Monday, 22 December 2014

Season's Greetings from Women Returners



Thank you for following our Back to Your Future blog. We hope that we have been a source of advice, support and inspiration to you during 2014.

If you're a returning professional, we now have other ways of connecting with you. If you haven't already done so, do join our Women Returners Professional Network for up-to-date news and information and join our new Linked In group to participate in return-to-work discussions and to connect with other returners. 

We're taking a festive break for a few weeks and will be back in 2015!

Best wishes, Julianne & Katerina

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Vodafone "Return to Technology" programme - participant story

For our final post of 2014, we decided to share Nina's return to work success story.  Nina has returned to a role in technology following an 11 year career break.  We hope that her experience and tips will inspire you to believe that your own return might be possible in the new year.  We are really proud of having helped at least 15 returners back to work in 2014 (these are the ones we know about personally).  We hope that there will be many more of you in 2015.


I returned to the mobile phone industry after an 11 year career break due to family commitments. Before that I had been working for a variety of multi-national mobile technology firms.  I had an earlier 4 year career break during which I took an MBA (and had two children) but during this last break I had re-trained as a maths teacher in senior school which I ended up hating and that really knocked my confidence. Also, with the break being 11 years long I had not kept in touch with colleagues.

I heard about Vodafone’s six-month “Return to Technology” programme in one of the Women Returners newsletters. I threw everything and the kitchen sink at getting the job, asking my husband to review my application and my friends and fora for interview advice. I applied online, was interviewed over the phone by HR within a couple of days and face to face by engineers within a week. I went from no-hope to employed in a month!

Am I enjoying it? YES It’s fantastic. I really enjoy being back in work, I enjoy the team and I feel energised and happy. The only problem is the difficult commute from Surrey to West Berkshire which I have solved that by adjusting my working hours. Vodafone has been open to my need for flexibility. I have had to employ an au pair as I still have a 13 year old boy who needs to get around. I employed a mature unemployed Spanish Biology teacher who is here to learn English to improve her job prospects, thereby offering my very own returnship.

Much of the learning is on the job although I have been using Vodafone’s fantastic on-line Technology Academy to get myself back up to speed. We are getting career advice and we will be shown how to apply for internal jobs later in the programme.

My best advice for technology returnships:
- In selling yourself, focus on your skills, not your knowledge.
- There are loads of technology jobs out there, someone is looking for your skills set. Don’t worry about having been out of the industry for some years, they are looking at what you can do for them.
- Don’t wait for the perfect job that matches your long term ambition. Get your foot through the door and you can look around once inside.
- Get yourself an LinkedIn account and get back in touch with old colleagues. Technology is booming and someone is most likely looking for help on some project or other so you can get some recent experience under your belt.

Posted by Katerina

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Did you opt out or were you pushed out?

There has been a lot of media coverage over the last few weeks of a research study* carried out by Harvard Business School into the career paths of their MBA alumni. One of the headlines has been that "the vast majority" of high-achieving highly-educated women leave their jobs after becoming mothers "reluctantly and as a last resort". The conclusion the HBR article makes is that highly-qualified women who take career breaks are not 'opting out' but are pushed out of corporate life by the inflexible and unsupportive nature of the workplace and their partners.

This doesn't quite ring true for me. A 2010 UK study** reported different findings: of the 23% of women who didn't return to work after having children, only 34% of these stated job and childcare obstacles as the reason. Around half cited wanting to look after their children themselves as their main motivation for taking a career break, and there were most 'carers by choice' among the highly educated group. This was my experience - I was concerned about integrating family life with a demanding job, but this felt challenging not completely impossible. My primary driver for taking a career break, and that of many of the returning professionals I have worked with, was a strong (& unexpected!) desire to be the main carer of my children in their early years.    

I recognise that for most of us there is usually a combination of push and pull factors. The question I am interested in here is what is the PRIMARY driver. It's an important question for our advocacy initiatives on behalf of returners because it demonstrates whether an extended career break can be a positive choice or is just evidence of a problem to be resolved.

If you've taken a career break to look after your children, I'd love to hear about your main reason for the decision. Let me know by completing the survey question below  - please help me to get enough replies for a meaningful sample. You can also contribute your thoughts and perspective on the new Women Returners Professional Network LinkedIn group (for returners only) where I'll also be posting this question. 


Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

If you can't see the survey question, here's the link to access it:
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/VD3NN76

* Rethink what you 'know'about high-achieving women Harvard Business Review Dec 2014
** Maternity and Paternity Rights and Women Returners Survey DWP Research Report No 777 (Chanfreau et al, 2011)

Posted by Julianne

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Getting out of your return to work comfort zone

Last Saturday, I had my first experience of appearing on a live radio show, to talk about our work at Women Returners. Although I'm very comfortable with talking to all sorts of audiences about what we do and why we do it and have had a small amount of media training, it was still daunting to be appearing live on a public broadcast. But I did it - and enjoyed it!

This experience made me reflect how easy it is to stay in our comfort zones, generally, and specifically how remaining in our comfort zone can be a barrier to a finding a way back to work. There are many things we know we 'should' do which will help with our return (and this blog is full of ideas and advice) but if these things feel uncomfortable and difficult we make excuses and don't do them.

Three zones not one
It is useful to think about three zones of experience. In your comfort zone, you feel safe and unchallenged and possibly slightly bored. In your stretch zone, you feel slightly unsafe and nervous and there is also some excitement at doing something a bit different. In your panic zone you feel out-of-your depth, scared and unhappy.  

What might you be doing that keeps you in your return to work comfort zone?
- not calling a former colleague to arrange a coffee
- delaying putting your LinkedIn profile online
- filling your days with chores, volunteering and looking after others
- not putting yourself forward for a strategic volunteering opportunity
- not going to events or conferences in your area of interest

How can you move into your stretch zone but not your panic zone?

Sometimes we need something or someone to give us a push to do something that takes us out of our comfort zone and into our stretch zone. This was certainly true of the radio interview: I hadn't actively sought the opportunity but when it came along I decided to go for it. As I reflected on the experience, there were quite a few things which helped me to make the move out of my comfort zone, without going into my panic zone, which will be useful to in your return to work activities:

  1. Small steps. This first interview was with a small local radio station, far from where I lived so I didn't feel my reputation was at stake and nor was it a 'make or break' opportunity for the business.
  2. Mindset. I decided to treat the interview as an experiment and an opportunity to learn.  This mindset made it possible to be open to the experience and not judge myself too harshly on how I performed.
  3. Realistic expectations. Alongside my mindset, I chose to set my expectations at a reasonable level for me. I didn't have to be perfectly fluent in the interview, I could be 'good enough'. It was OK to make mistakes because I would learn from them for next time.
  4. Preparation. Even though I only managed to do this at the last minute, I spent the journey to the studio writing out bullet point answers to the questions I was expecting to be asked. Having thought through what I would say in advance and having my notes in front of me gave me focus and helped me to stay calm. I had also listened to the previous week's programme so I had some idea of the format of the radio show and the style of the presenter.
  5. Enlist a buddy. Sharing the experience with Julianne made a big difference. I wasn't alone and I had someone to give me a boost if I needed it.
  6. Celebrate success. By acknowledging that I had achieved what I set out to do, it reinforced the possibility that I could continue to stretch myself. It is great to know that I will never face my first radio interview again!
These six components are applicable to every return to work situation whether it is attending a networking event, calling a former contact or putting your self forward for a new role. What are you ready to do to move out of your job search comfort zone?


Posted by Katerina

If you want to listen to the broadcast, click here