Building your personal brand

Being clear about your personal brand is so important as you return to work. But what exactly is ‘personal brand’, and how can you build it? Karen, Women Returners Head of Coaching, talked to Steph, Senior Coach at Women Returners, about how to build an authentic personal brand in a recent webinar for our professional network. Karen summarises Steph’s key points below.

Personal brand is your reputation. It includes what you have to offer – your strengths, skills, experiences – and what you stand for – your values and your purpose. It’s the experience that people have when they’re with you. So ask yourself the all-important question: is how you’re perceived consistent with what you want your personal brand to be? 

Having a clear and authentic personal brand is so valuable when you return to work. Being able to articulate your strengths, values, motivations and purpose can make you feel more confident, enable successful career conversations and drive decision making. 

Building your Personal Brand Pyramid 

Steph introduced the idea of a Personal Brand Pyramid. At the foundation lies your values. Your  purpose comes above that, then your skills strengths and experience, your behaviours and image, and finally at the top your reputation which is built upon all the layers beneath it. Each layer is important and feeds into the overall experience that others have of you.  

Your Values and Purpose  

Knowing your own values helps you to make decisions and can become the guiding compass for your life. Sometimes, it’s hard to capture what our values are. One simple method is to reflect back on the ‘golden moments’ of your career – activities you most loved doing – and consider what made them so special.  

For me, working on our podcast ‘Career Returners’ has been a real golden career moment. It has stretched me, allowed me to be creative, and enabled me to connect deeply with a number of fabulous returners!  From this, it’s clear to me that growth, creativity and connection are key values to me, so I look for opportunities that enable me to live those values. If you can choose work by your values, that will lead to more contentment and achievement. 

Many people struggle to identify their specific purpose. To help you uncover yours, think about the difference you want to make in the world: what is your ‘why’?  

When you’re thinking about whether a role is the right one for you, coming back to your purpose and values can really help.  

Your Strengths 

One element of personal brand is the strengths you can offer, so being able to articulate them in an evidence based way will be key. If you’re not clear on your strengths, you could: 

  • Look up past work reviews 
  • Speak to friends and family about what they think your strengths are 
  • Consider what comes naturally to you 
  • Reflect on your proudest achievements, both before and during your career break, jotting down what strengths were in play during those times 
  • Use a strengths assessment tool to help you, eg Insights discovery, spotlight, Strengthsfinder, jobmi.com, or principlesyou.com 

Your Behaviours and Image 

To live your personal brand from the inside out, your behaviours must match who and what you say you are.  One way to demonstrate this at interview is to think about the stories you can tell. These stories can make you memorable, while illustrating your strengths, where your values come from and why they’re important to you. 

Body language is important too. Smiling helps build rapport and trust, particularly in online interviews where tone and speech are often ‘flattened’ on a 2D screen. You may also want to use more hand movements to illustrate what you’re saying and become a little more ‘3D’! Do also think about your online background, ensuring the image you portray reflects the type of role you’re going for.  

Other ways to express your Personal Brand 

In addition to how you physically show up, your online presence can also reflect your personal brand. Your LinkedIn profile is an opportunity to showcase your strengths and experience in your chosen style, while your posts can reflect your interests, values and thought leadership. The activities you choose to engage in and talk about, from hobbies to volunteering, also speak volumes about your motivators and values.  

So, as you return to work, remember to be clear about your personal brand. Live your values and play to your strengths in what you do and in your interactions with others. It will help build your inner confidence, consistency and trust with others. 

Top 5 Return to Work Misconceptions

What are your main concerns when thinking about returning to work?  Our coaching team have been working closely with the returner community for many years and in this blog, hope to bust the top 5 return to work misconceptions they frequently hear!

  1. I am too old, no one wants to hire someone my age

When you make the decision to return to work after an extended career break, remind yourself that your wealth of experience and strengths that you have acquired from both your career history and career break really can add value to an organisation.  Age is not a factor when you make it clear that you’re still looking for opportunities and challenges to test your intellect and ability and bring your experience to. We have worked with hundreds of returners who have successfully returned to their careers after 5/10/15 and even 20 years (see our Success Story Library)!

  1. I won’t be able to get to grips with new technology

When you’ve been out of the workforce for a few years there may be some catching up to do with technology, but it is important to remember that many companies recognise this. In fact, returner programmes are designed to ensure support is in in place to address any skills gaps. There are lots of ways to access free IT training (Women Returners Resource Signposts) in the run up to returning to work. You just need to start taking positive actions to develop your skills and build your confidence.

  1. It won’t be possible to juggle the needs of my family and work

The landscape of flexible working has changed more than ever in the past 2 years. Many employers have moved to hybrid working and are often prepared to offer a considerable degree of flexibility to their staff. These organisations will work with you to ensure you meet deadlines and commitments, while managing your home and family.  Don’t be afraid to explore how the flexibility you need can match with the needs of the role and the business.

  1. No one will hire someone who has taken an extended career break

Many women who are thinking about returning to work after a considerable gap find that they’ve lost their previous level of professional confidence. However, companies are increasingly recognising and seeking out the maturity and diversity of perspective that women who return to work bring with them, alongside the wealth of skills, experience and qualifications gained before and during their break. They realise that these benefits are relevant, meaningful and add value in business settings.

  1. My skills and experience are no longer relevant

So many women assume their working skills become irrelevant after they have taken a break from their career. These skills are not lost! You will be surprised at how quickly you begin to remember them and how your break will have recharged, refreshed, and renewed your focus.

Don’t let false assumptions act as a barrier to your return.  Instead be brave and start taking those first proactive steps to enable you to return to a fulfilling career.

 

Return to Work Book Recommendations

My bedside table has a wobbly stack of books on it. There’s usually a ‘Top 10 bestseller fiction’ I’m half way through, a few well-worn novels that have been passed around the womenfolk in my family, and then there’s 1 or 2 non-fiction books that I dip into and re-read for inspiration, and which somehow never find their way back to my bookshelf!

The Women Returners team were recently ‘WhatsApping’ about those non-fiction books that have inspired us in our coaching work and we wanted to share our 8 favourite books with you. Our hope is that, wherever you are in your return to work journey, they give you a little lift and some practical tools too!

If you’re wondering how to get started

How to get a job you love – John Lees  A careers guide which will help you reflect on what you want to do now, and how you can take those first few steps

If you’re unclear about how to make sense of your career path and what you’ll bring to a new role

The Squiggly Career – ditch the ladder, discover opportunity, design your career – Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis  A brilliant practical guide to help you understand your strengths, values, motivators and explore future possibilities

If you’re thinking about a complete career change 
 
Working Identity – Herminia Ibarra  A research-based perspective on the “test and learn’ approach to making a successful change, with stories of professionals who have reinvented their careers
 
If fear is stopping you from moving forwards and achieving your goals
 

Mind Flip – change the way you think about yourself and reinvent your future – Zena Everett  Will help you to adjust your mindset, helping you to flip your focus away from yourself and instead look outwards to the value you can uniquely bring

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway – Susan Jeffers  A self-help classic, backed by psychological research into self-confidence, providing practical strategies to get past your fears

If you find yourself setting limits on what you can achieve or should aspire to

Playing Big – Tara Mohr  An intuitive step-by-step guide that helps you overcome doubt and pursue your aspirations

If you’re wondering how you can maintain your sense of balance through your return to work journey 

Thrive – the third  metric to redefining success and creating a happier life – Arianna Huffington  Focuses on the transformative effects of meditation, mindfulness, unplugging and giving and how these are integral to personal success and leading a healthy, productive, and meaningful life

What Happy Working Mothers Know – Cathy Greenberg and Barrett Avigdor  Takes findings from positive psychology to help you to create a work-family balance

 
This is only a selection of our favourites from the hundreds of relevant books out there. We’d love to hear your recommendations for books that you’ve found useful during your own return to work, so do let us know on our Facebook group or Facebook page or on Instagram about any books that have inspired you.
 
 Happy Reading!
 

 

Posted by Karen, Women Returners Head of Coaching

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

 

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.

Advice from successful returners to work

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

Our Returner Panel session was chaired by the wonderful Jane Garvey from BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour. Five women who have successfully returned to work after a multi-year career break spoke about their experiences. Two had taken a break to care for small children, one for fostering and setting up a business, one to focus on family time with older children and one to take time out from a long career in a high-pressure role. Three had returned to work via a returnship, the other two via networks or stepping-stone roles.

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

On where they are now:

“It’s been a revelation to me – the whole returnship process, the support the firm has provided me, the support from Women Returners and the whole promotion of the idea of being able to return to work… I managed not only to return to work but to start a whole new career in the finance industry.” 

“I didn’t know that returnships existed. I had set my standard of returning to work as ‘perhaps I could take a few steps back if someone would have me’ – I really had no expectations and not a lot of confidence that I’d be able to step back into a senior role…honestly, the programme has been transformative for me and my career.”

“It’s amazing – I didn’t think that from where I was two and a half years ago to where I am now was going to be possible.”

On how they first felt being back at work:

“It was a bit of a shock, I wanted it but it was quite challenging. The most interesting thing for me was the progression over a number of weeks. And what I learned from day one was not to crucify myself by setting totally unrealistic standards about what I wanted to achieve.”

“I think we all have that slight reservation that we’re not quite up to it or that we won’t know what to do when we (arrive) and sit down or go to a meeting. But I was amazed at how quickly it all came back. After about three weeks the senior management team were saying ‘we feel like you’ve been in the organisation for years – you’ve just fitted back in’.”
“My first day was a mixture of terror and excitement.”
“My employers were really welcoming…I was nervous about photocopiers and phone systems.”

“Don’t worry – within a week you’ll be back in the swing of it.”
“I was made to feel incredibly welcome from day one. I was given a senior woman as a mentor and meetings were set up for me to meet other people in the department.”

On setting boundaries/managing work-life balance:
“You have to decide what you’re going to do in a week, what you’re going to deliver and make sure you communicate that to people around you.”

“It’s really important for you to take responsibility (for managing boundaries). No-one is going to do that for you.”

“Don’t set unrealistic standards about what you can achieve when you first get back to work.”

On what to wear for interviews:

“A friend gave me some brilliant career advice once. He said – when you’re going for an interview don’t do things that will enable people to write you off from the beginning. If you’re going for an interview where – like it or not – they wear suits then wear a suit. Do your research.”

“For me, it’s about feeling confident. – if you feel confident in what you’re wearing that’s what’s important – and the fact that you project that confidence.”
“It’s very dependent on the workplace. I don’t think it’s to do with wearing a suit – it’s about getting the dress code right.”
“I went to the hairdresser for the first time in two years – I wanted to feel ‘put together’ and confident.”General comments/advice:

“What I would recommend is lots of positive talk to yourself in front of the mirror before you go into the interview.”

“We have to understand that we have skills – they don’t go away – they might be slightly rusty but I can reassure you that within a week you’ll be back in the swing of things and within three months you’ll feel you’ve never been away.”

“You’ve had a break, you’ve developed lots of positive behaviours and that’s what you’ve got to offer a new employer.”
“One of the women on my returner programme had been out of the workplace for 20 years and came back in and did the programme and got herself a job that she was absolutely thrilled to get and loves and is forging another career.”

 

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

 

How to develop a growth mindset

Psychologist Carol Dweck is one of the world’s leading authorities on motivation. Throughout her career she’s focused on why some people succeed and others fail.

In her TedTalk (above) – Developing a Growth Mindset – Dweck explains that those who have a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence and abilities are static and that they don’t have the capacity to change. On the other hand, those with a growth mindset know that these qualities can be continually developed and improved through hard work and persistence.

In adults returning to work, a fixed mindset can manifest itself in thoughts like “I’m too old to move into a new area”, “I’m hopeless with new technology” or “I’m no good at networking”. Remaining open to growth and self improvement will greatly improve your chances of success in finding a satisfying and fulfilling role.

How to adopt a fixed mindset

1. Believe in the power of ‘not yet’. In her TedTalk, Dweck gives the example of a school in Chicago which replaced a ‘fail’ grade with ‘not yet’ and saw a huge improvement in student performance. If your job application is rejected, a ‘not yet’ attitude can stop you from giving up and encourage you to explore different option and strategies to achieve your goal.
2. Don’t see obstacles that stand between where you are now and where you want to be as immovable barriers, but rather as challenges or hurdles to overcome – opportunities to develop new skills and acquire more experience.
3. Seek out feedback with an open mind. We know it’s difficult, but try not to see negative feedback as a judgement of your competence but rather as an opportunity to learn and grow. Listen to what family, friends and former colleagues tell you, and make sure you ask for specific feedback if your job application is rejected after interview. What you learn can help you make changes to bring you closer to success next time around.
4. Take action. Adopting a growth mindset means believing in the power of neuroplasticity, that the brain can continue to make new connections in adulthood or strengthen connections that you haven’t used for a while. You can help to realise your own potential through learning new skills or practising ones that are a bit rusty.
5. Move out of your comfort zone. Conquering something that scares you is a useful way to teach yourself that you can grow and move forward. Celebrate your successes and seek out yet more opportunities to challenge yourself!

Carol Dweck is the author of Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential

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

How to be a successful returner candidate

There are many reasons why employers want to attract those returning to the workplace after an extended break. Returning professionals offer a wealth of experience, maturity and a fresh perspective. Employers are now starting to recognise this and other positives of bringing returners into their organisation. By hiring returners an employer is able to tackle skills shortages, improve gender and age diversity, tap into a high-calibre talent pool, and improve their organisation’s attractiveness to potential employees in general.
But what do employers look for in individual candidates and how can you make the most of your skills and experience when you apply for a returner programme or any open role?
Here are our five top tips:
  1. Don’t try to hide your break on your CV or make excuses for it in the interview. If you’re applying for a returner programme, it is especially important to mention that you have been on a career break, including the length of your break at the time the programme starts. You risk being excluded from these opportunities if you try to cover up your
    break. If it’s been a while since you updated your CV and cover letter, read our blogs How to Write Your Post-Break CV and How to Write a Back-To-Work Cover Letter.
  2. Don’t undersell yourself. Learn to tell your story. Make sure you’re aware of, and appreciate, all the skills, experience and perspective that you can bring to an organisation. It’s likely that you will return to the workplace recharged, refreshed and enthusiastic to take on the challenge with new skills developed during your break. Make the most of this in interviews. This is the time to blow your own trumpet!
  3. Low professional confidence is common in women who have taken a career break. If you feel this is an issue for you, take steps to build your confidence back up again so that you believe in yourself and in your skills and experience. And don’t forget to read the success stories on our website for proof that, no matter how long your break, you can get back into a great job.
  4. Research and prepare thoroughly for interviews. Consider why you are a great fit for the organisation/role and articulate what sets you apart. Develop detailed examples of your competencies and skills – including transferrable ones – and prepare answers to typical questions.
  5. Show your enthusiasm and positivity. How you behave and the way in which you communicate is just as important as what you say in an interview. Make sure the interviewer can see the energy and motivation you’ll bring to their organisation!

Remember that employers aren’t doing you a favour. They have sound business reasons for encouraging returners back into the workplace to take on stimulating and rewarding roles. Taking the time to prepare yourself to make the most of this will put you in a strong position to resume a successful career.

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Adopting the right mindset for your return to work

For many people, September brings with it that old ‘back to school’ feeling – a sense of fresh starts, renewed energy and optimism. And, of course, September is a great time to kickstart your return to work journey as companies tend to start hiring again after the summertime lull. So how do you capitalise on this ‘new start’ feeling to help you achieve a successful return to work? One of the most important things is to adopt the correct mindset.

If you’ve been out of the workplace for a number of years, it can be hard to approach your journey with unremitting optimism and indeed this can be damaging to your progress and self-esteem. Being too optimistic, without adding a dose of realism, can lead to unrealistic expectations. For example, underestimating the effort needed or a feeling that if you just keep using the same job search methods, even if they’re not working, everything will ‘come right’ in the end.

On the other hand, we often find that the returner who claims she is being ‘realistic’ actually has a pessimistic perspective and that she too quickly dismisses the possibility of finding a rewarding job. The ‘pessimistic realist’ tends to believe the worst, quickly becomes disillusioned when she hits a few setbacks and decides that returning to work is hopeless and not worth the effort.

A more effective mindset

Far better to adopt a mindset of ‘realistic optimism’ – as psychologist Sandra Schneider advocates. Schneider tells us that 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. She recognises that many situations have a range of possible interpretations and chooses a helpful rather than an unhelpful one. She gives people the benefit of the doubt, is aware of the positives in her current situation and actively looks for future opportunities.

Here’s an example in practice. You send a ‘getting back in touch’ email to a former work colleague and don’t receive a response after a week. It’s all too easy to conclude that she just isn’t interested in talking to you, but consider other interpretations. Perhaps she’s on holiday, swamped with work and hasn’t had time to reply, or the email has landed in her junk mailbox. Now decide how to respond: contact her through a mutual friend, resend the email in a week, contact her via LinkedIn or even pick up the phone and call her. If she still doesn’t respond, choose a realistically optimistic interpretation (e.g. she’s too busy) and focus on making other connections.

Tips to develop your mindset

Here are 5 of our tips to help you adopt a more ‘realistic optimism’ mindset for your return to work:

  1. Combine a positive attitude with a clear evaluation of the challenges ahead. Don’t expect your journey to be a smooth one – you are likely to have setbacks – but trust that you have the ability to get yourself back on track
  2. Avoid dwelling on the negatives or jumping to overly negative conclusions. Recognise this ‘negativity bias’ is a result of how our brains are built (read more on this here)
  3. Don’t wait for the right time – it may never come. Simply taking action will move you forward
  4. Focus on what you can control rather than worrying about what you can’t
  5. If you think that lack of confidence is making you pessimistic, check out our advice on how to re-establish your confidence

There is evidence that ‘realistic optimism’ can boost your resilience and motivation, improve your day-to-day satisfaction with life and lead to better outcomes. And be reassured that it’s not about your genes – we can all learn to be realistic optimists!

If you are interested in Sandra Schneider’s research see:
Schneider, S.L. (2001). In search of realistic optimism: meaning, knowledge and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist, 56(3), 250-263.

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