Wednesday, 29 April 2015

What role does image play in supporting your return to work?


One area that can be neglected when thinking about your return to work is how to present yourself in a way that reflects the image you want to convey.  If you've been out of the workforce for some time, you might have questions about what exactly 'business wear' looks like today.  And you might be uncertain about the styles and shapes which suit you best.  Business and Career Coach, Natalie Hunter, explains how getting your image right can boost your return to work confidence.

Returning to work after a significant break can induce a whole range of emotions. On the one hand it can feel daunting and tap into our darkest self-doubts. On the other hand, we might feel excited and reawakened at the prospect…possibly all of those things and more.

I’ve taken a few breaks during my career, one to go travelling and two maternity leaves. I clearly remember the mixed feelings of returning: disorientation, anxiety, pressure to make a good impression, optimism, engagement and liberation – at least for a while - from the daily demands of domesticity. As it turned out, my last return was on 9/11 and any fears I had on that occasion were soon eradicated by more important things.

It feels trivial to talk about the importance of image after that, although, rightly or wrongly, we do judge each other on appearances and make all kinds of assumptions: How professional is she? How smart? How contemporary? How creative? How well organised?

I’ve been involved in many an interview over the years and listened to the hiring manager’s comments afterwards. Appearance is often on the agenda…and it’s not always flattering.

Like many people, when I’m facing the unknown I try to focus on the aspects of the situation that I can control. In terms of returning to work, one of these things is appearance.

Image, of course, is no substitute for competence. I want to be known primarily for the quality of the work that I do, not how I look, although if I feel confident that my appearance will create an authentic and favourable impression, that’s a bonus. Paying a little bit of attention to understanding what makes us look our best frees up our time and attention to focus on the content and quality of our work.

Some of your original working wardrobe might still work for you, although even classic styles can look dated – the fashion industry is very clever at getting us to keep buying more! Perhaps your body shape has changed and the styles you once relied on no longer seem to work. Colour has an amazing capacity to make us look radiant or drab. This doesn’t mean you suddenly need to start wearing lots of strong, bright colours, it’s just about understanding what depth, brightness and tone of colour works best for you in the context of what would be appropriate for your potential working environment.

I love style and colour and how they transform the way we look, but I don’t enjoy spending huge amounts of time and money on expensive, sometimes torturous, grooming procedures or lengthy shopping trips! In my book, anything that can make life simpler, calmer and lower-maintenance is to be welcomed.  Being able to edit a shop floor with a few quick glances, for example, or quickly pick the right outfit for the occasion, saves precious time and energy.  Knowing what to look for helps avoid expensive mistakes or those ‘fashion over style’ disasters that stare reproachfully at you from your wardrobe.


Investing a few hours to explore how your image can support your career aspirations can make all the difference in helping you to feel confident and make a positive impression. Once you understand what suits you and why, you can make confident choices and always look your best.

By Natalie Hunter, Women Returners associate, Business & Career Coach, Image Consultant and Leadership Development Consultant

Friday, 24 April 2015

Returning to law after 12 years - Katharine's story

This week, we're highlighting Katharine's* success story, showing how it is possible to return to a legal career after a 12 year gap, and how interim roles can provide a flexible route back to work.  


"I worked as a senior in-house commercial lawyer for 8 years for a FTSE 250 manufacturing company, and was lucky enough to work 4 days a week when it was very rare. Having moved out to Hertfordshire I took a career break after the birth of my third child. After 7 years at home I re-trained, qualified and worked in a new profession as a family mediator for a few years. It was challenging, interesting and rewarding, but lonely (working from home except when meeting clients) and made me realise how well suited I am to working as an in-house lawyer, and how much I enjoy it. As well as helping me regain my confidence, I believe my family mediation experience gave me enhanced skills – my EQ and softer skills developed, and learning to adopt a step by step approach now means nothing is overwhelming.

My first step was to attend a solicitors’ returner course through the Law Society. It was then a major commitment to bring myself up to date with the relevant legal developments (through a leading on-line legal know-how provider) and to try various initiatives – there were plenty of setbacks and dead ends along the way. However, I kept going and remained positive (mostly!) focusing on interim, part-time in-house roles. (I felt interim roles could give me more options, particularly as a returner).

6 months after the returner course I was offered my first interim in-house role. It was a great start and I quickly adapted to changes in the office environment (open plan, quieter, more emails and instant messaging and fewer telephone conversations, no admin support). I was soon ready for a new challenge and after 5 months joined a global company to provide maternity leave cover for 9 months as part of a European legal team of 10 which I loved. I was sorry when that came to an end, but have recently completed an assignment with the legal team of a FTSE 100 company. I have found all my roles through recruitment agencies (including one which specialises in flexible working) and through Lawyers on Demand (LOD) which provides freelance lawyers as a flexible resource to in-house legal teams.

What have I learnt? At the returner course I had to think of a USP quickly and mine was being adaptable and embracing change. This has turned out to be accurate, both in terms of industry sector (FMCG, telecoms/cloud services and retail) and work content (preparing a company for sale, corporate and regulatory, commercial contracts). It is a privilege and a challenge to be able to work in different environments, and appeals to my sense of adventure - I have learnt a lot and stayed motivated and enthusiastic. My 3 recent roles have been 3-3.5 days per week but I expect there to be times when it is difficult to find interesting part-time work – it is still hard to come by. I will take advantage of those times to pursue other interests, and to spend more time with my children and elderly parents and on my voluntary roles.

My advice is to be determined in pursuing what you want and not to be afraid of trying new areas, even if it is not exactly what you think you are looking for. No experience is wasted and you will learn a lot along the way. I am also pleased that my children can see there is another side to me as well as being their mother."

Notes:


The next Law Society refresher course will run in October 2015. 
LOD (Lawyers On Demand) is our newest Interested Employer in the legal sector, joining law firm McAllister Olivarius and legal services firm Obelisk Support.

* name changed for confidentiality


Posted by Katerina 

Friday, 17 April 2015

Responding to "You're overqualified for the role"



We are often asked by returners how to respond to the comment from recruiters that they are "overqualified" or "too good" for a position. In this situation, it is worth asking yourself whether you are aiming too low because your confidence is diminished after a long time out of the workforce. However, if you have purposefully targeted the role as being an appealing re-entry point, maybe wanting a less pressured role to better fit with the rest of your life, it is very frustrating to receive this feedback and hard to respond in a way that positively affirms your motivation.

When thinking how to answer, it is helpful to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. Recruiters often make this comment when they are concerned that you will quickly become bored with the role and so will either under-perform or not stay for the long term. They might not understand that you have deliberately applied for a role that is less senior than the role you held before your career break because you are coming back to the workforce with a new perspective on your career.

Understanding the interviewer's viewpoint, your response needs to include the following elements of reassurance:
  • you have thought through these issues
  • you have specifically targeted this level of seniority (explaining briefly why) 
  • you are committed to doing the best you can in the role
  • as with any other new hire, you hope that your career will progress over time 

Carol Fishman Cohen, who co-founded and runs iRelaunch, our closest US equivalent, provides some recommended wording which you might like to use if you are targeting a lower-level role to provide more balance in your life than your past positions:

"One of my top priorities is to deliver excellent results to my employer, while also managing the rest of my life outside work.  So while it might look to you like I am overqualified for this position, this level is exactly where I want to be in my current life stage, and I intentionally sought it out.  I feel confidence I can deliver excellent results to you at this level of seniority." (You're Overqualified! Carol Fishman Cohen)

If you think that this might be an issue with your application, it is worth addressing upfront, by including your explanation in your cover letter.  You will then hopefully have the opportunity to reinforce your message at interview.



Posted by Katerina


Friday, 10 April 2015

The two minute route to self-confidence

Amy Cuddy, 2012

When I work with women feeling nervous before a major event, such as their first interview in ten years, I give them an instant self-assurance tip that is often met with a look of incredulity. I recommend that they find a quiet place just before the event and make a 'Power Pose' - taking a Wonder Woman stance or adopting the 'starfish' pose which Mick Jagger is modelling so effectively in the photo above. This sounds like the type of 'too-good-to-be-true' advice that could give psychologists a bad name, but in fact it is based on a convincing body of research evidence. 

Amy Cuddy, a Harvard social psychologist, explained in a wonderful 2012 TED talk* how "making yourself big" for just two minutes changes the brain in ways that reduce anxiety, build courage and inspire self-expression and leadership. Changing our body language effectively changes the way we think and feel about ourselves. If you're interested in the science, lab studies found that a two minute power pose increased the levels of the power chemical testosterone by around 20% and lowered the stress hormone cortisol by about 20%. What's more, this has a knock-on effect on how we behave, how we are seen by others and the likelihood of positive outcomes. In another study Professor Cuddy reported that people who adopted high-power poses before interviews were overwhelmingly more likely to be offered the job by impartial interviewers.

This week I followed my own advice. My nerves kicked in before my first time on national radio, appearing on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour** to discuss returnships with Jenni Murray, Julie Thornton (Head of HR at Thames Tideway Tunnel) and Carmen Nuzzo, who joined Morgan Stanley in a permanent role following their 2014 Return to Work programme. So if you had walked into the ladies' toilets in a cafe down the road from Broadcasting House at 9.18am on Wednesday, you might have been surprised to see a blonde middle-aged woman in a green jacket striking a full-on hands-on-hips legs-wide Wonder Woman pose ... and now I can personally vouch for the benefits!


Amy Cuddy's TED talk

**Woman's Hour feature on returnships (07:53 minutes into programme, 10 mins long)




Posted by Julianne

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Starting your own service business as a route back to work


When I was thinking through how to return to work after my career break, I investigated both going back into employment and setting up on my own. I decided that because of my requirements for flexibility, my temperament, and the enjoyment I derived from an earlier experience of entrepreneurship, I was best suited to working for myself. That was 10 years ago, when I set up my own coaching practice. My business activities have evolved significantly since then and I can't imagine ever returning to an employed position. 

I read in an article this week that women-led businesses are often more successful, yet men are twice as likely as women to be entrepreneurially active. I know that many of you may be weighing up the pros and cons of setting up on your own; this is my personal experience of the benefits and drawbacks.

Advantages

  • Autonomy. You are in charge and don't have to take instruction from your line manager or deal with the corporate politics which exist when you are employed
  • Managing your own time. You can choose (subject to client requirements) when, where and how you want to work. If you want to take time away from your work for any reason, you don't need to get permission or negotiate with work colleagues. This has been invaluable for me in balancing the other demands from my family and volunteer activities. I also find that I am more productive as I can largely control my diary to suit the way I work best
  • Managing growth. You can set your own pace of business growth and development to fit with your life, your ambitions and your financial requirements
  • Pursuing your dream. You can pursue a business idea or a personal passion in a way that is rarely possible as an employee (as I did back in 2012 when I joined with Julianne to set up Women Returners)


Disadvantages


  • Isolation. If you set up as a sole trader you will be spending much more time on your own than you would have done in employment. You might miss the companionship of your colleagues and the availability of people with whom to bounce around ideas. In the early days of my business I worked hard at creating networks and communities to fill this gap and now I appreciate having a business partner and a network of associates
  • Being constantly on call.  Depending on your business activity, it could be harder for you to be 'out of office' as there will be no-one to cover for your in your absence .. and you don't get paid for sick days!
  • Uncertainty of income. Unless you are in the position of having guaranteed work or clients from the start of your venture, maybe from a former employer or colleague, it will take time to build your work pipeline and your reputation. Temperamentally and economically, it has been important for me to be resilient through the downturn of the recent recession
  • Having to do everything for yourself. If you are used to corporate structures and systems, it can be quite a shock to have to do everything for yourself from invoicing to diary management. It's particularly hard when your computer breaks down and there is no IT support to fix it!


How to get started

Sometimes returners are put off starting their own business by the belief that they have to offer an innovative service and so spend hours developing, researching and discarding possible options, in the search for an unique idea. In reality, starting your own business doesn't have to be so hard! Indeed, if you are working as a freelancer, an associate or on occasional projects, you are de facto running your own business. 


One of the simplest ways to start a business is to offer, for payment, a skill that you already have and which others value. So, whether you are offering tax advice, designing websites or conducting market research, you will be a business owner. You might even find that demand for your services builds to such an extent that you need to take on your own employees.

There are many sources of support for women starting their own businesses and the easiest first step can be to sign up for a short introductory workshop, such as a local Chamber of Commerce event. For a listing of useful resources, see our website. If you're close to London, Enterprise Nation run regular StartUp Saturdays and if you're a parent with a tech idea for a business, do look at the exciting Google Campus for Mums.

In our success stories we have a few examples of other returners who have successfully established their own businesses, so you can read about Alison and Barbara's experiences. 


Posted by Katerina