Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Returning to Work - Is there a Middle Ground?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, 19 September 2014

Re-connecting with your professional self

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

Why do we need to be reminded of this?

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

Remind yourself of the professional you were

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

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

Regain your professional self

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

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

Posted by Katerina

Friday, 12 September 2014

What mindset can help your return to work?



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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Julianne

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


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Six Essential Steps for Successful Interviewing

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

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

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


Six Essential Steps

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

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

Avoid doing the following:


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

3. Prepare answers to typical questions
These include:


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

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

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

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


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


Posted by Katerina

Friday, 29 August 2014

How to return to work after a long career break



Telegraph Wonder Women, The Telegraph's online section for women, has recently launched a new Work section: "a witty, informative and intelligent look at working life". This week, we have contributed our top tips on our favourite topic: 

How to return to work after a long career break (click to follow link)

It might not be witty, but hopefully it is an informative and intelligent summary of some of the topics we've covered in more depth on this blog. Useful to check which of the steps you have already taken on your route back to work and what you want to add to your action plan for September.

Posted by Katerina & Julianne

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Making the most of the summer



With Wimbledon and the World Cup behind us, you'll probably be thinking about the long summer ahead and how to fill all those weeks until school starts again. You're unlikely to be thinking much about how you can get yourself back to work, at least until the summer is over. However, the summer can provide you with time to step away from your usual routine, to think and reflect and to implement some changes at home, all of which will lay strong foundations for your return to work. At the same time do take time to relax and recharge so that you are refreshed and full of energy when autumn comes around.

Here are some ideas of helpful and simple activities you can do during the summer:
  • Create a network chart
Even if you aren't ready to start networking, it is never too early to start creating your network chart. Divide your chart into three distinct categories on which you list everyone you can think of from different phases of your life: people from your past (your school and university classmates as well as former employers, colleagues and employees); your present (fellow parents and people you meet through voluntary work, hobbies or neighbourhood); and future (networks and groups you have yet to join). This is the kind of activity you can do all summer long, adding names as you think of them. Even if you start the summer thinking that you don't have a network, you'll be surprised how your chart grows.
  • Get clearer about what will fulfill you and what you might do next
Whether you have too many choices or too few, a useful way to think about what to do next is to think back to a work role (or part of a role) that you found fulfilling and reflect on what made it so. Our recent post describes a process for uncovering more about what gives you fulfillment.  As these factors are related to your deep values, they will continue to be of great importance to you in the future. By working out what's important to you, you'll gain motivation to search for your next role. And you can identify clues about what you want to do next: there might be elements of a previous role that you can craft into a new one or an idea for a business or a desire to retrain in an area which interests you.
  • Practise your story 
If you are going away somewhere and meeting new people that you are unlikely to see again, this provides a low risk way to practice telling your story. You can test out an answer to the dreaded question of ‘what do you do?’, refine it and get used to saying it. Telling your story might even lead to a networking opening, as I discovered when telling my story to the father of a family with whom my family had shared a hot, dusty and uncomfortable beach buggy ride.  He turned out to be a partner in a big four accounting firm and after the holiday introduced me to his head of HR, a great addition to my network.
  • Prepare your family
The summer is a great time to make changes to the family routines and responsibilities away from the hectic schedule of the school year.  If you're hoping to go back to work, you'll need to prepare your family for the changes that will be required of them.  For younger children, this might be a new kind of after school care or route to school.  For older children, you might want them to start taking responsibility for organising their sports kit, making their own packed lunches or doing laundry.  You'll know best what adjustments you will need your family to make, to support your return to work, and the more preparation they have the easier it will be.  Read our posts on combating guilt feelings if these get in the way of making the changes that will help you. 

Have a good summer, rest and recharge.  We'll also be taking time to relax and recharge and will be back in a month's time.


Posted by Katerina

Monday, 7 July 2014

How to Negotiate Flexible Work

Anna Meller, a work-life balance specialist, offers her advice on how to negotiate flexible working, as a returner.

On 30 June 2014 the legal right to request flexible working was extended to cover all employees after 26 weeks' service. Many forward thinking employers have already embraced the benefits of flexible arrangements and extended these to new joiners. While this is good news for returners and everyone concerned about their work-life balance, an employer is still able to refuse a request if they believe it will have an adverse impact on their business.

Preparation is key
Time spent preparing to negotiate - reviewing your desired working arrangements and the potential business benefits of working flexibly - will be time well spent. Before you start attending interviews, develop a compelling business case that can provide a foundation for future negotiations.

Building your business case
Begin by clearly identifying the key skills and experience that make you valuable to an employer. This will not only enable you to craft a flexible role from one that’s full time, it will also enhance your confidence as you begin negotiating. In every job there are specialist tasks that will require your skills and experience and more general ones that could be delegated or eliminated.

Questions to consider
  • To what extent could your new job allow time and location flexibility?  How will you manage the work/non-work interface?
  • Will you always need to be in the office to carry out every aspect of your role (an increasingly unlikely proposition with technology) or can you do some of your work at home?
  • What additional support will you need to be able to work from home?
  • What’s the likely impact on your workplace colleagues, your clients and customers?
  • How can you minimise the disruptions to them and ensure smooth working arrangements?
  •  Are you happy to receive calls and emails from colleagues outside working hours or do you guard non-work time for non-work activities?

And, finally, but most importantly, how will the business benefit from you working flexibly?

By now you should have a clearer picture of your preferred flexible working arrangement and the business benefits. While you may not always be able to work to your preferences, understanding them will enable you to agree clearer ground rules with your future boss and colleagues.

It’s also useful to have a fall-back position. Are there alternative arrangements which might also suit you, or issues on which you could compromise?

Having completed this ground work you’re ready to begin negotiating.

When to start negotiating
It’s best to be upfront about your need for flexible hours. Raise the matter at the end of your first interview. The response you get will give you a good indicator of the organisation’s cultural attitude towards flexible working.

Rather than starting with a request for a specific arrangement, begin with questions. Almost every organisation now has a flexible working policy, so ask what arrangements the policy covers. What options are there for arrangements not covered by the policy? What experience does your potential manager have of managing flexible workers? Is there anyone else in the team already working flexibly?

The time to discuss the details of your preferred arrangement is when the organisation asks you back for second interview. Make it clear that, while you have a preferred option, you’re open to negotiation. And don’t feel you need to agree to an arrangement there and then. If you need time to consider alternative suggestions ask for one or two days to mull things over.

For further support
A series of forms that can help you in your planning can be found on my website here: http://www.sustainableworking.co.uk/negotiating_flexible_working.htm

By Anna Meller

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How to identify work you will find fulfilling

As Julianne highlighted last week, when we think about returning to work we can focus too much on family-friendly work rather than work that will be fulfilling. In our effort to find work that will fit with the rest of our lives and commitments, we can miss this fantastic opportunity to identify what we will find sustaining and will give us a sense of purpose for the years ahead. It can be very easy, as a career break mum, to fill the days with voluntary roles, hobbies, seeing friends and caring for others.  I know - I've done it! These activities can make you feel useful and valued and busy but will they sustain you in the longer term?

The hidden bonus of being on a career break is that it allows the time and opportunity to do some thinking about what gives you meaning and what is really important to you. This is great preparation for your return to work, when you are ready, as it helps you to get a clearer idea on the direction you want to take. If you're not sure of your future path, and would like to investigate the type of work you find fulfilling and purposeful, this is a process you can follow:


  1. Take yourself away to a quiet place where you will not be distracted by tasks or people and are able to think for an hour or so.
  2. Think back over your working life and focus on one or two times when you felt a sense of personal fulfillment. Make a note of what you were doing, who else was around you, your location, your emotions and any other details you remember.
  3. Think about what it was that gave you a sense of fulfillment. This is about more than simply feeling successful, although that might be a component.  To get to what's underneath feeling successful, ask yourself what you felt successful in and what this meant to you. For example, were you solving an impossible problem, helping others & making a difference, being recognised as an expert, ...? 
  4. Think about what you were doing and what was going on around you in these times of fulfillment. For example, were you:
    1. Working alone or part of a team
    2. Part of a large organisation or striking out on your own
    3. Working with data, working with things/products or dealing with people (or a mixture of these) 
    4. Thinking through ideas and theories or carrying out practical actions with concrete results
    5. Developing/influencing others and/or developing yourself?
You might find it useful to talk this through with a trusted friend to help you to reflect on what was most important to you in these situations. Through asking yourself these questions, you will gain more clarity about what success at work means to you and the nature of the work and the surroundings you need in order to feel most fulfilled. In this way, you will start to form a clearer sense of your own purpose which can guide your search for a new worthwhile role.  What better way to spend an hour or so this Summer?



Posted by Katerina

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Are you focusing on family-friendly rather than fulfilling work?

"I think I'm going to have to retrain as a teacher"
Why do our imaginations desert us when we're considering our job options after a long career break? There are 949 job occupations listed in the O*Net database, yet there's only one that is mentioned consistently in the career conversations I have with returning women: Teacher.

Some of you may be inspired by the day-to-day reality of creating lesson plans and motivating a class of schoolchildren. But from my experience you're in the small minority. For most women thinking about teaching, the strongest appeal is the long holidays and a belief that it will 'fit with the family'. 

Are you asking yourself the wrong question?

This isn't the moment to go into the realities of teaching (which can be far from family-friendly as there is almost no flexibility about where and when you work). The point is that you may be starting with the wrong question. Rather than "What job is family friendly?", ask yourself "What job will I find fulfilling and energising?", then work out how you can make it family-friendly. Going back to work after a break is a wonderful opportunity to pause and consider what you really want to do: what motivates you, what do you most enjoy doing, what do you have a real pull towards? Do you need to retrain or can you create a role in your old field or something similar that fits with your family life.

Why is this important?

Working will inevitably make your life more complicated; the trade-off of work for family time needs to feel worthwhile. As I've mentioned before, research shows that satisfying work can make for a happier home life and give you more energy as a parent. If standing up in front of a class of 30 children day in day out brings you out in a cold sweat rather than brings a smile to your face, then you're likely to feel drained and exhausted as a teacher and the long holidays will never compensate. This is not the route to work-family balance. And the same 'Will it be energising for me?" test applies to any other positions you are considering.



Is it this a realistic strategy?

Our experience working with returners and the success stories on our blog demonstrate that flexibility can be found in a huge variety of sectors and roles. If you're clear what you want,what you can contribute and the working pattern that will best suit you, then you are far more likely to find and/or negotiate a fulfilling role that gives you the balance you are looking for. 

Is it time to consider a few of the other 948 occupations?

Posted by Julianne

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Find your way back to work through Strategic Volunteering

Volunteering is a common activity among former professionals who are on a career break, whether or not they wish to return to work at some point. Charities, PTAs and local campaigns are always in need of additional support and committed people: for women on a career break they can provide the companionship and sense of purpose that they previously found in their career, as well as essential flexibility.

It is very easy to fill your time with voluntary roles, especially once your children are in school and you can quickly feel very busy, productive and valued.  If you are thinking of returning to work at some stage, though, it is worth thinking about volunteering that can help you with your return either through developing your existing skills or acquiring new ones and, additionally, building your network. This is what we mean by strategic volunteering - work that does more than just make you feel that you are giving something back.

We have worked with many women for whom strategic volunteering was their launch-pad back to work. In some cases this was a deliberate approach and in others, there was a more organic development with the woman discovering a new interest or uncovering a previously hidden talent. You will find more details about some of these examples in our success stories

These returners planned their volunteering deliberately as a route back to work: 
Sue* was a volunteer Games Maker Selection interviewer, with me, for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. She'd previously had a career in HR and used the opportunity of our weekly shift to connect with the London 2012 HR team to find out about other permanent roles in the organisation. Three months into our volunteering she was employed there.

Amy* a former City lawyer volunteered in the legal department of a national charity, advising on contractual matters which was her expertise. After some months she negotiated a move to the trusts and legacy team where she built the knowledge and expertise that enabled her to apply for employment in her target area of private client practice.

In our success stories you can read about Caroline Boyd who joined the Parent Gym as a volunteer trainer/facilitator following a 4 year break from a career in marketing. She loved this new type of work so much that after a year she successfully applied for a permanent training role with the Mind Gym, the commercial arm.

Lynda* a former radio producer used a series of volunteer roles as stepping stones to a new career, starting from the school PTA where she ran a portfolio of increasingly successful fundraising and social events for a number of years. Having regained her professional confidence she volunteered as the campaign manager for a London mayoral candidate, using her journalistic instincts to develop an effective PR campaign from a standing start. Armed with this experience and many new contacts, Lynda was employed by a new political party to manage its PR activity.

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

*names have been changed

Posted by Katerina

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Tackling return-to-work fears and doubts: how to stop your brain getting in your way

We really enjoyed meeting so many wonderful women at Mumsnet Workfest last Saturday & hope you'll keep in touch and join our return to work network. For those of you who weren't at our session on'Tackling your return-to-work fears, doubts & guilt', here's a summary of what we talked about



Return-to-Work Fears & Doubts
Over the last decade, we have supported a large number of women considering returning to work after a long break. Many of the same worries & doubts loom large:
What if ... I can't do what I did before? I try and fail? No-one wants to employ me with a big CV gap? I can't find a good flexible job / affordable childcare? My brain's gone to mush.
I'm just being selfish. I feel guilty about wanting to work ...
However much we want to get back to work, these fears and doubts can stop us in our tracks. And we find ourselves in the same stuck place a year later wondering why we haven't made any progress

Recognise your Negativity Bias & Inner Critic
We're smart women - we're used to thinking our way out of a difficult situation. But in this case your mind may be your biggest problem rather than your problem-solver. Understanding a bit about our mental make-up explains why.

1. We have a 'negativity bias'. As the neuropsychologist Rick Hanson says,our minds are like Velcro for the negative & Teflon for the positive. Negative thoughts stick in our brains while the positive ones just roll off.

There is a reason for this. Our brains evolved to keep us safe in the time of woolly mammoths. They're primed to scan the environment for danger and to shout out all the risks. Better err on the side of caution than be someone's lunch. 

So when you're thinking about making a major change like going back to work after a long break & maybe changing career direction, your mind left to its own devices may well tell you DON'T DO IT! Your thoughts will naturally focus on all the reasons why not and all the downsides.

2. Alongside the negativity, your 'inner critic' fires up as the self-critical soundtrack inside your head judges you harshly ...
I'm being selfish for wanting to work
My children will suffer if I leave them
I won't be good-enough if I can't give 100% 
The subtext of all of these - I'm a Bad Mother if I go back to work.

As we tend to believe our minds, we see these thoughts as facts and make our decisions as if they were the truth. So we stay put and don't make a change. And we feel reassured for a while because the fears go away. But we're still not happy and fulfilled ...

Balance the negativity
The good news is that we can balance the negativity. Don't try to get rid of your negative thoughts & Always Think Positive- you'll be fighting a losing battle. Aim instead to create a more balanced view:
1. Listen to your negative thoughts and inner critical voices. Write them down to get them out of your head & weigh them up
2. Consider what evidence you have to support them and challenge yourself to find evidence against them
3. Tune down the negative 'Radio doom & gloom' in your head by not paying it so much attention
4. Create more helpful messages & tune these up by reminding yourself of them frequently
   I've lost all my work skills => I still have my old skills, they just need sharpening up
   I'm being selfish => my family will benefit if I'm happier and have more energy for them
5. Remind yourself of your strengths and achievements. Write them down
6. For every job option you consider write down why it could work as well as why not

Reduce your fears by taking steps forward
Fears are normal in any change. You really do have to Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway! (a great book by the way). Stop over-thinking & start taking action. Get practical and emotional support: even strong women need help to change! Focus less on the speed of the change and more on keeping moving forward. And read the 'routes back to work' posts on our blog for tips on the many actions you can take.

Related Posts
Do all working mothers have to feel guilty?
Do mothers need to Ban Selfish?
Are you your own worst enemy?
Stop thinking and start doing (guest blog for Workfest)


Posted by Julianne

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Morgan Stanley launches UK 'returnship' programme

We are delighted to report a new UK 'returnship' programme.




Morgan Stanley has just launched the Return to Work Programme London, a paid 12–week internship for professionals who have taken a career break and are looking to re-enter the workforce on a permanent basis. 
Note: application deadline is Sunday 15th June 2014

Location 
The programme is based principally at the Firm’s London offices

Dates
24 September - 17 December 2014 

Opportunities
Participants will be placed based on their skills and interests. A limited number of opportunities exist across the Firm in Commodities, Fixed Income, Finance, Global Capital Markets, Human Resources, Institutional Equities, Internal Audit, Investment Banking, Investment Management, Legal and Compliance, Operations, Research and Technology. On completion of the Programme, participants may receive an offer of permanent employment.

Qualifications, Skills and Requirements

  • Around five years or more experience in the financial services industry or other relevant areas
  • Interested in returning to the workforce on a permanent basis
  • Excellent leadership, interpersonal and communication skills
  • Problem solvers with strong analytical skills

Application Process and Deadlines
For further information and to apply see www.morganstanley.com/returntowork
The deadline is Sunday 15 June, 2014.

Questions


Posted by Julianne


Friday, 30 May 2014

Freelancing as a return-to-work option





We've previously discussed the variety and range of possible routes you can take back to work after a career break.  In this post we're focusing on freelancing, with an introduction to what it is and how to do it.

What is freelancing?

The essence of freelancing is that you offer your skills to companies or individuals on a project-by-project basis.  As an independent contractor, rather than an employee, you can control where, when and how you work. Freelancing therefore gives you more flexibility than any part-time working request is likely to do and more freedom than owning your own business. It can be a perfect set-up for parents wanting to fit in work around school hours.

If this all sounds too good to be true, the downside is that there is much less security than in more structured employment: most freelancers have peaks and troughs in their work. You'll also need to be self-motivated and comfortable with using your sales skills, particularly when you're getting started and targeting your first clients. Once you have some client referrals and start to build a reputation you will find it much easier as word of mouth is likely to become a key source of business.

How do I get started?

Before you get started with looking for freelance work, there are some important questions to ask yourself about how and where you are going to work and what kind of work will you do.  If you don't get these clear, you might find yourself taking on work that you don't really want to do because of the content, hours or location, but you only discover this once you've started the project.  Some key questions to ask yourself are:
  • What are the specific skills I want to offer my clients? What is my niche? Think of yourself as a brand: what are my Unique Selling Points?
  • What are my non-negotiable requirements on working hours and locations? How does my ideal working week look?
The key to success as a freelancer is to understand and believe in the skills and experience that you offer and your ability to provide value to your clients.

How do I find clients?

According to Lyndsey Miles, founder of Freelance Parents, there are 7 ways of gaining clients:
  • Approach your former boss or work colleagues (a very common way for returners to dip a toe in the water)
  • Referrals from your network
  • Freelance job sites
  • Low-cost advertising
  • Offering a free trial
  • Cold calling
  • Using social media as a marketing and networking tool
You might find some of these methods easier than others and they each have their benefits and drawbacks, but they do can work, as the stories on Lyndsey's website show.

What if I don't enjoy selling?

Another option for freelancers is tying in with one or more larger organisations who take on skilled and experienced professionals for freelance projects. This may be particularly appealing if business development is not your strong suit! Look for businesses in your sector which take on 'consultants' or 'associates'. An increasing number of 'virtual' professional services businesses are resourced largely by independent freelancers, for example:
Strategy consulting: Eden McCallum 
Law: Keystone Law, Obelisk Legal Support, Lawyers on Demand
Marketing: Stop Gap
Copyrighting/graphic design: Quill 

Freelancing can either be a long-term option, a stop-gap while your children are young or a way to ease back into work. I started out in my new career as a freelancer and was able to create a working life that fitted with my family and kept me stimulated and engaged.

Posted by Katerina


Thursday, 22 May 2014

Do mothers need to Ban Selfish?


Sheryl Sandberg's Ban Bossy campaign has sent a strong message to young girls. It illustrates how powerful words can be in labelling ourselves and shaping our thoughts and feelings. Personally, I'd like to ban the overuse of a word that both holds back mothers from enjoying their work-family lives and can get in the way of a successful return to work. Mothers, let's Ban Selfish!

How often before having children did we label doing something positive just for ourselves - playing a sport, learning a language, reading a book - as 'selfish'? Never, that I can remember. In fact, we usually felt quite pleased with ourselves that we weren't just slumping in front of the TV but were staying healthy or continuing learning new skills outside of work.

But I've noticed that a strange transformation comes over many women when children arrive. Suddenly doing something for ourselves starts to make us feel bad, rather than good ... it becomes 'selfish'.

In the last few months, I've heard mothers describe all of these as 'selfish':
* Going for a run on a Saturday morning / a yoga class on a Thursday evening
* Signing up for a Monday evening cookery class
* Re-reading Jane Austen on a Sunday morning
* Going to an evening work event to make new contacts
* Catching up on reading work journals for an hour on a Saturday 

Taken further, some women describe their desire to return to paid work as 'selfish', usually if they don't financially need to work but are feeling unfulfilled at home. It can be seen as a personal failing: "Why can't I just be happy looking after my kids?" 

By using the term 'selfish', we're telling ourselves that we are lacking consideration for others and prioritising our interests above everyone else's*.  In fact the opposite is true. We see these choices as selfish because we're putting our needs at the bottom of the pile. Driven by caring for others, we can end up becoming martyrs to our family.  

It's time to remember that balancing your needs alongside the needs of your family is not selfish. It's a healthy and positive attitude that is likely to improve your family life as you will be happier and more energised. Who wants a bored, frustrated and 'selfless' mother?

Are you ready to Ban Selfish? 


Further reading
Am I being a martyr?

*Selfish definition: "Lacking consideration for other people; chiefly concerned with one's own personal profit or pleasure"


Posted by Julianne







Tuesday, 13 May 2014

LinkedIn - an essential tool for your return to work

If you're getting ready to return to work - and have been following this blog -  we hope you'll have a CV drafted, a list of contacts and an idea of organisations you'd like to target. Do you also have a LinkedIn profile or any idea of the many uses of this networking site?  LinkedIn is essential for your return to work as it is your 'public face' where people you contact in your networking and job search will gain an impression of your skills and experience. And it is increasingly used by recruiters searching for candidates.  So, you need a profile and it has to present you in a professional and credible way.

Key elements of your profile

You can spend many hours adding to and fine tuning your profile but none of this will matter much if the following elements are missing:

  • Photo - This is vital and it has to be a proper photo, not a holiday snap with your family or one taken while you are sitting in front of a computer/tablet screen with your head at an odd angle.  It doesn't have to be taken by a professional but you need to look professional in it, even if you are standing in your back garden.
  • Title - Don't make your title 'career break' or 'homemaker'. Relate it to your past experience if this is relevant to the roles you are targeting eg. financial services professional. You don't have to limit yourself to one title if you have a portfolio of interests eg. Accountant | Writing expert
  • Summary statement - This is the first thing that people will read about you and so it worth spending some time getting right.  If you have a personal profile on your CV you can use it here, just changing to the 1st person.  Keep it factual rather than using overblown adjectives. It is important to communicate your past skills and experience in this space, and possibly the type of role you are seeking. 
  • Career details - Make sure that these are consistent with your CV (years, job titles, qualifications) but don't include as much detail as on your CV. This is more of a 'shop window'.
  • Career break - Include your career break, don't try to hide it, & briefly explain the reason eg 'parenting career break' or 'career break for travel'. This is definitely preferable to having an unexplained gap which will just raise questions in the reader. Remember to include any significant voluntary, freelance or entrepreneurial roles that you've had during your break. 
While you are refining your profile, it's a good idea to change your privacy settings to private so that your contacts are not continually updated. 

How to use LinkedIn

LinkedIn can be used in so many ways for your return to work: networking, raising your profile, research and job postings are the main ones.  It is a great aid for those of us who are nervous of networking, as a way of getting an introduction, but it cannot replace getting out and meeting people face-to-face.

  • Networking - the first thing you need to do once you've created your profile is make connections. It's an easy way to get back in touch with old colleagues. Invite people you know to link in with you and always use a personalised message. There are two reasons for this: you will start to make it known to your network that you are looking for work and you will gain access to their contacts once they have accepted your link.  You will discover connections that you would never have known about otherwise and you can then ask your primary contacts for an introduction to their connections (your secondary contacts). How much simpler could it be to get an introduction! 
  • Profile raising - A good way to raise your profile on LinkedIn is by joining groups.  These can be alumni groups of your former employers or educational institutions as well as industry specific or special interest groups.  Once you are a member of groups you can initiate or contribute to discussions on topics; you will see that people ask questions, post interesting articles and start conversations.  By following groups you will find out more about the current issues facing the group and by contributing with a comment, question or article your profile will increase.
  • Research - LinkedIn is a great tool for finding people who work in a particular industry, organisation or role.  Just type your search term into the bar at the top of the page and a list will be generated of all your primary, secondary and tertiary contacts that meet the search criterion.  You might be surprised what you discover!  To make contact with secondary and tertiary contacts you will need to ask your primary contacts for an introduction.  They will find it much easier to help you when you can ask for a specific person.
  • Job postings/approaches - more and more employers are using LinkedIn as a recruitment tool (and avoid paying recruiter fees) so you might receive a direct approach about a role.  Additionally, job postings are often added to group notices and LinkedIn itself emails bulletins of vacancies that it thinks match your profile (although these can be a bit erratic).
LinkedIN itself offers free webinars to help people make the most of the site.
If you have any further questions that haven't been covered, please ask!

Posted by Katerina

We will be talking about practical steps to get back to work after a career break at Mumsnet Workfest on June 7th.  We hope to meet you there!


Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Confidence Gap - and what to do about it

A new book The Confidence Code, by two US journalists, highlights a phenomenon that many of us know from our own experience - in general, women tend to be less confident than men.  Although the book is written from the perspective of working women, it has useful insights and ideas for women returning to work after a break, when our confidence is often at a low point.

Research data

The authors have gathered together and reviewed the research into this topic. Highlights include:
  • A 2003 study by two university psychologists which showed that women consistently under-rated their performance in a variety of maths and science tests while men over-rated theirs.  In reality, the performance of both sexes was on a par
  • A 7 year experiment by a Manchester Business School professor on her students which found that men expected to earn much more than their female colleagues - and believed they deserved to earn more than the women believed
  • A Hewlett Packard study which found that women don't go for promotion unless they feel they have close to 100% of the required qualifications while men go for it with only 60% of what's required
There are many explanations for the disparity in confidence levels - the confidence 'gap'.  As you would expect, they include genetic makeup (brain differences as well as hormones), upbringing (for example, what is termed 'bossiness' in a young girl will be described as 'leadership' in a young boy) and cultural factors in societies and organisations.

So women are, once again, at fault for their lack of progress?

Commentators including Amanda Duberman at the Huffington Post have objected that the idea of the confidence gap is - once again - putting the blame on women for their apparent lack of progress in the workplace.  The objectors suggest that inequality is caused by workplace sexism, not women themselves.  This is a similar argument to that levelled at Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In project.  In my view, based squarely on my experience as a coach and former corporate professional, the reason women are held back in the workplace is a complex mixture of both workplace culture and certain female characteristics.  What The Confidence Code and Lean In offer to women is an opportunity to reflect on our own contribution, to identify where and when we are being our own worst enemy and to identify actions we can take to close the confidence gap. Returning from a break, it gives a push to apply for the job we want even if we're not 100% qualified and to negotiate for a higher salary rather than feeling grateful and accepting the first offer! 

Practical ways to build your confidence

Fortunately, discoveries in neuroscience and psychology show that it is possible to amend our thought patterns to build confidence and self-belief: with time and practice we can tune down self-critical and doubting thoughts and reinforce more supportive ones. See our previous posts on:
The common thread through all these posts is an emphasis on action.  In the book, Richard Perry, a psychology professor at Ohio State University describes confidence as 'the stuff that turns thoughts into action'. By taking action we give ourselves the opportunity to discover what we are capable of which builds our confidence and this in turn encourages further action. A virtuous circle is created and confidence accumulates as the brain replaces old thinking with new. 

Posted by Katerina

We will be talking about tackling your fears, doubts, guilt and lack of confidence at Mumsnet Workfest on June 7th.  We hope to meet you there!