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
Interviews
  • 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

Friday, 5 June 2015

Advance preparation for your return to work

At the moment our household is in mid-exam crisis mode. With two teenagers sitting important exams, I'm supporting from the sidelines. Alongside making many cups of tea & stocking the constantly-emptying fridge, I've been doing what I can to help them to prepare. They're completely focused on revision, so I'm stepping in for the practical side - finding the missing compass before the maths exam, stocking up with black biros & filling the water bottles. I've also been encouraging them to prepare mentally - positively channeling their adrenaline and discussing what to do if they have a crisis of confidence just before an exam or start panicking when they can't answer the first question.




Advance preparation is similarly vital when you make the decision to get back to work: you need to start to prepare on three fronts - professional/technical, mental and practical.

Top tips: 1. Don't wait for a job application or offer before you start to prepare; 2. You may not have your mum to help you out, but do prioritise finding your own sources of emotional and practical support.

Professional/technical preparation

Bring your knowledge back up-to-date. Re-subscribe to professional journals, read related press, take update/refresher courses if you need to. Go to seminars & conferences. Meet up with ex-colleagues and talk shop again. Remind yourself of the old jargon and learn the new.

Mental preparation

For returning mothers, this is the moment to address any looming guilt feelings about leaving your children - as we've said many times on this blog, there is no need to feel guilty for working (see here for advice). 

Remind yourself of your motivations for returning and the positive rewards for you and the family: studies have shown that if we focus on the positive aspects of combining work and family life, we're much more likely to feel good about our work-life balance, and to overcome any challenges, than if we focus on potential work-life conflict.

Increase your energy and enthusiasm for your return by spending time with the people who are encouraging you to make this change, rather than those who are questioning or critical of your decision. Also take steps to build your confidence; don't discount yourself and what you can offer (see here for confidence tips). 

Practical preparation

Make time for your return by giving up other activities, such as volunteering work that isn't using your professional skills. Get practiced at saying 'no' to free up your day. Start to delegate more to your children and encourage their independence. If you're the default taxi driver, still ferrying your older children around, let them get used to public transport. Same with your partner, if you have one - start to hand over and share out more of the home responsibilities. 

Build your practical support networks. If you need to sort childcare, it's worth planning this as far in advance as possible. Don't wait until you have the job offer! And start to contingency plan too - work out what will be your back-up for your back-up childcare before the inevitable problems arise - line up other mothers & local grannies/students. If you don't have a cleaner, get recommendations now so you can avoid spending all your free time doing housework when you're back at work.

Think carefully about how work can fit with your life. Map out a balanced work week for you. When do you want/need to be at home & what for? And critically, work out what you are not going to do any more at home. What can you let go of or delegate? Don't be the mother sewing a fancy-dress costume at 2am when a cheap bought or borrowed one will do just as well. You'll need to be flexible about how this might pan out once you get into job discussions, but being clearer on your non-negotiables will help you to target the right opportunities.

If you're also a mother who tells your children the benefits of not leaving everything until the last minute, this is the moment to practice what you preach!

Related Posts
Once your have the job offer, you'll have built a great foundation for the next stage of preparation: Preparing for your first months back at work

Posted by Julianne


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

12 Tips for Women Returners from Mumsnet Workfest





For those of you who were not able to join us at the inspiring Mumsnet Workfest event last Saturday, these are some advice highlights from the keynote panel for women returners.

Clarify your boundaries

1. When you return to work, be clear about where the line in the sand is for you to make it work. Sara Bennison, Marketing Director, Barclays

Make work, work for you

2. Disentangle being present [in the office] from being effective. Sara Bennison, Marketing Director, Barclays

3. Be clear about your red lines and explain how you will still do your job. Work out what are the things you need to do, to do it differently. Jo Swinson, former MP and Business and Equalities Minister

4. Success at work is about productivity, not bums on seats. Karen Blackett, CEO MediaComUK

Network & target employers

5. Your network counts, it really is [often] who you know, not what you know. Sara Bennison, Marketing Director, Barclays

6. Make a personal connection when you're applying to a company [to avoid sending your CV into the wilderness]. Shami Chakrabarti, Director Liberty

7. It's a better use of your time to send 3 well-researched letters to a company [than scattergun job applications]. Jo Swinson, former MP and Business and Equalities Minister

Prioritise

8. Pick the bits that matter to you [at home & work] and drop or delegate the others. Gaby Hinsliff, Journalist & author of Half a Wife

Be yourself

9. Be authentic in what you do. Authenticity is the key to success. Karen Blackett, CEO MediaComUK

Be confident

10. Having a child is the most difficult and important thing you do. If you can look after a child you can do anything. Shami Chakrabarti, Director Liberty

11. It does come back, it is still there in your brain. It will be fine, it will come flooding back to you. Jo Swinson, former MP and Business and Equalities Minister

Get support

12. Ask for help from other mums to make it work. Find cheerleaders in your organisation to help you with flexibility. Karen Blackett, CEO MediaComUK


If you're London-based & regret missing our Workfest session on kick-starting your return to work, do look at the other return-to-work events we have coming up this month: wrpn.womenreturners.com/events/ 

Posted by Katerina

Friday, 15 May 2015

How to Shine in Telephone Interviews


One of the innovations in recruitment practice in recent years is the increasing use of telephone interviews. In addition to their use in standard job recruitment, many of the return to work programmes we support use them as part of the screening process when deciding who to invite for face-to-face interviews or to selective returner events. This is the case for the Bloomberg Returner Circle which we launched last week as well as for many of the corporate returnship programmes. 

If you've not had an interview for many years, the process may seem daunting, particularly if a telephone interview is a totally new experience for you. We are often asked for advice about how to handle them; in particular, the lack of personal contact can be seen as a barrier. Although telephone interviews throw up different challenges from the traditional format, with the right preparation and approach, you will be able to put yourself across well.

What's different about a telephone interview?
  • Lack of visual clues: clearly, you are not able to see your interviewer (or vice versa). This means you'll miss out on the normal conversational cues about whether you have the interviewer's interest or are answering in the way they expect. Similarly, the interviewer won't have any visual cues about your engagement or enthusiasm for the role. This means you have to use other methods to ensure a good understanding.
  • Length and format: telephone interviews are commonly shorter than traditional interviews and the interviewer is often working from a set of highly structured questions, with less introductory 'small talk' so it may be harder to build rapport.
  • Nature of interviewer: as the telephone interview is part of an initial suitability screen, the interviewer could be a recruitment generalist who might not have detailed knowledge of the company or the role for which you are applying.
Preparation is key

As with all interviews, your preparation will be vital and all the advice we give in our other posts is relevant (see links below). In addition, you can do the following:
  • Ask in advance about the interview format, length, types of questions and what the interviewer will be assessing (for example this might be a CV-based check on your match with the profile, an assessment of your motivations, or an competency-based interview).
  • Think about your answers to common interview questions and make some notes, but don't write out a script as you will sound wooden if you read from it, rather than speaking naturally.
  • Make arrangements to ensure that you will be uninterrupted (especially by children!)
  • Give yourself time just before the interview to prepare mentally and physically. Have a pen & paper and a copy of your CV and cover letter in front of you to refer to. 
  • Dress in business wear if it helps you to feel confident that you will project the right image.
During the interview ...
  • Behave as you would in a face-to-face interview, with the same degree of formality. 
  • Don't worry about silence, the interviewer is probably writing.
  • You can check on your performance by asking if you have answered the question fully or if more detail is needed.
  • Smile - you'll sound more enthusiastic and confident.
  • Speak clearly and not too quickly.
  • Sit up straight or speak standing up if this allows you to talk with more power and energy
... and make this your opportunity to stand out

To show your enthusiasm and commitment in a limited time:
  • Provide clear, succinct and focused responses to the questions you are asked. Avoid rambling!  
  • Keep your voice upbeat and fully of energy.
  • Project yourself as the professional person you would like to be seen as, after all, you can't be judged any other way!
After the interview
  • Make notes on what you discussed.
  • Do send a thank you email as you would for any other interview.
Other useful posts:

Posted by Katerina

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Bloomberg & Women Returners launch Bloomberg Returner Circle

We are excited to announce a new UK initiative for returning professionals.
We are partnering with Bloomberg, the leading financial information and trading platform provider, to launch the first Bloomberg Returner Circle. This is an innovative London-based programme to support and engage talented individuals with experience in financial services who have taken an extended career break. Bloomberg is committed to developing a more diverse workforce and recognises both the value of this experienced group and the challenges you can encounter in restarting your careers in suitable corporate roles.
Note: The closing date for applications is 27th May 2015

What is a Returner Circle?
The Bloomberg Returner Circle is a two-day event to provide support, information and an initial exploration of opportunities at Bloomberg. Participants will have the opportunity to learn more about Bloomberg through speaker sessions and networking with current employees. You will participate in coaching workshops from Women Returners to develop your self-marketing and interview skills and will benefit from networking with a like-minded peer group of returning professionals. Through a range of activities and discussions, there will be the opportunity to potentially match your career goals, experience and skills with relevant financial products roles.

Where and when is the Returner Circle?

The Returner Circle will take place on 17th-18th June 2015 at Bloomberg's London offices.

Who should apply?

The Returner Circle is targeted at returning professionals with specialised experience in financial services. Bloomberg is looking for expertise across one or more financial asset classes, ideally gained through working in a front office environment. Successful applicants are likely to have had a career break of 18 months to 10 years and will be motivated to return to a permanent role in financial services.

For more information & to apply

Visit the Bloomberg Returner Circle page on our website to find out more about the initiative, the participant requirements and how to apply for the Returner Circle: 
http://wrpn.womenreturners.com/bloomberg-returner-circle/
NB Don't forget to clearly shown on your CV & in your cover letter that you meet the career break criteria.

To find out more about Bloomberg visit: jobs.bloomberg.com/content/about/

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

What role does image play in supporting your return to work?


One area that can be neglected when thinking about your return to work is how to present yourself in a way that reflects the image you want to convey.  If you've been out of the workforce for some time, you might have questions about what exactly 'business wear' looks like today.  And you might be uncertain about the styles and shapes which suit you best.  Business and Career Coach, Natalie Hunter, explains how getting your image right can boost your return to work confidence.

Returning to work after a significant break can induce a whole range of emotions. On the one hand it can feel daunting and tap into our darkest self-doubts. On the other hand, we might feel excited and reawakened at the prospect…possibly all of those things and more.

I’ve taken a few breaks during my career, one to go travelling and two maternity leaves. I clearly remember the mixed feelings of returning: disorientation, anxiety, pressure to make a good impression, optimism, engagement and liberation – at least for a while - from the daily demands of domesticity. As it turned out, my last return was on 9/11 and any fears I had on that occasion were soon eradicated by more important things.

It feels trivial to talk about the importance of image after that, although, rightly or wrongly, we do judge each other on appearances and make all kinds of assumptions: How professional is she? How smart? How contemporary? How creative? How well organised?

I’ve been involved in many an interview over the years and listened to the hiring manager’s comments afterwards. Appearance is often on the agenda…and it’s not always flattering.

Like many people, when I’m facing the unknown I try to focus on the aspects of the situation that I can control. In terms of returning to work, one of these things is appearance.

Image, of course, is no substitute for competence. I want to be known primarily for the quality of the work that I do, not how I look, although if I feel confident that my appearance will create an authentic and favourable impression, that’s a bonus. Paying a little bit of attention to understanding what makes us look our best frees up our time and attention to focus on the content and quality of our work.

Some of your original working wardrobe might still work for you, although even classic styles can look dated – the fashion industry is very clever at getting us to keep buying more! Perhaps your body shape has changed and the styles you once relied on no longer seem to work. Colour has an amazing capacity to make us look radiant or drab. This doesn’t mean you suddenly need to start wearing lots of strong, bright colours, it’s just about understanding what depth, brightness and tone of colour works best for you in the context of what would be appropriate for your potential working environment.

I love style and colour and how they transform the way we look, but I don’t enjoy spending huge amounts of time and money on expensive, sometimes torturous, grooming procedures or lengthy shopping trips! In my book, anything that can make life simpler, calmer and lower-maintenance is to be welcomed.  Being able to edit a shop floor with a few quick glances, for example, or quickly pick the right outfit for the occasion, saves precious time and energy.  Knowing what to look for helps avoid expensive mistakes or those ‘fashion over style’ disasters that stare reproachfully at you from your wardrobe.


Investing a few hours to explore how your image can support your career aspirations can make all the difference in helping you to feel confident and make a positive impression. Once you understand what suits you and why, you can make confident choices and always look your best.

By Natalie Hunter, Women Returners associate, Business & Career Coach, Image Consultant and Leadership Development Consultant

Friday, 24 April 2015

Returning to law after 12 years - Katharine's story

This week, we're highlighting Katharine's* success story, showing how it is possible to return to a legal career after a 12 year gap, and how interim roles can provide a flexible route back to work.  


"I worked as a senior in-house commercial lawyer for 8 years for a FTSE 250 manufacturing company, and was lucky enough to work 4 days a week when it was very rare. Having moved out to Hertfordshire I took a career break after the birth of my third child. After 7 years at home I re-trained, qualified and worked in a new profession as a family mediator for a few years. It was challenging, interesting and rewarding, but lonely (working from home except when meeting clients) and made me realise how well suited I am to working as an in-house lawyer, and how much I enjoy it. As well as helping me regain my confidence, I believe my family mediation experience gave me enhanced skills – my EQ and softer skills developed, and learning to adopt a step by step approach now means nothing is overwhelming.

My first step was to attend a solicitors’ returner course through the Law Society. It was then a major commitment to bring myself up to date with the relevant legal developments (through a leading on-line legal know-how provider) and to try various initiatives – there were plenty of setbacks and dead ends along the way. However, I kept going and remained positive (mostly!) focusing on interim, part-time in-house roles. (I felt interim roles could give me more options, particularly as a returner).

6 months after the returner course I was offered my first interim in-house role. It was a great start and I quickly adapted to changes in the office environment (open plan, quieter, more emails and instant messaging and fewer telephone conversations, no admin support). I was soon ready for a new challenge and after 5 months joined a global company to provide maternity leave cover for 9 months as part of a European legal team of 10 which I loved. I was sorry when that came to an end, but have recently completed an assignment with the legal team of a FTSE 100 company. I have found all my roles through recruitment agencies (including one which specialises in flexible working) and through Lawyers on Demand (LOD) which provides freelance lawyers as a flexible resource to in-house legal teams.

What have I learnt? At the returner course I had to think of a USP quickly and mine was being adaptable and embracing change. This has turned out to be accurate, both in terms of industry sector (FMCG, telecoms/cloud services and retail) and work content (preparing a company for sale, corporate and regulatory, commercial contracts). It is a privilege and a challenge to be able to work in different environments, and appeals to my sense of adventure - I have learnt a lot and stayed motivated and enthusiastic. My 3 recent roles have been 3-3.5 days per week but I expect there to be times when it is difficult to find interesting part-time work – it is still hard to come by. I will take advantage of those times to pursue other interests, and to spend more time with my children and elderly parents and on my voluntary roles.

My advice is to be determined in pursuing what you want and not to be afraid of trying new areas, even if it is not exactly what you think you are looking for. No experience is wasted and you will learn a lot along the way. I am also pleased that my children can see there is another side to me as well as being their mother."

Notes:


The next Law Society refresher course will run in October 2015. 
LOD (Lawyers On Demand) is our newest Interested Employer in the legal sector, joining law firm McAllister Olivarius and legal services firm Obelisk Support.

* name changed for confidentiality


Posted by Katerina 

Friday, 17 April 2015

Responding to "You're overqualified for the role"



We are often asked by returners how to respond to the comment from recruiters that they are "overqualified" or "too good" for a position. In this situation, it is worth asking yourself whether you are aiming too low because your confidence is diminished after a long time out of the workforce. However, if you have purposefully targeted the role as being an appealing re-entry point, maybe wanting a less pressured role to better fit with the rest of your life, it is very frustrating to receive this feedback and hard to respond in a way that positively affirms your motivation.

When thinking how to answer, it is helpful to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. Recruiters often make this comment when they are concerned that you will quickly become bored with the role and so will either under-perform or not stay for the long term. They might not understand that you have deliberately applied for a role that is less senior than the role you held before your career break because you are coming back to the workforce with a new perspective on your career.

Understanding the interviewer's viewpoint, your response needs to include the following elements of reassurance:
  • you have thought through these issues
  • you have specifically targeted this level of seniority (explaining briefly why) 
  • you are committed to doing the best you can in the role
  • as with any other new hire, you hope that your career will progress over time 

Carol Fishman Cohen, who co-founded and runs iRelaunch, our closest US equivalent, provides some recommended wording which you might like to use if you are targeting a lower-level role to provide more balance in your life than your past positions:

"One of my top priorities is to deliver excellent results to my employer, while also managing the rest of my life outside work.  So while it might look to you like I am overqualified for this position, this level is exactly where I want to be in my current life stage, and I intentionally sought it out.  I feel confidence I can deliver excellent results to you at this level of seniority." (You're Overqualified! Carol Fishman Cohen)

If you think that this might be an issue with your application, it is worth addressing upfront, by including your explanation in your cover letter.  You will then hopefully have the opportunity to reinforce your message at interview.



Posted by Katerina


Friday, 10 April 2015

The two minute route to self-confidence

Amy Cuddy, 2012

When I work with women feeling nervous before a major event, such as their first interview in ten years, I give them an instant self-assurance tip that is often met with a look of incredulity. I recommend that they find a quiet place just before the event and make a 'Power Pose' - taking a Wonder Woman stance or adopting the 'starfish' pose which Mick Jagger is modelling so effectively in the photo above. This sounds like the type of 'too-good-to-be-true' advice that could give psychologists a bad name, but in fact it is based on a convincing body of research evidence. 

Amy Cuddy, a Harvard social psychologist, explained in a wonderful 2012 TED talk* how "making yourself big" for just two minutes changes the brain in ways that reduce anxiety, build courage and inspire self-expression and leadership. Changing our body language effectively changes the way we think and feel about ourselves. If you're interested in the science, lab studies found that a two minute power pose increased the levels of the power chemical testosterone by around 20% and lowered the stress hormone cortisol by about 20%. What's more, this has a knock-on effect on how we behave, how we are seen by others and the likelihood of positive outcomes. In another study Professor Cuddy reported that people who adopted high-power poses before interviews were overwhelmingly more likely to be offered the job by impartial interviewers.

This week I followed my own advice. My nerves kicked in before my first time on national radio, appearing on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour** to discuss returnships with Jenni Murray, Julie Thornton (Head of HR at Thames Tideway Tunnel) and Carmen Nuzzo, who joined Morgan Stanley in a permanent role following their 2014 Return to Work programme. So if you had walked into the ladies' toilets in a cafe down the road from Broadcasting House at 9.18am on Wednesday, you might have been surprised to see a blonde middle-aged woman in a green jacket striking a full-on hands-on-hips legs-wide Wonder Woman pose ... and now I can personally vouch for the benefits!


Amy Cuddy's TED talk
**Woman's Hour feature on returnships (07:53 minutes into programme, 10 mins long)




Posted by Julianne

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Starting your own service business as a route back to work


When I was thinking through how to return to work after my career break, I investigated both going back into employment and setting up on my own. I decided that because of my requirements for flexibility, my temperament, and the enjoyment I derived from an earlier experience of entrepreneurship, I was best suited to working for myself. That was 10 years ago, when I set up my own coaching practice. My business activities have evolved significantly since then and I can't imagine ever returning to an employed position. 

I read in an article this week that women-led businesses are often more successful, yet men are twice as likely as women to be entrepreneurially active. I know that many of you may be weighing up the pros and cons of setting up on your own; this is my personal experience of the benefits and drawbacks.

Advantages

  • Autonomy. You are in charge and don't have to take instruction from your line manager or deal with the corporate politics which exist when you are employed
  • Managing your own time. You can choose (subject to client requirements) when, where and how you want to work. If you want to take time away from your work for any reason, you don't need to get permission or negotiate with work colleagues. This has been invaluable for me in balancing the other demands from my family and volunteer activities. I also find that I am more productive as I can largely control my diary to suit the way I work best
  • Managing growth. You can set your own pace of business growth and development to fit with your life, your ambitions and your financial requirements
  • Pursuing your dream. You can pursue a business idea or a personal passion in a way that is rarely possible as an employee (as I did back in 2012 when I joined with Julianne to set up Women Returners)


Disadvantages


  • Isolation. If you set up as a sole trader you will be spending much more time on your own than you would have done in employment. You might miss the companionship of your colleagues and the availability of people with whom to bounce around ideas. In the early days of my business I worked hard at creating networks and communities to fill this gap and now I appreciate having a business partner and a network of associates
  • Being constantly on call.  Depending on your business activity, it could be harder for you to be 'out of office' as there will be no-one to cover for your in your absence .. and you don't get paid for sick days!
  • Uncertainty of income. Unless you are in the position of having guaranteed work or clients from the start of your venture, maybe from a former employer or colleague, it will take time to build your work pipeline and your reputation. Temperamentally and economically, it has been important for me to be resilient through the downturn of the recent recession
  • Having to do everything for yourself. If you are used to corporate structures and systems, it can be quite a shock to have to do everything for yourself from invoicing to diary management. It's particularly hard when your computer breaks down and there is no IT support to fix it!


How to get started

Sometimes returners are put off starting their own business by the belief that they have to offer an innovative service and so spend hours developing, researching and discarding possible options, in the search for an unique idea. In reality, starting your own business doesn't have to be so hard! Indeed, if you are working as a freelancer, an associate or on occasional projects, you are de facto running your own business. 


One of the simplest ways to start a business is to offer, for payment, a skill that you already have and which others value. So, whether you are offering tax advice, designing websites or conducting market research, you will be a business owner. You might even find that demand for your services builds to such an extent that you need to take on your own employees.

There are many sources of support for women starting their own businesses and the easiest first step can be to sign up for a short introductory workshop, such as a local Chamber of Commerce event. For a listing of useful resources, see our website. If you're close to London, Enterprise Nation run regular StartUp Saturdays and if you're a parent with a tech idea for a business, do look at the exciting Google Campus for Mums.

In our success stories we have a few examples of other returners who have successfully established their own businesses, so you can read about Alison and Barbara's experiences. 


Posted by Katerina