Friday, 23 June 2017

Returnships aren't just for mothers

Do you think that returnships are just for mothers who've taken a break to look after their young children? Think again! Women and men take long career breaks for many other reasons, such as caring for elderly relatives, personal illness, and relocation.

Andrew Bomford from the Radio 4 PM programme came along to the first Balfour Beatty Career Returner workshop and spoke to the returner group, as well as to Anna from Women Returners. He also interviewed Clare who's now back in full-time work as a Senior Manager at O2. Listen to the clip below for a snapshot of the wonderful diversity of the returner community, as well as an illustration of how returner programmes can work for the individual as well as the organisation (click on the image below). 

Posted by Julianne

Thursday, 8 June 2017

How to Map your Network

I get that networking is important but I have no idea where to start? 

Most returners in this contemporary job market get the fact that networking is important. They realise that in this day and age, the majority of roles are filled directly from people’s networks and not from recruiters or adverts.  

But for many of you there may still be a mental block when it comes to approaching your network - or even recognising that you have a network! Particularly when you throw a career break into the mix, adding to the overall effect by magnifying fears and worries about who and how to use contacts to help. 

So let’s challenge some of the common assumptions that may be holding you back from thinking about how your network can help with your return to work.  

I don’t have a network anymore. 

I hear this a lot from women who have had a career break. In fact, we all have a network. It may be a different network than the one you had before your break, it may be a combination of old and new contacts and it might even be a better one than you had before! You might just not be thinking of it as a professional network or be assuming that those you spend time with now won’t have any useful professional contacts. 

I can’t ask people I know socially to help me with my job search. 

Would you help your friends if they asked you? We like helping other people. Remember you are not asking your friends for a job but simply for information or an introduction to someone in an area/organisation that interests you. It’s also a good way to begin practising your work story and re-engaging with the ‘professional’ you. A lot of leverage can come from a personal network, particularly after a career break. 

Remember “Six degrees of separation”? The trick with networking is tapping into your wider network – most opportunities come this way. This means multiplying your contacts and reach by accessing your network’s network. 

My current contacts won’t know anyone in my field of interest.

This is a common assumption, but you can't have total awareness of your network’s network. One returner's neighbour's brother turned out to be very senior in the sector she wanted to get into and was able to make an introduction. You don’t know who might know who ..

We often meet women who have known potentially-helpful contacts for years but yet never had a conversation about their professional selves. You could be sitting on dynamite contacts right in front of your nose!

How to Map your Network

Mapping your network helps you to think about who you know and to prioritise who to approach.
  1. Create some quiet space and time to brainstorm different areas of your life in which you have contacts who might be able to help you. Be creative and think broadly!
  2. Consider contacts in Past and Present, together with ideas on new contacts you could develop in the Future. Here are some groupings to get you started (adapted from the excellent book Back on the Career Track):
    1. Past: School, university, professional training, work (colleagues, clients, suppliers, alumni groups)
    2. Present: Family, friends, neighbours, sports, hobbies, volunteer contacts, religious and community contacts, professional bodies, school network  
    3. Future: Create local alumni network or job search group, volunteer, join an association
  3. Include all the people you know in each group. Make a rule not to rule people out. Remember to keep an open mind and approach it with curiosity – wouldn’t it be interesting to find out who people might know? Use LinkedIn to find people from your past and enlist others to remind you of people you may have forgotten about. 
  4. Map it out in a way that works for you – it might be a spider diagram, post-it notes on a large piece of paper or a spreadsheet. 
  5. Prioritise your 1st level contacts - those you will approach first - by creating relevant criteria such as: “Do they have relevant sector/function/technical knowledge?” “Do I think they will know a lot of other people who could help?” “Do I feel comfortable contacting this person early on?”   
  6. Then map out 2nd and 3rd level contacts – those you will approach later. John Lees' book Just the Job is helpful in explaining how to work out different levels of contacts. 
I've mapped my network. What now?
  1. Your primary goal is to use your network to make useful new contacts. Approach your 1st level contacts - tell them what type of work you're looking for, relating it to your interests, skills and experience before and during your break. Ask them if they know of anyone who might be able to offer you advice or to provide information on your area(s) of interest, and if they would be happy to make an introduction.
  2. With each new person you meet, ask at the end of the conversation if they could introduce you to anyone else who would be interesting to speak to.
  3. Create a system for tracking your progress and adding to the network as you expand your list of contacts. A spreadsheet works well at this point.  
  4. Reward your progress – it’s better to approach several useful contacts per week than to spend hours researching on the internet with no focus. Every time you set up a call, arrange a coffee or gain a new introduction reward yourself in some sort of way that’s meaningful for you – it will take time and effort but will be of great long-term benefit not only for your first role back but in terms of your ongoing career opportunities! 
Posted by Kate Mansfield, Lead Career Coach, Women Returners

Friday, 26 May 2017

What's it REALLY like to return after a career break? Advice from a returner 2 years on

When I was contemplating returning to full-time work after a six-year career break, I cast around on Twitter and among friends for clues and tips and reassurance that I wasn’t Completely Mad for even considering it. There were lots on how to get organised, but very little that told me what it would actually be like. Almost two years in, what would I say to someone asking me the same question?
Be brave
I expected the tiredness and the logistical challenge of combining work and a hectic family life after the luxury of a few years where I only had to consider the latter. What I didn’t realise was how exhausting dredging up the courage to go in, day after day, till I found my feet again would be.
I was terrified on a daily basis, for a long time, in a way that I didn’t recognise from pre-career-break work, and in a way which I no longer experience now. I had a mantra of “don’t look down”: visualising myself on a tight rope, I willed myself to focus on putting one foot in front of the other and refusing to contemplate the horrors lurking should I slip.
Little things I once and now again take for granted: composing an email, approaching someone senior, giving an opinion or advice which I know could come back to bite me should I be wrong, were draining in a way I simply hadn’t expected.
Battling imposter syndrome is nothing special, I know, but it took every ounce of energy I had to fight it down when it was armed with the ammunition of that time away from the office.
Be selfish
I was brought up to believe in service to others, and having been acutely conscious of the additional time I had available while not working, like a lot of people I tried to volunteer where possible and fit in lots of social commitments with friends and family.
Volunteering and working are not mutually exclusive, of course, but it took me almost a year of becoming increasingly unhappy and ill to realise that a break while I reacclimatised to work would have been best all round. It wasn’t the lack of time which was the issue, so much as the need to prioritise family and my own mental well-being with space wherever possible not to be “in demand” from external sources while we all got used to our new normal.
Again, two years in, I now have the energy and headspace to start to be able to fit things into the spare time I have available, but in retrospect, it would have been helpful to have felt I had permission to take a step back. As with the friends point below, it’s natural to feel it important to prove a point – look, I can work and still do everything too! – but those who really care about you won’t be bothered either way.
Losing friends and inconveniencing people
Very much related to the above. Maybe this was just me, but it was hard to realise that to some people I considered friends, I had only every really just been valuable by my presence. A stay at home mum is a useful social acquaintance: able to step in at short notice, lend a hand in groups and generally help move things along by the simple virtue of proximity to home during the hours when others are in the office or on the road.
Not everyone, of course; going back strengthened some lovely friendships by making me realise who was a friend because of who I am rather than what I could do for them, but it wasn’t an easy thing to process in the midst of readjusting back to work when I could have done with a bit of support, and it’s something I wish I’d been prepared for.
Be happy
I used to scoff at the idea that having a happy mother was a tangible benefit to children, perhaps because I just didn’t realise that I was bored and rather miserable by the end of my time at home, but it’s been true in our case. I’ve been incredibly lucky in a supportive employer and access to great, affordable childcare, without both of which it possibly would have been a very different story.
Terror notwithstanding, I felt even in my first day that way you do when it’s only on starting to eat that you realise you were famished. Tiredness notwithstanding, I am simply happier with the boost to my confidence and self-esteem which returning to work has given me.
It has been and continues to be, hard. I miss my children, they miss me (and the luxury of not being in wraparound childcare) and I simply don’t have the degree of involvement in their daily lives that we once took for granted. But they are happy, and they continue to thrive, and we’re all more than managing.
If you’re reading this and wondering whether going back to work (or stepping back into a more demanding job after a period of doing something to fit in around family commitments) is for you, I can’t give you an answer. All I can say is that it was the unquestionably the right thing for me.
Oh, and good luck.
This post first appeared on Head in Book - Postcards from Surburbia

Posted by Donna

Plesae note, we will be posting fortnightly going forwards.  To read more from the archives see here. 

Friday, 12 May 2017

Is a returnship right for me?

As I'm sure you know, I'm fairly evangelical about the potential benefits to businesses and individuals of returnships - we have so many great case stories* of women getting back into great jobs this way. However I also recognise that they're not perfect (we've been working through many of the teething issues with organisations over the last 3 years) and that they're not for everyone. So this post is to help those of you wondering ...

Is a returnship right for me?

Answer these 6 questions to find out: 

Q1: Have you had a career break from your professional career for over 2 years?

YES: Go to Q2

NO: For most programmes there's a minimum of a 2 year break (sometimes 18 months). If you're looking for another job after redundancy, statutory maternity leave or a shorter sabbatical, focus on direct hire roles instead as you shouldn't need the support package provided through a returnship. If you're finding it hard to get a permanent role, even with a short break, also consider stepping stone roles such as interim, maternity covers, temp and contract work.

Q2: Are you looking for a complete career change?

NO: If you'd like to use your existing/transferable skills and experience, in the same or a different sector, go to Q3.

YES: A returnship can work for career shifters (into a new sector or using transferable skills) but isn't aimed at complete career changers. Look instead at study routes, strategic volunteering (or 'work experience') in your chosen sector, and at retraining programmes such as those listed here.

Q3: Are you confident that you can get directly into a permanent role via standard recruitment routes?

NO: Go to Q4

YES: If you like the idea of a trial period in a new sector, or a chance to test out whether it's the right time to return, go to Q4. If you would value the support offered on a returnship, look at Supported Hiring returner programmes (into permanent roles) and corporate returner events, or consider funding your own returner coaching. If you don't see any challenges with getting a permanent role, you don't need a returnship!

Q4: Can you be flexible on flexibility of hours/location?

YES: Go to Q5 

NO: If you have strict requirements for how work will work for you (e.g. 2 days a week, completely home-based, short commute), do push yourself a bit to consider where/how you can compromise. If you're completely inflexible you will find it hard to commit to and benefit from even a part-time returnship**; you need to have the opportunity to prove yourself, be visible and upskill and it will be harder to find a suitable-level role at the end. You may want to consider freelancing or other options until you're at the point where you can commit more time to work.

Q5: Can you be flexible on salary for the returnship period?

YES: Go to Q6

NO: Returnship salaries shouldn't be minimum wage. They are typically at an experienced hire level, but may be significantly lower than you were used to. Remember that this is a fixed term (3-6 month) programme rather than a permanent role; make sure to discuss the likely level of salary for roles at the end of the programme to assess whether the cost-benefit of this supported bridge back makes sense for you.

Q6: Are you proactive, positive and able to cope with uncertainty?

NO: Returnships come with their own challenges. In these pilot years participants play a key role in making the programme work and you need to be proactive to make the most of the opportunity. Even though the majority of participants convert into ongoing roles, you will also have to manage a degree of uncertainty during the returnship period. If this feels too stressful and/or you don't recognise the inherent value of refreshing your networks, knowledge and experience, whatever happens at the end of the programme, then a returnship may not be the best option for you. Focus instead on returner programmes which bring you directly into permanent roles.

YES: A returnship sounds like a great fit for you! Look at the open opportunities on our website here.


* See our returnship success stories here
** Some returnships are full-time, others are open to part-time or other flexible working

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 5 May 2017

Three Top Tips from Successful Returners

Over the past few years, we’ve been delighted to hear so many inspiring stories from women who have successfully returned to work. Here are three of their top tips.

Keep up your professional skills & knowledge

We all know that a career break is not a break from life and is typically taken for either reasons of caring, illness or re-training – none of which leave a lot of spare time. However, many returners felt that their efforts to keep up their skills and knowledge paid off when it came to returning to work. Fiona returned to occupational psychology after a 6 year break and advocates maintaining your professional knowledge, “I also always kept up with my profession in that I receive journals and took an interest in developments in my field.” Adrianna, who returned to Investment Banking after a 9 year break agrees, “Read as much as you can – from every available source – on topics related or potentially related to your business and the market as a whole”.

Rachel took a 9 year career break and during that time recognised some study areas she could pursue to help keep her skills recent and relevant, “As I didn’t have any recent professional qualifications I starting working my way through a project management course.”

Many returners also found they honed skills while undertaking ‘strategic volunteering’ – unpaid work that develops your skills and knowledge. Carmen, who took a 7 year break before returning as a Macro-Economist believes this approach helped her, “I became a governor at a local primary school, which I feel helped me to hone my negotiation skills and deal with difficult situations.”

Networking is vital – you never know where a lead will come from

When you’ve been on a career break the typical routes of finding work through online job boards and recruitment agencies often prove more disheartening than helpful. We hear so many stories of role opportunities that come up instead from networking conversations and contacts. Julia, who is now a Finance Director after taking a 2.5 year break would concur, “A more effective strategy was telling all my friends and mums at school gates what I was looking for – most opportunities I received came from these contacts.” Rachel, who returned to a role in Investment Management after an 8 year career break set about talking to everyone she could think of about what she was looking for. “Although there were times when I wondered if the endless meetings I was going to were a waste of time, I persevered and was ultimately successful in landing my ideal role.  I had also applied for numerous jobs online and via headhunters but got nowhere – networking really was the only useful route – the effort will pay off”.

Directly approach the firms that you are interested in

In addition to networking, many successful returners made the decision to bypass recruitment agencies and directly approach firms that they’d like to work for. Amy, who returned to Law after a 2 year break, took this direct approach, “I phoned a few recruitment agents about part-time legal work. They uniformly told me that the law firms would not be interested and refused to put forward my CV for any roles. I short-circuited the agencies by applying direct to a firm. Bypass the agencies and speak straight to the firms you are interested in.

Grazyna returned to work as an architect and advises that “a direct approach is generally welcome as firms often have flexible needs for skilled staff who are hard to find by the standard recruitment routes.” Fiona found the same was true, especially of smaller firms. “I picked up the phone to call a local solicitor who I knew slightly. That was the best step I took! I asked for work experience and was surprised that he agreed to me coming in a few mornings a week. I ended up being there 5½ years, thanks to making that one phone call.

Hopefully these top tips have inspired you, and if you have any suggestions of your own we’d love to hear them.

Posted by Anna Johnson, Lead Career Coach, Women Returners

Friday, 28 April 2017

Kate's story - Returning to Engineering after a 7 year break.

"To other professionals who are on a career break and want to get back into their chosen profession, my advice is not to give up" 
Read Kate's inspiring story of returning to work as an engineer through the Skanksa 2016 Return to Work programme. 

I did a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College and joined a rail infrastructure company’s graduate training programme when I graduated.  I worked for their rail vehicles section for six years in a range of roles, including as a project engineer managing the design and introduction of new rail vehicles into the UK infrastructure. During this time I became chartered with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

After taking my maternity leave, my employer was unable to accommodate my flexible working request, so I decided to take a career break. Nearly seven years later, once my youngest child was about to start school, I attended a Women’s Engineering Society conference and heard Julianne speaking about Women Returners. I had started thinking about returning to work but was daunted by the prospect and wasn’t expecting it to be easy to find a suitable part-time role in engineering. A returnship sounded like an ideal way for me to get back to work, so I joined Women Returners and began scouring the monthly newsletter for suitable programmes.

I joined the Skanska Return to Work programme as a Senior Engineer in SRW’s Engineering and Compliance team in November 2016 on a three-month contract, working part-time, and in January moved onto a permanent contract.  The Women Returners coaching sessions were invaluable and provided useful, practical advice on re-joining the workforce as well as giving me the opportunity to meet the rest of my returnship cohort and share common experiences.  At times it can be difficult juggling my job and my family commitments, but it’s not nearly as bad as I feared it might be before I started back at work. The coaching sessions with Women Returners were really useful in giving me tactics on how to deal with the added pressures of being a working parent, and it was great to have the advice and support of others who were having similar experiences at the same time.

My new colleagues in Skanska were also very supportive, and helped me make a smooth transition back to work by being flexible both with work locations and with fitting my hours in around my home commitments. I have been on several training courses, some technical and specific to my role, and some more general to Skanska and the construction industry.

To other professionals who are on a career break and want to get back into their chosen profession, my advice is not to give up. Organisations such as Women Returners are changing perceptions of career breaks and employers are starting to realise that there is a large pool of talent that they have been overlooking.  Flexible working is also becoming more common for both men and women and does not need to hamper career progression.

I am immensely enjoying being back at work and focussing on my career again.  For a while during my career break I did not think I would be able to find a suitable role in engineering and considered retraining in a more “family friendly” profession such as teaching. I am so glad that I didn’t waste my training and qualifications, and I am thrilled to be back working in engineering.

Posted by Donna

Friday, 21 April 2017

Kemi's Story - Returning to Financial Services Transactions with EY

Women Returners is partnering with EY to launch EY Reconnect, the firm’s 2017 career returners programme, providing a bridge for professionals to re-enter the workplace after an extended career break. Kemi's story is featured on the EY Reconnect website, please see here for more inspirational stories and further information about the programme.

Kemi, Manager, Financial Services Transactions.

“My career has always been very important to me and, although I loved my time at home with my children, I felt the time was right to get back into a hopefully rewarding career.”

Kemi worked at Deloitte and Goldman Sachs before taking a career break to care for her two daughters. She joined EY in the Transactions practice as part of the EY Reconnect programme – a 12-week initiative providing a route back to business for people returning from a break of 2-10 years.

“I did not want my decision to take time off when my children were young to impair my long term career goals, especially as I felt I was even more skilled in areas such as negotiation and time management post two children!  When I came across the EY Reconnect programme, it ticked all the boxes. It would give me exposure to interesting client work but within a programme that was aware of the challenges of coming back to work after a break.”

And the expectations of the programme quickly became a reality for Kemi.

“On joining the programme, I was enthusiastic to get going and add some value to my team. Luckily I have been given the opportunity to do that just that, while taking advantage of the exceptional learning and training EY has to offer.  For example, the career coaching sessions have been very illuminating, with valuable knowledge sharing on the best ways to approach this new stage of my career.”

EY’s flexible and supportive approach was also key factor in Kemi’s decision to join the programme and where she felt she would be able to really contribute.

“Everyone I have encountered have been really positive and interested in the programme, and always keen for a coffee and a catch up. In my opinion EY’s approach to workplace flexibility is empowering for employees and shows a modern organisation that listens to its people.”

Programmes such as EY Reconnect encourage and empower parents to refocus on their careers after a break, according to Kemi.

“There are huge armies of well qualified, experienced people – especially women – who feel marginalised from the work following a career break. EY Reconnect and similar initiatives promote diversity in the workplace which we all know benefits everyone – it’s a win-win situation.”

Of course, returning to work after a long career break can bring some challenges along the way, so what’s been the biggest challenge for Kemi to overcome?

“Realising my kids are alright without me! Because they definitely are. I have a supportive husband and great childcare in place, and this programme has been an opportunity to see that I can manage a busy career and home-life. And I feel I’m providing an important example to my daughters when I go to work each morning now.”

To find out more about the 2017 EY Reconnect Programme, see here:

Posted by Donna

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Official Returner Programme Dictionary

What’s the difference between a returnship and supported hiring? Are all returner programmes returnships? In the last year many different types of returner programme have appeared - some days even we get confused! To clear up the confusion, we've pulled together a definition of each type of programme. Here's our new ...

Women Returners Returner Programme Dictionary

Returner Programme
The generic term for an initiative targeted specifically at people returning to work after a long career break, including returnshipssupported hiring programmes, returner events, return-to-work fellowships and returner training programmes.

A higher-level professionally-paid internship for returning professionals. A returnship is a short-term contract (usually for 3-6 months), with a strong possibility but not a guarantee of an on-going role at the end of the programme. With most returnships, particularly with larger organisations, support in the form of mentoring/training/coaching is provided. Returnships are solely targeted at people who have taken a long career break. Most returnships occur annually with a cohort (e.g. EY Reconnect), however there may be more than one programme a year. UK returnships are listed here.

Supported Hiring Programme**
A recruitment process by which a returning professional is hired into a permanent position and provided with returner coaching support through the transition. Supported hiring roles are usually open to any applicants, however applications are welcomed from people who have taken a long career break. Supported hiring as part of a returner programme can either be on a cohort basis (eg. Aberdeen Returners Programme) or on an on-going basis (e.g. M&G Career Returners). Note: supported hiring can also be offered for one-off roles (e.g. Mezzvest) rather than as part of a programme.

Returner Event
An event for organisations to engage, support and attract returning professionals. A Returner Conference is a large-scale form of returner event for a large audience over one or two days (e.g. Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Returning Talent Programme). Returner events can also be run for a smaller more targeted audience (e.g. Bloomberg Returner Circle) and/or with a shorter format (eg. Central Government Career Changers Event).

Return-to-Work Fellowship
A funded fellowship for returners to research careers, usually in STEM fields. Fellowships are typically for 1-3 years. One longstanding example is the Daphne Jackson Fellowship.

Returner Training Programme
A form of returner programme where people who have taken a long break are retrained into a new or related field, reskilled to return to practice in their previous field or provided with a supportive refresher programme. This can be combined with a committed on-going role at the end of the training (e.g. FDM Getting Back to Business) or with a potential ongoing role (e.g. CMS Return to Law Programme) or be stand-alone (e.g. Come Back to Nursing).

Note: some Returner Programmes include:

Returner Coaching Programme
A tailored form of coaching to support people returning to work after a career break, ideally addressing both the psychological and the practical challenges, to enable them to be more satisfied and more productive. Offered as part of some returnships and supported hiring programmes. Can be offered for individuals or in groups (e.g. Women Returners Returner Coaching Programme)

*term invented & trademarked by Goldman Sachs, 2008 
**term invented by Women Returners, 2015