Wednesday 18 December 2013

Am I being a martyr?

When you think about going back to work, do you find yourself thinking:
'how will my partner/children/parents manage without me?'
'how will I get through all my work on reduced hours?'
'how will I build relationships in my organisation if I can't stay late?'
'how will I keep my clients satisfied if I'm not in the office every day?'

These are all common concerns among women who have taken a break from work and find it hard to envisage working in the way that they used to before.  They also often have families which have become accustomed to them being completely available and dedicated to their needs  For everyone involved, your desire to return to work means a change to the status quo and, as you are instigating the change, it can leave you feeling ambivalent and guilty about your 'selfishness'.

One underlying issue is actually that you have spent so many of the years you were on your break not thinking enough about you and have lost the habit of taking care of yourself.  If your child leaves their PE kit behind, do you run it to their school?  If your mum wants you to meet her for coffee, do you cancel your own plans? Are you responsible for running the whole household? Do you make your children's packed lunches when they're perfectly capable of doing so themselves? Do you take on a variety of voluntary jobs that you don't really enjoy? You may answer yes to all or most of these questions.  But what about the question 'how often do you spend your time doing something you've chosen for yourself?'  If your answer is 'not very often', my view would be not often enough!

I'm not suggesting, by any means, that you have to put yourself first in every single situation: it's a question of achieving more of a balance.  You need to develop or regain the habit of balancing your needs with those of the people around you, putting down some boundaries and getting comfortable with saying 'no'.

How might you start to do this?

  • Listen to your internal response when you are asked to do something. For example, if your child texts you asking for their PE kit, notice that your automatic reaction might be to drop everything to respond, but PAUSE before you actually respond.
  • In the pause, think through the options you have (delivering the PE kit, saying no and sticking to your plans, asking someone else to drop it off) and then make a conscious choice of the action you will take. Sometimes it is helpful to ask yourself is 'what's the worst that can happen...?'
And while you are learning to notice your responses ...
  • Become used to being less available to those who make demands on you by using some of your time for activities that you would like to do (eg a new hobby, a skills-based voluntary role, planning your job search)
  • Make time to work out for yourself what you need to ask from others to make your return to work possible (eg help around the house, emergency childcare back-up, school run rota) and start to have these conversations
As you become more used to balancing your needs with the demands of those around you, you will start behaving less like a martyr.  And this will be really useful preparation for when you actually do return to work.

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Creating your own returnship

Returnships are a fantastic way of building confidence, skills and current experience in a short-term role before applying for more permanent positions. It’s a new concept in the UK so if it appeals, you may well have to get creative and develop your own. Here are some tips on how best to create your own.

1. Think about what you’re looking for
  • Are you looking to refresh skills and experience in an industry you previously worked in or to develop skills and experience in a new area?
2. Prepare
  • Do as much research as you can before you make any formal approaches. Speak to old colleagues or people working in the industry you are keen to enter, sign up for relevant e-newsletters and look at professional body websites or magazines.
3. Be clear on what you can offer
  • Remind yourself of your skills and achievements and update your CV.
  • Be realistic about the hours & days that you can be available and the length of project you will accept.
  • Can you afford to work free of charge? It is easier to gain opportunities if you aren’t a cost to the business. But if you are not charging for your time, you must be sure to clearly define the scope of the project to ensure it is valuable experience. You may be able to scale your offering – maybe begin with a couple of weeks of unpaid observation/shadowing, then offer to undertake a specific project review. If your proposal is well-received, you could negotiate to be paid to deliver it.
4. Identify your targets
  • Concentrate on using your network, including friends, family, other school parents, contacts from volunteer/community organisations and local businesses you deal with as well as old colleagues and clients (use LinkedIn and alumni groups to renew connections). Avoid 'cold-call' approaches.
  • Don't just think about large companies. Smaller &/or local organisations may have more flexibility to accommodate an intern and to value more highly your professional skills and experience. You can also potentially make more impact.
  • Don’t rule out regular internships, particularly if you are looking to change career direction. Employers which use sites such as may be open to mid-career interns as well. Some charities such as Cancer Research offer (unpaid) internships which they state are also open to career changers.
5. Develop your pitch
  • Prepare your ‘pitch’. What are you asking for (a short-term consulting project, specific work experience)? What are you hoping to achieve? How could you benefit the organisation that you are contacting? Practise this with family and friends.
6. Be brave
  • Often the hardest part is the initial approach. Remember that you have little to lose and a lot to gain.
7. Check the details
  • If you get the go-ahead, be clear about the scope and timing of what you will be doing.
  • Make sure that any work you do will look meaningful on your CV, with a specific outcome that you can talk about at future interviews. Aim for work at a professional level, using your skills and experience.
  • Establish a ‘go-to’ person within the organisation with whom you can discuss your experience and ask for advice if you come up against unexpected challenges.
8. Create a good ending
  • At the end of the project, leave the door open for future opportunities or projects. Connect with everyone you worked with via LinkedIn.
  • Arrange a review with the person who managed you for feedback about what you did particularly well and gaps they saw in your skills. Develop an action plan for any additional work or learning you need to do before you start looking for permanent roles.
You can read a few real-life examples of how UK returners have successfully created their own internships on our website: Stephanie and Fiona.

We would be really interested to hear from you if you have experience of a returnship. Did it work well for you? Did it help you to find a permanent role? Maybe you work for an organisation that has hosted such a programme – was it valuable for the business? Please get in touch with your stories… 

Guest Blog by Tamsin Crook from Making Careers Work

Tuesday 3 December 2013

How do I find a high level flexible role?

Do high level flexible roles actually exist?
This is one of the most common questions that we encounter from former professionals who are investigating their options for returning to work. Fortunately, is it also a topic that more UK employers are starting to address with the help of specialist recruiters such as Capability JaneTimewise Jobs and Ten2Two

For example, last week Capability Jane was advertising a 3 day a week Marketing Director role and a Managing Director role for 16-24 hours per week. Both these opportunities come from SMEs, organisations which often value part-time working because it provides a way of acquiring the skills they need at a lower cost than a full time employee.

Speaking at the Mumsnet Workfest earlier this year, Karen Mattison, the founder of Timewise Jobs, suggested that while many large private-sector organisations are open to offering flexible working as a way of retaining valued talent, SMEs may be more likely to consider flexible working for new hires. 

Timewise Jobs in 2012 initiated the Power Part Time list of 50 senior business women and men, demonstrating that high-level part time working is possible. The 2013 list will be launched in early December, supported by Red magazine.  I hope that these initiatives, combined with the Opportunity Now 2840 survey results will increase the debate on flexible employment opportunities and the creation of more senior flexible roles.

So how do I find a flexible role?
What options does a returner have, apart from signing up to the job websites highlighted above?  

Networking. As with all other job searches, a key component will be networking.  Personal recommendation and validation will get you a lot further in your discussions and negotiations than applying remotely for advertised roles.  If you are nervous or uncomfortable about networking, check our previous posts.

Apply for full-time roles. You also have the option of applying for full-time positions in the hope that you can negotiate flexible working arrangements once you've been offered the role.  You can mitigate the risks of this strategy by learning as much as you can about the organisation's culture, its openness to flexible working and the existence of other flexible roles.  You will need to build a convincing business case for how you will fulfill all the role requirements in a less than full-time schedule.  

Go self-employed. Often the most flexible way of working is to work for yourself; consider freelancing, associate work, project work and interim roles as well as starting your own business. We'll be looking at these options in more detail in future posts.

Create your own flexible role. Identify gaps at a previous employer (eg. talent management or business development) that you could propose to fill. Or develop a portfolio of roles, such as non-exec board positions or higher education lecturing. 

Success stories
We will shortly start to publish stories of returners who have successfully found or created flexible roles and will continue to highlight opportunities as we hear about them.  We'd love to hear your own experiences of seeking or gaining flexible work.

For more resources to help you to find a flexible role, see our resources section on

Posted by Katerina

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Returnships: what are they & where can you find them?

We're glad to see that the debate on UK gender equality is filtering down from board-level to mid-career, recognising the broader issues facing women in the corporate world ... including the difficulties for women returners of getting back into a corporate role after many years out. Last week Newton Investment CEO Helena Morrissey called for employers to develop 'returnships' to give women routes back into work after a career break.

So what is a returnship?

A returnship is a professional internship designed specifically for people (usually women) returning after an extended career break. It's a short-term position drawing on existing skills and experience, and may be supplemented with relevant training courses. It gives a chance for the returner to build their confidence and gain recent CV experience, while practically testing out the role and whether they want to return to a demanding corporate job. From the employer's side, they have access to the skills of an experienced professional and a low-risk way of assessing the returner as a potential longer-term employee. 

Are they worth doing?

It seems like a great idea - does it work in practice? Many programmes have successful track records. Goldman Sachs in the US (which trademarked the term 'returnship') has been running a programme since 2008, initially in New York and also in India in 2014. It's for professionals looking to restart their careers after 2+ years out (average 6 years). The paid 10 week programme offers work experience in a variety of departments, with real business issues to work on, together with an induction and a range of courses such as self-promotion, influence and industry trends. Goldman state that around 50% of participants have gone on to full-time roles.

There is strong evidence of success in the UK, with the majority of participants taken on into ongoing mid to senior level roles at the end of the programmes run to date.

Where can I find one? Any in the UK?

We are proud to have led the growth and development of returnships and other returner programmes since 2014, across sectors and across the UK. We have partnered with many leading organisations such as EY, Tideway, Man Group, Skanska, Macquarie Bank and O2 to develop and run successful programmes. Programmes have grown in number rapidly: from 3 in 2014, to 9 in 2015 and 23 in 2016 (source: Women Returners research).  To see the latest returnships on offer please see our constantly updated list here.

Of course you could always apply for a regular internship, particularly if you're considering a new career (eg.Cancer Research UK state their unpaid 12 week internships are also aimed at mid-career changers). And we know a number of women who have set up their own informal returnships - we'll talk more about creating your own returnship in a future post.

Posted by Julianne

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Are you your own worst enemy?

'I've failed in my career', 'I can't be like other people in the corporate world', 'No-one will employ me', 'I'm no good at networking', 'I'm never going to solve this' 

Do these statements sound familiar to you?  Are they a regular soundtrack that runs through your head?  If so, you are in good company.  Self-critical thoughts are familiar to everyone. They can have their uses: thinking critically about the world, yourself and others can be a driver of success and is a vital component of good judgement and decision-making.

However, if your critical thoughts are largely directed towards yourself and aren't regulated or balanced by other more positive kinds of thoughts, the result can be low self-belief and loss of confidence. The constant repetition of such thoughts can lead to the belief that they are actually true facts.  'I'm my own worst enemy' is how one of my clients described this pattern of thinking, with a mixture of pride and sheepishness.  While she was proud of her self-awareness she also recognised that she was simultaneously being unduly harsh on herself.  And she didn't believe that it was possible to prevent the thoughts from happening, even though she could see the benefits of doing so.

Reducing the self-critical thoughts

The first thing to realise about this pattern of thinking is that it is a habit which has probably formed over many years and, as with other habits, changing it will take time, effort and practice.  The first step is to catch yourself when you are having these thoughts.  If you can do this, then you give yourself the option of challenging your thought pattern using the following ideas.  These have helped many of my clients to move towards being more of a friend to themselves than an enemy:

  • give the critical voice a name (perhaps it reminds you of someone you know?) and acknowledge that it is present, without giving it more attention
  • treat the soundtrack like a radio station and either turn down the volume or switch station
  • spend some time listing all the things you are capable of and have achieved.  Re-read this list (particularly when the critical voice appears) and keep adding to it 
  • ask those around you, who love you, for some feedback.  Our partners, spouses and children are notoriously bad at giving us positive feedback and are great at complaining!  It is easy for them to assume that we know we are doing well, unless we expressly ask them
  • imagine that you are your own best friend and ask this friend what she admires about you
  • mindfulness and meditation are useful tools for learning how to let thoughts pass without becoming fixed on them or even believing they are true
If you have any other tips on how you have toned down your own critical voice, please share them with us.

Posted by Katerina - Co-founder Women Returners

Monday 4 November 2013

Routes back to work stories: Accounting to MA Publishing

What is it like to go back to higher education to retrain to another career after a nine year career break? Our guest blogger Suzanne Westbrook tells her story.
One semester in to my MA in Publishing at Kingston University and it’s a good time to take stock.  As one of only a handful of mature publishing students I am often asked about my motivation to return to studying. My friends’ reactions have been varied and colourful. Some think I am ‘crazy’ to be studying so hard with 3 young boys (Calum: 9, Iain: 7 and Harris: 4). Others consider me ‘brave’, and some ‘lucky’ to be able to change career direction at this stage in my life. And me?
Am I crazy?
It does feel a little mad for sure as days are often hectic and I feel stretched by the many demands of Uni and life with busy children. ‘Do you REALLY need dinner tonight? Mummy is just finishing up a little research here’. I have still to find a perfect life/work balance. I know I should be working as hard as I can when the boys are at school but I sometimes find this hard as I’m ‘not in the mood’ after a rushed school run. So, if I’m not up for assignment writing I do some research; if I’m not in the mood for research I do some course reading. You get the gist! And there’s always laundry…
Iain (7), Calum (9) and Harris (4): little bookworms already!
I try to plan for down-time to get the numerous jobs done to clear my head for concentrated study. When I am working well, I am annoyed to be interrupted by the school pick-up. I then get cross with myself as I mull over unresolved issues in my head when I should be chatting about the minutiae of the school day with the boys, which I love to do (so funny, so revealing). Therefore I am studying part-time over two years and trying to keep realistic in my expectations although I really want to do well on the course.
It has been a whirlwind of a first semester with assignments coming thick and fast. Whilst often hard to do at the time (it is an MA after all), I can look back with a real sense of achievement when I consider how much I’ve learnt already, with a blog, a case study on literary agents and a higher education market analysis under my belt. We also had the unique opportunity to present our product proposals to real-life Editor-at-Large, Liz Gooster of Kogan Page – nerve-wracking but amazing! The emphasis on practical application is immensely beneficial. I also enjoy the publishing Masterclasses presented by industry specialists where we get to hear how it really is, and we can talk further with them often over a drink or two. After all, it’s important to network!
And I really enjoy studying alongside the ‘younger’ publishing students, who have welcomed us ‘older’ students, without question, into the fold. It is so interesting to hear of how they have come to publishing, and to hear their stories of home and their hopes for the future. I try to picture myself at their age and admire how focused and confident many of them are. They have taught me how to tweet and to use Facebook groups (love the Facebook groups) and I try not to mother them in return!
Am I brave?
Well, I suppose that turning my back on my previous career in accounting and finance and my degree in languages is a little brave. And of course, the road into publishing is less obvious for students with the ‘life experience’ that I have (I can never hear that too many times…). But, in today’s publishing industry where it’s all about the margins, I’ll put that accounting (and life) experience to good use. And who knows, maybe I’ll get to use my languages too.
And why publishing? Well, I have long been interested in the industry, love books and languages and am reminded every day how important literacy and books are. My boys have all turned out to be little bookworms, which is beyond wonderful. Calum enjoys being cross-examined on his reading tastes for my Uni assignments and loves to hassle me over my ‘homework’. Iain has promised I can edit his manuscript for his first comic book, but I foresee considerable slippage with the publication schedule! As for Harris, where do I start? He has embraced reading with gusto, bounds out of his class every day to tell me what he has learnt and regales us with his alphabet songs. One song for each letter – quite a repertoire!
Am I lucky?
Absolutely! I am extremely lucky to be studying a subject I find endlessly fascinating and to be supported so wholeheartedly by my wonderful husband Mark. In my career break of nine years I have had time to sit back and think clearly about my future. Returning to the workforce was always a given although I do not regret, in any way, taking time off to be with the boys. It has been a delight and privilege to be there to see them grow, but it is now time to ‘get back to me’.
And lucky too to be studying alongside my new friend Helen, also a mature publishing student and mother. We are able to remind each other of our considerable achievements so far – wearing matching shoes to lectures, turning up on time and so on. Oh and we’re doing ok at Uni too. Although, Iain is concerned that ‘I could do better’ with my marks!
suzanneSo yes, I am crazy, brave and lucky and very very busy… but happy too!
Suzanne Westbrook has a degree in Languages and worked in finance for many years as a Chartered Accountant. She is now studying on the MA Publishing at Kingston University.
Republished with Suzanne's permission from her original blog for
We'd love to hear your return to work/study stories - do get in touch if you'd like to contribute a guest blog

Tuesday 22 October 2013

How to creatively craft your next role

Are you struggling to work out what role you can return to?  You might think you have few choices or are attracted by many possibilities.  One way to look at this question is to think afresh about the kind of role you would like to create for yourself if you were free to do so.

Amanda*, formerly a Board director of a PR company, consulted me about her return to work after a 10 year career break during which she’d carried out some individual PR projects.  She was uncertain as to what to do next: although she enjoyed some aspects of her previous role, there were others that didn’t interest her at all anymore.  During our work together, Amanda identified the specific elements of her former role that still appealed (qualitative research and guiding guests around exhibitions and historic places) and set about researching how to pursue her career in each of these fields.

Rosie* had taken a six year break from a City law firm.  While she loved working in the law and felt strong loyalty to her former employer, she knew that the demands of returning to the partnership track were not right for her.  At the same time, Rosie knew that she had lots to offer her firm: she understood the pressures on trainee and newly qualified solicitors as well as the business needs of the organisation.  She believed that she could help her firm by providing specific support to the lawyers as they set about building their own practices ... and the HR Director agreed with her!  The firm funded Rosie to gain a coaching qualification and she has continued to develop and evolve her internal career management role as the needs of the firm have changed.

Both of these are examples of women who have designed a role which stimulates them, builds on their skills and expertise as well as taking them in a new direction.  While Amanda is crafting a role from elements of her former career, Rosie has been able to create a role which was new both for her and for her employer.

If you’d like to try this approach, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Which elements of my previous roles did I most enjoy and excel at?
  • Can these elements exist as roles on their own or as key aspects of other roles? Did I notice any gaps at a previous employer which I would like to fill?

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Where are the role models of successful women returners?

"Is it really possible to get back into work after I've been out so long? I don't know anyone who's done it apart from a few friends who have retrained as teachers."

Janice's comment echoes the feeling of many women I talk to who are thinking about going back after a long career break. We look around and the world seems to divide between friends and colleagues who have never taken a long break and those who are on a career break and are not showing much inclination to return to the workplace. "Do you know of any finance directors (lawyers/marketing managers/...) who have successfully returned to work after many years out?" is a question we're often asked. If you don't know any examples of women similar to yourself who have made the transition back to fulfilling work, you can start to question if it is possible.

Why don't I know more role models of successful returners?

Partly it's a question of timing. Before the 1980's there just weren't that many professional women (eg. in 1971 4% of UK lawyers were female; in 2009 it was 43%*). The 1970's 'career women' were less likely to give up their hard-won professions to care for their children or elderly parents. It was the highly-qualified women who began their working lives in the more equal 1980's, or later, who felt confident enough in the 1990's and 2000's to take extended career breaks. So it was only in the mid 2000's that the phenomenon of professional women returners started to be noticed in the US**. As we are still in the early days of finding routes back in to the workplace, it is not surprising that examples of successful returners can seem few and far between. This doesn't mean you can't find them, it just means you have to look a bit harder.

Why is it important for us to have role models? (the psychology bit)

According to psychologist Albert Bandura's social cognitive theory, having role models has a major effect on our belief in our ability to succeed in a certain situation (our 'self-efficacy'). If we see people similar to ourselves succeeding in what we want to do, then we are more likely to believe we have the capabilities to do this too and to cope with inevitable setbacks. If we have a weak sense of self-efficacy we quickly lose confidence in our abilities, become more negative and are more likely to give up on our goals. 

Where can I find more role models?
  1. Ask your friends/colleagues if they know anyone who has returned to work after a long break and who seems to be happy and fulfilled with their work-life. 
  2. Check your LinkedIn contacts: some people list 'career break' as a role. 
  3. I think that the many success stories on the US iRelaunch website are one of the best sources of 'Look it can be done' inspiration. 
  4. As Katerina & I thought it would be great to have a bank of UK successes, we are starting to collect UK returner stories which we will include on our website. 
Do you know any women professionals who have successfully returned to work ... or are you a possible role model yourself? If so do get in touch. We're not just looking for the high-flying returners, more a range of women who are back at work and happy with the work-family choices they have made.

* Alison Wolf, The XX Factor, 2013 ** Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Off-Ramps & On-Ramps, 2007

Posted by Julianne

Thursday 10 October 2013

Are you getting enough support with your return to work?

I recently delivered my eldest child to university and have experienced my first taste of the empty nest.  During the long drive there and back, I was thinking over my child’s 18 years and the many transitions we have both gone through.  Two of those are relevant here: becoming a mother for the first time and returning to work after an eight year break.  I noticed how differently I prepared for and experienced these two events.

First-time mother
As I expect is true for many of you, the months before my child was born were filled with hours of preparation and planning for both me and sometimes my husband.  We read books and magazines, joined ante-natal classes and the NCT, attended yoga sessions and engaged a team of experts to support us: GP, midwife and even a water-birth guru!  And we were lucky enough to have grandparents and friends to advise and guide us.  Is any of this sounding familiar?

The result was we felt as informed and confident as we could be about the transition to this new phase of our lives.

Return-to-work mother
The contrast with my return to work could hardly be greater.  My husband was barely available because of the demands of his career (and, to be fair, I probably didn't ask for enough).  There were few books, classes, workshops or experts to consult.  The grandparents were gone and friends had either not stopped working or weren't ready to think about returning.  It is not really surprising that I found my return to work so lonely and at times felt it was all too difficult.

I wonder if this experience too strikes a chord as you think about your own return.  I think that the lessons are clear.  Returning to work after a career break requires preparation, all-round support and guidance in the same way as becoming a mother did. You need both practical and emotional support through the transition and any ambivalence you are feeling.  We are making it really hard on ourselves if we think we can (or should) do it alone.

These days there are a few more sources for women returners to turn to, (including this blog).  We've listed all that we've found on our website and would love to hear where else you have found inspiration and support.

Posted by Katerina

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Are 'shoulds' ruling your return-to-work decisions?

I co-ran a workshop for INSEAD alumni last week on getting past the internal barriers that can keep us stuck when we want to make a career change: our fears, beliefs and 'shoulds'. We've talked previously in this blog about fear of being selfish, fear of failure, and guilt. And we've touched on the limiting beliefs that can unconsciously hold us back, such as "there aren't any good part time jobs out there" or "I'm too old to go into something different". If you're feeling stuck, there may be another mental trap you have set up for yourself without realising it - your 'shoulds'. Do you recognise any of these ...?

"I should look for a safe and secure job"
"I should stick with what I'm good at"
"I should stay at home while my children are young"
"I should always be available for my family"
"I shouldn't waste my qualifications"
"I shouldn't take a low-paying job" 

When we say 'I should' we don't always mean "I want to" - we may just feel a pressure to behave in a certain way. It helps to understand the psychological basis for this. As we go through life, we develop certain values based on repeated messages we've received from other important people in our lives*. Often it's from our parents, sometimes it's our teachers, or it may be friends, or respected colleagues. If our father tells us enough times that we 'shouldn't waste our qualifications', this can become an implicit rule that we live our lives by without questioning whether it is a choice that we ourselves want to make. These inner 'rules' can unconsciously keep you unhappily at home (or drive you reluctantly back to work) or stop you from changing to a more satisfying job when you do return to work.

Our values can be influenced by where we are living or the society we have grown up in. One of my clients, Isabelle, a French accountant, was full of guilt for taking a career break. Isabelle's mother had been a 'career woman' who had told her that "women should earn their own money" and all her equally well-educated friends in Paris were working mothers and could not understand why she had not returned to work. She felt a push to return to a prestigious job even though she was concerned about not having enough time for her family: "I should be using my education" was how she put it. Another client from Germany faced a different set of cultural norms; Karin wanted to return to work but felt pressured into staying at home because it was the expectation in her town that mothers of primary-age children did not work. As she explained, "I feel it should be enough for me to be concentrating on raising my children"

It's worth listening to what you're telling yourself or other people when you're debating returning to work. We're often not aware of the difference between our 'shoulds' and our 'wants". Next time you find yourself saying "I should" try changing it to 'I want to' or 'I choose to" and see if it is still true. If you realise that this is not your choice, ask yourself if this is someone else's value that you're ready to let go of. Of course it's not always that simple to get rid of a long-held belief, but maybe it will start to free you up to see a broader range of options.

* Carl Rogers, the founder of humanistic psychology, described back in the 1960s how we 'introject' other influential people's values and suggested that we need to 'shed the shoulds and oughts' to develop our personal value system.

Posted by Julianne

Thursday 12 September 2013

Prone to Procrastination? Tips to help you move forward

If you’re experiencing ambivalence about returning to work, one of the effects might be procrastination.  ‘I don’t have to call my old colleague today’, ‘I’ll sort out my CV after I’ve taken the dog for a walk’ are the kinds of thoughts we can have.  The problem with these thoughts is that without some sort of focus or sense of purpose, we somehow never get around to calling that old colleague or working on our CV.

Sense of purpose
So how do we gain a sense of purpose?  For most of us this comes from having some clarity about what we want to do next and why.  In the absence of this clarity, none of the things we could possibly do (make a call, write our CV, do research, work out how to tell our story) seem urgent or even relevant.  If you are feeling unclear about your next role and you are perhaps struggling with too few choices or too many, taking a look at our previous posts could help.  If you are not yet ready to return or embark on a search for a role, you can start to gain a sense of purpose by thinking about the question of what you might like to do next.

Feeling Overwhelmed
Sometimes we procrastinate when we feel overwhelmed by the scale of the task ahead and this prevents us from taking a first step.  So, even when you’ve decided that you want to go back to work and have some clarity about the kind of role you want, you can still be daunted and make little progress. Professor Richard Wiseman's research into the psychology of change has found that simply knowing our end objective, and imagining how great life will be if we reach it, does not motivate us - we need to clearly plan the steps we will take to achieve the goal. So the solution lies in subdividing your end goal into individual smaller stages.  Each time you are able to complete an action you will be moving towards your overall goal and you will gradually build momentum and confidence.  Wiseman suggests that you can further increase your motivation by 1) telling other people about your goals 2) recording your progress (in a journal or on a chart) and 3) rewarding yourself for each sub-goal you achieve.

Finally, procrastination can result from the way we order our priorities.  When there are a myriad of tasks to do and demands on our time, we can find it easy to relegate the tasks that will move us forward in our career thinking to the end of the list.  It is almost as if we need permission to put ourselves higher up the priority list, particularly if we have spent recent years in a caring role.  Who is going to give us permission to focus on ourselves and not feel selfish

If you've been able to answer that, what is the first thing you will do with your new sense of purpose?  We would love to hear from you.

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Shall I return to work or not? Ambivalence and transitions

Back to school and back to blogging... During the last few weeks of the summer holidays I've felt a real pull between wanting to enjoy the good weather and to spend relaxed time with my teenage children, and the desire to get my mind focused on work again. It reminded me of the conflicting feelings I experienced when I was moving back into work after my career break. I knew that I wanted to start a new career, but I was worried about the complications and possible stresses of being a working mother. 

For many women returners, this uncertainty can keep us awake at 4am, inwardly debating pros and cons and never coming to a clear-cut conclusion. Because we feel ambivalent, we question whether it is the right decision. As one of my coaching clients asked me recently: "I keep having nagging worries about going back to work, so does that means it's not the right thing to do?" 

Coping with ambivalence and transition

William Bridges, who has been researching life transitions since the 1970's, reassures us that few changes are universally positive, "letting go [of our old life] is at best an ambiguous experience". So just because you feel confused and unsettled, it doesn't mean that you are making the wrong choice. Bridges explains that when we make a change in our lives we go through a transition period of psychological readjustment, when up-and-down emotions are completely natural. If we anticipate this unsettled period, we are less likely to retreat back to our comfort zone without even exploring the alternatives.

Be both rational and intuitive

If you're stuck endlessly debating rational pros & cons of returning to work, it can help to use your more intuitive side. Imagine yourself at 70, looking back on yourself today. Is your 70 year old self sympathetic or impatient with your current indecisiveness? What advice would your future self give you? Would she encourage you to make a change and relaunch into the workplace now or to wait a while longer or maybe to make other changes to your life? 

Has anyone felt 100% certain that going back to work was the right decision?

Posted by Julianne

Thursday 22 August 2013

Top tips for Enjoyable Networking

You might think that enjoyable and networking are two words that can never appear together in the same sentence!  It is very common to find networking difficult, uncomfortable, too time-consuming and best avoided.  If this is your current thinking, take a look at "Do I really have to network?" to help you to approach networking more positively and with confidence.  If you’re ready to give networking a try, here are some key tips and ideas for making it enjoyable:

  1. You already know how to network.  It is part of life and you probably spend a lot of your time asking people for advice, information and recommendations in a natural, easy way.
  2. Practise telling your story before you start out networking, so that you are comfortable and fluent with it.
  3. Be realistic. You are unlikely to come away from your first meeting with a job offer. Or your 10th meeting. Or even your 20th. But each meeting you have will be taking you one step closer to your goal.
  4. Be really clear about your goal for the networking meeting.  It is much easier for people to be helpful to you if they understand what you need.  Are you looking for information about the requirements for a particular type of role that interests you?  Do you want to understand an industry or organisation better?  Are you looking for insights into specific people?  Do you need advice on how to find a particular role?  Are you looking for further contacts?  Do you want ideas on where your skills and talents might fit in an organisation?
  5. Work out why it would be helpful for the person you want to contact to meet you.  Remember that people are always on the look out for new information. What insights, knowledge, experience, skills, talents and network do you have?  You always have something to offer
  6. Think, in advance, what will make each meeting a success for you and celebrate your success afterwards.  If you think of the meeting as a chance to talk about something that is interesting and important to you (an area that interests you & your future career), you are more likely to feel positive about your experience.
  7. Keep your meetings short.  People are busy and so if you say you’ll only need 20/30 minutes of someone’s time, keep to your commitment.  That way you make sure you don’t cause irritation.
  8. Find a networking buddy.  This is a supporter who can encourage you to get started and to keep going, someone to discuss your meeting preparation with who will also enjoy hearing about your experience.
Lastly, once you are in your new role, don’t stop networking.  It will continue to be important for you to learn new information about your field, meet potential customers and suppliers, as well as possible employers and even future employees.

Posted by Katerina

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Tips for a productive summer

With the final arrival of summer you might be thinking about putting your return to work plans on hold until the autumn.  After all, nobody recruits during July and August, do they?  While recruitment does tail off during these months, there are plenty of things you can do to help you move closer to your return, so that you are better prepared when autumn comes around.  Your summer holiday can provide an ideal time for reflection, organising and testing out your skills.  You might not be able to make use of all these tips: it will depend what stage you have reached in your thinking and preparation, but there are some that everyone could start.  But don't think of these activities as homework!  You need to make the most of the opportunity to relax and have fun, so that you feel restored and ready for the next steps in your plan.

  • Create a network chart – while waiting to board

Although you might not be ready to start networking, it is never too early to start creating your network chart.  I recommend you divide your chart into three categories on which you list everyone you can think of: people who are easy to call directly; people to whom you need an introduction; people you’d love to meet but don’t know.  When adding names to the chart remember people from different phases of your life: your past – your school and university classmates as well as former employers, colleagues and employees; your present – other parents (if you have children at school) and people you meet through your voluntary work, hobbies or religious activity; your future – members of alumni networks and professional associations that you could join as well as people you’d possibly like to meet.  After the summer break, we’ll be continuing our series of posts about networking so you’ll be able to make full use of the chart you have created.  Keep adding to this chart as you think of more people and as you start to connect, long after the holiday.

  • Get clearer about what you might do next – on your sunlounger

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.  Was it a group of like-minded colleagues? An expression of your creativity? Your own intellectual or personal growth? Your ability to make a difference to others? Your experience of freedom and independence?  Whatever gave you fulfillment then will be related to your deep values and will still be of great importance to you in the future.  These elements will need to be present in what you choose to do next, to give you the motivation to search for it.  Time spent reflecting on your values and the things you find fulfilling can also provide clues about what you might like to do next.  You might discover elements of a previous role that you can craft into a new one, you might develop a business idea or you might realise that you want to retrain in something which has previously interested you.

  • Practise your story – over drinks

Meeting people on holiday that you are often unlikely to see again, provides a low risk way to practice telling your story, if you have created one.  It gives you an opportunity to test out a new answer to the dreaded question of ‘what do you do?’  It 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.

  • Start to fill in your LinkedIn entry – when you are home

LinkedIn will be an essential tool for you when you are ready to return: it can bring you to the attention of prospective employers, build your profile through the groups you join, alert you to advertised roles and provide an additional way to network.  You can build it in steps, section by section and keep refining it as you go, so working on it can easily be fitted into short gaps in your day.  If you have developed a story (and tested it out on holiday) you can put this as your Summary.  Using your networking chart you can start to build your connections.  You can explore the groups and join the ones that look interesting. If you do a section a week, by the end of the summer you could have a complete entry.

Have a good summer, rest and recharge.  I’ll be back in late-August.

Posted by Katerina

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Do all working mothers have to feel guilty?

“Since I returned to work after my career break I feel guilty every day. Don’t all working mothers?”

Listening to this comment from a guest speaker at an event for women returners and seeing the nods of agreement in the audience, I was not surprised that many women decide not to go back to work even if they are feeling unfulfilled as full-time mothers. Who wants to sign up to years of feeling guilty?

Do all working mothers feel guilty?

The premise that a heavy burden of guilt is the lot of the working mother seems to be fairly ingrained. Not a week goes by without some mention in the media. And we are just talking about working mothers here, no-one talks about ‘working father guilt’. Just recently ...

"8 out of 10 working mums feel guilty" Justine Roberts reporting results of a Mumsnet poll at Workfest, Jun 2013
"I think all women feel guilty" Sheryl Sandberg, Woman's Hour interview, Apr 2013
"Majority of mothers admit to feeling guilty for working" Daily Mail , Jan 2013
And it's not just in the UK ...
"Working mothers still plagued by guilt" Sydney Morning Herald, Apr 2013

I'm starting to feel guilty for not feeling guilty. As one of the 2 in 10 working mothers who don't feel guilty, is there an implicit assumption that I don't care enough about either my work or my family (or both)?

Psychological basis for guilt

It's worth looking at guilt from a psychological perspective. What is the function of guilt?
"From a cognitive point of view, guilt is an emotion that people experience because they’re convinced they’ve caused harm. The emotion of guilt follows directly from the thought that you are responsible for someone else’s misfortune, whether or not this is the case." Psychology Today

So guilt is not a consequence of caring. Healthy guilt is a sign that our conscience is working effectively and can be a useful emotion if it’s telling us that something needs changing. If guilt is a warning flag that our actions might be harming our children or our co-workers, then it's served its purpose. But feeling guilty doesn't make you guilty. Working can have a positive effect on family life (see previous post). Often guilt comes from judging ourselves by impossible standards (back to the Perfect Mother and Employee) or being influenced by the perceived judgements of others. In this case, it's a destructive emotion that we are allowing to reduce our life satisfaction for no reason at all.

How to challenge guilt feelings when you are returning to work

Analyse the cause of your guilt feelings. Is the emotion telling you that you are making a decision that is inconsistent with your values? Do you rationally think that you are jeopardising your relationship with your family? If so, are you able to reduce your working hours, to shift your work pattern or to work from home some days? Do you need to think about a job or career change to get more flexibility? 

If you consider your choices and the trade-offs you are making and do not want to make any changes (or are practically unable to do so), then recognise that guilt is serving no useful purpose and let go of it. Guilt is not a badge of pride for working mothers, just a rod we have created for our own backs. 

Posted by Julianne

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Do I really have to network?

Networking is an essential element of finding your way back to work - and it can also be the most daunting!  For many people, networking means entering a room of strangers or acquaintances, ‘working the room’ and leaving with a fist full of business cards and the promise of some follow-up meetings.  This is a very extreme example of networking and isn't likely to be the way you find your next role.  Nevertheless, networking will be an essential element of your return to work strategy – so what’s getting in your way?

Why do we find networking difficult?
Our most common objections to networking are:
  • networking is only for political types. How true is this?   Are you being political in wanting to learn some new information, get ideas and advice, find a new role or develop your career?
  • lack of time. This is more a question of how important your job search is among your list of competing priorities.  It will need to be near to number one, for you to put in the time and effort that effective networking requires.
  • shyness or reserve, not wanting to bother people.  This usually stems from lack of confidence.  It is really important that you start to work on your confidence level before embarking on your networking activity.  If you are completely lacking confidence, you certainly won’t find networking possible, let alone enjoyable. Click here for advice and tips on how to start to develop your confidence.  You need to believe you have something to offer the people you connect with.
 Some networking truths
It might be helpful for you to think about the following realities of networking, if you have any lingering objections to it.
  1. Networking is part of life.  Everyone does it.  The people you wish to connect with will all have been helped at some point in their career by someone with whom they have networked.  They will all be networking to find information and to meet potential customers, suppliers, employees and employers.  You are not asking them to do anything out of the ordinary and you are probably doing it yourself, all the time, without even realising it.  When you ask someone you know for a restaurant, a plumber or a hotel recommendation, you are networking!
  2. Networking isn't all about attending large events. Contacting a friend of a friend for a short chat about their role can be just as valuable.
  3. The most obvious reason why someone might be keen to talk to you is that most people are on the look out for new sources of information or insight and employers are usually looking out for people with talent and skills.  You will always be of interest to the people you are meeting if you bring perspectives and insights, as well as your own network. When we're working hard, we often don't have time to keep up-to-date with industry articles and research; if you take time to read about your area of interest, you can bring this new information to your new contacts.
  4. Most people love to talk about themselves!  So, if you are asking about a person’s career path, their role, their training, their industry knowledge or their organisation they will often welcome talking to you.
In the next post, I’ll discuss how to enjoy networking with tips and examples.
Is there something specific you’d like to see included?

Posted by Katerina