Regular readers of our monthly newsletter will be aware that in the past four months, 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