LinkedIn groups in your professional field and initiate, or comment on, discussions
  • Volunteer at or attend relevant conferences or professional network meetings with the initial goal of speaking to just one or two people
  • Reward yourself for meeting your targets, identify what went well with your approach so you can repeat it - and increase your targets as your confidence builds
  • Performing well at interviews requires preparation
  • Ask family, friends and even former colleagues to support you by giving you practice at answering interview-type questions. Ask them for feedback on both what you do well as well as ways to improve
  • Take every opportunity for interviews as a place to practice your technique: even if you are not interested in the role, you can gain valuable experience from the interview itself
In whichever area you are hoping to re-build your confidence you will find that regular and repeated action will pay off.

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

What does success mean to you?

What does success mean to you? It's an interesting question to consider as you go through your career and particularly when you are considering your options after a career break. 

Conceptions of career success

When we talk about how successful someone is in their career, we still tend to use the obvious external markers. How much are they earning? What level have they reached in an organisation? If you consider that being the CEO earning £1m+ a year is the pinnacle of career success, it's easy to feel that you have failed in your career once you've stepped off the career ladder to the top.

In fact, research has shown that the majority of people tend to judge their own success by more subjective measures. A classic study by Jane Sturges found that factors such as enjoyment, accomplishment, influence, expertise and personal recognition rated highly in a group of managers' descriptions of what success meant to them. For all of the women in the study, the content of the job was rated as more important than pay or status. Balance criteria were also used by some of the managers - meaning that success for them was how effectively they combined a satisfying home and work life. From my perspective, achieving fulfillment and satisfaction in both home and work life is one of the greatest measures of career success, yet one that is rarely mentioned when we commonly talk or read about successful people. 

What does success mean to you?

Developing your own success criteria can help you to feel more positive about the choices you have made to date and to develop clearer objectives for this next stage of your career. 

A useful coaching exercise to help with this is to mentally fast-forward to your 70th birthday. To put you in the right frame of mind, imagine who is there with you, where you are, even what you are wearing.  Now imagine you're giving a speech discussing what you're proud of having achieved in your career and your life as a whole. What comes to mind? What will make you feel you have succeeded in your life? Write down whatever comes to mind and you'll have a good starting point for developing your own personal view of success. And that's what really matters...

Reference: What it means to succeed - Jane Sturges (1999)

Posted by Julianne 

Friday, 12 June 2015

Life after architecture: a returner's story

We have been spending a lot of time with the people at RIBA recently, meeting some very interesting returners and also practices which want to hire them. This is a return to work success story of one architect who took a different, but no less fulfilling route back to her professional career after a 10 year break.

Architect to QA Manager, Architectural Recruitment 

I qualified as an architect in the early nineties and started working in practice in London. Then, when my husband was relocated to New York in 1998, I went with him and found work there myself, firstly as an architect and then in the wider construction industry. On the news that I was expecting twins in 2004 we decided to move back to London and they were born just after we arrived back later that year. The first three or so years passed in a blur and then slowly, as they progressed to school and I had more time on my hands, my mind turned to what I was going to do next.
The thought of returning to practice, where hours are long and workload unpredictable, seemed impossible now that I had a whole new life at home that had not existed before. Working late and on weekends had never been a problem before children but now with the school day ending at 3:15 it seemed, in my mind at least, impossible to make it work. So I gloomily resigned myself to fact that I would never work again in my profession and busied myself with local voluntary work at the Macular Society and the Foodbank.
Then one day in 2014, a full 10 years after leaving my job in New York, I spotted a job ad in Building Design (the weekly newspaper for architects that I had kept on reading) for a 3 day a week role as quality assurance manager for an architectural recruitment agency. The job description said that the role would suit someone with an architectural background who would like to do something different with their training. I was intrigued and immediately emailed my CV and a covering letter, explaining exactly my situation and that I had been out of the workplace for 10 years, fully expecting it to disappear into the ether. However, much to my immense surprise, later that day when school home time was in full flow, I received a phone call from the operations director of the company saying they had been waiting for a CV like mine for months!
An interview was arranged and, nerves notwithstanding, it turned out to be a really lovely chat. They were open to my doing the hours of 3 days a week in any combination to suit me so that I could continue to drop off and pick up my children from school every day. We agreed on 10:00 to 2:00 Monday - Thursday and all day from home on a Friday to make up the difference. During holidays I condense the hours back to 3 whole days, 1 from home, which makes childcare between my husband and I so much easier to organise.
I have been there for a year now and it has restored my confidence and general zest for life no end, the balance is perfect. As the agency hires its recruiters from industry I have found myself surrounded by architects once again, which I love, and also by dealing with practices in London, a few of which I have either worked for or have acquaintances in, I have been able to slot back into the architectural community.
My role has evolved too from originally just checking written work that leaves the office and producing KPI statistics for the weekly meetings to now analysing those numbers and reporting on performance to the management team. I have also created and put in place systems to do this. It has been hard work and challenging but really rewarding, calling on my organisational skills and knowledge of processes.
Having found a way back into the workplace I am hoping, with the backing of the company, to be able to create a support network and possible partnerships with architectural practices to enable other women in the profession in a similar position to get back in and use their hard earned qualifications and experience again. It's early days but watch this space!

Posted by Katerina