Thursday 24 September 2015

Career break women: don't write yourself off!

This week I listened to Allison Pearson speak at a Working Families event about the challenges of the Sandwich Generation - juggling work, elderly parents and teenage children. As I laughed at her anecdotes, it rang a few too many bells as I'm currently recovering from my daughter's 18th birthday house party and making plans to support my parents during my mother's imminent hip operation  ... while fitting in the day job of course! 

Allison also talked about her frustration that so many women she knows - all amazingly talented - have given up hope of getting their careers back after taking many years out of the workforce to bring up their children. This I can also relate to; I regularly meet talented and experienced women on career breaks who have similarly written themselves off. 

Typical is Jackie, who stepped back from a high-flying 18-year career when jetting around the world for client pitches became impossible with three young children. She told me apologetically: "I've mainly been just a mum for years now, doing bits of consultancy for small businesses, nothing exciting." Approaching her fifties, with teenage children, she was sceptical of her chances of restarting her career: "I'd love to have a great job again but it's been too long. Who would want me now? Media is a young person's world and I'm too old to start again."

I can remember my own doubts and insecurities after four years out. It is so easy to give up when well-crafted job applications are ignored and recruiters dismiss your chances. Keen to relaunch in your previous field, you can start your job search with a burst of enthusiasm, but then rapidly become disillusioned. 48-year-old Carmen, who had wanted to resume her career as a City macro-economist, was told by a headhunter that she had "no chance on earth of going back to the financial sector" after a seven year break. So she wrote off this option, decided she'd have to start again at the bottom and took a minimum wage internship with a charity.

At Women Returners we are fighting hard at a business level to tackle this waste of female talent, by working with organisations to create more routes back into satisfying corporate roles. But if we're going to succeed in this objective, we also need you to remove any limits you are placing on yourself - to value yourself and what you can bring to the workforce:

1. Don't minimise yourself. You're not "just a mum", you didn't run "just a small business from home" and your previous professional success wasn't down to luck.

2. Remember you are still the same talented professional woman you were and you will quickly get back up to speed. You also have a wealth of new skills developed during your break, combined with maturity and a fresh perspective.

3. Know that UK businesses want you back. Companies from Credit Suisse to Thames Tideway Tunnel are launching returner programmes. I talk every week to many companies who see returners as an untapped talent pool which can both fill capability gaps and build diversity.

4. Be open-minded about new possibilities. If you don't want to go back to your old career, you are not too old to retrain into a new career or set up your own business and, most importantly, all those years of experience will still count.

5. Don't give up. We're not claiming that getting back into a great job after many years out is easy, but it is possible with determination and persistence, as our many return-to-work success stories demonstrate.

Carmen didn't give up and is now back working as an Executive Director in the City through participating in Morgan Stanley's returnship programme. And Jackie is starting to explore other options as well as reconnecting with her ex-colleagues who remember her as an amazing boss, not "just a mum". If you want to restart your career, remind yourself of Henry Ford's words ...

Posted by Julianne; Adapted from a Mumsnet Guest blog I wrote in April.

Friday 11 September 2015

How Informational Interviews can help with your Return-to-Work

What is an Informational Interview?

The start of a new academic year is often a time when returners start thinking about going back to work. If you are at the stage where you are considering a variety of options, you'll need to do some detailed research to help you to narrow your focus or even generate new ideas before embarking on a full job search. An essential source of information is people who have done or are doing the kinds of roles you are interested in: the way to approach them is by requesting an informational interview.

Informational interviewing is absolutely NOT about asking for a job and it is vital to separate the two. When both parties understand this, it takes away any discomfort about the meeting and allows for a more relaxed and informative conversation.

Uses of Informational Interviewing

Information interviewing is a research activity, for gathering data and getting advice. The range of potential uses include:
  • Finding out about the skills and qualities needed for a particular role that you are investigating and any specific qualifications that are required
  • Understanding the content of a role and the day-to-day responsibilities
  • Learning how a specific company is on the inside - information which isn't communicated on the website e.g. the company culture and values and what it is like to be an employee
  • Gaining industry sector insight and finding out practical market realities
  • Making new contacts in your field of interest

How to set up and conduct an Informational Interview
  • Identify people in the role you are researching via your own contacts, LinkedIn or other networks (eg. alumni groups)
  • Contact people directly or request an introduction from your network
  • Email the person to ask for a short meeting or phone call: 15-20 minutes is a good length
  • Make it clear that you are looking for information, not a job. Don't send your CV unless you are asked for it
  • Prepare your questions to make the best use of your time and keep the conversation friendly, brief and focused
  • Always send a thank you to the person you met (as well as the person who introduced you)

Overcoming your fears about this activity

Sometimes returners find it hard to ask for help in this way as they question what it is they can offer in return. Just remember:
  • People enjoy being asked for their advice and to talk about themselves and their careers
  • The people you are meeting may well have been in your position themselves and they know the value of the activity you are doing
  • Often people in a role don't make time to read about current industry trends and news. As you gather insight, you may have useful, up-to-date knowledge to share with the people you are meeting

Posted by Katerina

Friday 4 September 2015

Our Top 5 Return to Work Books

For our first post-summer blog, there's a back-to-school / back-to-work theme. As my teenagers have been coming home with their reading lists for the new term, it struck me that we have never put together our own reading list for returners on this blog. So here it is - our top suggestions - short, targeted and no essays required!

Our Top 5 Return to Work Books

1. If you have no idea what to do next ...

2. If you're thinking about a complete career change ...

3. If you're concerned about fitting work with your family life ...

4. If you'd like a step-by-step guide to support your return ...

5. And, finally, if it's all feeling too daunting ...

This is only a selection of our favourites from the hundreds of relevant books out there. We'd love to hear your recommendations for books that you've found useful during your own return to work, so do let us know by commenting on this blog, posting on our LinkedIn group or emailing us on 

Posted by Julianne