Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Routes back to law: Setting up in Private Practice

There are many routes back to work after a career break. Taking a more entrepreneurial route may allow you to create your own culture and flexible working practices. Katie Rainscourt, our guest blogger this week, offers the benefit of her experience of establishing her own family law firm. Her advice is equally relevant to other professionals thinking about setting up in private practice. And read to the end if you'd like a return to law mentor.

If you are or have been a solicitor, are you using your legal skills to your best advantage?

I am managing partner of Rainscourt Family Law Solicitors, a firm of solicitors based in Milton Keynes, working exclusively in family law. I am delighted to be able to write a blog for Women Returners, and I do so because I would like to bring to your attention the option of establishing your own firm as an alternative option to joining an existing firm elsewhere.

Many skilled solicitors are currently lost to the profession when they decide that they are unable to return. One option that these individuals may not have considered is that of establishing their own firm of solicitors, instead of returning to the traditional firm environment, or choosing to opt out of the profession altogether. My firm is a signatory to the Law Society diversity and inclusion charter, and I hope that this blog may encourage returners to consider this alternative route, and lead to greater inclusion within our profession.

Is this an option for you?
In terms of whether this is an option for you, think about the area of law you practise or practised in. Do you have skills that people will pay to access, and ask for advice from you, in your area of expertise?

Your first step will be to sketch out your business plan:
How familiar are you with the market in which you operate or operated?
What is your product? What is your brand? 
Where will you base your firm? 
What area of law is your expertise focused in, and how can you best offer this to your clients? 

This will require in-depth planning and research on your part. Think about your existing contacts or friends who may be able to help you with your brainstorming.  These contacts need not necessarily come from the legal world, but may come from a finance or business background. Think of how best to promote yourself and your skills, and what will be unique to you and your business.

There will be many decisions that you need to make, but ultimately, you may end up with a product that you take a great deal of pride in, and which will enable you to make best use of your legal skills.

Mentoring
I would be delighted to act as a mentor for a returner to law, or to speak to any of you who are interested in taking this path, so please do get in touch with me via Julianne or Katerina at info@womenreturners.com.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

How to avoid the Top 10 Return to Work Job Search mistakes

Over the years that I have been working with returners, I've noticed how many women make the same job search mistakes that can completely derail their return to work. To stop you falling into the same traps, here's my summary of the Top 10 and a few tips on how to avoid them.

1. Relying on headhunters and recruitment agencies to find you a role
Headhunters and other agencies are paid for filling specific vacancies and if your profile doesn't exactly match they won't be interested. And a long career break labels you as a risky candidate. Do let any headhunter contacts know that you are looking for work, & look for agencies sympathetic to returners, just don't make this your sole strategy or be deterred by the negative reception most will give you.

2. Sitting at home scanning LinkedIn, job boards and website for vacancies
Only an estimated 20-30% of vacancies are ever advertised, so if this is your approach to finding a role, you are missing out on the the majority of positions that are filled through recommendation, word of mouth and former colleagues. To access the 'hidden job market' you need to be more active, start networking and tell everyone you meet about your search.  

3. Defining yourself too narrowly by your previous role
It's easy to restrict ourselves to roles similar to our last job title or specialist qualification. This narrows your options and can make you feel that you're not qualified for any role that fits with your life now. Instead, look out for roles that ask for the broader skills and strengths you possess within fields that interest you.

4. Sending one application at a time...
If you get excited about having found The Ideal Role and wait to see what happens with it before making other applications, you could be waiting a very long time. Hiring decisions are rarely quick, company priorities can change and you may not ultimately get the job for a variety of reasons. Keep networking, and seeking and applying for other opportunities in the meantime, until you actually sign the contract.

5. ... Or making scatter gun applications
Don't fire off applications or direct approaches to everyone you can think of. You waste time applying for roles that aren't a good fit for you and you'll appear unfocused in your application & under-motivated in an interview. Decide what to target and treat each application with care, researching the organisation and the specific requirements of the role and tailoring your application accordingly.

6. Applying for roles that are too junior
If your confidence in your abilities is low, you may apply for 'less demanding' roles as a way of easing yourself back into work. The trouble is that you will appear over-qualified to the hiring manager and are likely to become rapidly frustrated once you're back up to speed. If you have a strong reason for choosing this route, clearly explain the rationale in your application.

7. Looking just for part-time or flexible roles
You might have decided that your job needs to be part-time or flexible. However many employers will consider flexible working 'for the right candidate' even though they don't state it in the job ad. Consider whether the content of the role appeals and whether there could be a business case to do it flexibly.

8. Apologising for your career break
Explain the reason for your break on your CV (eg. parental career break) and in interviews and then don't dwell on it, justify it or apologise for it!

9. Undervaluing what you've done in your break
If you have done something that has built your broader skills or opened new perspectives to you during your break, this is valuable to a potential employer, so don't minimise or ignore it on your CV.

10. Not asking for feedback after rejections
When you are rejected after online tests or interviews it is easy to blame yourself and to become dispirited. By requesting feedback you can find out what you need to work on to make future applications stronger. 

Other useful posts:

Posted by Katerina

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Identifying your best return-to-work supporters?




What do we normally do when we're thinking about making changes in our lives? Our natural instinct is often to talk things through with friends and family - to get their opinion and test out our ideas. I remember many mornings spent discussing future plans with other mothers over coffee when I was on career break.

It can be useful to chat about your return to work ideas - setting up a business, returning to your old field, retraining, or whatever your inspiration may be. As you speak about your thoughts, this can help them to become more concrete and move you to action. 

But this can also be a risky strategy as your trusted friends might not be the supporters you need to develop your fledgling ideas. If they pour cold water on your tentative plans, this can be a major knock to your confidence, raising more doubts and worries in your mind and stopping you moving forward to action. 

These are some reactions potential returners have told me they received:
From other at-home mums: "What do you want to go back to work for - you're so lucky to be able to be at home?" 
"I can't imagine having the energy to work. All the working mums I know are exhausted"
From family & ex-colleagues: "I never saw you as a [creative person/entrepreneur/mature student ..]"
From partners: "Well, if you're absolutely sure that's what you want to do ..."
"If you think you can manage that and the kids without getting too stressed ..."

There's a big difference between these generalised negative comments, which can make you want to give up, rather than helpful specific questions that encourage you to reality check your ideas. If you're facing comments like these, rather than simply taking them at face value, it's worth putting them in context. Here are a few things to bear in mind:
  • Your friends who are also on career break may want to keep you 'on their team'. They don't want to lose you to the workplace!
  • Your plans to return to work may raise doubts in their minds about the decisions they've taken. When we experience 'cognitive dissonance', where our actions don't directly align with our beliefs (eg I should be using my education but I'm not in paid work), we feel uncomfortable. They may subconsciously try to convince you that it's too hard to be a working mother to prove to themselves that their decision is correct.  
  • Your ex-colleagues tend to define you by the role you used to have. This is similar to the cognitive bias called 'functional fixedness' where we find it hard to see familiar objects in a different light. Which is a real advantage if you're returning to the same field, but limiting if you're considering a new direction.
  • Growing up within a family we all often have set roles (the smart one, the creative one etc). If you're stepping into a sibling's role, they may feel challenged or disorientated.
  • Your partner and children naturally will prefer the status quo if it's comfortable for them. Accept they may not be your cheerleaders initially at least!
To balance the naysayers, think about creating a group of return-to-work supporters:

1. Identify & seek out friends and family members who are encouraging and positive and fill you with a sense of possibility 
2. Partner with one or more women who are also looking to return to work
3. Seek out a mentor - find a woman in your field who has successfully returned after a career break and ask for advice.

As our network grows we're thinking about setting up a return-to-work support group. Also a number of successful returners have offered to be to mentors. Would you find either of these useful? In what format (eg.LinkedIn)? Let us know in the comments below or on info@womenreturners.com.
Posted by Julianne 

Friday, 7 November 2014

How to write your post-break CV





When you're launching yourself back into the market after a long career break, updating your CV can feel daunting, but it's worth taking time and effort as CVs are the most important self-marketing document for your job search. Employers typically receive hundreds of CVs for every advertised job, so yours will need to stand out by being focused on what you can offer and avoiding looking out-of-date.


Start with a profile not a gap

Avoid starting with a job that ended many years ago, looking like you've fallen off the planet since then. Instead open with a profile statement, describing your background and qualifications. State you are returning to work after a [parental] career break. If you are shifting sector/role, you can also state that you are looking for opportunities in [target sector]; otherwise you don't need an objective. You then have the option of including a short 'Key skills & achievements' section, to draw attention to a few highlights. Avoid a laundry list of generic skills (strong team player, highly-motivated, etc) as this won't impress anyone! In the Career history section, clearly state the years of your "[Parental] Career Break" and include any skilled volunteering roles (eg School Governor, Charity Treasurer) - don't hide them in a voluntary work section at the end. For more advice see The CV Gap Barrier post.

Sell your achievements

The point of a CV is to tell others what you are capable of, so they want to talk to you further. It's the time to take credit for what you've achieved.

Base your CV around your relevant achievements and skills, don't just list the duties in your role. Firstly find out what skills, qualifications and experience employers are looking for in the types of role you are seeking. I would do this by reviewing a good number of job descriptions, highlighting the key words and identifying the most common.

Now go back through your work experience, study, volunteering and other personal achievements both before and during your break to find examples that show that you meet these criteria. When giving evidence of a skill, show what you achieved by using the skill and try to quantify your contribution if at all possible.

For each job application, tailor your CV to fit the requirements in the job description, to show that you clearly fit the role. Take this to the level of using their key criteria words in your CV (as the first screen is often now performed automatically by keyword sifting software).

CV Content and Style

  • Appearance:  Use font size 10 or 11 and write in the third person with no pronouns, for example “Reduced the month-end accounting timetable by 3 days”.
  • Structure: Use a clear structure, my recommendation would be: name and contact details top centre, Key skills and achievements, Career history, Education, Other qualifications, Languages (if fluent), Interests (optional). I don't recommend a skills-based CV to try to 'hide' your break - recruiters usually find these irritating as they have to piece together your work history
  • Length:  Keep your CV to 2 sides and aim for about 1,000 words. This means you need to include only the most important pieces of information, so prioritise and leave the rest out.
  • Checking: Make sure the CV looks good on the page, that the formatting is perfect and there are no spelling or grammatical mistakes. Check that you have been consistent in tense with all your verbs. 

     
To avoid looking out-of-date, DON'T:

  • Use the heading “Curriculum Vitae, as the sifting software can think that is your name. Always have your name as the central heading
  • Include a photo or your date of birth, gender, marital status or details about your children as these have become inappropriate on CVs following discrimination legislation
  • Include your A-Levels, O-levels (GCSEs) or school
  • List bland interests (reading, cinema etc); only include if relevant or impressive (eg. society memberships, triathlons)
  • Give details of references or say "references available on request"

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And Finally: If you get stuck, talk it through with a friend or get help from a coach, don't let it delay your job search. Once you are happy with your CV, ask a friend to check it over, to point out any errors and give you marks out of 5 for impact .. and congratulate yourself for getting over another return-to-work hurdle!

Gill Lambert
Women Returners Associate Coach http://wrpn.womenreturners.com/about/ 
Owner of Tailored Career Coaching http://www.tailoredcareercoaching.co.uk/