Friday, 24 June 2016

Don’t Talk Yourself Out of an Opportunity

Cheryl McGee Wallace, is a Financial Services Manager at PwC UK who returned to work after a 6 year career break. If you're doubting that networking can help you to make a successful return to work, or if you've no idea about informational interviewing, read Cheryl's post below for inspiration.



About a year ago I planned an alumni event on networking. Led by an experienced career coach, we were given role-playing exercises on introducing ourselves as well as entering and exiting ongoing conversations in a social setting. Over the course of the evening one voice stood out for me. My radar went up. I knew those questions, that doubt. She was a returner. After the session ended, I introduced myself, and I was right. She was a human rights lawyer volunteering for a refugee NGO and wanted to know how she should introduce herself if she was not being paid. I was flabbergasted. All I heard was “international human rights lawyer.” She injected the doubt.

How often, I wonder, do women returners talk themselves out of opportunities without ever trying?

In my own re-entry story, I confronted voices of doubt. Adding my own to that chorus would have stopped me in my tracks. There is no single way to on-ramp. It is your story to write as you will. Nevertheless, one must acknowledge what reality dictates: our preferred end is not guaranteed. We will confront detours and closed doors just as we would in the absence of a non-traditional career path.

Explore, investigate, research, and prepare

You are an outsider in need of inside information. You need to clarify your best point of re-entry and understand how the market views your skills. You need to understand the risks that would prevent a potential employer from considering your candidacy.

Develop an elevator pitch and practice it.  Think of three important things you want someone to remember about you. Determine your personal brand and be consistent. What is your unique value proposition? What differentiates you from others? You want them to say: “I remember that person.  She’s the x, y, and z.” This will evolve over time as you gain experience and insights to refine your message.

Conducting informational interviews is the most critical data collecting activity you can undertake. When approached correctly, these one-on-one meetings will help you to obtain personalized feedback, direction, an insider’s perspective, industry lingo, and ideas.

Do not expect the insider to do all the work. You must prepare. Consider why you want to meet this person and the information you would like to obtain from the meeting. Research the individual and the firm before the meeting.

Tailor your questions specifically to that individual, firm, and industry. At a minimum, ask the insider: Who succeeds or fails in this environment? What was your career trajectory? What professional organizations or periodicals do you recommend? Is there anyone else whom you think I should meet? Follow up with a thank-you note and send periodic (meaningful) updates.

You are exploring. Initial meetings may be more challenging, but as you gain experience and clarity on your goals, such meetings will likely become less fraught. For this reason, it is also best to prioritize contacts within your target firms. Meeting junior staff may be more useful early in the information gathering process. Save hiring managers and senior executives for when your message and targets are more refined.

Informational interviews need not be formal. An informal invitation for coffee or drinks can be low risk and pleasant for both. (I often had to remind myself to breathe and enjoy the process of meeting such generous and fascinating people.) As I progressed to identifying target firms, however, it became increasingly important to visit the office for a “pre-interview” assessment of the environment. Be flexible, though. Often a quick call may be all your insider can spare.

Incorporate feedback

Relaunching is a process, not an event. You are constantly learning from every interaction (or lack thereof). The objective is to clarify your goals, which will ultimately help you to articulate your value proposition with clarity and confidence. Which version of your pitch worked best? Is your networking path effective in helping you to meet the right people in your target industry or firms? Are you hearing similar questions from your informational interviews, e.g., are you being asked to explain the same aspect of your professional background? Does your response raise more questions than it answers?

Create your opportunities

There is nothing stopping you from re-entering the workforce. While you may have to endure detours or even closed doors, opportunities do exist. Where they do not exist, it is within your power to make your own opportunities.

Consider the fact that the only difference between returning and not returning may well be a belief in your own ability. Belief reinforces choices and behavior.

Someone out there needs your skills. It is your responsibility to find them.


Further Reading
Read Cheryl's personal story of how networking enabled her to find a new role and move to a new country.

Note: A version of this blog previously appeared on iRelaunch.com 


Friday, 17 June 2016

How to Build your Confidence & Courage

Anna, one of our Women Returners coaching team, suggests idea and exercises to build your return-to-work confidence and courage.


You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face Eleanor Roosevelt

In my coaching of women returning to work, the theme of confidence (or lack of it) is a common one. If someone is trying to build their confidence, I first ask some questions to understand where it is they want to be. Some typical responses are:

‘I want to put myself out there and network but I'm not sure people will want to meet me’
‘I want to go for that job but I don’t think they'll be interested in me’
‘I want to go for interviews without worrying about sounding stupid and out-of-touch’

Digging underneath these responses, it is very often fear that is making these talented women hesitate. Fear of ridicule, of others’ opinions, of failing, of judgement, of stupidity, of being found out. Simply trying to be more confident doesn’t address the underlying fear.

Confidence to Courage

I often work with women to reframe confidence as courage. Courage implies feeling some sort of fear but going for it anyway. I also find women perceive courage as something positive they can aspire to. Ask them to say, ‘I am a courageous woman’ and they sit up a little bit taller.

So, in your own returning to work journey, how can you overcome your fears and build up your courage? Here are a few exercises and ideas:

  • Reframe fear as simply what happens when you are pushing your boundaries. I watched my 5 year old son stand on the steps of the swimming pool paralysed with fear. Yet he splashed in and took the first steps towards swimming. To become a better swimmer he will keep feeling fear but it’s a sign he’s trying something new, not of weakness.
  • Think about a time when you have been courageous. How did you nourish your courage and starve your fear? Taking a moment to think about your strengths and achievements can help in building feelings of courage.
  • Fear tends to grow if you don’t address it. Let’s say your fear relates to getting your opinions heard. On your return to work, you’re sitting in a meeting, time is ticking by, you haven’t said a word, and your throat is getting dry and your palms sweaty. Next time, get your voice in early. By doing something, anything, to move things forward you are demonstrating courage.
  • Imagine an area of your life where you do feel courageous – maybe it’s experimenting with new recipes, running long distances, setting boundaries for your growing children (believe me, it takes courage!). Think about the preparation needed, the consistent planning, the bit-by-bit improvement. Courage at work is the same – preparation and practice are needed. There isn’t a quick fix for courage.
  • Often, fear relates to others judging us – and in returning to work you’re likely to be hyper-sensitive to this. If someone does offer some critique, remember that they are commenting on your work and not you as a person. Often, we take ‘your views lack coherence’ to mean ‘you lack coherence’. Women, in particular, tend to internalise criticism ‘it’s my fault’ and externalise praise ‘it was good luck’. Try to separate one instance or piece of work from your overall view of yourself.
Remember, fear is a natural part of growth and progress. It takes courage and confidence to face your fears and move forward. It takes a big dose of courage to face some of the doubters and commit to making that return to the workforce. Sometimes, it can help to simply ask yourself, ‘What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?’

Posted by Anna Johnstone, Coach & Facilitator, Women Returners

Friday, 10 June 2016

Sharpening your Tech Skills



Sylvie Garvey, Founder of Computer Fitness and our Women Returners go-to tech expert, suggests a variety of ways to update your IT skills for your return to work. 

Making the decision to go back to work is a tough one. Deciding what role might suit you best, incorporating the logistics of family commitments, facing interviews and getting back into the mind-set of committing your time to something new can be very daunting.

Most of us have enough to think about without the worry of the whole IT side of things. The feeling that your technological skills might have become obsolete over your career break does not help with building your confidence. IT seems to change so frequently these days, as we see from constant updates to computers and smartphones, and the worry can be that it might be the same in the workplace.

Show up with the knowledge
Employers do expect you to get up to speed yourself with basic office management software before you start back to work. You should be able to demonstrate this during your interview if the topic comes up. If you are able to say that you have been on a refresher course for MS Office or the Apple Suite of products, both you and the potential employer will feel more confident about your return to work.

You can do this in many ways depending on how big you think the gap in your knowledge is and the skills you need to feel confident. You could attend a course at a local training centre which would cover broad aspects of office management software. If you're a self-directed learner, there are many online courses available (some free) which will guide you through software packages, for example Microsoft online training, alison.com  and Lynda.comYouTube can be an excellent source of knowledge for brushing up on how do to specific tasks like consolidating Excel spreadsheets using pivot tables or inserting links into PowerPoint.  

If you prefer more personal, tailored training you can get a trainer to guide you to areas that are specific to the role that you hope to be going back to. You could also ask a student or friend to spend a few hours getting you up to speed on the changes. 

Get your home IT fit for purpose
Another aspect of IT and your return to work to consider is whether your job will allow you to work from home and if your home IT capabilities are up to scratch. You might be provided with a work laptop eventually but be prepared to access work remotely initially, especially if trying to put those extra hours in at the beginning. Trying to participate in video conference calls or working on documents from home maybe part of what is expected of you so make sure that your computer has a robust anti-virus, fast broadband, the capacity to access shared work folders and emails and the software to review and edit documents.

For technically specific jobs, find out if the employer can get you up to speed themselves and if they will provide a technical updating piece to your training.
New software and applications and tools emerge every month so don’t expect to know what each one does or how it works. Many are custom-built tools used only within the company. It would be impossible to keep up with all emerging products and as with all aspects of returning to work, be patient with yourself and be open to trying new tools and accept all training offered.

Sylvie Garvey is the Founder of Computer Fitness, an IT troubleshooting and training company specialising in small business and home office environments. She worked in Management Consultancy for 15 years before starting Computer Fitness. She can arrange group or one-to-one training on most office software and can advise on future-proofing your IT [sylvie@computerfitness.net]. 

Posted by Donna

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Coping with the return-to-work transition




There are many changes going on in my work life at the moment, as Women Returners expands rapidly in several new directions. Home life is also shifting as my oldest daughter ends school life and prepares for University. One moment these changes feel exciting and energising, the next they can seem exhausting and unsettling.

You may be experiencing similar up-and-down emotions as you are getting back into the job market or starting a new role after many years out. When I hit these periods of change, I find it helpful to remind myself that this emotional rollercoaster is completely normal. In the classic book Transitions, based on 30 years of research, William Bridges explains that we all go through a period of psychological readjustment when change occurs. Alongside opportunity, change can bring turmoil. It's useful to know that this inner transition process typically takes longer than we think it will, and doesn't necessarily correlate with the scale of the change or whether it's a positive change such as promotion or negative change such as redundancy.

He provides a simple roadmap of the three stages of any transition process. Change starts with an ending and ends with a beginning:

1 Endings
2 Neutral zone
3 New beginning
Every change starts with leaving the past behind, recognising what you're giving up & deciding what you want to hold on to

In this in-between state we readjust & reorientate. Emotional ups & downs are strongest at this stage
Finally, we launch into the new activities and start to embrace the change with renewed energy




Bridges' research found that we're much better able to navigate a change successfully if we anticipate these stages and take time at each step to adjust. Don't misinterpret the confusing feelings in the neutral zone as evidence that you shouldn't be making the change and a reason to retreat. Stick with it, weather the emotional upheaval, and you'll eventually come through to an exciting new beginning.

Posted by Julianne