Friday 28 October 2016

Tips for Networking at a Conference

The Women Returners team are looking forward to meeting many of you at our Women Returners Conference next month. You will enjoy the panels and workshops that we are presenting and there will be plenty of networking opportunities. I know how scary the idea of networking is to many returners so this post will attempt to reduce your fear and prepare you for making the most of our Conference, which will be relevant for any other similar networking event.

3 Tips for Conference Networking

Set a goal: there are no rules about how many conversations to have or business cards to collect, but if you set yourself a goal, you can feel good when you have achieved it. For those of you who are actively seeking to return to work, there might be a specific employer you want to talk to, while for those of you just starting to think about your return, your goal could be to practise speaking to a stranger. It is up to you to decide: just make sure that your goal is realistic and remember to congratulate yourself when you have reached it.

Plan your introduction: although one of the workshops will cover in detail how to craft your personal story, you will help yourself by having a brief introduction prepared. This needs three elements: your name; your background; and your reason for being at the conference. You don’t need to talk about the reason for your break, or its length at this stage. If you are new to networking, it might help you to practise saying your introduction out loud or with a friend, to get used to talking about yourself in this way.

Prepare topics: whether you are focused on meeting an employer or still working out your future direction, advance preparation is essential. This includes: researching individual speakers and employers online and through your existing networks; developing questions you can ask both to specific individuals and generally to other conference attendees. If you find it uncomfortable to talk about yourself initially, asking questions of the people you meet is an easier way to start a conversation. Advance preparation means you can arrive at the conference confident that you’ll have something to say to the new people you will meet.

Finally, remember that everyone else attending the Conference is a returner, just like you. You are likely to find something in common with most of the people you meet and you will have taken yourself one step closer to getting back to work.

For other posts on networking see:

Posted by Katerina

Thursday 20 October 2016

How the O2 Career Returners Programme Helped Me

This week we are featuring an inspiring video that highlights 2 returners from the 2016 O2 Career Returners Programme, on which we partnered with O2. The video was recorded ahead of National Inclusion week, which raises awareness of the importance of inclusion in the workplace and the business benefits to having an inclusive workforce.

Paula McAleavey is a mother of two and Project Manager within the Network Futures team at O2 and Jacqueline Scott is a mother of two and Business Manager at O2.

Friday 14 October 2016

Be Ready for the "Simple" Interview Questions

I was working with a coaching client recently who, fresh from an interview, explained that she was pleased with the way she’d answered the competency-based questions about her skills and experience. However she had come unstuck when faced with what she’d assumed would be the “simpler” questions: “Why do you want this role?, “Tell me a bit about yourself”, “What would you bring to this role?”.  Because she’d spent most of her preparation time building up a bank of detailed examples and stories to demonstrate her skills and expertise, she realised she’d neglected to fully prepare and rehearse her answers to some of the questions which, on the surface at least, seemed more obvious.

What appear to be the simpler, more obvious questions are often the hardest to answer and yet, arguably, the most important ones to get right. Simple in form only, they leave you wondering where to start or what to include. In a world of information overload, being able to get your message across concisely is a real skill that requires a good deal of reflection, editing and rehearsal.

Another of my returner clients described the bitter-sweet experience of the time she couriered a letter to the founder of a high profile online retailer. As an enthusiastic customer of the site, and an experienced PR professional, she wrote to say how much she admired the brand and offered some suggestions as to how she believed the customer’s experience could be even better.  Within half an hour, the founder called my client and invited her in to talk further. The meeting seemed to be going well and, as they walked through the offices, the founder said that she liked her ideas but was “wondering how she might fit her in to the company.” My client recounted how, in the moment, she had no answer to this and, at that point, felt any potential opportunity slipping away. With the benefit of hindsight, she wished she had prepared a range of options as to how she might fit in. A painful learning opportunity and one that many of us can no doubt relate to.

Sometimes, it’s the more informal or unplanned situations that catch us out. I’ve kicked myself a few times over the years for missing opportunities in an informal situation and giving weak, ­off-the-cuff answers. On the flip side, shortly after I started working for myself, I bumped into a parent from my children’s old school and he asked me what I was doing. Thankfully, on that occasion, I was ready with a good answer and he became one of my first clients. 

Six tips to be ready for the not-so-simple questions

  1. Make a list of all the questions that might come up in formal or informal settings to gauge your motivation, strengths, interests, what you’re looking for, what you’re offering, etc. Prepare and rehearse until you have a well-crafted, brief, confident answer for each, packed with relevant and interesting content. 
  2. Rather than answering with vague generalities, weave in specific examples that show how your values overlap with their organisation and how your skills, experience and strengths would make you a good fit. 
  3. Do your research so you can use relevant language that shows a contemporary grasp of their business issues.
  4. One of the most common openers in informal meetings is “How can I help?”, so be clear in advance on what it is you’re asking for: insights into the business/industry; an introduction to someone else; advice; consideration for any relevant opportunities, etc. Think also about what you might offer in return.
  5. Your CV and LinkedIn profile are important and it’s tempting to put this at the start of your search. However, prioritising time to figure out your answers to these questions will make it easier for you to create a CV that paints a coherent picture of who you are and what you’re offering/looking for.
  6. Treat all encounters as a chance to sell yourself. Anyone in your network could play a role in helping you to secure your return-to-work role or opportunity.  Even if they’re not in a position to help, they may well tell someone else who will be. 
Clearly you don’t want to sound like an automaton reading a rehearsed script, but if you have prepared the key ideas and messages that you want to get across, you can keep it natural and be ready for any encounter, chance or otherwise.

Natalie Hunter, Coach, Women Returners

Thursday 6 October 2016

Laura's Story - Return to Marketing via Back2Businessship

Read Laura Weston's story of how she returned to work through a marketing returner programme:

Before having children I’d had a senior career running large digital content teams for the Sun and X Factor, but had struggled to find a flexible role at that level. After a few years of not working with the occasional intermittent freelance, I spotted an advert for Back2Businessship, a returner programme specifically for women in marketing, media and communications. I’d been looking for suitable roles for the past couple of years, but with both my children now at primary school it felt like the right time to truly focus on getting back to work. I hoped the course would give me a renewed confidence and practical skills to focus my job hunt.

Before the course I felt disheartened, but the speakers were so inspirational and proved good flexible roles are out there. There was also plenty of excellent advice on the changes in recruitment and job hunting. Following the course I kept up momentum by applying for roles straightaway, the course clearly worked, as I was out interviewing for three different companies in a matter of weeks. The interviews were a learning curve and yes, sometimes the employer just couldn’t see past the career break. Then there was the grating worry of whether should I reveal the f-word at interview or after. That guilty secret that I wanted – gasp – flexibility.

In the end, I won Golin’s 3-month paid returnship to work as marketing director, they were impressed with my digital knowledge and voluntary projects I’d initiated during my career break. I was encouraged to negotiate my hours and chose to work four days with flexibility around hours.

As thrilled as I was to win the returnship, planning this life upheaval was the most daunting part of the process. I had to find a childminder, plan my hours, worry about how the children would cope (they barely batted an eyelid), revamp a wardrobe that was casual-verging-on-sloppy. Pretty much anything I could fret about, I fretted about.

But coming back to work after a break has been invigorating. It’s been a fantastic 8 months raising the marketing activity at Golin, I’ve used my old skills and learnt new ones. My life has gone from school runs and homework to presenting to 100s, running hugely successful events and projects, representing Golin on Sky News and delivering a marketing review to our new CEO.

Prior to this role I believed my career break and need for flexibility made me a weaker candidate, but in this age of connectivity I can be just as efficient and involved as a full-time employee. It’s about time employers caught up.

Posted by Donna