Wednesday 30 March 2016

The five steps that helped me to get back to work

Wondering how or indeed if you will ever get back to work again? You are not alone - I remember that feeling well. Here are a few practical steps based on my own experience, that will help you to re-establish your existing skills and learn new ones, build your confidence and broaden your network. 

1. Take an online course. When I was looking for work after a career break, I found myself out of touch with social media. I was recommended a course from HootSuite, The Fundamentals of Social Media Marketing. The course offers 6 modules from optimising your social media profile (great if you are looking for work) to social media marketing strategy (useful if you are looking to set up your own business), and you can take a certification exam for your CV. I also took the Coursera Learning How to Learn course last year to develop more general skills - it helped me to focus and be methodical, and to learn memory and time management techniques. Taking a course demonstrates your commitment, your enthusiasm for a subject, your desire to keep current and your appetite to learn something new, and is a good talking point at an interview or during an informal chat. However be sure of why you want to do the course before starting to have the best chance of seeing it through. Are you looking to get a recognised qualification from a prestigious university? Or perhaps you just want to bring a skill up to date. See the previous post on MOOCs here  to read more about the range of free courses available. And if you're relaunching in STEM, do look the new Reboot your STEM career course from Open Learn, the free learning platform of the Open University. 

2. Find skills-based volunteer opportunities. While looking for a paid role, you could sharpen your skills and put some of this theory into practise by volunteering. This doesn’t have to be formal - you could try your school parents’ association (I practiced my events planning and fundraising skills that way) or help a friend setting up a new business (I put my rusty HTML coding and design skills to the test by helping to build a new website). It’s amazing to see your skills valued and used in a different context. You'll find that “you still have it” after all, and this is very reassuring and empowering. Plan your strategic volunteering by reading our previous post on the subject here.

3. Get feedback on your CV. Ask your friends and ex-colleagues for feedback; it’s even better if you can send them a job spec that caught your eye along with your CV. I found that it helped to get a fresh pair of eyes looking at my CV and assessing objectively my suitability for a particular job.

4. Attend an event. Take a look at events targeting women looking to return to work organised by relevant professional bodies and associations, alumni groups and local communities. In my case, attending the Mumsnet Workfest event last year was a catalyst. I had to be dragged by a friend to sign up, as I was uncertain about my professional aspirations or what I would get out of the event.  But against the odds, I felt energised by the women I met, who reminded me of what I had to offer. I came back with practical advice (on my CV, on a job search strategy, on interviews) and was inspired by Katerina and Julianne’s session on returning to work after a career break. I was armed with new tools to look for work that would work for me. For events listing and Women Returners' talks and workshops, check our website and our monthly newsletter.

5. Get a mentor. A mentor can really help give you focus in your job search. I took part last year in the Steps Ahead mentoring pilot scheme, facilitated by the CIPD. My mentor was chosen according to the industry I wanted to move into. She provided me with valuable insight into this industry, how to tailor my CV and what a typical role would entail, and gave me a lot of encouragement, support and help. If you're a STEM returner, do look at the free mentoring available through the new MentorSET programme. 

These actions helped me to assess my situation more objectively, to determine how soon I wanted to go back to work, in what capacity and for what kind of organisation. While this is not an exhaustive list, why not try investigating one of these suggestions? You might be surprised by how much closer you get to your professional goal and how much more confident you feel at each step.

Posted by Muriel

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