One of the reasons that Katerina & I set up this blog was because we were feeling frustrated by continual media reports equating a career break with career suicide. We wanted to offer a more positive voice of encouragement and advice. So I was a bit reluctant to start this post with some dispiriting news, but have decided that it's better to accept the reality of the practical barriers faced by returners - then we can work out how to tackle them.
Research into CV Gaps - The Bad News
As a psychologist, I'm always checking for evidence to test my beliefs. I have heard many stories from highly experienced career break women of sending out scores of job applications and never even getting an interview. And conversely I also know a few women with 5+ years out who have found top positions through applying to job ads. So I'm always looking for research to check whether the 'CV gap' really is such a major block to being hired.
That's why I was interested to read about a recent study into the barriers faced by the long term unemployed. Rand Ghayad sent out 4,800 job applications to 600 job ads, changing only experience and length of unemployment. He found there was an “unemployment cliff” at 6 months of
unemployment: an applicant with relevant experience who had been out of work for over 6 months was 3 times less likely to get an interview than someone with no relevant experience who had been out of work for a shorter time. Ghayad hypothesises that employers believe that "individuals with long nonemployment spells may have their
skills atrophy and as a result become relatively less productive." So employers think that skills deteriorate after 6 months out of work ...
Clearly involuntary unemployment is not the same as a voluntary career gap, but it's not too much of a leap to see how this finding might be relevant to women whose work experience dates back a lot longer than 6 months. So we're not imagining things ... if you send out a job application for an advertised role, a lack of recent experience can lead to your CV being ignored by prospective hiring managers, regardless of the level and relevance of your previous roles.
7 Ways to Tackle the CV Gap Barrier
Acknowledging this is a real practical barrier, doesn't mean it is insurmountable. What are some solutions if you want to get back into paid employment?
DON'T use a skills-based CV to try to 'hide' your break - recruiters usually find these irritating as they have to piece together your work history.
DO clearly state the years of your 'Parental career break' to avoid confusion
DO remember to include ALL work-related activities during your time out:
1. Include 'professional' voluntary and community work alongside your old employed roles under work experience, not in a separate section. A 2012 study found that relevant voluntary work can be valued just as highly as paid work by recruiters. A City recruitment director told me last week how impressed she was by an applicant's career break position as Governor of a high-performing school. For other examples see our previous post on managing a CV gap
2. Don't undersell any business ventures you have undertaken. One of my clients didn't include a jewellery business she had set up in her break as she felt it was too small scale to interest a corporate recruiter. In fact this was clear evidence of entrepreneurial and business development skills.
3. If you have undertaken any project or freelance work, however minor, include this as 'self-employed work' in your work experience.
4. If you don't have recent work experience but your break has included further education or professional qualifications, put your Education & Qualifications upfront. Look out for skills update or refresher courses in your area to boost this section.
5. Make sure that you have a Linked In profile and that it is consistent with your CV - don't start it with the role you left x years ago!
Alternative strategies to applying to job ads
Nothing new here, but worth reiterating that sending your CV out for advertised jobs is the least likely way to get back into the workforce.
6. Use your contacts to find your next role and avoid getting lost in the demoralising recruitment black hole
7. Find a returnship or create your own. One of the reasons we're so enthusiastic about returnships is that they provide recent and relevant CV experience, as well as potentially leading to permanent employment.
Do you have any other ideas?
Posted by Julianne
Returnship programmes are taking off in the UK! Companies are recognising that returning
professionals are a strong talent pool and may need support to get back into
Morgan Stanley have just announced a Return to Work workshop on 20th May, [note 5/5/14: applications closed] prior to launching their own 'returnship' programme in September.
Morgan Stanley's workshop is targeted at professionals who:
- have been out of the workforce for over 2 years, particularly those who have been caring for their family
- have prior experience in financial services or a related professional field
The workshop will run from 10am-4pm at the Morgan Stanley office in London E14 and will include sessions on CV writing, preparing for interviews and networking. The workshop is focused on building up confidence and skills in preparation for applications and recruitment processes.
To apply send your CV and a covering letter explaining why you would like to participate in the workshop to:
The deadline is Monday 5th May. Places are limited and successful applicants will be notified by Monday 12th May.
Posted by Julianne
Do you find yourself having lots of work ideas but for some
reason not actually doing anything about them? Do you spend hours talking about
& researching options & thinking about pros & cons .. but never making any real progress?
I’ve worked with many women considering what to do after
a career break and many of them fall into this overthinking trap. In our former working lives we often succeeded because of our ability to mentally work through solutions to problems and this is our default. We get fooled that we can think ourselves into a decision.
But the 'what shall I do with my life?' career questions can rarely be solved just by brain-power. What you really need to do is
to start taking practical actions. And I don’t mean firing off your CV when
you’re not yet sure what you want to do – it’s about finding ways to try out
your options before deciding where you want to commit. Professor Herminia Ibarra in her career
change book ‘Working Identity’ calls this a ‘test & learn’ approach. She
warns that waiting to act until you know what to do next can keep you stuck:
“Doing comes first, knowing second”.
- If you’re
wondering whether to go back to your old company/field: Get back in touch with
old colleagues for an initial exploratory chat; ask about small projects or
freelance work; take a refresher course.
- If you’re
not sure if you want to do something new: Find people who are doing the job -
go to an industry event or look for friends of friends – and talk to them about
their roles; take a short course; do related voluntary work or find/create an internship.
- And if
you’re thinking of setting up a business, find some entrepreneurs to talk to or
go to a start-up workshop like Enterprise Nation's Start Up Saturday.
- For more
ideas see our return-to-work success stories.
Once you have some ideas on future options, it is more doing not more thinking that will get you clearer
on the route you want to take.
This is an amended version of our guest post for the
Mumsnet Workfest blog. Workfest is on 7th June 2014 in London:"an
inspirational and helpful day for women returning to work post maternity or an
extended career break, those looking to switch jobs, as well as those embarking
on a new business venture. We're running 2 sessions:
Hope to meet some of you there!
- Returning to work after an extended career break
- Tackling your fears, doubts and guilt
Posted by Julianne
You might have seen or heard the press coverage this week on the findings from Project 28-40, a report from Opportunity Now, the gender campaign arm of Business in the Community. It's the largest ever study of women and work in the UK, with 25,000 responses.
The media focused on the difficulties women face with work in general and with combining careers and families.
But having read through the whole report, the pessimistic coverage doesn't tell the whole story. There is some 'myth-busting' with the recognition that women are just as ambitious and confident as men and actively seek opportunities to advance their careers. At the same time, the message is that companies' policies are often not effective in practice. There is plenty more for employers to do to move women's progression 'from a diversity initiative to a core business priority'. Recommendations include setting targets for numbers of women at each senior level in the organisation and ways to defeat the flexible working stigma.
We particularly like the call to 'allow for non-linear careers - your top talent will have times in their lives they need to take a step back'.
Hidden in the detail there is a practical recommendation for longer-term returners, that employers consider return(er)ships for women who've had a career break of 2+ years:
'Returnerships offer a potential win-win solution for business and
women returners – women returning from a long term career break to work could
work for a fixed internship with the possibility of a permanent role at the
end, allowing both the employer and the employee to ‘try before they buy’
We are delighted to have been asked by Opportunity Now to work with them to inform and persuade businesses to take up the returnship concept. We will also continue to promote returnships in the media and through our networks and will actively publicise any new returnship programmes that are introduced.
You can also take the initiative and suggest an individual returnship to a potential employer, as a possible route back to work. You can read the example of Stephanie who created her own returnship to give you more ideas. Let us know of any successes you'd like to share.
Posted by Katerina