Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Returning to Work - Is there a Middle Ground?

A guest post for mothers looking for greater flexibility from Amanda Seabrook, MD of Workpond.


The frightening thing about ‘leaving the workforce’, either when you have children or during their early years, is that you know instinctively that things will never be the same again. Even if you are able to return to your old company, the way that you value your time away from the office will have changed and however much you enjoy your job it won’t feel quite the same. 

This may be because you wish you could spend more time with your child/children or it may be due to the fact that your disposable income isn’t what it was! Whether you have a' babe in arms' or teenage children, the demands are much the same and you just have to work out a way to balance the two that suits you.

So is it worth returning to ‘the same old’ or reinventing yourself to suit your new life circumstances? Change is hard to achieve, until you know what options you have. Many people assume that it is normal to work on a full-time employed basis. It is therefore a surprise to many that, according to the ONS, only 46% of the labour force are employed on a full-time basis. 27.2% are either self-employed or working part-time – and this number is on the rise. A further 5.5% (2.3m) are economically inactive (not paying taxes or claiming benefits) but at the same time keen to work (largely mothers and early retirees). 

So there IS a middle ground –and this middle ground is growing. It is driven, not only by women looking for greater flexibility to allow more time with their children, but by a large number of people, both male and female and of all ages, who are becoming self-employed and selling their expertise directly to businesses. There are vibrant markets for Senior Interims (MD’s and FD’s that work for typically 6-12 months for large corporates, often when specific projects need to be sorted out). There are freelancers in the more creative sectors - such as design, web development, branding, copywriting and journalism. There are specialist consultants who can put together strategy, implement it and then move on to their next project. Some of them work for single clients consecutively and some have a portfolio of clients that they work for at the same time, billing on an hourly or daily basis.

Interestingly, it is the forward-looking businesses which are becoming more open to the benefits of employing more flexibly. Some are going a step further by developing their whole business strategy around it. They are also becoming more accepting of the fact that professionals in all disciplines can be of use on a self-employed or a part-time basis – great news for working mothers – particularly when it means you can save on childcare costs and potentially work closer to home (or even better, remotely from home).

Early stage and owner managed businesses are particularly open to engaging talent in this way as they tend to be much more cost conscious and need the best talent to enable them to grow. The innovative sector is booming – not only at Silicon Roundabout in the East End of London, but all around the country, and to work at a company that specialises in emerging technologies (even for someone with no technology experience) can be extremely stimulating. Some would balk at the lower salaries sometimes offered , but others recognise that the cost savings of reduced travel and childcare , the potential to grow with the business and the ability to balance their lives makes up for the short-fall.

Finding work in these companies may not be straightforward as many don’t enjoy parting with their cash to pay recruiters. However, a simple five step process might suffice in discovering potential flexible opportunities which may otherwise remain hidden:
1. Research your local area to see what businesses there are close by that you would like to work for – think broadly.
2. Work out what service you could offer them – what you would like to specialise in.
3. Update your LinkedIn profile and connect to everyone you know. Update your CV and send it through to your target businesses explaining what you believe you can offer them.
4. Tell your friends what you are trying to do and start going to business networking meetings.
5. Register your CV with specialist recruitment consultancies, like Workpond, who may be able to help you.

Don’t be afraid to tell people that you are a mother. In our experience, as long as you are realistic in your expectations of flexibility and are willing to offer flexibility in return, it will garner a great deal of respect.


Amanda Seabrook is the MD of Workpond, a recruitment consultancy helping businesses find professionals who wish to work on an interim, consultancy or part-time basis.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Re-connecting with your professional self

One of our top tips for returners is to remember that you are the same professional person you always were, you are just out of practice.

Why do we need to be reminded of this?

There are many reasons why, when we take a break from our career, we can develop a diminished view of ourselves from the one we held when we were working. In the mix are:
  • a change in priorities (our career is no longer our sole focus and might not be as important as it once was)
  • a shift in identity (taking a long break, especially when it involves taking on new responsibilities, changes our daily activities, what we think about and talk about)
  • refocusing of values (where we once valued position, responsibility and status, for example, we might now be more concerned with creating strong family relationships or working for a purpose).  
All these changes can mean that we no longer recognise the previous professional version of our self, or doubt whether we can be like her again.

Remind yourself of the professional you were

Even if your perspective and priorities have changed in the years you've been away from your career, the things you accomplished during your career and the skills you gained have not. You are still the person who built strong client relationships, managed a team, delivered complex projects, won sales pitches and gained qualifications.  These experiences are still part of you and you still have those skills and abilities even if you haven't used them (professionally) for a while.

You may find it hard to recognise and value your former self because the work you did before didn't fully fit you at the time. Maybe that professional identity felt false. Even so, you still achieved and gained experiences which you can take forward into a new role that will feel more authentic.

Regain your professional self

This is a really important step to take as you plan for your return to work.  It will help with developing your self-belief (if you need it) and will provide content for your CV, LinkedIn profile and your interview answers.

  • Reflect on what you consider your career highlights and think about what qualities you exhibited. Are those qualities still part of who you are today?
  • Talk to former work colleagues, who remember you as the professional you were, and ask them for some feedback on what they saw you doing well or admired about you.
  • Practice your career story, starting with your professional background and expertise rather than your career break
  • Find a project or volunteer position which allows you to refresh your skills (see Think Small and Routes back to Work posts). 
  • Subscribe to the industry journals you used to read and join on-line forums which are relevant.
  • (Re)join professional networks and attend relevant conferences.
  • Take refresher courses in your area of interest or expertise.
If you are still finding it difficult to re-connect with your professional self, then you might like to consider working with another returner or a career coach to give you the boost you need.

Posted by Katerina

Friday, 12 September 2014

What mindset can help your return to work?



I'm not going to tell you to ALWAYS BE POSITIVE: we don't claim that returning to work after a long break is easy - wishful-thinking can mean sticking your head in the sand. The 'unrealistic' optimist can wait for the perfect job to land in her lap or will keep going with an unsuccessful strategy (such as scatter-gun online applications) as she believes that 'it will all come right in the end'. 

On the other hand, we commonly find that the returner who claims she is being 'realistic' is actually holding a pessimistic perspective that too quickly dismisses the possibility of finding a rewarding job with a reasonable lifestyle.The pessimistic 'realist' tends to believe the worst, rapidly hits disillusionment when she hits a few setbacks and decides that it's hopeless and not worth the effort.

I prefer the perspective of psychologist Sandra Schneider who suggests that optimism and realism are not in conflict - we need both. She proposes that we aim for 'realistic optimism'. The realistic optimist finds out the facts and the data; she acknowledges the challenges and constraints she faces. Her optimism comes into play in her interpretation of ambiguous events - she recognises that many situations have a range of possible interpretations and chooses a helpful rather than an unhelpful one. She gives people the benefit of the doubt, is aware of the positives in her current situation and actively looks for opportunities in the future.

How to develop your 'realistic optimism' in practice
You face a setback, for example you've sent a 'getting back in touch' email to an old colleague and haven't received a reply after a week. Your first response might be to conclude that she's not interested in talking to you, she doesn't remember you or maybe she didn't like you anyway. So you feel dispirited, write her off as a network contact and lose motivation to pursue other contacts. Instead try this:

  • Think creatively of all the other realistic reasons why she hasn't replied. Maybe your email is sitting in her Junk Mail, maybe she put it aside to reply to later and it got lost in her inbox, maybe she's changed her email address, maybe she's on holiday or working abroad or just frantically busy ... there are so many possibilities.
  • Thinking about this wide variety of explanations, decide how to respond so you are in control. Send the email again to check you have the correct address, contact her through a mutual friend or pick up the phone and call her.
  • If she still doesn't get back to you, choose a realistically optimistic interpretation that doesn't knock your self-confidence (e.g. even if she's too busy, you can still contact others) and try a different strategy. Continually weigh up the facts and creatively consider all your options to decide the best course of action.
There's evidence that realistic optimism can boost your resilience and motivation, improve your day-to-day satisfaction with life and lead to better work outcomes. And it's not about your genes - we can all learn to be realistic optimists.

Posted by Julianne

For those of you interested in the research
Schneider, S.L. (2001). In search of realistic optimism: meaning, knowledge and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist56(3), 250-263.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Six Essential Steps for Successful Interviewing

When was the last time you were interviewed? When it's five, ten or fifteen years since you last spoke about your professional achievements, facing an interview can be a daunting hurdle. With the arrival of 'returnships' in the UK, we are being asked increasingly for advice and support on interviewing skills from returners applying for these programmes. Morgan Stanley, for example, recently conducted 150 telephone interviews, with follow-on face-to-face interviews for successful applicants, to select their returnship programme participants.

While styles of questioning have become more structured, the basic goal of the interview process remains the same: the employer is trying to assess your suitability and fit for the role and their organisation. At the same time, it is vital to remember that you are also assessing the organisation for its suitability and fit for you.

The two key ingredients of successful interviewing are passion and confidence.  Both of these come from being clear about what you're looking for and what you have to offer.  If you believe you're a good fit with the role and organisation you're applying for, it will come across.  


Six Essential Steps

1. Research
You need to research all you can about the role, the organisation, the industry and the people interviewing you.  There is so much available online: company website, LinkedIn and Facebook pages; corporate videos; news articles; Twitter.  Your network can provide other sources of information which might not be publicly available whether your contacts are employees, suppliers or customers of the organisation, or in the same industry. The more knowledge you have and can demonstrate in your interview, the more impact you will have. For example, reading a LinkedIn profile will give you some idea of the interviewer(s) and could help you to find common ground.

2. Develop examples of your skills and competencies
You will talk most eloquently – and passionately - about those roles and experiences which are the highlights of your career, so pick one or two and decide what you want to say about them. The biggest change to interviewing in recent decades has been the prevalence of the 'competency-based interview'. You are likely to be asked to demonstrate the specific competencies or skills that the role requires (such as analytical ability, influencing senior stakeholders or teamwork), through detailed examples. Read carefully through the job description, identify the job requirements and think back through your experience to identify examples of your achievements which show these competencies. Examples don't all have to be work related: they can be equally valuable if they have come from education, sport, voluntary work or community activities. 

Avoid doing the following:


  • apologising that the situation was a long time ago or saying 'Back in 2001', just say which role it related to
  • spending too long talking about the detail of the issue you faced and not long enough about the successful action you took. Your interviewer is more interested in what you accomplished than the intricacies of the background story. 
  • talking in the third person when it was you who did the work (and not your team)! Use 'I' as much as possible, otherwise you can appear overly modest, even unconfident.

3. Prepare answers to typical questions
These include:


  • Why do you want this role?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your strengths and development areas?
  • What else would you like to tell me?
These questions have two things in common.  They are all open questions and they are all an invitation to you say precisely why you are the right person for the role.  In preparing your answers, think about what you most want the interviewer to remember about you when you leave the room.

4. Rehearse
If you've not been to an interview for a while, it can feel strange to be talking about yourself in the way that an interview requires, so it is a good idea to practise saying your answers out loud. 
You may find it helpful to role play the interview experience with a friend or another job seeker. If you have someone whose perspective you trust, feedback on how you are coming across will be useful. 

5. Prepare your own questions 
Remember that interviews are a two-way process. While the interviewer is assessing your suitability for the role and organisation, you need to be doing the same.  Make sure that you ask the questions that will help you to decide if the role and organisation is a good fit for you and your requirements. You will also show that you have done your homework.

6. Send a Thank You
Always send a thank you email. Not only is this good practice, but it gives you a further opportunity to reinforce your suitability and enthusiasm for the role.


Additional resources
Further ideas on help with re-building your confidence
Women Returners now offers interview skills coaching 


Posted by Katerina