8 Ways to use LinkedIn to get back to work

This week’s guest blog is by Victoria McLean MD of City CV

If you are planning to return to work after a career break,
you need to have all your job search documents ready. It’s not enough these
days to simply tag jobs onto the front of your CV and hope for the best: the UK
job market is more competitive than ever and if you have been away for any
amount of time you really need to invest time and effort in making sure your CV
meets current criteria and recruiter expectations.

Alongside a strong, standout CV, LinkedIn is a
crucial element in your armoury and your LinkedIn profile has to reflect your
excellent career to date. It needs to demonstrate your professional credibility, encourage people to contact and connect with you and, over time, attract the attention of potential hirers. It can also extend your network of influence – creating useful contacts and enhancing your online brand.
LinkedIn is
the leading online professional directory of individuals and companies.
Individuals use it for professional networking and to present to their world a
‘professional online profile’. It is also a major tool for job seeking.
To give a summary of why LinkedIn is so important for anyone
returning to the job market, here are some important numbers:
•       Over
400 million users worldwide in more than 200 countries;
•       15
million users in the UK alone;
•       3
million company pages;
•       2
new users are joining LinkedIn every second ;
•       40%
of those check in daily;
•       Most importantly, nearly 50% of engaged
LinkedIn users have ‘hiring decision making’ authority.
So how can you make your profile work for you?
  1. Returning to work after a break – Include your break as a line in your work experience section e.g. ‘Parental career break + dates’. You can briefly explain in one or two sentences what you did over that period if it’s relevant to your professional profile or you can leave it blank. If your break was intentional, state this. It works well to refer to it in your 2000 character summary section
    with something like “Following planned parental career break now seeking to return to an
    executive marketing post.” Nice and simple and to the point.
  2. Changing your career – The important thing is to develop and then
    stick to a good strategy.  Your LinkedIn
    is not just a history of what you have been doing; it should be targeted to
    where you are going. Spend considerable time thinking about your target role
    and transferable skills. What were you doing previously that could be
    advantageous to the new direction you are seeking?
  3. Part-time roles or contracting – If you have had a lot of part-time or
    contracting roles detail them separately and make sure it is clear that they
    are contract roles. Unlike your CV where too many employers can make your CV
    look messy and inconsistant, LinkedIn lists them all clearly and you can be as
    concise as necessary.
  4.  Take time to get it right – Don’t rush into creating a new profile. You
    are preparing your business case and establishing your credibility and so your
    profile needs to be well planned. The key is to take your time. If you feel
    your LinkedIn needs an overhaul then you need to allow time to do this. You
    have to be ruthless with content and remain objective throughout. Your profile
    needs to be strategically thought out, key-word rich and proof read again and
    again before anything is uploaded live.
  5. Make your career experience count – Your work experience section lists your
    entire career history in chronological order. Here is an opportunity to sell
    your key deliverables and make them attractive to a potential employer. It’s
    vital to refer to your key words – key word density is super-important.
  6.  Make connections – LinkedIn is all about linking and connecting with people you know and/or
    have worked with but also people and companies you might like to work with.
    Grow your network by connecting with head-hunters & recruiters, hiring
    managers, other people in your target sector, and industry leaders. Similarly,
    join groups connecting to your industry, participate in discussions and find out
    about the best jobs first.
  7. Shout about your skills – You will have used many skills when you
    were in paid employment so it’s essential to add these to your profile. Think
    about how you can say the same thing in different ways: Resourcing, Recruitment, Talent Management. You
    can also add any skills you developed or discovered while on a career break –
    many skills we use in parenting are transferable. People with at least five
    skills on their profile have on average 17 times more views. You can have up to
    50 skills so make the most of the opportunity.
  8. Include a professional photo – Don’t be shy. A professional photo (which
    means no comedy hats, glasses or cocktails) means you are 14 times more likely
    to get found on LinkedIn – and 35 times more likely to be sent a message. A
    head and shoulders shot is perfect.
By Victoria McLean, Managing Director of City CV who provide professional CV and LinkedIn
writing services. 

Return-to-work CV Tips and Ideas

Last month we hosted a free webinar for our Network members on how to create an effective CV for your job search. We offered many tips and insights about what recruiters look for and addressed questions such as how to present your career break, whether to write a functional CV rather than a chronological one and how to take advantage of open questions in job applications. We have collected the key insights in this post, for those of you who missed the webinar.

How should I structure my CV?

Recruiters will expect to see three key sections:

  • Profile / Executive Summary: this describes your background, expertise and role you are seeking in 2 -3 sentences
  • Key Skills: list your 5 or so key skills, with brief evidence. Avoid generic skills like team player, leader, highly organised. Use specific skills such as strategic planning & implementation, procurement, digital media marketing
  • Professional Experience in reverse chronological order: state your achievements and contribution, not a role description. If you have a long career history, it’s fine just to list early career role titles.

Following these sections include your Education & Professional Development, Memberships and other skills/activities (fluent languages, interests etc). Keep your CV to two pages in length.

Avoid functional CVs – recruiters don’t like them because they make it hard to piece together your employment history.

What should I include/exclude?

When deciding the content, think about the business case you are making:

  • Why should they hire you?
  • What expertise will you bring?
  • What sets you apart from other candidates?

How do I describe my career break?

  • Don’t try to hide it, particularly if you are applying for returner programmes where having a key break is one of the eligibility criteria
  • Call it a planned career break
  • Include any work (paid or voluntary) and training you have done which is relevant to the role you are seeking
  • You can include a reason for your break (e.g. parental career break; career break for caring responsibilities) but you don’t have to

How do I answer the ‘tell us about you’ question on online application forms?

This question gives you the opportunity to do more than just repeat what is in your profile statement. You can use it in two ways:

  • to highlight aspects of your skills and your expertise that are relevant to the role you’re applying for, to encourage the recruiter to look in detail at your CV
  • to express your motivation for and interest in the role which you don’t otherwise have the chance to do

One final tip
As 97% of recruiters will reject a CV with 2 or more typos, take plenty of time to check your CV carefully and get others to read it through with a fresh eye, to spot errors you might have missed.

For more advice on CVs check our previous posts:
How to write your post break CV
The ‘CV gap’ barrier: evidence it exists & how to get over it
What about the gap in my CV?

Posted by Katerina

LinkedIn – an essential tool for your return to work

If you’re getting ready to return to work – and have been following this blog –  we hope you’ll have a CV drafted, a list of contacts and an idea of organisations you’d like to target. Do you also have a LinkedIn profile or any idea of the many uses of this networking site?  LinkedIn is essential for your return to work as it is your ‘public face’ where people you contact in your networking and job search will gain an impression of your skills and experience. And it is increasingly used by recruiters searching for candidates.  So, you need a profile and it has to present you in a professional and credible way.

Key elements of your profile

You can spend many hours adding to and fine tuning your profile but none of this will matter much if the following elements are missing:

  • Photo – This is vital and it has to be a proper photo, not a holiday snap with your family or one taken while you are sitting in front of a computer/tablet screen with your head at an odd angle.  It doesn’t have to be taken by a professional but you need to look professional in it, even if you are standing in your back garden.
  • Title – Don’t make your title ‘career break’ or ‘homemaker’. Relate it to your past experience if this is relevant to the roles you are targeting eg. financial services professional. You don’t have to limit yourself to one title if you have a portfolio of interests eg. Accountant | Writing expert
  • Summary statement – This is the first thing that people will read about you and so it worth spending some time getting right.  If you have a personal profile on your CV you can use it here, just changing to the 1st person.  Keep it factual rather than using overblown adjectives. It is important to communicate your past skills and experience in this space, and possibly the type of role you are seeking.
  • Career details – Make sure that these are consistent with your CV (years, job titles, qualifications) but don’t include as much detail as on your CV. This is more of a ‘shop window’.
  • Career break – Include your career break, don’t try to hide it, & briefly explain the reason eg ‘parenting career break’ or ‘career break for travel’. This is definitely preferable to having an unexplained gap which will just raise questions in the reader. Remember to include any significant voluntary, freelance or entrepreneurial roles that you’ve had during your break.

While you are refining your profile, it’s a good idea to change your privacy settings to private so that your contacts are not continually updated.

How to use LinkedIn

LinkedIn can be used in so many ways for your return to work: networking, raising your profile, research and job postings are the main ones.  It is a great aid for those of us who are nervous of networking, as a way of getting an introduction, but it cannot replace getting out and meeting people face-to-face.

  • Networking – the first thing you need to do once you’ve created your profile is make connections. It’s an easy way to get back in touch with old colleagues. Invite people you know to link in with you and always use a personalised message. There are two reasons for this: you will start to make it known to your network that you are looking for work and you will gain access to their contacts once they have accepted your link.  You will discover connections that you would never have known about otherwise and you can then ask your primary contacts for an introduction to their connections (your secondary contacts). How much simpler could it be to get an introduction!
  • Profile raising – A good way to raise your profile on LinkedIn is by joining groups.  These can be alumni groups of your former employers or educational institutions as well as industry specific or special interest groups.  Once you are a member of groups you can initiate or contribute to discussions on topics; you will see that people ask questions, post interesting articles and start conversations.  By following groups you will find out more about the current issues facing the group and by contributing with a comment, question or article your profile will increase.
  • Research – LinkedIn is a great tool for finding people who work in a particular industry, organisation or role.  Just type your search term into the bar at the top of the page and a list will be generated of all your primary, secondary and tertiary contacts that meet the search criterion.  You might be surprised what you discover!  To make contact with secondary and tertiary contacts you will need to ask your primary contacts for an introduction.  They will find it much easier to help you when you can ask for a specific person.
  • Job postings/approaches – more and more employers are using LinkedIn as a recruitment tool (and avoid paying recruiter fees) so you might receive a direct approach about a role.  Additionally, job postings are often added to group notices and LinkedIn itself emails bulletins of vacancies that it thinks match your profile (although these can be a bit erratic).
LinkedIN itself offers free webinars to help people make the most of the site.
If you have any further questions that haven’t been covered, please ask!
Posted by Katerina
We will be talking about practical steps to get back to work after a career break at Mumsnet Workfest on June 7th.  We hope to meet you there!

The ‘CV gap’ barrier: Evidence it exists & how to get over it

One of the reasons that Katerina & I set up this blog was because we were feeling frustrated by continual media reports equating a career break with career suicide. We wanted to offer a more positive voice of encouragement and advice. So I was a bit reluctant to start this post with some dispiriting news, but have decided that it’s better to accept the reality of the practical barriers faced by returners – then we can work out how to tackle them.

Research into CV Gaps – The Bad News

As a psychologist, I’m always checking for evidence to test my beliefs. I have heard many stories from highly experienced career break women of sending out scores of job applications and never even getting an interview. And conversely I also know a few women with 5+ years out who have found top positions through applying to job ads. So I’m always looking for research to check whether the ‘CV gap’ really is such a major block to being hired.

That’s why I was interested to read about a recent study into the barriers faced by the long term unemployed. Rand Ghayad sent out 4,800 job applications to 600 job ads, changing only experience and length of unemployment. He found there was an “unemployment cliff” at 6 months of
unemployment: an applicant with relevant experience who had been out of work for over 6 months was 3 times less likely to get an interview than someone with no relevant experience who had been out of work for a shorter time. Ghayad hypothesises that employers believe that “individuals with long nonemployment spells may have their
skills atrophy and as a result become relatively less productive.” So employers think that skills deteriorate after 6 months out of work …

Clearly involuntary unemployment is not the same as a voluntary career gap, but it’s not too much of a leap to see how this finding might be relevant to women whose work experience dates back a lot longer than 6 months. So we’re not imagining things … if you send out a job application for an advertised role, a lack of recent experience can lead to your CV being ignored by prospective hiring managers, regardless of the level and relevance of your previous roles.

7 Ways to Tackle the CV Gap Barrier

Acknowledging this is a real practical barrier, doesn’t mean it is insurmountable. What are some solutions if you want to get back into paid employment?

CV-based solutions

DON’T use a skills-based CV to try to ‘hide’ your break – recruiters usually find these irritating as they have to piece together your work history.

DO clearly state the years of your ‘Parental career break’ to avoid confusion
DO remember to include ALL work-related activities during your time out:

1. Include ‘professional’ voluntary and community work alongside your old employed roles under work experience, not in a separate section. A 2012 study found that relevant voluntary work can be valued just as highly as paid work by recruiters. A City recruitment director told me last week how impressed she was by an applicant’s career break position as Governor of a high-performing school. For other examples see our previous post on managing a CV gap

2. Don’t undersell any business ventures you have undertaken. One of my clients didn’t include a jewellery business she had set up in her break as she felt it was too small scale to interest a corporate recruiter. In fact this was clear evidence of entrepreneurial and business development skills.

3. If you have undertaken any project or freelance work, however minor, include this as ‘self-employed work’ in your work experience.

4. If you don’t have recent work experience but your break has included further education or professional qualifications, put your Education & Qualifications upfront. Look out for skills update or refresher courses in your area to boost this section.

5. Make sure that you have a Linked In profile and that it is consistent with your CV – don’t start it with the role you left x years ago!

Alternative strategies to applying to job ads

Nothing new here, but worth reiterating that sending your CV out for advertised jobs is the least likely way to get back into the workforce.

6. Use your contacts to find your next role and avoid getting lost in the demoralising recruitment black hole

7. Find a returnship or create your own. One of the reasons we’re so enthusiastic about returnships is that they provide recent and relevant CV experience, as well as potentially leading to permanent employment.

Do you have any other ideas?

Posted by Julianne

Telling your story

“I struggle to view myself as anything more than a mother any more”

Ex- investment analyst after a 10 year career break

If you’re planning your return to work after a long career break, one of the hardest questions to answer can be “What do you do?”. You’re not sure whether to talk about your time at home or what you used to do all those years ago. When my children were small and most of the people I was meeting were other parents, I introduced myself more often as someone’s Mum than as Julianne. It’s not surprising that as our career break goes on, our independent working selves feel so far in the past that they’re not really part of our story any more (see previous post “Who am I anyway?”).

If your old professional life feels like distant history, then it’s harder to believe in yourself and feel positive about your return to work. This not only knocks your confidence but also makes your job search much less effective. Many women returning to work after a break find a new job through old and new contacts rather than through advertised roles, so you need to have a ready reply rather than a stumbled mumble when an ex-colleague asks “What are you doing now?” And when you do make it to an interview, if your response to the classic “Tell me about yourself” interview question is to spend the majority of the time describing and explaining your career break, you are underselling your past experience and are unlikely to come across as a credible candidate for the job.

When you’re putting together your story, don’t start or end with your career break. We suggest you use a structure we call the “Career Break Sandwich”.

  • Talk first about what you did before in your working life, then talk about your career break and finish with where you want to go now.
  • Explain why you’ve taken time out of the workplace, but avoid apologising for or justifying your break or spending too much time talking about what you’ve been doing. However do include any study, voluntary work, time spent abroad, unusual/challenging activities or anything else that might be interesting in terms of skills development or updating to a possible employer.

Herminia Ibarra, in her career transition book Working Identity, suggests that a coherent story helps us to make sense of the changes we are making, so building our inner self-confidence. It also makes us more likely to get other people’s support: “Until we have a story, others view us as unfocused. It is harder to get their help“.

Aim to draw out links between your past and future, particularly if you have a varied work history or are planning a career change: Have you always enjoyed helping people develop? Or solving difficult problems in a team? You’re always bringing the benefit of your past experiences, at work and at home, as a foundation for what you want to do now.

Telling your story does take practice. Try out your narrative first with family and friends and get their feedback. Telling and retelling allows you to rework your story until you feel comfortable and convincing. Aim for a longer version to answer “Tell me about yourself” or “What are you looking for?” and a short version so you no longer hesitate when someone asks “So, what do you do?”

Posted by Julianne (updated June 2018)

What about the gap in my CV?

Susan* a former accountancy firm partner who stopped working when her family relocated for her husband’s job, consulted me when preparing for her first job interview in 14 years.  She feared that she had been out of the workforce for too long to be of interest and we talked through the kinds of questions she might encounter.  A few days later, Susan emailed me ‘…. he did ask “why now?” and when I started with “I have been a stay at home mum for 14 years…”  he cut me off and said, “And I think that is wonderful!  My wife is a doctor and she made the same decision when our children came along and you can see it in the quality of our children”.   It was such an unexpected vote of support — not what we read will likely occur when interviewers see the CV gap — that I thought I should share it with you.  It might help others to realise that there are interviewers who understand the choices we have made because they share the same values.’
It is so easy to believe, looking at the world of employment from the outside, that we are the only person who has a significant gap in our CV.  We tend to focus on all the things that we haven’t done to build our career while we were not working: we forget about all the skills and experience we built up before our break and those we might have acquired since we left employment.  While some employers will still be most interested in what you did before your career break and might not even ask about the gap, recent research has shown that unpaid work can improve your employment prospects.  The study, (Wilkin, C., & Connelly, C. (2012). Do I Look Like Someone Who Cares? Recruiters’ Ratings of Applicants’ Paid and Volunteer Experience International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 20 (3), 308-318) concluded that voluntary work is valued by recruiters where it is relevant to the application and that even if it is less relevant, it can complement relevant paid experience by demonstrating altruism, co-operation and a work ethic.

Think about all the activities you’ve engaged in as part of your communitiy responsibilities or volunteering and consider how they have provided opportunities to refresh, enhance and add to your experience and skills.  These endeavours are equally as relevant to your CV as roles for which you were paid – and can adequately fill the apparent gap.  One client, researched, created and managed a home education programme for her severely disabled child, co-ordinating nine different professional advisers while on a break from marketing and selling technology.  Another contirbuted her previous media experience and her organisational skills to an election campaign.  I filled my gap by becoming a trustee of an international humanitarian aid charity and Treasurer of a school PTA.  Whether we get involved in local politics, a religious community or a charity role, we are doing something of value, for ourselves, the cause, and for any future employer.

Posted by Katerina