How to Succeed on a Returner Retraining Programme

This guest blog is by Gee Foottit from St. James’s Place Wealth Management – Financial Adviser Academy, who shares some excellent advice from graduates of their Academy programme for future returner retrainees.

Since 2018 I have been working with Women Returners to bring in talent to the St. James’s Place Financial Adviser Academy, which retrains experienced professionals to become financial advisers. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many of the women who have joined us from the Women Returners community and wanted to share some of their personal tips on navigating a return to work via a retraining programme.

Tips from Alison Jarvis

  • See the retraining programme as an opportunity rather than as something to fear.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Pace yourself.
  • Realise that even if you have not been working recently in the traditional sense, you are bringing other skills, competencies, character traits and views to the table that can expand the organisation’s view/understanding of the marketplace.
  • Remember they have selected you for a reason – it wasn’t that they thought you showed no potential and had zero skills.
  • Network broadly with your internal stakeholders.
  • Establish boundaries for your personal time and try, where possible, to adhere to them.
  • Don’t be afraid to take on challenge – you will grow.
  • Making errors is normal for everyone, regardless of how they arrived at where they are today.
  • Don’t give up your ambition just because you are a returner and might feel “on the back foot” – this is likely to be a mental barrier.
  • Enjoy it!

Alison joined the Financial Adviser Academy programme in January 2020 after a previous career as a lawyer, PR/BD/market research specialist and project manager. She spent 7 years working in the developing world prior to returning to the UK. She struggled to find meaningful, suitably paid work owing to her eclectic, international non-linear career path and her age demographic, so spent 3.5 years consulting and temping in very unsatisfactory, low paid roles before joining the Academy.

Tips from Kam Singh

  • If you’re going to start your own business, I would recommend setting a year’s worth of expenditure aside to pay towards household bills so you can focus on the business and not worry about family cashflow, depending on your next chosen career and guaranteed money coming in.
  • Try and dress in work clothes i.e. casual smart prior, to re-entering your career, so you’ll have a good routine of grabbing a few outfits that match ‘on the go’.
  • Invest in smart shoes you can walk in!
  • Keep an open mind as life and times change – stay neutral so you can accept new and different points of view.
  • Reintroduce ‘you time’ so your family accept your new routine and get used to you not being around.

Kam joined the Financial Adviser Academy programme in Sept 2019, following a previous career in Corporate Banking and a 4 year career break. 

Tips from Viviana Antinolfi 

  • If you have children, it is important to surround yourself with enough help.
  • Put clear boundaries to the time you devote to work as you want to keep a balance with other important things in life.
  • Ask your partner (if you have one) to contribute more – by taking time off work you have most likely allowed them to focus on their career, now it’s payback time.
  • Don’t be scared to reach out to your network as most people are genuinely happy to see what you are up to.
  • Don’t expect success to happen overnight. it takes time to build a new career. Enjoy each small win as they are a step forward.
  • Be enthusiastic about what you do. If you are unsure, others / your clients will be too.
  • Bring your past experience to the new job. You have a massive knowledge accumulated in what you did in the past, use it!

Viviana joined the Financial Adviser Academy programme in Jan 2020 following a previous career in Investment Banking at Managing Director level, and a 6 year career break.

Tips from Rebecca Maxwell-Hyslop 

  • Don’t underestimate the transferable skills picked up whilst on your career break.
  • Remember you don’t lose the years of experience that you gained in the workplace pre-break.
  • Ensure you have back-up plans at home, whether that be a partner or fellow local parents.
  • Rebuild your network – get to know people in the same industry, don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice, people are flattered if you ask!
  • There will be good days and bad – remind yourself of your why – why you are doing the role, why now.
  • Share your experience of going back to work socially and professionally – be enthusiastic. Sharing my experience makes me more accountable.
  • If you have children and they are old enough to understand, share the journey with them. If they feel included, they are more likely to be supportive. Mine are fascinated about how to run a business and enjoy seeing the benefits of a second income!
  • Believe in yourself!

Rebecca joined the Financial Adviser Academy programme in Sept 2020, following a previous career Trading at Credit Suisse, and a 3.5 year career break.

Gee’s Own Tips

I hope you enjoyed those pearls of wisdom; my final thoughts are:

  • Understand your own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Have a clear plan of what you want to achieve over the next 1, 3 and 5 years, review it regularly and create a personal development plan.
  • Adopt a growth mindset – if you can’t do something, it’s only because you don’t know how to yet.
  • Write down the challenges you’ve faced in life and how you overcame them. This will remind you of how resilient you really are and that any challenge can be overcome.
  • Leverage the support of mentors and coaches offered to you, source your own if need be.
  • Network with like-minded positive and successful people.
  • Join any internal Professional Women’s Networks available.
  • Do your research, don’t be afraid to ask for help, be bold and take your first step!

Gee Foottit is the Academy Engagement Manager at St. James’s Place Wealth Management – Financial Adviser AcademySt. James’s Place offers a retraining opportunity to become a qualified Financial Adviser. This consists of 6 months’ virtual learning and gaining professional qualifications, followed by 18 months’ support in the role. The candidates have the choice of starting their own Financial Advice business or joining one of St. Jame’s Place’s established Practices as an Adviser.

How to Prevent Return-to-work Burnout

This guest blog is by burnout expert Cara de Lange, who offers advice on how to prevent burnout when you’re returning to the workplace, particularly if you’re working remotely.

If you are returning to work after having been away from the work front for a while, it can feel like you are stepping back into a different world of remote or hybrid working. Without the ‘switch off’ time of a commute, it’s easy to fall into using that time for extra work or to keep working late into the evening. The feeling of being always ‘switched’ on and not able to disconnect can contribute to feelings of tiredness and fatigue, and may lead to burnout if not addressed. The great news is that, if you are aware of all of this before you get back into work, you can set up some boundaries and habits for yourself to make sure you can switch off and maintain your energy levels.

What is burnout?

The World Health Organisation defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

The symptoms of burnout are:

  • A continuous feeling of exhaustion or lack of energy
  • Negative feelings and a distancing from the job role
  • A reduction in professional efficacy.

As well as the three recognised symptoms of burnout, there are a few other signs that may indicate you are heading towards burnout. Things to look out for include a general dissatisfaction with your working environment; regular headaches, stomach aches or issues with your digestion; a constant lack of energy; insomnia and a lack of motivation in all areas of life.

How can you prevent burnout?

The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to help prevent yourself from reaching that burnout stage. Here are some useful ways to help you manage your stress and prevent burnout when you return to work.

  1. When you finish your working day at home, put all your work stuff (laptop, notebook etc) away in a drawer or cupboard. Out of sight really can help to make it out of mind!
  2. Be aware of the language you use and speak to yourself with – if you tell yourself you are burned out; the brain will go ‘ok I am burned out then’ and you will feel more tired. Try using positive phrases such as ‘I feel tired but I am working on ways to gain more energy’ or ‘I feel calm and have more energy every day’. Write out some positive affirmations and put them in places where you can easily read them and remind yourself during the day.
  3. Nature nurtures – trees are healing. Take yourself outside and do some ‘forest bathing’. Walking amongst trees can reduce stress and tiredness. If that’s not possible, at least try to get your feet on the grass for a few minutes a day.
  4. When working, make sure to take regular breaks in between meetings and tasks. Micro wellness – super short 60 second breaks – give your mind and body a rest. Something as simple as taking a deep breath before you join that next meeting, giving your toes a wriggle and feeling your palms, gets you back into your body and out of your head.
  5. If your work is consistently stressful, then it may be time to think about making some changes. Perhaps you need to reduce your hours or rearrange your schedule to allow for a little more breathing space. Discuss your feelings with your employer and try to work out a plan to stop yourself from reaching burnout.
  6. Stop wearing the ‘burnout badge of honour’. We are all human and deserve to rest and recover. Get a sleep schedule in place that ensures you get a full 7-9 hours a night and think about cleaning up your diet so that you no longer need to rely on sugar and caffeinated products to help you get motivated.

Try these tips for a few weeks and you will soon notice a change.


Cara de Lange is the Founder of Softer Success, an international burnout mentor, coach, speaker and mother. She is also the author of ‘Softer Success – Prevent Burnout, Find Balance & Re-define Your Success’, which details her own experiences with burnout and the techniques she used for her recovery. Cara runs workshops and talks focusing on compassionate leadership, relieving stress and changing people’s mindset to prevent burnout. 

Shall I return to work or not? Ambivalence and transitions

I keep having nagging worries about going back to work, so does that means it’s not the right thing to do?” 

For many career returners, this uncertainty can keep you awake at 4am, inwardly debating pros and cons and never coming to a clear-cut conclusion. Even if you’re really motivated to restart your career, you might be worrying about the impact on your family, or whether the timing is right, or whether you’re ready to disrupt your life. Because you feel ambivalent, you question whether it is the right decision. But if you want to feel 100% certain before starting your return to work job search, this can be a mind-trap that keeps you stuck.

Coping with ambivalence and transition

William Bridges, who has been researching life transitions since the 1970’s, reassures us that few changes are universally positive, “letting go [of our old life] is at best an ambiguous experience“. Even with a positive and much-anticipated change, there will be a sense of loss. So just because you feel confused and unsettled, it doesn’t mean that you are making the wrong choice. Bridges explains that when we make a change in our lives we go through a transition period of psychological readjustment, when up-and-down emotions are completely natural. If we anticipate this unsettled period, we are less likely to retreat back to our comfort zone without even exploring the alternatives.

Overcoming ambivalence

Rather than letting those worries keep you awake at night, a good place to start is to write them down. You can then talk about them with your partner or a friend and work out whether they are genuine concerns or if they are worries that can be overcome. Some may even disappear altogether once you have talked them through.

Another way of getting past your indecisiveness, if you’re stuck endlessly debating rational pros & cons of returning to work, is to use your more intuitive side. These are two ways to do so:

  • Imagine yourself at 70, looking back on yourself today. Is your 70 year old self sympathetic or impatient with your current indecisiveness? What advice would your future self give you? Would she encourage you to make a change and relaunch into the workplace now or to wait a while longer or maybe to make other changes to your life?
  • Imagine two different scenarios of how your life could be a year or two from now. The first scenario being that things have remained as they are. The second being that you have returned to work. How are you feeling? What are the positives of this scenario? What is missing from this scenario? What is the best thing about this scenario? Now take a step back and think about which of these two scenarios is more attractive and fulfilling for you and why. If it is to return to work, you can then go back to rational planning, thinking about what action steps you can and want to take towards making the transition back to work.

Managing transition

To help you manage those ups and downs that you experience both during your job search and when starting in a new role, it’s useful to give some thought to who is in your support network. Who are your supporters and encouragers? Who can be your sounding board and encourage you to take the next steps?

If you start now to take some action steps to prepare for your return, this can also reduce feelings of anxiety about potential negative impacts on your life. For example, if you’re worried about whether your family can cope, try listing out all the chores/activities that you currently do and then discuss these with your partner/children. What can be shared out? Can you outsource something? What can you stop doing?

Once you start to manage your worries and mindset, you are likely to gain more clarity and feel less stuck in uncertainty. Be prepared for those inevitable doubts about your decision to creep in again from time to time, even when you’re back in a fulfilling role. Ask yourself what is the worst and what is the best that could happen? Be brave and take that leap of faith into action.

Apprenticeships and Other Returner Retraining Programme Trends

This is the last of a series of 3 articles for returning professionals on new trends in returner programmes. Read on for trends in Returner Retraining Programmes, and see our previous post for new trends in returnship programmes and new trends in supported hiring.

Are you looking to change career after your career break, maybe for greater job satisfaction, more opportunities or greater flexibility? If you’re prepared to start at a more junior level in a new field, and want to find an employer who values your skills and previous experience, a Returner Retraining Programme could be a great option for you. Retraining is expensive if you’re self-funding, and it can be hard to find your first role. These programmes enable you to gain new qualifications and related work experience, while also receiving a salary while you train.

What are Returner Retraining Programmes?

Returner Retraining Programmes are run by employers and include a combination of paid work and study, rather than being purely a training course. Although some are newly created, they are usually variants of existing company training programmes, originally developed for graduates or career changers, and adapted for and targeted at returners.

The structure of these programmes varies. With some employers, you start in a job from day one, combining work with on-the-job training and study. With other employers, you have an initial 2-3 month training course followed by an 9-24 month work placement. You may also receive coaching or mentoring support, although this is less common than with a returnship or supported hiring.

Some retraining employers are looking for people with specific transferable areas of experience, such as professional services, whereas others have a broader target and are more interested in assessing your potential through your skills and attitudes.

Examples of Returner Retraining Programmes are Softcat Tech Starter Programme, St. James’s Place Academy Career Change Programme and the Investec Return to Work Retraining Programme (also see our other Opportunities).

Growth of Retraining Programmes

Although graduate training programmes have existed for a long time, retraining programmes aimed at returners have only developed in the last few years. Numbers remain low but are steadily growing.

The majority of UK returner retraining programmes to date have been in 2 sectors, tech and investment management. The employers launching these initiatives have skills gaps to fill and are also keen to improve diversity. They’ve starting to target returners as they recognise the value of the transferable skills, business and life experience and maturity that you can bring. They see your potential and expect that your career will accelerate quickly once you’ve finished your training.

Trends in Retraining

Within the UK, the apprenticeship levy has made it attractive for larger employers to develop the retraining programme as an apprenticeship, meaning that many recent programmes are structured this way. To meet the Government criteria, they have to last at least a year, you have one day a week to study with an external training provider, and you receive a recognised qualification at the end.

The combination of skills/diversity drivers and the apprenticeship levy has driven a lot of interest in the concept of returner retraining and we expect the number of initiatives will increase over the next few years, particularly as broader awareness of the returner talent pool continues to grow. As with other returner initiatives, we may also see expansion into other geographical markets.

Read our returner programme success stories here to hear from retraining programme participants themselves about their experiences. One example is Rebecca at St. James’s Place Academy.

Ad-Hoc Roles and Other New Supported Hiring Trends

This is the second of a series of 3 articles for returning professionals on new trends in returner programmes. Read on for trends in Supported Hiring, and see our previous post for new trends in returnship programmes.

If you’re looking to return to work after an extended career break, in a permanent role using your skills and experience, Supported Hiring could be a great option for you.

What is Supported Hiring?

Women Returners created the term “Supported Hiring” in 2015, to describe the process of bringing returning professionals directly into permanent roles with a wrapper of transition support.

When you join in a Supported Hire role at our partner employers, you will receive our Career Returners Coaching Programme, typically delivered 1:1, to give you essential support through your first 5 to 6 months in the role. Larger employers may also offer you a buddy to help you settle in, an internal mentor and training to help fill any knowledge or skills gaps due to your career break. See Career Returners at Allianz for an example.

There are several differences from a returnship (where you join on a fixed-term contract with a strong possibility but not a guarantee of a permanent role). These aren’t pros or cons of one format versus the other. They’re just different, and so (if you’ve a choice) the best fit will depend on your personal preferences:

  1. Joining in a permanent role gives you the certainty of an ongoing job with clarity from the start on your long-term objectives and responsibilities.
  2. Annual Supported Hiring programmes with larger employers typically run on a rolling basis, offering opportunities throughout the year, whereas returnships usually start at one fixed date in the year.
  3. Supported Hire roles are less likely to be ‘ringfenced’ for returners than on a returnship, so you’re more likely to be in competition with other external and internal candidates.
  4. You’re less likely to start as part of a cohort of returners, although you may well be connected with other previous returners at the organisation.
  5. Although you will receive support with Supported Hiring, it is often less structured than on a returnship.

Growth of Supported Hiring

Since the first Supported Hiring programme at M&G Investments UK in 2015, the market has grown significantly, albeit at a slower pace than returnships. By 2019 there were 17 UK employers running annual Supported Hiring programmes. A few multi-nationals such as AWS, Vodafone and UBS have launched annual Supported Hiring programmes on a global or multi-country basis over the last 5 years.

What isn’t reflected in this data, is that over this period there has also been major growth in ad-hoc Supported Hiring roles. These are often with smaller or medium-sized employers, who recognise the value of the returner talent pool but who do not have the volume of recruitment or the resources for an annual programme.

Trends in Supported Hiring

During 2020, we saw more ad-hoc Supported Hiring roles with larger employers. For example the Bank of England had a range of roles, starting at similar times, so brought returners into business-as-usual (BAU) roles, while offering a peer group Supported Hiring programme experience.

As more returnships restart in 2021 after a pause in 2020, we expect that employers will continue to use ad-hoc Supported Hiring as a way to widen the talent pool and attract returners for various BAU roles, maybe alongside a cohort-based annual returnship.

We’re excited to be having more conversations with returner employers about evolving Supported Hiring to become an integrated part of mainstream hiring. This is a larger-scale, longer-term aim. It involves not only a change in recruitment and advertising processes, but also the widespread reduction throughout the organisation in the hiring bias towards people without recent experience. However we are encouraging this ambition as a way to massively scale up returner hiring and achieve our goal of making career breaks a normal part of a 40-50 year career.

Read our returner programme success stories here to hear from participants themselves about their experiences. Some examples of supported hires are Kseniya at AWSFiona at UBS and Belinda at Clark Holt



Rolling Returnships and Other New Returnship Trends

This is the first of a series of 3 articles for returning professionals on new trends in returner programmes. We’re starting with returnships, and will be moving on to supported hiring and retraining programmes.

If you’re looking to return to work after a long career break, a returnship can be a great route back to a fulfilling professional role using your skills and experience.

In the last 6 years, the returnship market has rapidly accelerated in certain countries. In the UK, numbers grew from 3 programmes in 2014 to 53 returnships across 83 employers in 2019, in a wide range of sectors including telecoms, tech, media, local and central Government, legal, investment management, insurance, consulting, transport, engineering and construction. Returnships also grew rapidly in the USA and India, with pockets of growth in smaller countries such as Ireland and Switzerland. After an unsurprising downturn during 2020, programme launches are picking up again and we’re hopeful that the upward trajectory will resume post-pandemic.

As with anything new, returnship design has been a process of learning and improving. At Women Returners, we’ve evolved the structure of our partnership programmes to increase the likelihood of success for returners and the business, and have looked to create new formats to widen the applicability and scope of opportunities.  To help you keep track, here’s a recap on what we mean by a returnship, followed by a highlight of a few of the new trends.

Recap: What is a Returnship?

A returnship is a professional-level, competitively-paid placement for 3-6 months, with a strong possibility of an ongoing role at the end of the programme. Effectively, it’s a higher-level internship specifically designed for returning professionals. As part of a returnship, you will receive extra support to help you get up to speed as quickly as possible. That typically includes a buddy to help you settle in and navigate the team and systems, training to help fill any knowledge gaps and an internal mentor to help you understand the broader organisational context and be a valuable sounding board. Coaching is also often provided through the transition period: our Career Returners Coaching Programme supports returners throughout the returnship to help you to prepare for your return, weather the inevitable emotional and practical ups-and-downs as you transition back, and proactively manage the returnship to maximise your chance of an ongoing opportunity. Most returnships run annually with a cohort joining together on a fixed date.

Changes to Returnship Structure

  1. The typical length of a returnship is now closer to 6 months than 3 months. The early programmes were all 12 weeks, which some companies found to be too short to achieve the objectives of getting participants back up to speed and demonstrating their abilities in time to be offered a permanent role at least a month before the placement ends. Many of the new programmes are now 5 to 6 months long (although you will still find 12-14 week programmes, as some employers have found this timing works better for them).
  2. You’re now more likely to be doing a job on a “temporary to permanent” basis, rather than a project, with available headcount at the end of the returnship if it’s successful for both sides (this is always our recommendation).
  3. With a growing base of returner programme alumni, you may be allocated a ‘returner buddy’ from a previous cohort to add to your support team.

Importantly, the first two changes have led to much higher post programme retention rates in recent years. We’ve seen the conversion rate to ongoing roles rise from about 50% to closer to 80-100%, as programmes are increasingly structured with this longer-term perspective.

Cross-Company Returnships

A growing area has been the development of cross-company returner programmes: a number of employers in a similar geographic location, and usually in the same sector, join together under an umbrella returnship programme. We’ve run cross-company programmes since 2018 in the financial services sector, in professional services, in law and in the savings and investment sector. It’s an exciting new development as it enables organisations with smaller-scale recruitment needs, or who want to test out the concept, to run a programme. Employers get to share learnings and costs, and to collaborate to increase sector-wide diversity in recruitment.

If you join one of our partnership cross-company programme, you will apply to and have your placement in one of the participating organisations. You’ll have group coaching with other returners across the participating organisations, giving you the opportunity to build a diverse, rich and supportive peer network.

One UK example is The Diversity Project Cross-Company Returner Programme, advertising now for the second year. This is a returnship across firms in the savings and investment sector. We’re leading the programme in partnership with the Diversity Project, an employer-led body. The 2020 programme was really successful, despite Covid uncertainties and virtual working, with an 82% conversion rate into ongoing roles. Participating organisations have increased from 5 to 8 leading employers for 2021.

Rolling Returnships

We’re seeing a new returnship format emerging – we’re calling it a ‘Rolling Returnship’. In this case, the returnship runs on a rolling application basis throughout the year, with returners joining individually at various dates to suit the business needs. This makes it easier for employers to offer their BAU (business as usual) roles, which come up ad-hoc during the year, to returner applicants.

With a rolling returnship, you may be invited to apply for all jobs in the open market or for a selection of roles identified as suitable for returners (e.g. where up to date technical/business knowledge isn’t required). You may be in competition with non-returner candidates, or certain roles may have been ringfenced for returners. You will join on a placement, as with a fixed date returnship, with support on an individual rather than a cohort basis (although you may get a returner buddy as mentioned above). See the programme with Mazars for an example.

What do we think about these trends?

Part of our mission is for returner programmes to become a normal part of an organisation’s wider talent strategy, so continued innovations like these are essential to broaden the potential of the return to work market. Both rolling returnships and cross-company programmes are an exciting way of opening up more opportunities for returners. The key consideration is that they are structured to work effectively for both the business and the participants, including recognising and lowering the hiring barriers that returners encounter.

Read our returnship success stories here to hear from participants themselves about their experiences – get your dose of inspiration!



Employers’ Rationale for Hiring Returners

On the first Employer Panel at our Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’  Virtual Conference last month, Isabel Berwick, Work & Careers Editor of the Financial Times, talked to 6 of our employer partners about their Rationale for Hiring Returners. Amazon Web Services (AWS), the Bank of England, Bloomberg, Civil Service HR, Facebook, and Moody’s, in an uplifting conversation, discussed the key role returners play in their organisations’ talent strategy. If you’re doubting the value that you can bring to an employer, get confidence from their comments on why employers see returners as a strong talent pool:

Why organisations hire returners

“As an organisation we’re really committed to increasing the diversity of our representation. We want our teams to represent the broader range of experiences, backgrounds, identities, abilities. Finding diverse talent can be challenging – returners offer a new pipeline of talent.”

“If you want a truly inclusive strategy and value people from all backgrounds and experiences, returners will offer a unique set of experiences and skills.”

“Returners are a key part of our overall talent strategy. We want employees from all backgrounds with diverse perspectives that can connect to and support our customers.”

“Returners are an important aspect of improving gender diversity and helping us to reduce our gender pay gap.”

Why organisations run returner programmes

“We want to represent the diversity of the community in which we operate. Returner programmes represent a dedicated alternative channel to ensure we’re accessing the full breadth of diverse talent available.”

“The structure of a returner programme is really valuable – joining as a cohort, the inbuilt network, the coaching. It’s an opportunity for returners to try out returning to work.”

“It’s important to have a returner programme so that mechanisms are in place to ensure we’re hiring returners into the business, and that the environment they come into is supportive and inclusive, so that they can thrive in their careers and have access to a support network.”

“The returner programme enables us to ensure returners are provided with the right opportunities in role, and access to networks and training, to help them to bring the skills and experience they have to bear and to be successful.”

“A returner programme offers peer support and structured management support – an induction, line manager support, mentoring, external coaching (from Women Returners) to help returners’ confidence grow in role. All are particularly helpful after a long career break.”

“The returner programme is part of our overall strategy to bring more diversity into our organisation. A programme ensures we’re being deliberate about it and are setting returners up for success.”

The skills returners bring to the workplace

“Returners have broad experience and technical ability and qualifications, plus the talents which have increased with their break. They learn other skills – perseverance, communication, flexibility – during their break. Change is constant, and we need people who can adapt. Technical skills and life skills are key.”

“Every time I came back from maternity leave, I came back stronger, more resilient, more confident. As people come back from career breaks, I see they bring greater skills and perspectives because of their break than before. As corporations, we mustn’t miss out on all the skills and experience that resides within this talent pool”

“We’re interested in the other diverse skills that returners gained on their career break, and how they can bring these into the workplace. It’s a win-win.”

“We look at the totality of a returner’s experience and what you bring, and how it’s a good fit for the roles available.”

Final thoughts

“Diversity & Inclusion is more and more becoming a lens through which we view what we do and the choices we make. An inclusive culture that allows people to perform at their best isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s good for business!”

“Returners are very highly valued for the experience they have”

“It’s really hard to hire good talent – we need you!”


In our next blog post, we explore more highlights from our Conference Employer Panels: what employers are looking for in returner applications and the key skills and strengths that will help you succeed on your return to work journey.  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.

Advice from Successful Returners to Work

Did you miss our Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’ Virtual Conference? For those of you who couldn’t join us, our next few blogs will talk about the takeouts from this fantastic event.

We were delighted to present two Returner Panel sessions this year. The first one was chaired by Jane Garvey from BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour and our second one was chaired by Trish Halpin, Co-host of Postcards from Midlife, ex-editor of Marie Claire and award-winning journalist.

Eight women who have successfully returned to work after a multi-year career break spoke about their experiences. Reasons for their career break varied including caring for small children, health reasons, adopting children and running a family business. Five of our panellists had returned to work via a returnship, one via a supported hiring role, one via their own networks and one created their own returnship path with the NHS. Click here to read our returner panellists bios.

Here are some of the highlights from their comments, including the panel’s advice for other women wanting to get back to work.

How they feel about being back at work now:

“I’m absolutely loving it. Bringing back my self-identity as a doctor has positively affected all part of my life, especially my confidence.”

“The role I’m in now is a perfect job for me, I have an absolutely great team and I love what I do.”

“The people around me create such a great team. It’s a positive place to be and I’m doing a job that is valuable to society.”

“Work has become my time and that is what I was missing whilst I was on my career break. I missed the mental challenge and being at work has provided me with mental stimulation, a great support network of other returners and I’m doing it for me.”

On imposter syndrome and lack of confidence:

“My confidence was rock bottom after looking for a job for 6 years and being unsuccessful but attending the Women Returners Event was the best decision I ever made. I had the niggling voice of am I too old? Has my career break been too long? I’m so glad that I forced myself to go along otherwise I wouldn’t be here now.”

“Everyone has it to some extend but it’s important to focus on what you do bring and not what you don’t have. Knowing my strengths and what I was good it (and believing in them) helped me come across more confidently.”

“We focus too much on the gap and we need to stop that. We are the sum total of all the experience we have in and out of work.  That’s the value that employers are looking for and life diversity that we bring to work. Keeping this in mind definitely made me feel more confident.”

On the journey back to work:

“I attended the Women Returners Conference twice, the first time I wasn’t quite ready to return and the second time I really focused on the coaching advice and took away a lot of helpful information that spurred me on. I realised I was procrastinating looking for the perfect life until someone told me not to make my return to work a life project. I applied for a job along with 400 other candidates and I got it.”

“I got some volunteering experience vaguely in the area I wanted to return to. This really helped build my confidence and crystalised what I was looking for in a job.”

“I had received many rejections from recruitment agencies, but my determination forced me to keep going. I then only applied to jobs that I really wanted, that I knew I could do with some stretch and that I was interested in. When I saw my job advertised, I really wanted it and that came through in my application.”

“I did a course in Innovation and found that my brain still functioned, I loved meeting new people, I was engaged and that helped me get my confidence back.”

“I tapped into my network and created a new one at the school gates.  That led to a career coach which then led me to my job. It’s important to use your network when returning to work.”

On their first week back:

“My first day was with my Returners Cohort and it was a great way to establish a network of people and having friendly faces in the office helped me feel more supported.”

“My employer created a 3-month onboarding programme which was really helpful for building my skills and knowledge. I also received coaching from Women Returners for the first 6 months which was invaluable.”

“Technology was my biggest challenge and I was fearful of looking incompetent. However, I quickly picked up the skills I needed.”

“I felt really supported from day one. Meeting other returners made me feel comfortable that I wasn’t alone, we take care of each other and support each other a lot.”

On balancing work and home life:

“You can’t do everything so having a support network around you helps a lot.”

“Being good is good enough, we can’t be perfect. As long as everyone is happy and healthy that is enough for me.”

“Flexibility on my return was key, my employer was supportive of that and I work from home 4 days a week allowing me to the school drop-off and pick-ups.”

For more inspiration from returners who have returned, read our Success Stories here.

Return to Work Roadmap

Our Virtual Back to Your Future Conference on 12 and 13 October 2020 includes 5 practical workshops providing expert guidance for every step of your return to work journey: finding your career compass, boosting your professional confidence, improving your self-marketing, sharpening your CV and enhancing your LinkedIn profile. To give you a flavour for the specialist return to work support you’ll receive, we’re sharing a Return to Work Roadmap below (Find out more about the conference and book your ticket here.)


When we set out on a new journey, we know the destination we want to reach, and we take time to plan a route (with Google maps to help us!). Planning your return to work needs to be approached in a similar way. You are likely to know the broad destination – doing satisfying and rewarding work – but the map to get there can be harder to find. What is the best route to take?

Return to Work Roadmap 

1.Be clear about your goals

Understanding what is driving or motivating you to return to work will keep you focused, as you move through the different stages of your job search. Your motivation may be to have intellectual stimulation, to use your professional experience and skills, a financial motivation or to be a role model for your children.  Whatever the reason, getting clear on why you are doing it and reminding yourself regularly helps to keep you on-track. Now think about what you want to do. If you do not want to step back into your previous field this is where a lot of people get stuck. If you are feeling unsure, think about what will make you feel fulfilled at work. We spend so much time at work, we want it to be enjoyable and rewarding. It can be hard to identify what will make you happy – these questions may help:

  • What skills or strengths do I enjoy using?
  • Which parts of my previous work would I like to do more or less off?
  • What is important to me in work? Is it being part of a team, autonomy, being an expert, using my creativity?
  • What do I find most interesting?
  • What would help me to grow and learn?

2.Refresh your knowledge and skills

Taking the time to refresh your professional knowledge is worth it! There are lots of different ways to do this, such as an online course, reading professional journals or relevant articles on LinkedIn. With the virtual world that we live in, it has never been easier to refresh or learn news skills. Read this blog to provide you with inspiration and links to online courses.

3.Build your professional confidence

After being out of the workplace for a period of time, it is easy to forget who you are as a professional person. That, coupled with a dose of imposter syndrome, can paralyse you with so much fear that you decide not to go any further on the journey or indeed to turn the car around and head home! However, we will share a secret with you: your professional confidence comes back quicker than you think. As confidence comes by doing rather than thinking, look for opportunities that will help you to use and refresh your skills in practice (strategic volunteering is one way). Remember your strengths and what you achieved before your career break. You are still that same capable person, with the additional skills you have developed in recent years. Read about typical return to work fears and doubts and how to tackle them in this blog.

4.Connect with your network

Starting to re-build your professional network is a great way to let people know you are looking to return to work. Reach out to old colleagues, tell friends, and connect with people on LinkedIn. The simple act of speaking to people about work, your experience and what you are looking for soon puts your mind into the professional zone. And the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Remember, it is not asking for a job, it is just having a conversation. Consider creating a networking map to help you to recognise that you are already likely to have a wide network.

5.Update your CV & Optimise LinkedIn

Take time to refresh your CV and ensure that you include any relevant information from your career break, specifically experiences that identify new or existing skills. You should tailor your CV each time you apply ensuring that you are highlighting the correct skills or experience for that role. Ask a trusted friend to review it and provide constructive feedback. It’s hard to know how to address your career break on your CV – find our advice here.

LinkedIn is a super tool for finding out and sharing information as well as looking for jobs on the open market. Ensure that you have a professional photo, and have updated your personal summary and experiences. Now start to build your connections! Sharing articles and being visible on LinkedIn ensures that your profiles appears higher up the search function.  If you need advice on how to leverage LinkedIn, read out blog to find out more.

6.Focus your job search

Treat your job search like a project. Identify each step that you need to take and a timeframe for completing that step. It helps with accountability and you are less likely to find that weeks have passed without taking any action! Do not fall into the trap of trawling endless job sites, but use your time wisely and productively to target your search. If you are looking for flexible roles then focus on relevant jobsites, follow companies on LinkedIn that appeal and use your network. The pandemic-related upsurge in remote working could be a positive for you in finding a flexible job.

7. Be patient and persistent

Returning to work often takes time. Do not be disheartened when it doesn’t happen quickly, and decide it will never happen. Please don’t turn the car around and give up! Persistence and patience do pay off. Keep on going and it will be worth it when you reach your destination.


See our Advice Hub for many more Return to Work articles


What to expect on a returnship during the pandemic?

Are feel you feeling nervous about returning to work through a returner programme during the pandemic?

We have coached and spoken to many returners who have been working remotely, we have partnered with a number of organisations on their remote returnships, and we hosted an employer event in June which brought together over 50 employers, with 3 of our partners sharing their experience and advice for running a returnship during the pandemic.  From this range of experiences and feedback, we can reassure you that returner programmes are working well, despite the current challenges. As one employer commented, despite initial concerns, “The programme is going fantastically well.”

Let us guide you through what looks different from both a returner and employer perspectives, so you know what to expect.

Launch Events

The purpose of a launch event is to enable you to find out more about the organisation, bring to life what it’s like to work there, gain return-to-work support and network with leaders in the business. Virtual launch events deliver the same outcomes, only they are carried out via Zoom, Teams or another video platform.

There are benefits to a virtual event. You can dial in without a commute, saving time and expense and simplifying any childcare or eldercare arrangements. At the moment, you’ll also be seeing employers working from home, so we’ve found these events can feel more personal. One of the challenges was recreating the networking component to an in-person event. Now most of our co-hosted events use break-out groups for small group networking chats, so you can to have the opportunity to ask your questions and virtually speak to employers ‘face-to-face’.

The feedback from our co-hosted launch events has been really positive. One returner emailing us to say “I was hesitant to sign-up to a virtual launch event but the organisational culture came through so clearly via the panel and speakers that I knew this was going to be a great fit for me.” From the employer’s perspective, dunnhumby commented “The event showcased our new normal, working from home, and it felt very natural and authentic.”


It will come as no surprise that all recruitment has now moved to video and telephone interviews. Although a video interview may seem daunting, it’s no different in format than the Zoom conversations you’ve been having with friends and family during lockdown. One employer commented “Any concerns we had about virtual interviews have now faded away. People have brought their whole selves to the interview.” We expect that virtual interviews will be a staple in the recruitment process even when employers are back in the office, as they remove the need for meeting space, and enable interviewers from different locations to join, which has the benefit of speeding up the interview process.

You do need to prepare well. You can have your notes to hand and may need to work a little harder to build rapport. If you have an upcoming interview, do check out our blog with top tips to help you prepare.


Organisations have quickly adapted to virtual ‘onboarding’ (integrating a new employee into the organisation) for all hires, and have put systems and processes in place to make this a smoother transition. This can include couriering IT equipment to your home, pre-onboarding information and advice, organising regular weekly calls to answer any questions, and setting up video introductory calls as part of an induction itinerary. One employer at our event commented “New employees have been given the gold standard of induction taking them through the first few months of employment to ensure they meet the right people, understand our culture and feel part of the team.” One returner shared that she was being invited to attend social team meetings prior to her start date – once a week on the run up to her joining date she dialled into the team call where they talked about “everything except work”. She said “It made me feel part of the team before I had officially started. It was great to get to know everyone socially so that on day one they were familiar. It removed part of the stress of starting a new job by seeing friendly faces.”

Working remotely

So far returners who have joined programmes remotely were not expecting to do so. They had accepted offers prior to lockdown so their expectations of returning to work panned out very differently. However, they have embraced it – recognising that although a virtual returnship placement looks slightly different, it is still a great opportunity and can have advantages. One returner shared “A large part of my return to work plan was to get out of the house and be in an office environment but here I am sitting at home. However it feels like it has been an easier transition, I am loving the job and being at home made me feel far less nervous about it all, I also get the opportunity to see the children during the day which is a bonus. It’s like a really soft transition which has worked far better than I expected.”

Working with children at home

We are not working from home as we knew it 5 months ago, but we are at home working during a pandemic. If you have children at home too that adds to the complexity of the situation. However, employers recognise the challenge that many parents are facing and they have put in guidelines and flexibility to support their teams. One returner told us “Before I started my manager shared with me that he also has children at home and he understands that I will need to be flexible at times. We agreed that I would work earlier in the day, take time off over lunch and log into again in the afternoon. Having that flexibility has enabled me to do my job and tend to the children when needed.” At our employer event, one employer shared “Many managers are in the same boat [with children at home] and we will make allowances for home-schooling and childcare.”

Doing the job and networking

The overall feedback from returners who have started and finished their placements at home has been very positive. They have admitted that they needed to work differently and be proactive to build relationships, but technology has enabled them to do so effectively, supported by the wrap-a-round support and structure of the returnship programme. They are enjoying their return and don’t feel like the remote set up has impacted on their ability to do the job. Employers are doing their utmost to ensure everyone is set up correctly to be productive, giving flexibility where needed and facilitating both business and social meetings. Some have mentioned that the crisis has humanised the workplace, with conversations being far more informal with family in the background.

Employers Perspective

At our employer event, we heard from 3 panellists.  One has launched their programme and is now going through the recruitment process.  The other 2 hired returners fully expecting them to be in the office and had to pivot quickly to bring them in remotely.  All 3 panellist spoke positively about their experiences: “Our managers were blown away with calibre of returner talent” ;  “The returners have a mentor, buddy, Programme Manager, Women Returners Coaching and a peer support group. We have provided welcome packs and FAQs; the returners feel that there is a lot of support to ease their transition.”

Go for it!

In summary, while returner programmes may look different, they still hold the same value for both employers and returners. At our employer event we heard loud and clear that organisations are committed to keeping returnships and other diversity activities on the organisational agenda. If you are considering returning to work but nervous about what to expect and whether you can make it a success, then we hope this has given you reassurance and encouragement to go for it.