Wednesday 29 January 2014

Join us at the Work & Family Show

If you're looking for more ideas and inspiration on returning to work, the first ever Work & Family Show might be just what you need.

It's on February 21st and 22nd 2014 at the ExCel in London and will host speakers, panels and employers who are all there to help women to get back to work and to find more balance in their lives.  There will be practical sessions on childcare, flexible working, finding a job and starting a business as well as personal development sessions on image, the language of success and finding your balance.  There will also be debates on future family policy, negotiating role sharing and other aspects of family life.

Julianne and I are delighted to be the main speakers at one of the morning sessions (Personal Theatre, Fri & Sat) on Learn to Juggle and Ditch the Guilt. We will be looking at how you can help yourself to get more enjoyment out of your working and family life ... identifying simple changes that you can make both to your thoughts and actions.  In this blog, we've already written about the destructive effect of guilt and about finding your balance and we'll be developing these themes in our session.  

If you'd like to come to the show, we have a couple of complimentary tickets to give away. To win one of these tickets, either send us some feedback on our blog/website (what you like, what you'd like us to add/change) or send us your return-to-work story to add to our success stories.  We'll offer the tickets to the first people we hear from.   

After our sessions we will be around for the rest of the morning, so please come to introduce yourself & ask us any questions - we look forward to meeting you there! 

Posted by Katerina

Monday 20 January 2014

Routes back to work stories: Changing from Law to CSR

Last week we outlined some of the many routes back to work after a multi-year break. One option we encourage you to consider is creating your own 'returnship'. Here is Stephanie's story of how she used an internship to get back to work after 6 years and to begin a career change from her previous career as a lawyer into the area of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). 

This is one of the first of our return-to-work stories, which we will be featuring on

Stephanie: En route to a new career

"Prior to taking a 6 year family break I had worked as a City lawyer with a linear career path and clear promotion journey. During my 6 years out of paid employment I realised that working was part of me. I had never imagined not working before I had children and now was the time to return. Both my children were at school and I had time to think about what I wanted to do. Working that out was harder than I thought and it is still “work in progress”. I had a clear picture of what I didn’t want to do and with the help of Julianne Miles and the iRelaunch conference, understood my skillset and what I had enjoyed in my previous career. This reflection time also brought out my strong interest in the links between the corporate and the not-for-profit sector.

An opportunity presented itself, thanks to a good friend, to undertake a 3 month internship with a global organisation whose head office was in London. My self-confidence and self-belief were both low and just getting back to work and putting on work clothes again felt alien but exciting.  I knew this was what I wanted – to be working in a role that could accommodate me as the main carer of our children. The internship led to 2 short-term contracts within the HR department.  My role was project based and internal facing so accommodating a flexible working pattern was a little easier. Successfully completing the projects I was given led to a permanent position, again within HR. Due to the nature of the organisation, I have been given the chance to work on a wide variety of projects and can now see a long term direction.  Part of my role is to manage the company’s corporate and social responsibility agenda. I love it. It gives me the chance to work with colleagues around the world and shape how the company interacts with its stakeholders. Whilst I am not challenged academically, for now, this role is perfect.

While I have a long-term dream to become a CSR consultant for small to medium sized businesses looking to establish a CSR programme for the first time, I have a lot to learn. The company I work for at the moment is expanding rapidly and this gives me the chance to get involved in many new projects touching different parts of the business.  I am not discounting that I might experience another area of HR which I enjoy just as much as CSR. I am keeping an open mind.

It’s easy to forget how many working years you have left, even after a first career and then a family break, but not being part of the pack forging their careers in their 30s means you have the luxury of being able to take the meandering path to your long-term goal. This means you are able to accept opportunities even if they don’t appear to take you straight to the next step on the career ladder. This in itself can be empowering.

I am excited about where my journey will end and whether it will be as an employee or a consultant.  Watch this space – it is all work in progress."

Do you know of any other inspiring return-to-work stories we can feature on our website? 

Posted by Julianne

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Ideas for routes back to work

In previous posts we've identified a selection of ways in which you can find your way back to work: returnships; networking and creative crafting of a role.  But these are just a fraction of the options that are available!

So, what other possibilities are there?  And has anyone actually found work like this?  Routes we've come across include:

Applying for advertised roles - although an obvious option, the places where roles are advertised might be less apparent, especially on the web (see our resources section for some ideas).  If you sign up to online recruitment agencies, be aware that you will be competing with thousands of others for attention, so be selective and don't expect too much.  Most organisations now use their own websites as a recruitment vehicle and you can usually sign up for alerts that are issued when new roles are posted.  Many organisations use LinkedIn to search for people so make sure your profile is up-to-date and relevant to the kind of role you want.  You can also search on LinkedIn for the thousands of role which are advertised.

The following options can provide more flexibility and allow you to ease yourself gradually back to work if you are not ready for the bigger commitment of a permanent role (see thinking small for other examples).

Freelancing - Sarah* formerly a market research agency director became a freelance researcher for her previous employer as a first step to marketing herself as an extra resource to other agencies.  She became so successful at this that she soon created her own business taking on whole research projects which she designed and managed herself, drawing on additional freelance resource when she needs it.

Associate work - if you have a specific skill or expertise that you want to offer, associate work can provide advantages over freelancing: as an associate, the company you contract with is normally responsible for winning new work. However, companies which use associates rarely guarantee the amount of work and so having different associate relationships can provide necessary variety. Also, from a tax point of view, it means you won't be classed by HMRC as an employee. I still do some work as an associate of the coaching organisation I joined when I first launched my own business.

Project-based work - Although organisations rarely advertise this kind of work, offering to work on a project can be a great introduction to an organisation and can open doors for you there.  Alternatively, you could discover that you enjoy working in this way and develop your own consultancy.

Interim roles - joining an organisation in a defined role for a defined time can be a great way to use your skills and experience without making a long-term commitment to returning to work. Opportunities arise as cover for maternity and long-term sickness and also when organisations are in transition and need someone on a temporary basis.  While there are established interim management agencies, you are likely to have more success finding these kinds of roles through networking.

Skilled or strategic volunteering - Amy*, a former city lawyer, chose to volunteer in the legal department of a major national charity as her route back to work.  She started out advising on contracts which was her expertise and after a while negotiated a move into the trusts and legacies team.  Here she was able to build up the right experience to apply for permanent paid roles as a private client lawyer in private practice, her ideal new role.

And finally, there is the option of starting your own business.  Sometimes this can develop from freelancing or project work and sometimes you have an idea for a product or service you want to develop.  A business can develop from a hobby, as it did for the woman who made my new curtains and for Helen* who now combines her PR and communication expertise and great interest in human stories with her business partner's film-making skills to create personal and corporate videos. 

On our success stories page you'll see more examples of the different routes people find for getting back to work.  If you've returned to work, we'd love to hear your story too!

Posted by Katerina

Thursday 9 January 2014

Using your instincts in career decision-making

"I'm thinking about applying for corporate jobs again and have been approached about a part-time Marketing Director job. I know it would be a good move and work with the family but for some reason I'm putting off making the phone call to the recruiter." 

Marion had left the corporate marketing world 6 years before to spend more time with her two children who were approaching senior school age. She now felt keen to return to work and had been focusing on the logical plan of using her past experience and networks to get back into a leadership position. She'd had a few promising leads but noticed that she was dragging her feet and putting off following up on them. Why was she making this so difficult for herself?

As we talked, I noticed that Marion's energy soared when she spoke about friends who had set up their own businesses and about her own 'impractical' entrepreneurial ideas. When she reverted to talking about the 'realistic option' of going back to mainstream corporate life her energy drained away like a pricked balloon. Her tone of voice and body language were telling a different story from her words. As we talked, she identified a strong reluctance to give up her freedom and autonomy and the focus of our conversations switched to the feasibility of entrepreneurship. Having turned down a second round interview for the Marketing Director role, she is now enthusiastically developing her own venture.

Rational vs Instinctive Decision-Making

Many of us tend to believe that our decisions should be directed by our rational brains and we distrust our emotional response. But we need to remember that our experience of working, be it positive or negative, is subjective. Whether we enjoy a job depends just as much on how we feel about it as how good it looks on paper. Our emotions are often linked to underlying values, like Marion's pull towards freedom. And an instinctive reaction can pick up something intangible (like a company culture or a manager's personality) that does or doesn't feel right before you can explain the reason why.

And there's another reason to listen to your intuition. It's true that 'gut feel' can be misleading and lead to faulty conclusions*. On the other hand, psychology studies show that we do not always think best when we rely on reason alone. For more complex decisions (like career choice) our rational brains can hit information overload. If we put our attention elsewhere and allow our unconscious mind time to work through all the factors and come to a decision, we are more likely to make an 'instinctive' choice that we will be happier with over time, even if goes against a logical pros & cons evaluation**. 

Ways to incorporate the emotional & instinctive in your decision-making

1. Follow your energy. When you talk about each of your options, notice when your energy levels rise and when they drop. What are you most drawn to investigating? Ask your friends/family what they have noticed too. 
2. Try describing yourself out loud in each of the different options: "I'm running my own business", "I'm a Marketing Director". Which intuitively feels best? Which feels more like 'you'?
3. When you find yourself over-deliberating about your options, take a break, engage in an activity that distracts your mind for a few hours and then write down your decision before consciously thinking any more about it.

And in general, when you're considering your next move, value your emotional reactions just as much as your logical analyses.

Note: names and some details have been changed to maintain confidentiality

Further Reading
* For examples of biases see Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast & Slow
** One study by Dijksterhuis & van Olden asked participants to look at 5 posters and choose which one they liked best using 3 different techniques: 1) pros & cons 2) gut feel 3) look, solve anagrams, look again, decide. A month later the 3rd group were happiest with their choice. This Unconscious Thought Theory effect has been replicated in more complex decisions such as renting an apartment (See Richard Wiseman, 59 Seconds).

Posted by Julianne