Friday 24 July 2015

Summer preparations for your return to work

In recent weeks I've had many conversations with mothers who've told me that they will be starting their back to work job search activity after the summer break, once their children are settled back to school. Having been in this position myself, I'm very aware how September rushes past in a whirl and so before you've made a start on your search, you're caught up with plans for the October half-term. Somehow, your return to work search hasn't progressed!

My advice is not to wait until September to get started. There are a variety of ways in which you can begin to prepare for your search while still taking care of your family - and having a break! This way you'll already have made a start when September comes around and will be able to use your time more productively.

What you can do during the summer

  • Make a to-do list for your own actions: In parallel with the lists you may be making to remind you to buy new shoes and PE kit, organise music lessons, book the dentist and research your 2016 holiday, create your own back to work list. This could include: buy a work/interview outfit, subscribe to industry journals, create/update LinkedIn profile, shortlist childcare options.
  • Work out what you will stop doing: You will need to dedicate time to your return to work search and so you will have to eliminate some of the things that currently fill your time. This could be the volunteer roles that you've taken on to keep yourself busy and engaged, your role as family chauffeur or tidying your kids' rooms. Starting to let go of some of these roles and tasks during or after the holidays will be great preparation for when you do return to work.
  • Identify specific time that you will dedicate to your return to work activity: You will need to commit to yourself that you will use this time for you, rather than for all the other multiple demands that mothers experience, otherwise you won't make progress with your to-do list. You could start with an hour a week, to get used to this new habit of taking time for yourself, and build it up gradually. It will naturally be easier if you can stop doing some of the things you've identified above.
  • Stay connected: Although recruitment activity slows during the summer months, we have been struck by how many employers are contacting us to discuss their hiring needs, wanting to advertise supported hire roles now or to launch programmes or run events in September. Some applications will open during the summer holidays so make sure you check your emails so you don't miss out on any interesting opportunities.
We're also taking a break and will be back in a few weeks. Enjoy your summer!

Posted by Katerina

Friday 17 July 2015

How to build your post-career break network as a nervous freelancer

A common route to return to work following a career break is by working as a freelancer, offering your specific skills to companies or individuals on a project basis. I took the freelance route when I first started building my executive coaching practice following my career break and being quite shy and reluctant to ‘sell’ myself, I found the process of networking to find clients intimidating. Mary Jane Boholst, a self-described ‘shy, introverted, geeky freelancer’ shares her expertise on how it’s possible to build your network despite your fears.

If you are like most introverts or you are just unused to talking about yourself as a professional then the idea of networking to get clients or jobs as a freelancer can be a daunting one.

There are a great many problems that arise, the most pressing of which are where to go, who to talk to and how to talk to them. We’ll tackle those one by one in a moment.

What you offer
Before we do I want to make networking less daunting by sharing something that helped me to overcome the scary task of actually going networking to get clients and connections when I decided to take the leap into self-employment from my job.

This is something that I teach during my talks and seminars, which attendees and clients alike tell me makes such a difference to how they feel about networking and it’s:

Your service is a gift!

Now whether you are an employee or a freelancer, whatever it is that you do as a job or a career, it makes a difference to the people you provide it for.

That makes it, and you, a gift.

Whether you are an artist who brings a slice of beauty to everyone who sees your art, or a digital media professional who advises growing businesses on how to make the most of the social media channels or a business consultant who can carry out research and analysis and present recommendations, the service you provide is a gift that others need.

If you don’t know what your gift is then take some time to get clear on that first! Photography, cooking, interior design, counselling, coding, editing, copyrighting - take your pick! (I highly recommend choosing something you are passionate about doing.)

Once you know you are offering something special to the people you meet, where should you meet them?

Where to find potential clients
If you are a freelancer or new to business then it is going to save you time (and money) to think about who you would love to work with.

Who are the people who you think would benefit the most from your gift and who you would love to share your gift with?

Companies, individuals, busy professionals, couples, techies, creatives - the list is endless!

When you know who you are looking for it becomes easier to find them and talk to them.

The best way of finding who you are looking for is to think about places they would go and be at those places. If you struggle to find events eventbrite and meetup have great events that you can go to meet people with various interests. For more corporate/ professional individuals, Internations could be a great way for you to meet people.

Each of these sites has a search facility so you can search for the people, interests and topics that you, and your people, enjoy.

What to say
When you are at events meeting people, there are several steps to having a great conversation and making sure it is effective.

Firstly, keep in mind that you are offering people something that is a gift! 

This will help you to feel less salesy when approaching people and starting conversations.

Then I find it is useful to start the conversation by asking a question like what’s your name? Or what brings you here?

Actually I find that curiosity is the key to having great conversations: the more that you are interested in the people that you meet, the more they respond positively and the less self-conscious you’ll feel because you are focusing on the other person.

It also means that you listen to what people say, and who doesn’t want to feel heard?

When it comes to what you ask questions about, the key is to find out if you can help or support the people you meet in some way.

If you can help them with your product or service then you can ask them if they are interested in hearing more about it, before telling them more about it.

If not then you can give them a referral to a resource or opportunity/event that might help them move toward their goals. Then you can still ask them to be open to sharing about your work too, once you are done.

Networking and building a network is a long term strategy and game plan, so if the first few people you meet are not your clients, still be open to speaking with them because they may be able to get you one step closer to an investor, referral, potential client, event or opportunity.

If you are introverted, shy and geeky, like me, then you could find it especially useful to be curious and listen because it doesn’t require you to be extroverted and someone you are not.

In fact I know that networking works best when you are being yourself, because it is something my clients say to me all the time and something I discovered for myself when I discovered how to build my network effectively.

If you want more support to do this then please get in touch with me!

Mary Jane Boholst is the founder of Conscious Cocoon helping women in tech and shy introverted business owners to step out from behind their computer screens, speak up, speak out and share their expertise. Find out more here.

For other posts on freelancing see:
Freelancing as a return-to-work option

Posted by Katerina

Friday 10 July 2015

Thames Tideway Tunnel returnship success

Great news! All seven ‘returners’ have been offered positions following completion of the first engineering/construction sector returnship, the Tideway Returner Programme, on which we partnered with Thames Tideway Tunnel. 

The programme ran for 12 weeks from April-July and was the first UK returnship to run outside the financial sector. Participants were from diverse professional backgrounds and had taken career breaks of between 2 and 17 years. All have now been offered ongoing roles, in a variety of areas, from legal to finance to communications to engineering project management.

Participant feedback
Rachel Tomkins, who has taken up the role of Operations Manager after completing the returnship, said: “The past 12 weeks have provided me with an invaluable opportunity to prove myself in the workplace after a considerable career break. With Thames Tideway Tunnel and Women Returners, we’ve been offered great mentoring support and advice to successfully make the transition back to full time work. I am absolutely thrilled to have been offered a permanent role on such an exciting project and I hope many more women and companies can benefit from this scheme.”

Business Sponsor feedback
Julie Thornton, Head of HR at Thames Tideway Tunnel, said: “We have been delighted with our first cohort of returners; each has been a huge asset to our team over the past 12 weeks, demonstrated by the fact they have all landed positions on the project. I hope this encourages other engineering and construction companies to follow suit, and to realise they could be missing out on a hugely valuable pool of talent.”

Evidence of success
The programme success adds to the growing body of evidence that experienced professionals can quickly and effectively contribute to the workforce even after a very long career break. This is not news to us, but is vital information to challenge the stereotypes that still blind so many employers and recruiters to the talent they are missing by bypassing candidates with a CV gap.

Posted by Julianne

Friday 3 July 2015

Just do it! Taking action to bring back your confidence

Regular readers of our monthly newsletter will be aware that, Julianne and I have presented or joined panels at a large and varied number of events on getting back to work after a long career break. At one of these, a CFA Women's Network panel, I was asked for ideas on how to build confidence, a very natural question. In my coaching work, this is often an area where returners wish to focus and I have also run dedicated workshops and written advice columns about it many times. As I have so much to say on this topic, I initially wondered how I could do it justice in a short answer. Ultimately I responded simply with a single effective method for improving confidence ... just get on and do stuff!

I can illustrate this idea best with my own experience of speaking at all these events in the past months. I've always believed that public speaking doesn't come naturally to me and so I haven't actively sought speaking and presenting opportunities. In fact, prior to 2015, I've given maybe 6 or 7 public presentations in total through my whole career. However, since the profile that we have generated for Women Returners has led to multiple speaking invitations, I've had plenty of chances to gain experience.

As is normal when doing new things, the first few times didn't go smoothly at all: I made many 'rookie' mistakes and felt what confidence I had at the start was draining away. Although I would have found it easy to decide that it was all too difficult and uncomfortable and decline to do more, I didn't have that option because I had already committed to more events. So, I had to persevere, learning from my earlier errors and gradually developing an approach to public speaking which works for me. Each time I've presented or participated I've learned something new and as I've gained experience, I've learned to take the positives from it, rather than focus on the bits that aren't perfect. 

Over time I've noticed that I can stop my voice from wobbling and my heart from racing, that I know my topic and don't need copious notes and that I can pause and take a drink without losing my connection with my audience. Through doing this - keeping taking action, while focusing on what has gone well - I've experienced a noticeable increase in my confidence at speaking. Even though it still doesn't feel natural to me, I no longer dread it. Indeed I find myself looking forward to opportunities to test out my new skill!

When returners ask about how to improve their confidence, I will ask them what it is they would like to feel more confident about: we all have areas of our lives where we feel confident as well as areas where we don't. Two areas where returners commonly tell me they feel low in confidence are re-establishing a professional network and going to interviews. Based on my experience of building confidence through taking action, these are some ideas for actions I recommend:

Re-establishing your network
  • Draw up a list of all the possible people you could get in touch with, including people from your past, your present and those you'd like to meet in the future
  • Starting with those who you find easiest to approach, set yourself a target of a number of calls to make, or emails to write, on a weekly basis. 
  • Ask friendly former colleagues if you can meet for a coffee to talk about industry or sector developments
  • Join LinkedIn groups in your professional field and initiate, or comment on, discussions
  • Volunteer at or attend relevant conferences or professional network meetings with the initial goal of speaking to just one or two people
  • Reward yourself for meeting your targets, identify what went well with your approach so you can repeat it - and increase your targets as your confidence builds

  • Performing well at interviews requires preparation
  • Ask family, friends and even former colleagues to support you by giving you practice at answering interview-type questions. Ask them for feedback on both what you do well as well as ways to improve
  • Take every opportunity for interviews as a place to practice your technique: even if you are not interested in the role, you can gain valuable experience from the interview itself
In whichever area you are hoping to re-build your confidence you will find that regular and repeated action will pay off.

Posted by Katerina - co-founder of Women Returners