Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Carla: Returning via the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Returning Talent Programme



With the launch of the 2016 Bank of America Merrill Lynch Returning Talent Programme, we caught up with Carla who told us all about her experience of the 2015 programme. 

I recently returned to work after a long career break, to the Global Banking and Markets COO group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. This was made possible through my participation in their 2015 Returning Talent Programme. 

After several years of staying at home to raise my children, I began to think about returning to the workforce last year.  During my break, I had stayed active with a couple of board positions and a small accessories business, which I founded and ran. However, as my children grew up, I was eager to return to a full-time corporate role.  Previously, I had worked as an Institutional Equity Salesperson and I wanted to find a position that was a good fit for my skills and experience.  However, when thinking about my return and job search, I was unclear about other areas in financial services to target and unsure how to market myself as a candidate. 

The Bank of America Merrill Lynch Returning Talent Programme helped me to address these uncertainties. The conference and follow-on coaching workshops not only provided me with advice and information about the job search process but also gave me the tools to consider what types of role and organisational workplace would suit me best. This reinforced my decision to target a clearly-defined role at a large established organisation. I also benefitted from the talks from senior female leaders, which offered exposure to different areas of the bank and a means of developing networking contacts.  Just as importantly, taking part in the Programme was also a great way to meet and connect with other returners. This created a back-to-work support system for me, which I had found difficult to do within my regular social group and school network.  

My advice to other women wanting to return to a City role is:
  • Be resilient and open-minded to new and different opportunities
  • Take the time to understand what type of work will best suit you
  • Commit time to your job search – putting aside a couple of days a week was essential in keeping me focused and active
  • Focus on returnships and other returner programmes, like the Returning Talent Programme. These are an ideal platform to restart your career with a high level of support and resources from the organisation.
I am delighted to be back at work in a full-time role in financial services. My family has adjusted well to my new schedule and I would definitely encourage others considering a return to take the step. 

If you would like to apply for the 2016 programme, follow this link. The closing date for applications is Friday 18th December, 2015.

Posted by Katerina

Saturday, 21 November 2015

How to avoid living with regrets


Any of these sound familiar ...?

I should have chosen a more flexible career
I should have spent more time with my kids when they were babies/teens
I should have carried on working rather than giving up my career
I should have spent more time with my mother/father when they were ill
I should have taken that job opportunity
I should have stayed in better touch with ...
I should have studied [..] instead of [..]

On top of guilt, regret about past actions or choices can be another way in which we endlessly beat ourselves up. 

Fear of future regrets can also stop you from making important life decisions. If you're thinking about going back to work, you might be worrying that you will regret spending less time with your family, or alternatively if you're considering taking a career break, you might be afraid of regretting 'giving up' your career. 

How can we manage regret? A good start point is understanding more about why it exists and what is most likely to trigger it.

Psychology of Regret
Regret involves blaming ourselves or feeling a sense of loss about what might have been. Like all negative emotions, it exists for a reason. Regret is useful if it encourages you to re-evaluate your past choices and then galvanises you to refocus on what's important or to take a different path. Regrets can be a call to action - pushing you to pick up your career or to spend more time with people who matter to you. Neal Roese from Kellogg University, who has studied regret among younger people, found that overall they see regret as positive as it motivates them to make changes. You can also be encouraged to take action by fear of future regrets: one of the factors that strengthened my decision to retrain in my 30s was that I knew I would regret it if I didn't give it a go.

However, there is a powerful potential down-side. If you have limited opportunity to change the situation, which is more likely as you get older, regret can be destructive - leading to self-blame, frustration, an inability to make decisions and sometimes even to stress and depression.

Our greatest regrets
Thomas Gilovich at Cornell University spent a decade studying the psychology of regret, mainly by asking people to look back over their lives and to describe their biggest regret. Over the long term, 75% of people regretted not doing something more than the actions they had taken, even those which had led to failure and unhappiness. The top 3 regrets were not working hard enough at school, not taking advantage of an opportunity and not spending enough time with family and friends. 
Psychologist Richard Wiseman explains the rationale. It's far easier to see the negative side of a poor decision you made than the consequences of something that didn't happen. You can see the tangible results of making a bad career decision on your life now. However, if you didn't accept that job offer, then the possible positive benefits are endless and it's easy to fantasise about the great life you would have had if only you'd made the right decision at the time.

How to tackle regrets

If you have regrets about actions you took or didn't take in your past:

  • Recognise that everyone makes mistakes, and that the best thing you can do is to look forward. What actions you can take now to correct the situation: go back to study/retrain; take small steps to restart your old career; make more time for friends; make that phone call?
  • If you can't take corrective action, Wiseman suggests "Ring-fencing Regret" to create a more balanced perspective. Imagine a ring fence around the 'what might have been' benefits that you keep thinking about. Instead of focusing on these, think about 3 benefits of your current situation and 3 negative consequences that might have happened had you taken the action that is causing your regret.  

If you're worrying about future regrets from actions you want to take now:

  • Remember that you're more likely in the long-term to regret the things you don't do than the things you do
  • Seize the opportunities that come to you and take small step actions rather than procrastinating: make the time, face your fears, try things out. This is the best way to prevent looking back in 10 years' time and thinking "I should have ..."

Refs & other reading
59 Seconds, Richard Wiseman. One of my favourite books on how psychology research can change your life, including a chapter on regret
The Psychology of Regret. Online article in Psychology Today

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 13 November 2015

How 'strategic' volunteering can support your return to work





If you've been out of the workplace for many years, we often recommend that you consider strategic volunteering, but it may not be clear to you exactly what we mean by this or how it can be a route back to work. For me, strategic volunteering was a crucial step in getting back to work after my career break; I reflected on this during a trustees' meeting this week (taking time out from Women Returners). As with so many people who take a career break, I had lost any sense of myself as a professional person possessing management and leadership skills that would be of use outside my domestic role. Through joining a charity board, in a non-executive role, I had the opportunity to rebuild my self-belief in a variety of ways:
  • talking with other professionals, as equals, on matters of strategy, policy and operations reminded me that I knew about this stuff!
  • taking on specific projects, such as overhauling the financial reporting systems, was a concrete opportunity to contribute and make a difference
  • feedback from my colleagues was positive and encouraging (in contrast to the normal complaints from my children)
  • I learned that my different way of looking at matters (from being the sole female and not steeped in the charity's historical way of operating) was valued.
What separates strategic volunteering from the other unpaid roles you may have taken on during your break, from class rep to community volunteer, is that the work you are doing creates a platform for your return, either through refreshing or developing your skills, or by being an entry route to a new role. 

Strategic volunteering comes in many guises. These are examples of other people who've used it as a starting point for their new career:
  • Jill volunteered as a business start-up adviser which allowed her to create a portfolio career with a number of NED positions.  You can read her story here
  • For Suzanne, being PTA chair was a perfect way to revive her dormant people management and influencing skills (there is nothing harder than engaging a group of volunteers), allowed her to be creative in a public arena and gain experience in presenting and speaking to large groups. A bonus was that getting to know her co-chair led to them setting up a business together when their term of office ended.
You can read some other inspiring examples in our previous post: Finding your way back through strategic volunteering.

If you have a story to share, we'd love to hear it!


Posted by Katerina   

Saturday, 7 November 2015

You're not a fraud! Tackling Imposter Syndrome


I first learnt about the impostor syndrome when I was studying for my psychology masters. I remember feeling hugely relieved that it was normal to be asking myself "What are you doing here?" as I sat in the lecture hall and started working with clients. Although not naturally plagued with self-doubt, I had found that retraining and practicing in a new profession after a long career break made me question my abilities. I felt like a fraud when I introduced myself as a psychologist, and wondered if I would ever truly feel like a competent professional in this new field.

The Imposter Phenomenon

It was reassuring to find out that even highly successful people can feel like frauds, and that these feelings are so common that they have a name. The 'imposter phenomenon' was first identified in 1978 by two clinical psychologists, Pauline Clance & Suzanne Imes*. They interviewed 150 successful women who, despite their qualifications, achievements and professional recognition, still considered themselves to be impostors in their fields. Clance & Imes drew out three main aspects: a belief that others have an inflated view of your abilities, a fear that your true abilities will be found out, and a tendency to attribute your success to luck or extreme effort. Since then, there have been many follow-on studies supporting the findings of this research, with mixed-gender samples across a range of occupations finding that up to 70% of people have feelings of impostorism at some point. Unsurprisingly, researchers have found that these feelings are most common when people are making a move outside of their comfort zone, such as starting a new job or taking on new responsibilities. Although it's not an area that's been studied, it's clear that returning to work after a career break is also a likely trigger for this irrational fear of incompetence, even if you're returning to the job you did before.

A decade ago, the impostor syndrome was little known outside of psychology, so I've been happy to see that it's now more broadly known & discussed. A recent article on the topic in the New York Times quoted Maya Angelou, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’" 

There is sometimes a misconception that this is another 'women's issue' - lumped in with low self-confidence as something that holds women back more than their male colleagues. In fact, despite the initial focus on women, research now suggests that men are just as likely to experience impostorism. But maybe they are less likely to admit it?

How can you tackle Imposter Syndrome?

One of the most useful steps is to recognise that these fears are very normal & that many other people have them. Nobody knows everything and even the people at the top of your company or your profession probably have times when they too feel out of their depth. Don't blindly believe your self-doubts or let them hold you back.

If you're coming back to work after a long break, understand that you are more likely to doubt your abilities in this time of change and give yourself a boost. Spend time identifying what you do well and the part you played in your achievements, both in your pre-break career and during your career break. And remember that no-one's successes are just down to luck!

* Psychology research ref: Feeling like a Fraud, Christian Jarrett The Psychologist, May 2010


Posted by Julianne