Virtual upskilling for your return to work

Hazel, our Client and Relationship Director, gives tips on how best to approach and succeed in the task of refreshing your skills to prepare for your return to work. Given the current COVID-19 situation, she’s focused on virtual rather than in-person options. Hazel has also created a short webinar on “Upskilling in Preparation for your Return to Work” as part of our series to support our network through the COVID-19 crisis – there’s a link at the end if you want to watch the full 12 minute webinar.

Refreshing your skills and knowledge is an important component of your return to work plan. It not only demonstrates to potential employers your commitment to self-development, it can also increase your confidence during the interview process – and of course when you start a new job. What is great about learning nowadays is there is so much choice available. This is literally at your fingertips 24/7, which on one hand can be exciting, but on the other quite daunting. Where do you start?

Fixed v. Growth Mindset

I suggest you start with having the right mindset – aim for growth instead of fixed. A fixed mindset is believing that our intelligence and abilities are static, and that they don’t have the capacity to change. A growth mindset is knowing that we can continually develop and improve through hard work. In adults returning to work, a fixed mindset can manifest itself in thoughts such as “I’m too old to move into a new area” or “I’m hopeless with technology”. An open mindset sounds more like “I haven’t mastered video-conferencing yet“. Remaining open to growth and self-improvement will greatly improve your chances of success in finding a satisfying and fulfilling new role. You can learn more about Growth Mindset in our blog and from Carol Dweck in her Ted Talk.

Choose a Topic

Next get clear on what you want you most want to learn or where you have skills gaps you want to fill before you get back to work. Do you want to obtain or refresh a technical skill, such as digital marketing or software development? Do you want to work on more personal skills, such as presenting or leadership? Do you want to get yourself up to speed with the latest developments in your profession or sector? If you’re feeling overwhelmed by options, just start somewhere; we find that many returners get a confidence boost from upskilling in IT, so reading this post on sharpening your tech skills may be a good place to begin.

Platform Options and Learning Style

Now explore different platform options. Professional associations, such as the Law Society or Women’s Engineering Society may be your first point of call. For more in-depth learning, there is a huge variety of online study courses. Industry journals and LinkedIn articles are useful for updating sector knowledge, and podcasts now cover a wide range of topics.

Consider your learning style when choosing a platform. Are you a visual learner, leveraging charts and mental pictures to absorb information? Do you enjoy learning through reading/writing? Do you prefer auditory learning? Or are you a practical hands-on learner? Understanding which learning style works for you will help you decide on the best option to use. At the same time, consider if you prefer independent study at your own pace or are energised by interacting with others. If you enjoy reading/writing consider reading professional blogs and online journal articles and reports, or explore taking an online self-directed-learning course through platforms like Alison, Coursera or Open Culture. If you prefer auditory learning, then listening to podcasts or Ted Talks is an easy and free option; for more in-depth study, look for a course with virtual interactive instruction such as the Open University. If you are a hands-on learner then you may prefer a practical focus, such as reskilling on a tech course with Digital Garage. You can find more ideas in our blog on free online courses and the list of Courses for Skills Building in our Advice Hub.

Create a Plan

Finally, it’s time to make a plan. Research the options available, decide what is interesting or going to be most helpful for your return, identify the best days/time of day when you have free time (and energy) to commit to your learning. Make sure what you’re taking on is feasible in the time you have available. Then write down your week-by-week action steps, put your plan somewhere visible and commit to it. Set small and tangible milestones so you can get the sense of satisfaction of achieving these, even if you are working towards a bigger upskilling goal. And then get started – while your motivation is high!

For more tips on upskilling watch our pre-recorded webinar: Upskilling in preparation for your return to work, presented by Hazel Little [12 mins]

 

How to network virtually in the current environment

Catherine Kraus, Women Returners Coach, has created a short webinar on “How to Network Virtually” as part of our series to support our network through the COVID-19 crisis. Here’s a summary of some of the key points, with a link at the end if you want to watch the full 12 minute webinar.

Networking is extremely useful to you when returning to the workforce. It can lead to career opportunities and access to new information that you didn’t have before. And while face-to-face networking is a great way to grow your professional network, online networking skills are essential, particularly in our current social-distancing environment.

That’s why we’re offering you some guidance on “How to Network Virtually” – how to get started, how to reach out to others and how to follow-up with your contacts.

How to get started

  • Set an intention: Before you start to reach out to others, you need to clarify for yourself what goal you are trying to achieve. Your intention may vary greatly, depending on what kind of information you’re hoping to learn from your potential contacts. If you’re returning from a longer career break, you may want to reconnect with a former colleague to understand the recent industry trends from her perspective. If you’re thinking about becoming a freelancer, you may want to reach out to an acquaintance who did the same, in order to understand the pros/cons being an entrepreneur. Set your intention by reflecting on what you’d like to learn and, then, as a next step, think about who could possibly help you get that information.
  • Schedule time in your calendar: Networking doesn’t have to be time consuming. When you’re planning to return to work, you have a lot of things to do. That’s why it makes sense to set aside dedicated time to networking. This will be individual to your goals and availability. You could reserve one hour a week, say every Friday morning to reach out to 3-4 contacts or you can choose to block out one full afternoon per month to catch up on all your networking activities.
  • Update your online profile: Make sure your online LinkedIn profile is updated and complete (for more details how to do this, read our blog post How to optimise your LinkedIn profile). Connecting with professionals in your area of work and reestablishing relationships can open up opportunities you might not have considered.

How to reach out to others

  • Start with people you know: Many people find it intimidating to approach others, especially if it’s not in-person. It may feel contrived or needy. Luckily, psychology reassures us that, in general, people are open to helping others. Still, you can make it easier on yourself by starting to build your online network with people you know. You probably have more networking connections than you think. Sit down and brainstorm all the people you know: include former colleagues, neighbours, volunteer groups, your child’s school parents, sport club contacts and university and school friends. Then prioritise your list based on your networking goals.
  • Make it personal: Adding a personal message to a LinkedIn connection request will help your request stand out. Remember if you worked at a big company or if it was a long time ago, you need to let ex-colleagues know exactly when, where, and how you worked together. Also take the time to personalise when you send an email, direct message or text: make it’s sincere, unique and all about connecting with the other person. Here are some ideas from The Muse on how to write a request to connect.

How to follow up with contacts

Last, but not least, you’ll want to keep track of and follow up with your networking contacts.

  • Don’t keep it online: Fix phone or video calls with a few people on your priority list. Ask for 20-30 minutes of their time. Keep in mind your goal  when you’re structuring your request and the call itself.
  • Keep notes: Remember to note down any follow-ups from the conversation: Did your contact give you additional contacts to reach out to? Did you get recommendations on important business articles to read? Did your contact ask you keep in touch with the progress of your job search in a month’s time? It helps to keep a simple spreadsheet with information such as: Name of contact, Background information, Date you last contacted, How you’re connected and Notes (e.g. your activities, possible next steps, or new leads).

For more tips on networking watch our pre-recorded webinar: How to Network Virtually presented by Catherine Kraus [12 mins]

How to prepare for a virtual interview process

Anna Johnstone, Women Returners Senior Coach, has created a short webinar on “How to Prepare for a Virtual Interview Process” as part of our series to support our network through the COVID-19 crisis. Here’s a summary of some of the key points, with a link at the end if you want to watch the full 15 minute webinar.

If you’re on a career break and it’s been a long time since you’ve had a job interview, then you may be feeling nervous and uncertain about the interview process. Given the current situation, where your interview is likely to be virtual, your worries might be heightened. We have some top tips here to help you prepare and feel more calm and confident about having a successful video interview.

  1. Recognise the advantages of virtual interviews 

Yes, you may lose some visual cues from your interviewer and it can be trickier to build rapport. However, on the plus side, you’re in a familiar home environment and you can have all your preparation notes and your CV right next to you in case you need a prompt during the interview.

  1. Familiarise yourself with the technology beforehand

Taking these few steps in advance of your interview will help ensure everything runs smoothly on the day:

  • If your interview is via video, maximise your broadband speed – ideally it should be at least 10-15Mbps. If you can, use an ethernet cable to plug directly in to your router as this will give a faster and more reliable connection. On the day, try to make sure others in your household are not using the internet at the same time. Close any cloud-based applications e.g. Spotify, Dropbox as they’ll be using precious bandwidth
  • Whichever application your interviewer has proposed using (e.g. Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams) download and practise using it beforehand with a friend or family member. Review helpful online guides so that you know how to do things like switch video or audio on and off, share your screen or hide your self-view if you find that distracting
  • Check and adjust the video angle so that your camera is looking straight at you – use some thick hardback books underneath your laptop or tablet if needed to elevate it. Make sure your face can be seen clearly and there is no shadow or glare from the side
  • Ensure your audio is clear – you may prefer to use a headset if you have one.
  1. Prepare your interview responses & questions thoroughly

Even though a virtual interview may feel slightly less formal or you may have your preparation notes and CV to hand, it is still vital to prepare thoroughly so that you have clear, succinct and confident responses.

  • Ask beforehand about the structure and length of the interview, as well as the competences they are looking for and the type of questions you might be asked – in that way you can focus your preparation.
  • Do your research on the organisation, department and role and prepare 2 or 3 questions that you’d like to ask – an interview is still a two-way process.
  • Prepare responses to two typical types of questions. 1. General questions e.g. ‘Why are you interested in this role?’ or ‘What are your top 3 strengths?’; and 2. Competence-based questions e.g. ‘Give me an example of when you……’. Prepare for competence questions using the S.T.A.R format.
  1. Take time to prepare on the day 
  • Find a moment beforehand to gather your thoughts and take some deep breaths. Remind yourself of all your strengths, experience and achievements.
  • Dress professionally, head-to-toe – just in case you need to stand up!
  • For the interview, find a quiet spot without distractions – this can be challenging at the moment but do your best!
  • Make sure your backdrop is professional and the lighting is good.
  • Have your CV & preparation notes to hand
  1. Consider your non-verbal behaviours
  • Only switch your video on when the interviewer joins – that way you can enter confidently
  • Vary your tone of voice to convey your energy and enthusiasm for the role and organisation
  • Sit up tall and confidently
  • Keep eye contact
  • Smile!!

We wish you the best of luck!

For more tips watch our pre-recorded webinar: How to Prepare for a Virtual Interview Process presented by Women Returners Anna Johnstone [15 mins]

How to manage uncertainty and take control

Hazel Little, Women Returners Client and Relationship Director, has created a short webinar on “How to Manage Uncertainty and Take Control” as part of our new series to support our network through the COVID-19 crisis. Here’s a summary of some of the key points, with a link at the end if you want to watch the full 10 minute webinar.

In times of uncertainty we can feel overwhelmed. It’s difficult to know where to start, what to do and importantly how to switch off from it all. The pandemic is changing how we live and it’s changing it fast. All of this can make us feel anxious and worried and we risk getting into a negative downward spiral.

Rational v. Emotional

Extreme uncertainty and lack of control affect us mentally. Our rational brains have stepped to the side and our emotional brains are in the driving seat. When we are led by our emotions it makes it difficult to see things clearly, but there is a positive side. Understanding how we feel and what we’re anxious about, can drive us to take control and motivate us to take action.

Taking Control

Stephen Covey’s Circle of Concern is a great framework to help you to work out what actions you can take.

  • There will be a large number of different things that you are concerned about right now, including how the crisis will impact your return to work. Identify and write a long list of these concerns – these populate your Circle of Concern
  • Flag those concerns where you can directly control the outcome – these come within your Circle of Control
  • For the remainder, challenge yourself to see if there is any action at all you can take to influence a positive outcome. If so, these come under your Circle of Influence. For example, your concern might be “employers have put recruitment on hold, I’m not going to be able to return to work”; you can’t control when they start recruiting again but you can influence the outcome by getting your CV updated or make use of free courses to upskill online to ensure you are in a stronger position when the time is right to apply.

Focus as much as possible of your time, energy and attention on addressing concerns within the Circles of Control and Influence, rather than focusing on what is out of your control. You may well find that your Circle of Influence gets bigger if you think this way. By deliberately taking relevant actions to improve the outcome, you are likely to feel more productive, calmer and happier.

Other Top Tips to Manage Uncertainty

  1. Surround yourself with positive people – stay connected with your support groups and seek out people who help you to feel more optimistic
  2. If you’ve time, look for growth opportunities – upskill online or read articles relating your field. This will help you feel more knowledgeable and it’s great distraction
  3. Set small achievable goals – refresh your CV/cover letter or prepare for a virtual interview process, taking it a couple of small steps at a time
  4. Look after yourself – you’re on an emotional roller coaster and that is draining both physically and mentally. Read a book, enjoy a little quiet time, be kind to yourself.

Find out more

In our short webinar, How to Manage Uncertainty and Take Control, you’ll find more information on the nature of uncertainty, the importance of regaining control and advice on how to look after your emotional well-being.  You can watch the webinar here.

For more details on our COVID-19 Support Webinars see: Free Webinar Series

Realistic optimism and Covid support

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. As psychologist 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.

How do I explain the 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, gives us her top tips for writing your return to work CV and making the most of LinkedIn. Here’s what she had to say before her session at our 2020 Conference:

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.

 

 

How to approach the subject of 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.

Gemma’s story – from 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.

Government Equalities Office Returner Toolkit

The Government Equalities Office has recently published a Returner Toolkit which we co-wrote with our friends at Timewise. 

This amazing free resource has 51 pages of advice and tips – it’s a A-Z for returning to work. We’d encourage everyone to have a look at it, whatever stage you’re at in the return to work journey. You can start from the beginning and work through it, or dip in and out of the stages that are most relevant to you.

You’ll find advice, ideas and information to help you on a range of topics:

  • setting yourself up for success
  • building your work confidence
  • getting clear on your career direction
  • updating your skills and knowledge
  • networking
  • finding job opportunities
  • exploring options for flexible working
  • writing your CV and cover letter
  • preparing for interviews
  • negotiating effectively
  • getting ready to return to work
There is also a detailed ‘resources and signposts’ section with links to lots of organisations and resources for general advice, thinking about returning to work, preparing to return and returning to work.

You can access the free toolkit via GOV.UK here.