Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Returning to work after international relocation: culture, language and identity

Returning to work after a career break is challenging enough in itself. I know from my own experience of living in 4 countries in 30 years that when you are from a different country, you face a range of additional complexities, some being connected to culture, language and identity. The more you can gain clarity on these issues, the easier it becomes to turn these cultural and language differences to your benefit when returning to work.

Culture
Having spent most of my adult life in various countries outside my home nation, I feel that clich├ęs and stereotypes, although unfortunate, cannot be ignored from either side. For instance, one of my English colleagues shared with me as I arrived in the UK, that French people are perceived here as arrogant. Although it was a shock to me, as I would have never perceived us French as arrogant, it helped me understand what image we can give in the UK. So it will be useful to you to understand how locals perceive your culture, as much as what you truly think of those living in your host country.

Practical tips: if you are new to the country, take every opportunity to attend workshops on cultural differences. If you have been around for a while do investigate sensitively how your culture is seen locally, reflect on how you experience your own culture for yourself; and be open to conversations about cultural differences.

Language
If English is not your first language and you are reading this, your language skills are already strong.  If you are relocating to a country and you do not speak the local language, there is only one single piece of advice: it’s worth putting in the effort needed to learn that language. It could take time for you to feel confident so if need be, make this learning quite formal and put in the resources (group or private lessons, intense homework etc).

Trying to return to work when you do not speak the local language is a challenge. However I understand that in some cases, language structures and sounds are so different from what you are used to (e.g. for a European moving to China or Japan), that the effort might just be too much to take on. In such cases, my advice is to improve your English (if it is not your first language) and to look for opportunities in multinational companies or ways to offer your services to the expat community.

Identity
This is a wider topic than just culture and language. But there is a connection. If as a ‘trailing spouse’, you had to reluctantly give up a professional career, you are likely to have had your identity shaken in various ways at the same time: cultural, personal and professional. You will have experienced some loss and will need to recreate a balance and to invent a fulfilled new you.  Take action to create a satisfying life for yourself or you risk building resentment against your partner.

Practical tips: spending time acknowledging what is going on for you and what you need to create a balanced life is not wasted time: it is building precious self-awareness.  Sharing how you feel helps others understand you while asking for advice from those who have been there before you helps you realise that “it’s not you, it is the situation”. Getting support could be your best next step, whether through a buddy, a social network or a professional such as a coach.

If you pay attention to all three areas, culture, language and identity, as you investigate your return to work options, it will make your choices clearer and your decisions easier.


Post by Claire d’Aboville, a Women Returners associate, a multi-lingual and multi-cultural Executive Coach and founder of Partners in Coaching http://partnersincoaching.com/Welcome.html

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Returnship Q&A: The employer's perspective

As Thames Tideway Tunnel's new Returner Programme deadline approaches next Friday, Women Returners interviewed Tideway's Head of HR, Julie Thornton, to get her perspective on the business rationale for launching this innovative returnship, together with some information and advice for would-be applicants. 


WR: What is your motivation for setting up the Tideway Returner Programme? What is the appeal of returning professionals to your company?

JT: As a company, we are looking to increase the diversity of our workforce and this seemed an ideal way of doing so. Thames Tideway Tunnel is very active with early careers activities, graduates and apprenticeships, and the Returner Programme gives us the opportunity to fill an obvious gap – targeting and encouraging individuals who want to get back to a career after taking a break. We see returning professionals as a strong female talent pool which we are keen to access.  

WR: What can participants expect on the programme?

JT: They will experience a fulfilling role within the project, at an exciting time in our history as we move towards actually starting construction after more than 10 years of planning. They will also be fully supported by the management team to get them up to speed, have a dedicated mentor and receive expert coaching and support from Women Returners.

WR: Is your organisation expanding? Will there be ongoing job opportunities after the programme?

JT: In brief, yes. There are lots of vacancies currently on the project and there will continue to be over the coming months so this is an ideal time for people to join the project, get a feel for what we are about and apply for the roles they are interested in.

WR: In what other ways does Thames Tideway Tunnel support the careers of female employees?

JT: Our CEO, Andy Mitchell, is committed to achieving gender parity over the life of the project, and it is clear that to achieve this, we need to be a company that all people want to work for. We are focusing on getting the basics right, taking the values we promote, particularly flexible and inclusive working, through to practice. We also support employee-driven activities through our inclusivity forum, Encompass, which runs networking events and actively helps inform potential new policies or programmes.

WR: Do you see this programme as a one-off?

JT: No we are very much committed to making The Tideway Returner Programme a regular part of our overall resourcing and diversity plan. This is just the start of something we hope to see long into the future.

WR: How can people find out more and apply?

JT: Please visit http://www.thamestidewaytunnel.co.uk/about-us/tideway-returner-programme for more information and details on how to apply.

What advice would you give to prospective applicants?

A: If you are intrigued or interested, send in your CV because you have nothing to lose! Even if you aren't successful on the programme there may be other opportunities we can consider you for in the future.


Posted by Julianne

Friday, 13 February 2015

How to write a "Back to Work" Cover Letter

Many returnship and return-to-work programmes ask you to apply by sending a CV and a cover letter.  We know that this can be a daunting task for returners, hence this post.


We find that returners often struggle with cover letters, which can raise a lot of questions:
  • How do I introduce myself when I've been out of the workforce for so long?
  • How do I account for my time away from my career?
  • Is my previous work experience relevant when it was so long ago?
  • How can I be convincing when I'm not sure whether I would employ me now?
Introduction
  • Start with your background & your target role - not with your career break ("I am a marketing professional with 10 years of international experience and am writing to apply for the position of Senior Marketing Manager advertised on your website")
  • Then mention your career break. As on your CV, keep mention of your career break short, simple and factual ('Following a 5 year parental career break, .." is sufficient) and emphasise that you are now motivated and enthusiastic to return to work in the relevant field
  • Briefly mention anything you've done during your career break which is relevant to the role (such as further study, refresher courses, volunteer or paid activities and projects) and state how it has kept your knowledge/skills up-to-date or developed new skills
Show your suitability for the role .. and believe it!
  • Show how you fit the top 5-6 requirements of the role, using evidence from your previous work experience and relevant activities during your break
  • Remember that however long ago it was, you did lead a department, manage projects, produce reports, negotiate contracts or whatever your former role required. You still have these skills, even if you haven't used them for a while
  • Your former experience includes both what you did and how you got it done, i.e. both your technical abilities and your management skills.  Even if your technical knowledge feels a bit rusty, you have the same capacity to learn as you always did and you will get back up to speed. Your management skills have probably been enhanced significantly if your break was to bring up your children!  While we don't recommend that you use parenting as examples in your CV or cover letter, the chances are that your skills of negotiation, influencing and time management have all been fully utilised during your break
  • You might be having trouble remembering some of the content and detail of your earlier career.  If so, dig out your old performance reviews, 360 feedback and any other reports you might have kept.  Re-reading these can also remind you of what others valued about your contribution in the past: these will be the qualities that you offer a new employer too
  • For return to work or returnship programme applications, make sure you mention that you have been on a career break, where this is a key criterion for candidates. You risk being excluded from these opportunities if you try too hard to cover your break
Explain why you are interested in this role/organisation
  • Show an understanding of the organisation by doing your research into the company and the role - use social media such as the company LinkedIn page & Twitter account alongside the website
  • Even it's a returnship you need to show that you're motivated by the organisation and the area not just the opportunity to get back into the workforce
If the exercise of writing a cover letter hasn't reinforced your belief that you are ready to return, you probably need to do some work on regaining your professional identity and building your confidence.  Follow the links to our relevant posts and consider getting some support with increasing your self-belief.

More Information
For general information and tips on how a cover letter should look in 2015 look at Tailored Career Coaching (written by one of our associates).  

Posted by Katerina


Friday, 6 February 2015

How a MOOC can help you to test your career dream



I heard this week on Twitter about a free new online course just launched by coursera for fledgling social entrepreneurs, guiding people who want to set up a business with social impact to move from idea to action.  This is a fantastic addition to the rapidly increasing number of free online courses run by University-level experts that you can take part in from your own home in your own time. I'm a great fan of these MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and think that they are a wonderful resource for returners: I've heard very positive reports from colleagues, friends and coachees, who have followed courses on subjects ranging from creative writing to medical neuroscience. 

There are many ways in which you might be able to use a MOOC:

  • Testing whether you have the interest and commitment to invest in a masters programme, either to become more specialised &/or retrain into a new field. 
  • Updating/refreshing/upskilling before returning to your previous field.
  • Exploring more creative possibilities, either purely for fulfilment and enjoyment, to investigate whether you want to take your working life in this direction or to finally to write your novel.
  • Keeping your brain working & your CV current while you are prioritising caring responsibilities.
Returning to social entrepreneurship, I know that for many women returning from a long career break, there's a desire to find work with meaning and purpose; if you've been wondering how you can combine setting up your own business with doing something more meaningful, the coursera course could give you the impetus you need to test whether your dreams can become reality (see here for more details).

Let us know if you have studied a great free online course - we'd love to receive any recommendations!


Some MOOC Providers


Posted by Julianne