Friday, 9 December 2016

How to get past your barriers to Informational Interviews

When I suggest interviewing someone for information, my Women Returners’ coaching clients often say:
  • I don’t want to waste people’s time
  • I’ll come across as nervous and unconfident
  • I’m not sure what I have to offer
Remember that the best way to find out about a job or a company is by talking to people with this knowledge. And here’s a statistic: One out of every 10 informational interviews results in a job offer. Considering that the purpose of informational interviewing is not to ask for a job, what a fantastic side effect! How does that happen? Well, in two key ways: you might tap into the hidden job market (i.e. ‘get in there’ before the job has even been advertised) or they might be impressed by you and decide to create a role for you.

Informational interviewing is not new; Richard Bolles coined it in his book, ‘What Colour is your Parachute?’ in the '70s. But perhaps it is easier than ever now to hide behind sophisticated technology, scanning job alerts, looking at job sites and skimming online adverts rather than researching through getting out and talking to people.

What is Informational Interviewing?

  • It is a way of having a focused conversation with someone in your network in a job, sector or organisation that interests you 
  • It is an opportunity to gather information about a particular industry sector or role, to get the ‘inside story’ from someone who is working in the area and to demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm to find out more
  • It isn't asking for a job
  • It is an opportunity to build your network by asking for names of others they could recommend you to talk to.

How can you overcome your barriers to Informational Interviewing?

I'd like to tackle each of the fears mentioned above.

I don’t want to waste people’s time

I'd encourage you to:
  • Do thorough research on the person, the role and the industry.
  • Prepare good questions to ask based on what you want to find out about. 
  • Say your interviewee comes recommended: People love to be flattered if it is genuine!
  • Don’t ask for a job as they’ll have to say 'no'
  • Ask for their help in giving suggestions, feedback and ideas 
  • Manage the time; say ‘I only want to take up 20 minutes of your time’; keep to this timing; thank them and finish.
Remember, people love helping others if it is within their competency to do so and doesn’t take up too much time. Allan Luks investigated what happens to people when they help others. He described the experience as a ‘Helpers High’. Helping actually reduces stress levels and releases endorphins, the brain’s painkillers.

I’ll come across as nervous and unconfident

I'll remind you:
  • Thomas Gilovich has found in numerous studies that people overestimate the extent to which they think other people can sense how they are feeling. We appear less nervous than we feel. He calls this the ‘Transparency illusion’.     
  • He also shows that we imagine others are far more confident than we are. He calls this the ’Confidence Con’.
  • So, remember you look more confident than you feel. This is an opportunity to boost your self-esteem by dressing smartly for the meeting, maintaining your professionalism and getting back into the work environment.

I’m not sure what I have to offer

I'll reassure you:
  • Try and make the meeting mutual and think about what you can offer them. Perhaps you have some industry insights from former meetings or can recommend a good article or a useful contact
  • Ask about them, what they enjoy and like less about their work; how they got into it and what they would recommend. Then listen deeply. People love to talk about themselves if really listened to.
  • Do thank them. John Lees suggests that a hand-written note is still appreciated and it is a great way of showing gratitude and making yourself memorable.
Next time you are feeling wary of interviewing for information remember the benefits; you might just uncover a role too!

This post was written by one of the Women Returners coaching team, Gilly Freedman. It is an edit of a post which first appeared on Career Counselling Services.

Friday, 2 December 2016

How to Find a Part-time or Flexible Job

Is part-time working in a professional job your Holy Grail? Our friends at Timewise, champions of flexible working, can help. They launched the Hire Me My Way campaign this year to encourage employers to open up more of their jobs to flexibility at the point of hire. They have created an invaluable in-depth guide to finding flexible jobs, including ideas on when and how to ask for flexibility when it isn't mentioned in the job advert: Download it here.

Here are a few of their tips we've picked out, with some of our own thoughts too.

1) Think beyond part-time 

Get creative - there are many variations on flexible working. Decide what option/s could give you a good balance of pay, job satisfaction and seniority as well as fitting with your family life or other commitments. In addition to the list below, some companies are now open to you taking unpaid leave in the summer holidays, as this is also a quiet time for the business.

2) Start searching for jobs that interest you

Do look at the growing number of job boards and recruiters specialising in part-time/flexible work (see here for a list)
Don't just look at jobs advertised as flexible. Timewise research found that only 8% of professional jobs are advertised as flexible; however 91% of UK-based hiring managers say they are open to discussing flexible working within the recruitment process for the right candidate. Start by finding roles that play to your strengths and experience and put your focus on building and using your networks to find opportunities. Research whether the company you're interested in already has staff working flexibly - if not, they're unlikely to hire on this basis. 

3) Lead with what you can offer

The application or early interview stage is not the time to bring up flexibility even if it is stated in the job advert. Concentrate on demonstrating your skills and relevant experience, as that's what the employer is interested in.  

4) Raise flexibility later on

The big question: At what point do you ask about flexibility if it's not included in the job advert? Try not to ask during the interview, but after you've been given the offer, or maybe in the final round of a stage-based process. If flexibility has been mentioned in the job advert, it's fine to raise beforehand.

5) Negotiate flexibility realistically
Some jobs aren't suited to flexibility but the majority will have some element of adaptability. Prepare a business case as to how you can make flexible arrangements work. Flexibility is a two way process and it is worth considering what are your sticking points and where you can compromise. The employer needs to feel comfortable with the arrangement too. 
  • If you're looking for home-working, identify tasks that can be done away from the office and consider any cost savings for the business of remote working
  • If you want to work fewer hours/days and the job was advertised as full-time, make sure it's realistic to do part-time or you'll end up doing a full-time role for less pay. If your past experience was at a more senior level, you might be able to make a case that you can do the role in fewer hours.
If you're applying directly for a permanent role and are sensing that the hiring manager is seeing your request for flexibility as an insurmountable barrier, suggest a trial period. Once you can prove that the arrangement works, it will be easier to make it permanent.

Posted by Donna

Friday, 25 November 2016

Top 5 Conference Return to Work Tips

We've just about recovered from our Women Returners Conference last week ... the pre-organisation, the excitement of the day and the post-event exhaustion! It was fantastic to see the enthusiasm and energy of our 175 attendees and very rewarding for us to read the positive feedback we received after the event (see here for Conference photos and comments).

For those of you who weren't able to join us, I wanted to share some advice from our speakers and from our panelists of successful returners and returner employers. 

Top 5 Return to Work Tips

1. Don't underestimate yourself.  This was a consistent theme, starting with our first keynote speaker Jane Garvey's observation that women too easily doubt our own abilities and that we need to recognise that we bring so much more to the table than we think.

2. Think maturity not age. Our ICAEW employer panel talked about the value to companies both of life maturity and of the amazing array of skills and experience that returners can offer in comparison with a young graduate and even compared with people who have risen up through the ranks.

3. Appreciate your 'Cognitive Diversity'. Brenda Trenowden, Chair of 30% Club, highlighted the push from UK business to increase diversity. Alongside diversity of gender, age and ethnicity the new goal is a team with 'cognitive diversity'.  Basically, companies are valuing people who think differently. From my experience, seeing the world in a different way comes easily to people returning after a career break - you return with a new, and often more balanced, perspective.

4. Be brave and move out of your comfort zone. Many of our panelists, including those with very impressive CVs, talked about the self-doubt and anxiety they had faced on their return to work. However, all of them said that the pain was worth it in the end!

5. Move to action. This was my main takeout from the stories we heard. Don't procrastinate endlessly, looking for the perfect next step. One of our panelists retrained as a mediator, before deciding that wasn't the right path for her; she's now working in a legal role she loves after taking a set of interim legal roles along the way. It may be a windy road back, but you'll learn more by doing than by thinking.

More advice
We're working on some advice video clips from Conference speakers and panelists and hope to share these with you over the next month or so. In the meantime, see our website for other returner stories and advice.

Posted by Julianne

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Find your road to success

Following our Women Returners UK Conference on Monday, we're delighted to feature a guest blog this week by one of our wonderful returner panelists, Samina Malik

The road to success is always under construction (Lily Tomlin)

If someone had told me 6 months ago that I would be a panelist at the first Women Returners Conference being interviewed by Jane Garvey (of Radio 4 Women’s Hour fame) with two other incredibly talented and inspiring panelists, in front of an audience of nearly 200 women, talking about my successful journey back to work at O2 … I would probably think they were mad!
My experience in looking for suitable roles to get back into work had been that I had a CV gap and I couldn’t return to corporate world. My degree, my previous extensive corporate experience for 11 years, my voluntary work … it all counted for nothing. 

The fact that during my “time out” to raise my family I had continued to develop whilst doing one of the most difficult jobs around ... as a leader, innovator, problem-solver, negotiator, teacher, project manager, care-giver, nurse, psychologist, financial manager, supreme organiser … basically as a mother … didn’t count.  I was told the best I could do now was to become a part time teacher/tutor or executive assistant

But I wasn’t going to let that stop me as I knew that there was more to me. The constant googling paid off … I read about Women Returners a leading organisation in the returnship space, offering help to people like me. In one of their newsletters I saw the O2 Career Returners programme being advertised. This was it, I thought. My skillset was relevant, the commute was manageable, a work/life balance was on offer … I was going to go for it. 

Fast forward the last 6 months or so and on Monday I attended the sold-out Women Returners Conference as a panelist, to talk about my “successful return to work” journey in a room full of hugely talented and qualified women … an untapped pool (more like a sea) of potential … looking to make their own journeys back to work. 

Thank you Julianne Miles and all the talented team at Women Returners, for your work in this area is amazing, actually life changing. I was honoured to be invited as a panelist and proud to represent O2, a company investing in Diversity & Inclusion programmes because it recognises that it makes business sense to have an employee workforce that reflects its 25 million customer base. It also makes business sense because having a diverse workforce creates happier, more productive and more innovative business teams.  

To all those who, for whatever reason, decided to leave work but are now looking to return … know that it is possible. Stay positive and keep an open mind about the opportunities that come your way. Believe in yourself and your own strengths, don’t let the inner critic grind you down. Engage with Women Returners (or similar organisations) to help support you on your journey. The journey will have twists and turns, it might be smooth or bumpy but it’s a journey of discovery and I look forward to what lies ahead on my road to success.

Samina Malik, Supplier Manager at O2 

Friday, 4 November 2016

8 Tips for Confident Communication when Returning to Work

This week's guest blog is by Sophie Clark from Denison Clark

Communicating with confidence and impact consistently in meetings, on conference calls and during presentations can be a challenge when returning to work.  As a workplace communication expert I help people to build their confidence, polish their skills and avoid some the common pitfalls when speaking. I have put together 8 tips and tricks to remind you how to communicate with greater impact when returning to work.

Give me time to think
Speaking too fast is a credibility disaster. Pause. All the time. Break up what you’re saying. If you speak how I am writing now, if you pause often, it’s the cheapest trick in the book to look calm and authoritative. Yes, it really is that simple. Watch Condoleezza Rice to see it done well and steer clear of Tony Blair’s pausing style.

Audience first
There are people who say 93% of your message is body language and voice. This has been taken out of context for years. Getting your content right is critical and so stop naval gazing and first think about your audience. Lead with why your audience should listen to you? What should they know? How will it impact them? What do you want them to do?

Please don't put on a ‘show’
We are often told to “fake it till you make it”, but this advice is better targeted when taking on a new role, not with your communication style. News flash - you are most likable when you are your warm, authentic, natural and professional self. I spend my life removing the masks from my female clients, so don't wear a mask thinking it will help you appear more confident when you speak. Pretending to be someone you’re not is not only exhausting but it makes it harder for others to trust you.

Power pose
This term was coined from Harvard professor, Amy Cuddy. If you don’t know who she is, take 20 mins and watch her 35 million times viewed TED talk. Taking time to make yourself ‘big’ before you speak has been scientifically proven to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) and increase testosterone (the confidence hormone). This uses your body’s natural hormones rather than play acting being someone else. If you haven't watched this talk I cannot recommend it highly enough. Find a spare board room or empty bathroom and ‘wonder woman’ your way back in.

Put your hands up
Put your hands (and forearms) on the table in meetings if you want more presence. If your comfort zone is to place them in your lap, then please, change your comfort zone! This matters particularly for women. 70% of my female clients show this behaviour and it can make them look small and under confident. Only about 5% of my male clients do this and the perception difference is huge.

Practice how you introduce yourself
Humans judge each other. Naturally, sub consciously, all the time. You will likely have an opinion of The Queen, Barack Obama and Sheryl Sandberg even though you may not have met them. I've met returning colleagues who have said "Hi, I'm Alex. I'm back after maternity leave and am working 3 days a week now". What I take away is the external side of Alex’s life and their working hours. What I am missing is what is Alex is doing in her role and what impact that is having to the firm. E.g. "Hi, I'm Alex. I'm back after maternity leave and I’m working mainly on X project X for Y client." There's nothing wrong with talking about your time out or your children, but be careful if that's what you lead with or the only thing I know about you.

Speak up and be counted
Perhaps your comfort zone is to sit, watch and participate later, particularly as you catch up and build confidence back. Whilst no one likes the over talker in a meeting, be aware that repeatedly saying nothing can be career damaging. A sage piece of advice I was once given was by a senior female investment banker who said "don't speak unless you have something worth saying, but don't let people judge your silence as a distinct lack of interest or ability".

And finally..  stop the negative chatter in your head
Internal communication matters just as much. Mentally, many of us have “obnoxious roommates in your heads” as Ariana Huffington calls them. Voices who say – you’re not good enough/ you’re brain’s been a little mushy since the baby/ technology has moved on so quickly/ people are going to know I’ve lost my edge/ I can’t give it the time it deserves…. I even had clients who refer to themselves as “has-beens’”. You have the power to stop these thoughts, especially if they are not helping you. If this is happening, it’s time to get some control back and park them.

Good luck. Power pose. Pause. Think about your audience and please be your authentic, polished true self.

About Sophie
Sophie is a communication expert at Denison Clark. She coaches small groups and individuals to speak with more confidence, clarity and impact across their work conversations and presentations.