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

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Mumsnet Workfest - advice for women returners

For those of you who were not at the Mumsnet Workfest last Saturday, these are some of the advice highlights we picked out for women returning after a career break.

Developing your confidence

Businesses value you for what you give to them. Be clear what you can offer and know your value and your USP. Fake the confidence if you don't have it yet. Lorraine Candy, ELLE Magazine

Have confidence in yourself and believe that you have something to offer in the workplace. Know your skills and know what you bring. Karen Mattison, Timewise

Organisations to target

SME's are more likely to be open to flexible working than the largest companies which use this option mostly to retain someone they don't want to lose. Karen Mattison 

Some of the larger financial institutions and consultancies are leading the way in designing programmes for returners.  A recent example is Bank of America. Others include RBS, UBS, Citi, HSBC as well as KPMG and Centrica

Making contacts

Surround yourself with people who want to help you. Articulate what you want help with. Be specific. Nothing is stronger than personal recommendation. Karen Lynch CEO Belu Water

Applying for jobs

Don't be put off applying for an advertised role because it states that it is full time.  If the employer wants you, you have an opportunity to negotiate for flexibility which can come in many forms.  Before you launch into negotiation, check out the culture of the firm and how it views flexible working and develop the business case. Karen Mattison

In your covering letter directly address any concerns about your career break, including how you have kept your skills and knowledge up-to-date and are the perfect candidate. Justine Roberts, Mumsnet

Testimonials are powerful - include with your CV. Amanda Mackenzie, Aviva

And generally ...

Focus on your thing, the thing you are best at, and don't get distracted by what others are doing. Thomasina Myers, Founder Wahaca

Posted by Katerina & Julianne

Friday 14 June 2013

7 tips for your return to work after a career break

Did you miss Gaby Hinsliff's inspiring article about 'alpha-returners' in Times2 on Tuesday 11th June: "Welcome to the World of the MumBack?" Lots of great  stories of women who have worked their way back up to senior positions in politics, academia and business after career breaks (it's never too late - Professor Margaret Rayman had a 17 year break). The article featured my 'Tips for getting back to the top" which I thought would be a useful to include here, with a bit more detail than was possible in the original.

Tips for getting back to work after a long break

1. Value your skills. For each of your past paid and unpaid roles, write down all the skills you used and make sure these come across clearly on your CV. If you remind yourself of your strengths and achievements you'll start to feel more confident. And you’ll be surprised how quickly your confidence comes back once you get back into work. 

2. Don’t limit your search to advertised jobs. Start with a clear idea of what you want to do, then work out how you can do it flexibly, as this will give you more options and is more likely to lead to a satisfying job.

3. Spread the word. Women returning after a long break are most likely to find a job through their networks. Start with telling your friends, family and acquaintances what you would like to do. Get back in touch with old colleagues and student friends (LinkedIn alumni groups can be very useful here). Make new contacts by joining industry groups, attending seminars and conferences, or volunteering. Tips on telling your story here

4. Update your industry knowledge and find out about current issues by reading articles, checking company websites and LinkedIn sites and talking to people in your sector.

5. Make sure you are ready to go back. There’s no point trying to find a job while worrying whether you are doing the right thing.

6. Don’t be intimidated by technological change; a quick IT course, or any teenager, can get you up to speed.

7. Remember that you are the same capable professional you were before your break - you're just out of practice!

And there are many other tips if you look around this blog, such as coping with lost confidence and guilt, and deciding what to do next. And if you look at our Women Returners website, you can read the stories of women who have successfully returned to work to find more about the different routes back. Do you have any other tips you'd like to share?

Posted by Julianne

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Telling your story

"I struggle to view myself as anything more than a mother any more"
Ex- investment analyst after a 10 year career break

If you're planning your return to work after a long career break, one of the hardest questions to answer can be "What do you do?". You're not sure whether to talk about your time at home or what you used to do all those years ago. When my children were small and most of the people I was meeting were other parents, I introduced myself more often as someone's Mum than as Julianne. It's not surprising that as our career break goes on, our independent working selves feel so far in the past that they're not really part of our story any more (see previous post "Who am I anyway?").

If your old professional life feels like distant history, then it's harder to believe in yourself and feel positive about your return to work. This not only knocks your confidence but also makes your job search much less effective. Many women returning to work after a break find a new job through old and new contacts rather than through advertised roles, so you need to have a ready reply rather than a stumbled mumble when an ex-colleague asks "What are you doing now?" And when you do make it to an interview, if your response to the classic "Tell me about yourself" interview question is to spend the majority of the time describing and explaining your career break, you are underselling your past experience and are unlikely to come across as a credible candidate for the job.

When you're putting together your story, don't start or end with your career break. We suggest you use a structure we call the "Career Break Sandwich".

  • Talk first about what you did before in your working life, then talk about your career break and finish with where you want to go now. 
  • Explain why you've taken time out of the workplace, but avoid apologising for or justifying your break or spending too much time talking about what you've been doing. However do include any study, voluntary work, time spent abroad, unusual/challenging activities or anything else that might be interesting in terms of skills development or updating to a possible employer. 

Herminia Ibarra, in her career transition book Working Identity, suggests that a coherent story helps us to make sense of the changes we are making, so building our inner self-confidence. It also makes us more likely to get other people's support: "Until we have a story, others view us as unfocused. It is harder to get their help". 

Aim to draw out links between your past and future, particularly if you have a varied work history or are planning a career change: Have you always enjoyed helping people develop? Or solving difficult problems in a team? You're always bringing the benefit of your past experiences, at work and at home, as a foundation for what you want to do now.

Telling your story does take practice. Try out your narrative first with family and friends and get their feedback. Telling and retelling allows you to rework your story until you feel comfortable and convincing. Aim for a longer version to answer "Tell me about yourself" or "What are you looking for?" and a short version so you no longer hesitate when someone asks "So, what do you do?" 

Posted by Julianne (updated June 2018)

Monday 10 June 2013

Women's Business Council - good news for women returners?

The barriers to women’s career progression are back in the news with the publication of a report by the Women’s Business Council (WBC), looking at ways of maximising women's contribution to economic growth and assessing priorities in removing the barriers that women face in playing a full part in business and the workplace.  But does it say anything new and interesting for women returners?  And will anything change as a result?

What's new?
The headline of the report is that there are 2.4 million women who are not working and who want to work.  So this is a report seems to be about women returners, the first time this topic has been approached so comprehensively.  It probably helps that Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE, the Chair of the WBC herself took an 18 month career break and is now CEO of a FTSE-250 company.
As you might expect, the report addresses barriers to our careers from start to finish.  It breaks its recommendations down into four areas: broadening girls’ aspirations at school (Starting Out); flexible working and other support for working parents (Getting On); women in the ‘third part’ of their working lives (Staying On); and female entrepreneurship (Enterprise). 
Two aspects are new and of note:
·         The needs of women wishing to return to work after a break are highlighted, along with support for parents who continue to work;
·         It is significant, I think, that there is not yet a recognised term for the ‘third part’ of our lives: it is a symptom of how invisible older women can feel.
So the WBC must be applauded for bringing these dimensions into public debate and to the attention of the Government.

Will anything change?
It is hard to see how in these difficult economic times, the Government will do more than it is already.  Indeed its response to the report does little more than reiterate the actions it has already taken.  What the Government does promise, however, is to:
·         Lead by example in incorporating the WBC’s message and approach in flexible working, as a major employer;
·         Appoint a business champion for older workers and to work with existing bodies to develop new approaches for this group;
·         Provide better web-based support for women entrepreneurs and tackle the belief that they are less likely to obtain banking finance than men
For its part, the WBC will meet every six months to monitor progress and will report in one year on what has been achieved.
So, while the Government and business will be looking anew at women’s careers and how to support them, the focus is mostly on continuing to do what they are already doing for working women.  I fear It might, therefore, take some time for the effects to trickle out into the world of women returners.

What do you think of the WBC’s report and the Government’s response? What measures do you think would make a difference to you returning to work?

Posted by Katerina