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