Friday, 20 March 2020

Realistic optimism & supporting our women returners community


With the worries, uncertainty and practical changes resulting from COVID-19, we are developing new ways to support the Women Returners community over the coming months. 

We're planning a series of free short webinars with advice on topics such as coping with uncertainty and virtual interviewing. Watch for announcements on womenreturners.com and we'll put out a summary from each webinar on this blog. In the meantime, here are some initial tips on coping in the current climate.

Pause for Perspective

Given our predisposition to negative thinking, it's easy for our minds to race to the worse possible outcome right now, whether this be our chances of getting back to work after a break, the health of our family or the state of the world economy. You may be feeling anxious and frustrated that your plans are put on hold for an uncertain period of time, and even wondering if you'll now ever get back to work. 

This is the moment we need to pause and to consciously try to regain perspective before accepting the worse case scenario. We're not suggesting ignoring the crisis - we're well aware that these are some of the toughest times many of us will face. However, it is a moment to aim for a mindset of 'realistic optimism', as psychology research has found this can help to boost your resilience and motivation in difficult situations. 

What is Realistic Optimism?

This isn't about putting your head in the sand or blind optimism. Apsychologist Sandra Schneider tells us, optimism and realism are not in conflict - we need both. Realistic optimists are cautiously hopeful that things will work out the way they want and will do everything they can to ensure a good outcome. The realistic optimist finds out the facts and acknowledges the challenges and constraints she faces. Her optimism comes into play in her interpretation of ambiguous events and uncertain situations such as the one we're currently in. She recognises that many situations have a range of possible interpretations and chooses a helpful rather than an unhelpful one. She is aware of the positives as well as the negatives in each situation and actively looks for future opportunities, focusing on what she can control rather than what she has no influence over. 

Find out the Facts

To build this more resilient mindset, and avoid getting into a downward mental spiral, it helps to look out for and consider some positive facts alongside the overwhelmingly negative ones. For example, in the context of returning to work:
  • The hard reality is that many people are facing unemployment and a lot of recruitment is being put on hold. However, a significant number of employers are adopting a 'business as usual' attitude, adapting rapidly to a virtual world. There are still many jobs being advertised and we're finding this is applying to returner programmes as well as regular recruitment. 
  • Some businesses have an upturn of demand in the current climate and are facing skills shortages and increasing recruitment (such as Amazon).
  • There is a widespread call for nurses, midwives, occupational therapists and other healthcare specialists who have left the professional register to return to the NHS to cope with the crisis. 
  • Indications from countries who were affected earlier are that the effects are time-limited and so we can all plan for normality starting to return after the summer.

Ease the Pressure on Yourself

It will help you to gain perspective if you relax the pressure you're putting on yourself. If your family is sick, or you now have children at home all day, your priorities will inevitably shift. That's OK. You don't need to completely abandon your Back to Work To-Do List, but it may be put on hold for a while and you definitely won't make the same progress you were making before. 

Similarly if you do now have school-age children at home, forget perfect parenting and be flexible about adjustments you all need to make. Try to establish a routine that works for everyone and don't put yourself at the bottom of the pile.

You can find more practical tips on maintaining your mental health in this Forbes article: Coronavirus creating stress? And LinkedIn has put out 16 free courses including managing stress for positive change and building resilience .


For those of you with more time on your hands now, you can find advice on upskilling and improving your chance of a successful return to work when normality resumes in our Advice Hub. And Sign up to our free Women Returners Professional Network to receive our emails and updates with more support and advice.





Tuesday, 25 February 2020

How do I explain the gap on my CV after a career break?

Gap on my CV after a career break


‘How do I explain the gap on my CV?’ is one of the most frequent questions we get asked. It’s a good question and one that causes many of our returners considerable angst. But, not anymore... 

Victoria McLean, CEO of City CV, ran a fantastic session on this topic at our Women Returners conference last year. And, we’re delighted she’s agreed to come back this year. The session is really interactive and packed with expert tips and insider knowledge of the recruitment market – it’s definitely not to be missed.

As a taste of what’s to come, we asked Victoria to give us her top tips for writing your return to work CV and making the most of LinkedIn. Here’s what she had to say:

Top Tip #1: Never undersell yourself on your CV 


I feel a lot of people, women returners in particular, undersell themselves on their CV. It’s not about bragging, but a stand-out CV really needs to demonstrate the benefits you’ll bring to an employer. Your added-value needs to sing out from every line. Most people find that a bit daunting at first, especially after a career break when so many women forget just how great they are. My advice is – don’t panic, we’ll cover loads of ideas in the conference session.

There are several ways to turn a gap on your CV into a positive selling point - make sure to include all the relevant skills and experience you've acquired. I'll talk about this in more depth at the conference. We’ll also be looking at how to hone in on those key strengths and skills. And, how to optimise your CV with key words to get past the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). 

Top Tip #2: LinkedIn is a valuable tool

When it comes to LinkedIn, I feel very few people are really making the most of it. That’s a shame because it’s a valuable tool. Around 99% of recruiters use it to search for suitable candidates and to check you out before inviting you to interview.

It’s really worth investing in your LinkedIn profile because it’s not enough to just copy and paste your CV. LinkedIn requires a different approach; it’s less formal and more dynamic than a CV. And, as you’d expect from a search engine run by algorithms, key words play a massive role. Your LinkedIn summary is the most important part of your profile and it should set out your business case with keywords and using all of the 2,000 characters available. It's really important to get the first two or three lines just right so recruiters are motivated to click 'see more'. 


Even if you’re completely new to LinkedIn, don’t worry. The conference session will boost your confidence and get you going in the right direction. If you’ve already got a LinkedIn profile but feel you could be doing more with it, we’ve got some ideas for that too.

Thank you, Victoria. We’re looking forward to learning more at your session. 


Victoria McLean, CEO of City CV, will be running a conference session on how to write a compelling, impressive CV and Linkedin profile, including how to position your career break. She will also be running a breakout session on Interview Skills.

Where & When? 


The 2020 Women Returners London Conference is on:

Monday 12 October 2020: 9.00am to 5.30pm (rescheduled)

Venue: 10 Union Street, London Bridge, London, SE1 1SZ – just a few minutes walk from London Bridge station.

This is our fourth annual London Conference especially for professional woman interested in returning to work after a career break. It’s a highly motivational and inspiring day packed with expert speakers, panels and workshops. 


This conference is for everyone looking to return to work after a break. It doesn’t matter what your professional background is or whether your career break has been 18 months or 18 years. Join us for the opportunity to meet informally with other like-minded women and our returner employer sponsors, including Amazon Web Services, Bloomberg, Credit Suisse, FDM Group, J.P. Morgan, O2 and St. James’s Place Academy.

Early Bird offer

Our Early Bird ticket offer is available. Book your ticket now to secure your place.




Wednesday, 5 February 2020

How to approach the subject of flexible working

How to ask for flexible working

Our Senior Coach Kate Mansfield, spoke to Louise Deverell-Smith, founder of Daisy Chain about the subject.

We know that when you are returning to work, concerns about how to balance life (which may include continuing caring responsibilities) with work again are a concern for many individuals.

Louise Deverill-Smith, who founded a platform to connect parents with flexible employers, talked to Kate about the shift in perspective she has seen from many employers and shares some of her top tips about how to approach the subject when returning to work.

Louise says “Whilst flexible working is not necessarily the norm as yet, it is definitely not the taboo subject that it once was. Many employers now offer agile working, which encourages flexible working and hot-desking. Many of our clients are thriving as they attract and retain great people, offer a productive and supportive working environment and generate respect and gravitas along the way”.

However Louise very much appreciates that many women (and men) find approaching the subject of flexibility daunting, and that this is particularly difficult for those seeking to gain a foothold back into an organisation following an extended break.

Louise shares with us some of her top tips on ways to approach the subject:

Really know what you’re asking for

Flexibility can take many different shapes and forms and certainly doesn’t necessarily mean part-time. Consider carefully what options may work for you and then consider how you can make that work for your employer.

For example, map out the various options and consider them fully:

  • Do you want to condense your hours to have a Friday off? Work out exactly what this looks like. Could you reduce a lunch break to work a shorter day later in the week in order to make this possible?
  • Does starting early and leaving early meet your needs? 
  • Could 1 or 2 days of home working make the difference to you? 
  • Can you build in a review period so that you can trial the new arrangement? 
Be aware of the difference between formal and informal flexibility and what might be possible at the discretion of an open minded and supportive Manager.

Manage business worries

When some employers hear the words ‘flexible working’, they automatically associate that with reduced productivity, time out the office and an impact on their commercial outcome. Ensure your proposal considers all critical aspects from a team perspective and present your proposal as a business case solution, which has thought about any elements that the employer may see as a risk.

Reassure them that even if your hours are less, the output will meet the needs of the job (put it in a spreadsheet if necessary), that your time in the office will be nothing but productive and that you are dedicated to your role and the company.

Consider your timing 

Many individuals worry about when to raise the subject of flexibility and worry that not raising it at interview could go against them later on when they might wish to revisit the subject. Louise agrees that it is important to only raise it once an employer is aware of your skills, experience and value to them - lead with that in the conversation. 
Some routes back to work such as a returnship will offer the chance for you to trial the ways you prefer to work and present an opportunity later in the programme to re-visit this and potentially change the way that you work. Equally if important to you to start with a level of flexibility from the outset, do your due diligence on the employer and their working culture and go in with an informed expectation of how it is likely to work in this environment. Don’t be afraid to raise it with the same tips above in mind – a solution-focused approach that emphasises the skills you bring and practical solutions for how you will deliver. 

Remember why you’re asking for it 

Always keep the reason you’re asking for flexible working at the forefront of your mind. It might be to help with childcare, to save costs or to just give you a better work/life balance – whatever it is, know that this is the overriding reason that this is important to you and this is your driver for making it work for both you and your employer.








Louise Deverell-Smith is founder of Daisy Chain - a free online platform for parents where they can match and connect with flexible employers to enhance their careers and work-life balance.







Sign up to our free Women Returners network for more advice, support and job opportunities.

You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Gemma's story - changing from commercial property law to podiatry



Gemma changed career from commercial property law to podiatry. Here is her story...

I made the change to podiatry after working for ten years as a commercial property lawyer and after taking a two-year break following my second child. 


When my second child was born I decided that “if a job was going to take me away from my children, then it had better be something I really care about.” After researching a number of health professions I decided podiatry offered the combination of variety and flexibility I really needed in my life – as well as the satisfaction that would come from working with patients.

Today I work for the NHS in Greenwich, treating patients at a hospital clinic and out in the community. As a podiatrist, I’ve been able to change work patterns as circumstances have evolved. I’ve just restructured my working hours to a three day a week arrangement, spread across four days. It means I am able to collect my children from school three days a week.

Many podiatrists work privately, either within existing clinics or practices, or running their own business. It’s a great career to combine with childcare as you can keep the hours you need but still make a comfortable living.

The experience of a previous career where there was a less positive work-life balance makes me really appreciate my current situation more. I would say to anyone who is working, take your job and look at what the best bits are – and I bet you there will be a career in podiatry that offers those things and more but with far fewer of the drawbacks.

To practice as a podiatrist you need to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council, which requires a degree in podiatry from one of 13 specialist university courses around the UK. Most school leavers will have A levels in science, but mature students – who have historically made up a large part of the intake for podiatry courses – may have alternative qualifications, as long as they can prove they meet the required standard.

I trained at the University of East London after taking evening classes and an Open University Course to get my science up to scratch. It’s not an easy transition, but a shortage of podiatrists at the moment means that newly qualified professionals are entering jobs immediately after graduating.

The more research I did into health careers, the more I realised that podiatry ticked all the boxes. I couldn’t find anything else that offered the variety: different avenues of progression with the ability to specialise, the job satisfaction in bringing immediate relief to patients and the flexibility in terms of being able to balance it with the rest of my life.


Sign up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities. You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Women Returners champions returnships in the North of England: Interview with Jude Harvey

Jude Harvey returnships in the North of England

Women Returners has just opened an office in Leeds led by Jude Harvey. In this blog, we talk to Jude about Women Returners' plans for expansion in the North of England.

Why has Women Returners decided to open an office in Leeds?

Quite simply because we want to champion the growth of returnships and supported hire programmes in the North of England. We've been working with organisations to help professional women return to work in the region for some time. Last year we ran the first cross-company return to law programme in Leeds and Manchester and we work with companies such as FDM, Mott MacDonald and Balfour Beatty on cross-UK programmes with opportunities in the region. We believe there's huge potential to bring the benefits of returnships to many more organisations and the highly skilled and experienced individuals who live in the North.

What is your focus for 2020?

I'm passionate about partnering with organisations to run more returner programmes in the North. Our vision is to make hiring of professionals who have taken an extended career break a normal part of regular recruitment. Large organisations here have the same challenges as everyone else, but they may have not used the solutions some of the companies in the South East have.

We'll be getting the word out that we're here.

On Tuesday 25 February (11am to 12pm) we're running a free webinar for returners - How to Return to Work After a Career Break. I'd encourage anyone who's thinking of returning to work to join myself and my colleague Kate Mansfield as we draw on hundreds of case studies to discuss returnships, strategic volunteering, networking and a variety of non-standard job-hunting techniques which career returners have used successfully to get back into work. You can find out more and register here.

And I also want to encourage individual returners to join our free Women Returners Professional Network. They'll find lots of support and advice and will be the first to hear about new opportunities in their area.

We'll also be engaging with businesses and demonstrating how returnships can help tackle challenges around recruiting talent and impact inclusion and diversity. On Tuesday 17 March (9.30am to 10.30am) we're running a free Employer Webinar so that employers can learn more about the benefits of returner programmes. Employers can find out more and register here.

What is your background?

I was born in Scotland and have lived in Leeds for 15 years - I'm married to a Yorkshireman. I worked in diversity and inclusion - and prior to that learning and development - for a number of years. While I was head of diversity and inclusion at a large telecoms company I looked at returner programmes which led me, naturally, to working with Julianne and the Women Returners team, as the experts in this area.

We worked together for about four years. I'd see women arrive at the beginning of the programmes we ran with little confidence but lots of talent and ability and then move confidently into permanent positions four months later. This was something that I personally found incredibly rewarding.

Having worked client-side, I understand some of the challenges that organisations face and can advise them on how Women Returners' solutions help address these.

I joined Women Returners in September last year and I'm hugely excited about our expansion plans.

Which geographical areas will you focus on?

We'll be focussing on growing programmes centred on the northern hubs of Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Leicester, York, Newcastle, Sheffield and Bradford as there are lots of key businesses in these areas.

Employers who are interested in learning more about returnships and how to recruit high-calibre professionals into their organisation should contact me at jude@womenreturners.com