The Value Returners Bring and Top Tips for Success – Advice from Employers

An impressive group of programme managers and business leaders met on our Employer Panel at the 2022 Women Returners Back to Your Future Conference. They delivered an optimistic take on how the post-pandemic world has shifted very much in favour of returners, discussing the value returners bring as well as sharing tips on how to succeed at interview and back at work.

Claire Cohen, author and journalist, hosted our panel of Tiziana Casaula, J.P. Morgan; Dane Lloyd Dwyer, Amazon Lockers; Sarah Mavius, FDM Group; Brian Stanislas MBE, Civil Service HR (Cabinet Office); and Alexander Trusty, Moody’s Corporation.  Here’s a summary of what they shared:

Value Returners Bring

  • “Returner programmes are greatly valued as returners show huge commitment, grit, and willingness to contribute”
  • “Returners bring a bias for action and energy.” They’re ready to prove what they can do and eager to climb a steep learning curve
  • “We see lots of ownership from returners, they come with a diverse experience and their break helps them to understand cultural nuances and have more empathy”
  • They have a “drive to add value quickly” – this helps them to learn and be curious and enables them to move fast
  • Once they’ve made the decision to return, “returners are very proactive and want to prove to themselves and their employer that they can do it”
  • “Attracting senior female talent to our returner programmes helps us to reduce the gender pay gap and achieve gender parity in terms of leadership.”
  • “In the current war for talent, these programmes help us to find the right people!”

What employers are looking for?

  • Your previous experience fits the role you’re going for
  • That you “embrace the values and culture of our organisation”
  • “At interview we want to see your commitment and enthusiasm to return to work.” Employers are looking for reassurance that you are able to tackle your work as well as your other responsibilities.
  • They want to hear that you’re “managing all your stakeholders in terms of expectation setting” as you return to work including your family!
  • “Be transparent about what you need – openness and communication at the beginning are so important.” If you need flexibility, be open about it so employers can see how they can meet your needs. When this is done well, returners move fast and climb the curve more quickly than expected
  • “If you’re changing careers, outline your transferable skills e.g. stakeholder management, project management, communication skills, and align them to the role you’re going for”
  • They value your many years of experience, especially those of older employees. “Age is not a barrier to returning to work – your experience raises the whole team and is very valuable for more junior members of the team.”

We were left with a tangible sense of optimism that more and more employers not just welcome returners but are eagerly seeking out the experience, energy, and value that they bring to the workplace.

To hear the experiences and inspiring stories of returning women, listen and subscribe to our Career Returners Podcast, out fortnightly on Wednesdays.

Career Returners Podcast – Top Return to Work Tips (2)

After 10 wonderful weeks, we’ve reached the end of our first series of our ‘Career Returners’ podcast. Here’s what we learned from our inspirational podcast guests as they navigated their return to work journeys:

When you’re first thinking about returning to work

  • Cast aside doubts that you’ve been out of the workplace for too long – with the right preparation and ideally support, length of career break should never be a barrier to returning to your professional career. Amongst our podcast guests, the length of career break ranged from 3 to 16 years – and we’ve coached women on returner programmes who have been out for 20+ years. If they can do it, so can you!
  • Don’t worry about the reason for your career break – your reason is personal and you don’t need to disclose it. There are a whole host of reasons why people take a career break, including childcare, eldercare, ill health, bereavement, travel, relocation, studying or starting your own business. The reason is immaterial to employers – what’s material is your skills, strengths, experience and fit for their role.
  • Be proud of your career break – reflect on all the transferable skills you have gained during it, such as increased empathy, negotiation, leadership, and collaboration skills. These are what employers are drawn to and they value the increased wisdom and breadth of perspective that returners bring to their teams.
  • Reflect on your broader skills and strengths – through online strengths tools, revisiting old appraisals, reflecting on the projects you were involved in and the expertise you brought to them. Reconnecting with your professional identity will boost your confidence and help you to focus your search on the types of roles where you can use your skills and strengths.

When you’re thinking about your path back to work

  • Start with what work you’d find fulfilling – that’s work that’s aligned with your skills, interests, and experience. Once you’ve identified work that you’d find fulfilling, then think about how you might be able to do that work with the flexibility you’d like and at the level of pay you’d like.
  • If you’re thinking about a career change, do your research. Ideally spend some time volunteering in this new field to see whether it’s the right work for you and to build your experience and network in this new area. Talk to people working in this area to learn as much as you possibly can. Alternatively, get your foot back in the door in an industry you know, and once you’re in, then explore whether there are any lateral moves you can make to re-orient your career in the direction you’d like to go.
  • Consider returner routes back in returner programmes can offer the perfect route back in as they offer real work with support to get back up to speed often in the form of coaching, mentoring, and training. Recruiters will value your career break, and you will be competing in a smaller pool, as opposed to general roles in the open market. You’ll also be given time and support to get back up to speed which will make your transition back to work smoother.

When you’re actively looking for work

  • Create an action plan for your return to work – update your CV, create a LinkedIn profile if you haven’t got one and start building and reaching out to your network. Keep taking small steps, one at a time, to keep moving forward in your return to work plan.
  • Prepare your professional intro – so that you have a clear, engaging, and focussed career story to tell during networking conversations, and later when you’re in interview! Start first with highlighting your sector background, key skills, and expertise, mention your career break briefly (e.g. that you’ve had a 5 year career break to raise your young family), and end on what you’re looking to explore now.
  • Be prepared for a few bumps along the way – many of our podcast guests spoke about the fact that it took them longer than they thought to get back to work. Schedule in time for focussed and tailored activity rather than sitting in front of your screen for 10 hours a day, applying for hundreds of roles. Ensure you look after yourself during this period – eat well, exercise and take regular time off to recharge.

And finally, in the early days once you’re back at work

  • Understand that you may experience a rollercoaster of emotions – this is perfectly normal as the adrenaline high of starting your new role subsides and the reality of now combining a busy workload with your busy life sinks in. Think about what help you can get at home, what you can delegate and what you can stop doing. Reach out to people at work to connect and build your internal network – this will help you to navigate your new work environment and learn who’s who, how to access the resources you need, and the people who can help you.
  • Maintain your work-life boundaries – this is so important in ensuring you make your return to work sustainable. Your work life balance may shift but recognising when you start to feel out of balance and taking steps to switch off and recharge will be key in making your return to work enjoyable and sustainable. Establish some boundaries for yourself – when you will switch off, not checking email in the evenings or weekends, switching on your ‘out of office’ – these will all help you to manage this balance and set yourself up for success going forwards.
  • Have faith in yourself and remain positive and proactive remember to be your own inner mentor and champion as you return to work, stay optimistic that things will work out well, and continue to take small steps to create opportunities that will hopefully lead to the next fulfilling chapter in your career story!

Huge thanks to our podcast sponsors Credit Suisse for helping us to bring these stories to life. If you’ve missed any of the episodes in our Career Returners podcast, then you can listen for free via any of the links below, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts:

Career Returners Podcast – Top Return to Work Tips (1)

Anna and Karen have loved interviewing three inspiring women for the first episodes of our Career Returners Podcast. Having already gleaned much valuable return to work advice from these successful returners to work, they’ve summarised their top 5 tips so far:

1.Value the skills and experiences you have gained during your career break

Don’t undervalue these skills, just because they may have been gained doing volunteering rather than paid work. Sarah McKelvie, who returned to medicine during the pandemic after a 12-year career break, found volunteering provided valuable transferrable skills such as collaboration, motivating people and leading a team, all skills which have really helped her be the well-rounded and empathetic doctor she is now.

2. Don’t give up

The experience of all our interviewees illustrates that the road back to work can be long and draining. You may face many rejections and feel like it’s never going to work out. Their advice was to be patient and persistent and to draw on support to help you to keep going. Use your social networks and talk to friends and parents at the school gates so that others know what you’re looking for and can tell you about opportunities they hear of. Join like-minded communities for peer support such as our growing Facebook Group to help keep your motivation levels up.

3.Get clear on your values

It’s important to think about who you are now and what’s important to you for this next this stage of your career. This will help guide your return to work and help you to feel confident in your new role. As Rachel Tomkins, who returned to engineering with Tideway after a 9 year career break reflected, one of the keys to her successful return was just being herself, being authentic and bringing all the additional skills, experiences, wisdom, and maturity that she gained during her career break with her to her new role.

4.The first role back doesn’t need to be perfect

Your first return to work job can just be a stepping-stone to get your foot back in the door and refresh your skills. Rachel reflected that once you’re back in, you can then explore a whole host of other opportunities that may open up to you.

5. Be prepared to feel a rollercoaster of emotions as you return to work

The initial adrenaline high and excitement often gives way to exhaustion and imposter syndrome a few weeks in. This transition is totally normal and one many returners go through and successfully conquer.  What helped Melissa Janvier, as she returned to law at the Bank of England after a 5 year career break,  was setting aside time to rebuild her knowledge through reading and training, and by growing her network of support – both from established team members and from the valuable peer support of the returner pool she joined with.

You can listen to the Career Returners podcast for free via any of the links below, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts. New episodes are published every Wednesday:

Women Returners Career Returners Podcast Webpage

Career Returners on Apple Podcasts

Career Returners on Spotify

Employers’ Advice on Succeeding as a Returner Candidate

On the second Employer Panel at our Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’  Virtual Conference last month, Claire Cohen, Women’s Editor and Associate Features Editor of the Telegraph, talked to 5 of our employer partners about How to Succeed as a Returner Candidate. Read on for top tips from Credit Suisse, FDM Group, J.P. Morgan, O2 and St. James’s Place Academy about the key attributes they’re looking for.

What stands out in a returner application

“We want to learn about you as an individual, what makes you interested in returning to work.”

“Getting across who you are as a person. If we’re looking for entrepreneurs, make sure that comes across – give us something to ask you about in the first interview!”

“Use the space provided – not too short so you undersell yourself, and not too long that you ramble on!”

“We’re really interested in your career history – share this and your years of experience.”

“We’re looking for your transferable skills – what can you bring to us?”

“Make sure you can talk about both your previous experience and what you want to do now. A future-focussed attitude is hugely important.”

“If you’re passionate about the role, pull out your great experience, discuss your transferable skills, talk about your career break as a matter of fact and place yourself confidently into that candidate pool.”

What key skills are they looking for

“Highlight your ‘future of work’ skills – communication, stakeholder management, presence, and relationship building.”

“In this year of resiliency; adaptability, flexibility and really good communication skills are ever more important.”

“We can build your skills and train you up; we’re interested overall in your attitude, positivity and how you’ll bring proactiveness to the workplace.”

“Have confidence in yourself and what you bring.”

Thoughts on a career break

“You bring a fresh perspective which is really valued.”

“Don’t be scared of your career break. Remember your past career, what that felt like, what you’re good at, what you bring. Don’t underplay that or undersell yourself. Sell your strengths.”

“Organisations are looking for talent so don’t apologise for your career break.”

“Don’t forget you’re a very capable person and have achieved a lot in your former career and potentially on your career break. You will have honed your transferable skills a great deal – don’t underestimate that as all of that is valuable when you come back to work.”

Advice on returning

“Consider what roles are available in the market and how your skills can be transferred into roles that perhaps you hadn’t thought of. The first opportunity will open doors and help you establish a network and then other opportunities may then open up.”

“Everything comes back very naturally. Don’t be afraid – believe in yourself! Turn down the voice of that inner critic.”

“Ask lots of questions – there are no stupid questions.”

“For returners, confidence tends to starts on a high and then drops after a couple of weeks when you fear you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. This cycle is totally natural. My advice is to ride it out. Returnships are an amazing opportunity and stepping stone and like all opportunities there’s ups and downs. Keep a mindset of positivity – seize the day and be honest about the support you need to make it work”.

“Reach out and network with others because everyone’s feeling the same.”

How to balance any caring responsibilities and work

“Share what your situation is and what your responsibilities are – be open and honest so that your line manager can help you adapt or solve any issues together.”

“Returning to work is tiring – learn how to be kind to yourself. Surround yourself with the right support – some of that’s from partners and people at home, some of that’s from the cohort you’re with and some of that’s from your manager on the programme.”

What the best returners do that makes them shine

“They have inner belief in themselves. They’re clear on why they’re doing this. They’re open and  honest.”

“They’re willing to learn and take on feedback. They ask for help when they need it.”

“They bring a lot of determination and motivation.”

“They demonstrate flexibility.”


These comments are a great illustration of the value that leading employers place on returning professionals and the skills and experience you bring to the workplace. For more advice, support and news of job opportunities, sign up to our free Women Returners Professional Network, and check out our wide range of articles on our Advice Hub.