Thursday 25 February 2016

Finding a stimulating part-time finance sector role: a returner's success story

We have been gathering lots of inspiring new stories of women who have successfully returned to work after their career break. You'll find all the stories on our website. Today, we're featuring Tina's story of returning to work at a boutique financial services company. Her experience shows that it is possible to find stimulating, professional, part-time work and also that the whole family can benefit when you return to your career. 

It isn’t often that a return to work story starts with Woman’s Hour, but in my case that was exactly where the process began! I was made redundant from my role as a Director of a fund investing in mezzanine debt in 2002 and as my children were then very young I took the opportunity to scale back my working life and to adopt a more flexible approach to my career. Over the next 13 years I had a number of roles as a Non-Executive Director and undertook a variety of consultancy assignments. By the start of 2015, however, my young children had morphed into teenagers and I was finding the role of the consultant increasingly solitary. I had more time and I needed a new challenge; in particular, however, I wanted to be part of a team and to add human interaction to my daily life.

I had enjoyed my role in the finance industry, but to be perfectly honest I had no faith that in my 50s I would be employable in that sector. I was trying to consider my available options and wrestling with how I might approach a return to substantive employment. Mired in this thought process, and without any real views on how to progress, I found myself in mid April 2015 listening to Woman’s Hour as I distracted myself from the tedium of ironing. As luck would have it, the programme was running an article on exactly my dilemma and featured Julianne Miles talking about returnship programmes and the Women Returners organisation she had set up with Katerina Gould. I quickly Googled the website and realised that the programmes that Julianne and Katerina were promoting could provide a useful route to achieve my goal of getting back into substantive employment.

Following my registration with Women Returners my first course of action was to attend a number of networking events developed around the objective of helping women in my position get back into the workplace. These event were of great assistance in helping me think about my strengths, the development of my personal message (the “elevator pitch”), working on my CV (formats have changed since I last had to prepare one in anger) and developing my LinkedIn profile to ensure it had the right professional impact. I also found a number on online courses provided by MOOCs which added support to this process.

I applied for a couple of returnship programmes and then in mid-June an email popped into my inbox from Women Returners advertising a role with coaching support as part of the Portfolio Monitoring Unit at MV Credit. When I read the job description I was stunned; I thought I had a very specific and highly specialised CV and I couldn't believe that a job was on offer which appeared to fit my skills and experience perfectly. The only doubt which gnawed at me a bit was that I had operated at a more senior level than the position being offered. This issue had been raised at one of the networking events I had attended and Katerina has advised how to deal with this in one of her blogs on the site. I decided to face the issue head-on in my application letter and to be honest in acknowledging this was probably the case but emphasising that I wanted to take on a role I was confident I could perform effectively.

I applied for the role, went through an extensive interview process and was hired, alongside a fellow Women Returners applicant, on a part-time (three days a week) basis. I have now been at MV Credit since the beginning of November and have not looked back. My colleagues have been welcoming and positive in their attitude towards me. I have also benefited from coaching sessions with Julianne as I revise my work-life balance, placing more emphasis on myself and my working life and less on the needs of my family. My husband has been great and he is delighted to take back more of the cooking – which is more his passion than mine. My teenagers have both wished me luck and have seized the greater independence and self-reliance required of them with a demonstration of maturity of which they can be rightly proud.

My words of advice to those looking to return to work would probably encompass the following:
  • Prioritise your search over other non-paid activities.
  • Attend events to meet as many people as you can and to ensure your knowledge and strategies are up to date.
  • Find ways to keep your skills current.
  • Accept that you do not need to be a domestic goddess and that other members of the family can contribute to the running of your home life.
  • Stay positive and retain belief in your skills and abilities.

Posted by Katerina

Thursday 18 February 2016

Lending your Skills to get Ahead - How to do ‘Strategic Volunteering’

Strategic volunteering can build your skills, be intellectually demanding and provide a route back to work after a career break. We hope this week's second post by Jill Ridley-Smith will inspire you to explore this route further.

The new CEO of the £225 million turnover business turns to us, the Board, saying he wants our input into the development of his five-year strategic plan. He also wants to initiate an acquisition strategy to diversify revenues because he’s worried the core business is too dependent on a single source of income. His team have identified the first potential acquisition and will present it to us for our consideration in the next meeting. He surmises that his inherited management team and organisation structure aren’t right to deliver the new plan; where are the gaps, strengths and weaknesses in the senior team? He knows his top line is vulnerable as customers are increasingly more discerning and demanding and the business needs to respond - well, given students now have to pay University tuition fees this is hardly unexpected. Yes, this is what it’s like being on the Board of Governors for one of the largest Universities in the UK.

There are almost limitless possibilities in the non-profit sector for individuals willing to give up some of their time and expertise - boards of charities, sports bodies, education, and Government organisations to name a few. These roles can be interesting, relevant, thought-provoking and rewarding. The individuals who take them on are respected and appreciated. This month on the website Women on Boards there are 220 roles advertised and roughly two thirds of these are in non-profit organisations. Most of these roles are pro-bono (i.e. unpaid), but they often cover expenses. As very few of us have the luxury of being able to work for free, the clue is in the term ‘strategic’ - if you are considering this type of volunteering as a route back into the workplace, it needs to be volunteering with an agenda. This could be to take a role that leverages your historical business experience, or if you are looking for a career change, a role where you gain experience in a new sector; or it could simply be to get back in touch with the working world and become current again. 

As with every job search, it’s improbable a CV enhancing role as a strategic volunteer will fall into your lap. It requires re-engaging with your old business networks, getting out there and making new connections; for instance, you could be very pleasantly surprised by what can come from simply being sociable at the school gates. Be mindful too that strategic volunteering roles are ‘proper’ jobs (to get one you’ll need a good CV, references and to deliver at the interview) and these roles carry considerable responsibility. When working on the Board of a charity under the auspices of the Charity Commission or a public sector body that manages Government money, the buck stops with you. Boards must have good governance, appropriate risk measurement and assessment and must sufficiently scrutinise financials and probe the operational decisions of the management. As a good example, the Trustees of Kids Company simply did not apply the necessary rigour required; this is an extract from the House of Commons Committee report into the collapse of the business: “Trustees relied upon wishful thinking and false optimism and became inured to the precariousness of the charity’s financial situation.”

So, assuming you are not solely motivated by the social cause, why strategically volunteer if it’s no easier to get a volunteering role than a paid one and the role comes with a weighty responsibility? Well, the attraction is in the relatively limited time commitment for the intellectual return: the norm is quarterly meetings and their prep, a few strategy days and a commitment to a few years’ service. When you’ve got very young children, time is so precious and we all do our very best to juggle work and family life. For me, at that time, strategic volunteering was a manageable commitment that kept me on the career track. I started with one, then two strategic volunteering roles and this has now morphed into fully ‘going plural’. It means that rather than working full-time for one company, I’m self-employed and I have a number of non-executive director positions with different companies.

I still do some unpaid business mentoring and I have one pro-bono NED (Non-Executive Director) position but it’s less of a means-to-an-end now so I can enjoy it for what it is and the social benefit that comes from it. I lent my time to get ahead and it’s been a win-win journey for me and the organisations I remain committed to.

Jill Ridley-Smith works as a Business Mentor and is a Non-Executive Director on three Boards. She took a career break in 2009 after a successful career in Private Equity with HgCapital and prior to this she held management roles at GlaxoSmithKline and LEK Consulting. She has an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management. You can read more of Jill's return to work story here.

For more information on becoming a trustee, also visit Getting on Board, a charity that helps individuals become new leaders in communities through board-level volunteering. Watch out for more information on their new campaign in early March that is aimed at encouraging women on a career break to take up charity board positions.

Posted by Muriel

Friday 12 February 2016

How to set yourself up as a freelancer: practical matters

You have landed that first contract, but now it is your responsibility to get paid, set yourself up as a sole trader or maybe create your limited company.  Now, if like me, you were used to giving your bank account and NI details to HR and waiting for your payslip to come at the end of each month, this whole new process and responsibility can be overwhelming.

Freelancing has always appealed to me, working on projects, on my own timetable while still being around for my young family. After a 15 year career in the city, followed by 4 year break, it was time for me to craft a way back into work. I wasn't ready to go back to a big corporate career but was hoping to work in some capacity.

A chance meeting with an old friend resulted in my first freelance assignment. This was a great opportunity to get my teeth into project work and fill in the gap in my CV, but also work in a smaller structure and in a different industry. (I come from the Financial Information industry and this was a venture in the Neglected Tropical Disease field). It’s amazing how opportunities like this demonstrate how transferable skills can be (in my case marketing/communications skills).

One freelance assignment led to another and now I am a happy freelancer.
Once you get that first assignment, you have to decide if you want to become self-employed or set up a limited company. The latter is more complex, but one of its main benefit is that your business and personal finances are distinct, meaning if a claim is made against your company, you are not personally liable for it. You are also more flexible with your finances and may be able to pay less tax. You can find out here more details on setting up a limited company. If you choose this route Companies Made Simple is a great resource for forming your company.

If, like me, you decide to go down the sole trader road, the good news is that it’s actually relatively easy and quick and the paperwork that comes with it is fairly light and manageable. The process can still be daunting though.

The first thing you need to do is contact HMRC to register as self-employed. This will ensure you pay the correct Income Tax and National Insurance. It’s easy to do this online:on the HMRC website choose the option “Set up a sole trader”, you will need to create a Government Gateway account and from there follow the instructions. You can use your own name or choose a business name when you start working as a sole trader.  If you decide on the latter, give it some thought (you can’t use Ltd, LLP or plc, so choose something that makes business sense and that is unique. You can check if a business name is available here). More information on how to choose a business name for a sole trader can be found here.

Once you have registered online with HMRC, it takes about 10 days for your registration to come through. And there is no rush. Although it is better to get cracking as soon as you start working (and I concede, it’s probably the most tempting thing to procrastinate), you have time to set this up until October 5 of the second tax year after you have started work (the tax year runs from April to April). You will then be able to do your tax return (another hurdle, but remember one step at the time!). Also it is worth remembering that you won’t pay tax on the first £10,600 you earn in a tax year.

Freelancing has its challenges: it is not as secure as a permanent job, it can be lonely at times, you have to be disciplined to manage your time effectively and you are responsible for declaring your income and paying taxes, but it can also be a way for you to gradually slip back into the professional sphere, take ownership of your project while still having some time to dedicate to yourself or your family.

If you are thinking about becoming a freelancer, do read this post for more ideas.

Happy freelancing!

Posted by Muriel

Friday 5 February 2016

Answers to some common return-to-work questions

We are often asked lots of interesting questions and thought it would be useful to share our answers to a few of these which we find to be common concerns after a career break.

I've done nothing in my break apart from bring up my children. What do I say about my break on my CV?

We always advise returners to specify that they have taken a career break rather than leaving an unexplained gap. It can be stated simply, with dates (e.g. 2008-date Parental career break), and does not need further detail if you were totally focused on caring responsibilities. It is important to state in your profile statement and cover letter that following your career break you are now motivated and committed to returning to work. In addition, don't dismiss unpaid or low-paid work that you have done during your break which employers could find useful and relevant (e.g. organising a large event, setting up a small home business, studying for a qualification). Finally, if you are getting ready to go back to work, now could be the right time to find some relevant work experience, or to update your knowledge by studying for a qualification, to demonstrate your renewed interest in the field you are returning to.

For further reading:
How to write your post break CV
The 'CV gap' barrier: evidence it exists & how to get over it

I'm an experienced doctor with no wish to return to practising medicine following my break. How do I work out what my transferable skills are and who would find me useful?

We suggest that you approach the question of what to do next in a different way: rather than try to work out where your experience and interests might fit, we recommend that you start with investigating what your personal strengths and interests are so that you can focus on finding work that you will find satisfying and fulfilling. There are a number of books listed on our website which can help you to do this self-analysis. Alternatively, some people find working with a career coach is helpful to support you with working out your new direction.

For further reading:
Setting your career compass: identifying your strengths
How to identify work you will find fulfilling

I've relocated from overseas and don't know how to get started with building a new network.

A useful way to think about your network is that it consists of people from your past, your present and your future. Your past network includes your previous work colleagues, suppliers and customers and school and university class-mates. Even if they are based in your prior location, they might well have contacts in the UK which they can introduce to you. Your current network includes all the people you engage with in your community in your daily life while your future network consists of people you can connect with through new activities you intend to start or training you plan to do. If you have a professional qualification, make sure that you contact the equivalent professional body in the UK to find out about membership, conversion requirements (if any) and networking events. An essential tool for building your network will be LinkedIn so make sure that you create a basic profile and build your online network too.

For further reading:
Five ways to build your back-to-work networks
Top tips for enjoyable networking
LinkedIn - an essential tool for your return to work

If you have other questions you'd like to ask, please get in touch with us or join our private LinkedIn group and share ideas with other returners.

Posted by Katerina