10 Tips to Get Back to Work after a Career Break

If you had spoken to me this time last

year, I never would have believed I would be in the position I am in now.

Whether you’ve been out of the workplace for one year or many years, the thought of restarting your career can be daunting.
The following 10 tips are directly inspired by our library of success stories of people
like you who have taken time out from work only to return stronger than ever.
Read on and you never know where you might be this time next year.

1. Prepare to step out of your comfort zone
No-one can deny that rejoining the workplace
after an extended leave is a scary prospect, but it’s also an exciting one. Push
yourself out of your comfort zone and you never know what might happen. What
have you got to lose? Read Natalie’s story

2. Shape
the narrative of your career break

There are as many career break stories as there
are returners, and you are the only person who can tell yours. Think about all
of the skills you have built up in your time off work, and how they could
benefit an employer. You don’t need to make excuses for your career break or
try to hide it; it could actually end up being your biggest asset! Read Fiona’s story
Work out what YOU need

Take time to have a serious think about what you
want from a job, and consider how much flexibility and support you would need. It’s
important to have those conversations with potential employers upfront to avoid
conflict and frustration further down the line. Don’t forget that you’re
assessing companies for their suitability just as much as they’re assessing
you. Read Clare’s story
4. Develop
a new specialism

It’s never too late to learn something new.
Whether you want to update your existing knowledge or head off in a different
direction, there are more study options now than ever, including short courses,
distance learning and on-the-job training. It’s worth taking the time to do
your research, such as looking at job adverts to find out which qualifications
potential employers are looking for. Read Carolyne’s story
5. Reach
out to your network

If you feel like you’ve got a gap in your
knowledge, then another option is to find someone to bring you up to speed.
You’re bound to have a contact in your industry who could help, either from a
previous job or your studies. Don’t be afraid to reach out, e.g. on LinkedIn,
and tell people what you need without worrying about what you can offer in
return. These same networks can also point you in the direction of
opportunities and could even open a door for you somewhere along the line. Read Carolien’s story

6. Apply your skills in a new field
Taking time out from work can provide you with the
distance you need to come back with a fresh pair of eyes and reassess your
career plan. This could be the perfect opportunity for you to move across to a
new area. Take some time to look around, talk to people, and see what’s
available. Read Maria’s story

7. Find your tribe

A good support network can make all the difference in ensuring a
smooth transition back into the workplace. You can set up your own group with
people you already know, face-to-face or on WhatsApp, or join our Women Returners group (for network members) on LinkedInRead Clare’s story

8. Consider coaching
If you’re unsure about how to explain your
career gap, worried about the practicalities of juggling family commitments with
a new job, or suffering from a lack of confidence or direction, you could
benefit from some career coaching. (find out about Women Returners coaching here). Read Kate’s story

Look for volunteering roles in your sector

If you’ve been out of the workplace for a long
period, a volunteering role in your sector will bolster your CV with recent and
relevant experience, bring you up to speed with new developments and provide
you with references and new contacts in your industry. Some roles provide
training too. Read Antje’s story
10. And finally, don’t give up! 
It’s all too easy to lose confidence and feel
demoralised when looking for a job using traditional recruitment routes if you
have a non-traditional career path, but with more and more companies in the UK coming
around to the benefits of offering returner programmes and/or flexible working, there
are new opportunities available all the time. And one of them may well have
your name on it! Read Anna’s story

If you have decided to make the move back into
the workplace this year, or you’re simply considering your options at the
moment, make sure you’ve signed up to our network (sign up here) to get return-to-work advice, support, information and opportunities.

Posted by Elaine

Top Tips from Returner Employers

For those of you who missed our Conference on Monday, we’ll be sharing tips, advice and video on this blog over the coming weeks. To get started, here’s some advice from our returner employer panel.

Be clear on the skills you bring
The panel suggested that returners practice articulating what skills they bring, and also advocating for the skills they developed while on their career break. Sharmini Selverajah, Head of the Returner Policy Team at the Government Equalities Office said “Remember to recognise the skills you gained outside of paid work”. She confirmed that she is much better at her work as a result of experience raising her children, including managing and negotiating.
Flexibility is possible
The panel confirmed that many returners are working flexibly. Stephanie Marshall, Talent Acquisition Lead for Fidelity International, stated that flexible working is now requested by employees throughout the organisation, including millennials. Five years ago, no one would ask about flexibility. “Now, they are much more up front about it,” she said.
Practice your negotiation skills
Tricia Nelson, Head of Talent at EY, suggested women returning to work should practice their negotiation skills, be direct about what they need and not talk themselves out of a higher salary or better terms. “Ask for what you want and then zip it,” she said. “Don’t unpack it live.” Alexander Clifford-Turner, EMEA chief financial data offer for Bloomberg, agreed: “It’s a very good tactic to say what you want and shut up.”
Don’t sell yourself short
Returners are now seen by many employers as a valuable talent pool. Sharmini Selverajah said “The business case is clear”. Of course, you need to find the employers who will value your skills and experience – looking for companies with returner programmes and/or family-friendly working policies is a good way to do that.

What’s it REALLY like to return after a career break? Advice from a returner 2 years on

When I was contemplating returning to full-time work after a six-year career break, I cast around on Twitter and among friends for clues and tips and reassurance that I wasn’t Completely Mad for even considering it. There were lots on how to get organised, but very little that told me what it would actually be like. Almost two years in, what would I say to someone asking me the same question?

Be brave
I expected the tiredness and the logistical challenge of combining work and a hectic family life after the luxury of a few years where I only had to consider the latter. What I didn’t realise was how exhausting dredging up the courage to go in, day after day, till I found my feet again would be.
I was terrified on a daily basis, for a long time, in a way that I didn’t recognise from pre-career-break work, and in a way which I no longer experience now. I had a mantra of “don’t look down”: visualising myself on a tight rope, I willed myself to focus on putting one foot in front of the other and refusing to contemplate the horrors lurking should I slip.
Little things I once and now again take for granted: composing an email, approaching someone senior, giving an opinion or advice which I know could come back to bite me should I be wrong, were draining in a way I simply hadn’t expected.
Battling imposter syndrome is nothing special, I know, but it took every ounce of energy I had to fight it down when it was armed with the ammunition of that time away from the office.
Be selfish
I was brought up to believe in service to others, and having been acutely conscious of the additional time I had available while not working, like a lot of people I tried to volunteer where possible and fit in lots of social commitments with friends and family.
Volunteering and working are not mutually exclusive, of course, but it took me almost a year of becoming increasingly unhappy and ill to realise that a break while I reacclimatised to work would have been best all round. It wasn’t the lack of time which was the issue, so much as the need to prioritise family and my own mental well-being with space wherever possible not to be “in demand” from external sources while we all got used to our new normal.
Again, two years in, I now have the energy and headspace to start to be able to fit things into the spare time I have available, but in retrospect, it would have been helpful to have felt I had permission to take a step back. As with the friends point below, it’s natural to feel it important to prove a point – look, I can work and still do everything too! – but those who really care about you won’t be bothered either way.
Losing friends and inconveniencing people
Very much related to the above. Maybe this was just me, but it was hard to realise that to some people I considered friends, I had only every really just been valuable by my presence. A stay at home mum is a useful social acquaintance: able to step in at short notice, lend a hand in groups and generally help move things along by the simple virtue of proximity to home during the hours when others are in the office or on the road.
Not everyone, of course; going back strengthened some lovely friendships by making me realise who was a friend because of who I am rather than what I could do for them, but it wasn’t an easy thing to process in the midst of readjusting back to work when I could have done with a bit of support, and it’s something I wish I’d been prepared for.
Be happy
I used to scoff at the idea that having a happy mother was a tangible benefit to children, perhaps because I just didn’t realise that I was bored and rather miserable by the end of my time at home, but it’s been true in our case. I’ve been incredibly lucky in a supportive employer and access to great, affordable childcare, without both of which it possibly would have been a very different story.
Terror notwithstanding, I felt even in my first day that way you do when it’s only on starting to eat that you realise you were famished. Tiredness notwithstanding, I am simply happier with the boost to my confidence and self-esteem which returning to work has given me.
It has been and continues to be, hard. I miss my children, they miss me (and the luxury of not being in wraparound childcare) and I simply don’t have the degree of involvement in their daily lives that we once took for granted. But they are happy, and they continue to thrive, and we’re all more than managing.
If you’re reading this and wondering whether going back to work (or stepping back into a more demanding job after a period of doing something to fit in around family commitments) is for you, I can’t give you an answer. All I can say is that it was the unquestionably the right thing for me.
Oh, and good luck.
This post first appeared on Head in Book – Postcards from Surburbia

Posted by Donna

Plesae note, we will be posting fortnightly going forwards.  To read more from the archives see here. 

Three Top Tips from Successful Returners

Over the
past few years, we’ve been delighted to hear so many inspiring stories from women who have successfully returned to work.
Here are three of their top tips.
Keep up your professional skills & knowledge
We all know that a
career break is not a break from life and is typically taken for either reasons
of caring, illness or re-training – none of which leave a lot of spare time.
However, many returners felt that their efforts to keep up their skills and
knowledge paid off when it came to returning to work. Fiona returned to
occupational psychology after a 6 year break and advocates maintaining your
professional knowledge, “I also always kept up with my profession in that I
receive journals and took an interest in developments in my field
.” Adrianna,
who returned to Investment Banking after a 9 year break agrees, “Read as much as you can – from every available source
– on topics related or potentially related to your business and the market as a
Rachel took a 9
year career break and during that time recognised some study areas she could
pursue to help keep her skills recent and relevant, “As I didn’t have any recent professional qualifications I starting working
my way through a project management course
returners also found they honed skills while undertaking ‘strategic volunteering’ – unpaid work that
develops your skills and knowledge. Carmen, who took a 7 year break before
returning as a Macro-Economist believes this approach helped her, “I became a
governor at a local primary school, which I feel helped me to hone my
negotiation skills and deal with difficult situations
Networking is vital – you never
know where a lead will come from
you’ve been on a career break the typical routes of finding work through online
job boards and recruitment agencies often prove more disheartening than
helpful. We hear so many stories of role opportunities that come up instead from
networking conversations and contacts. Julia, who is now a Finance Director
after taking a 2.5 year break would concur, “A more effective strategy was
telling all my friends and mums at school gates what I was looking for – most
opportunities I received came from these contacts
.” Rachel, who returned to a
role in Investment Management after an 8 year career break set about talking to
everyone she could think of about what she was looking for. “Although there
were times when I wondered if the endless meetings I was going to were a waste
of time, I persevered and was ultimately successful in landing my ideal
role.  I had also applied for numerous jobs online and via
headhunters but got nowhere – networking really was the only useful route – the
effort will pay off
Directly approach the firms that
you are interested in
In addition
to networking, many successful returners made the decision to bypass
recruitment agencies and directly approach firms that they’d like to work for.
Amy, who returned to Law after a 2 year break, took this direct approach, “I phoned a few recruitment
agents about part-time legal work. They uniformly told me that the law firms
would not be interested and refused to put forward my CV for any roles. I
short-circuited the agencies by applying direct to a firm. Bypass the agencies
and speak straight to the firms you are interested in.
returned to work as an architect and advises that “a direct approach is
generally welcome as firms often have flexible needs for skilled staff who are
hard to find by the standard recruitment routes
.” Fiona found
the same was true, especially of smaller firms. “I picked up the phone to call a local
solicitor who I knew slightly. That was the best step I took! I asked for work
experience and was surprised that he agreed to me coming in a few mornings a
week. I ended up being there 5½ years, thanks to making that one phone call.
these top tips have inspired you, and if you have any suggestions of your own
we’d love to hear them.
Posted by Anna Johnson, Lead Career Coach, Women Returners

Return to work tips

please click this link to watch if viewing via email

We’ve put together a short video of practical and inspiring return to work tips from our Conference speakers:

  • Jane Garvey, Presenter of Woman’s Hour
  • Tiffany Grimwade, Project Manager, Skanska
  • Samina Malik, Supply Manager, O2
  • Ingrid Waterfield, Director, KPMG
  • Maggie Stilwell, Managing Partner, EY
  • Tina Sharp, Portfolio Analyst, MV Credit
  • Brenda Trenowden, Global Chair 30% Club
Posted by Donna

Season’s Greetings From Women Returners

Thank you for following our Back to Your Future blog. We hope that we have been a source of advice, support and inspiration to you during 2016.

If you’re a returning professional, we now have other ways of connecting with you. If you haven’t already done so, do join our Women Returners Professional Network and follow us on Facebook (@WRPNetwork) for up-to-date news and information.

We’re taking a festive break from blogging for a few weeks and will be back in 2017!

Best wishes, Julianne & the Women Returners team

Top 5 Conference return to work tips

We’ve just about recovered from our Women Returners Conference last week … the pre-organisation, the excitement of the day and the post-event exhaustion! It was fantastic to see the enthusiasm and energy of our 175 attendees and very rewarding for us to read the positive feedback we received after the event (see here for Conference photos and comments).
For those of you who weren’t able to join us, I wanted to share some advice from our speakers and from our panelists of successful returners and returner employers.
Top 5 Return to Work Tips
1. Don’t underestimate yourself. This was a consistent theme, starting with our first keynote speaker Jane Garvey’s observation that women too easily doubt our own abilities and that we need to recognise that we bring so much more to the table than we think.
2. Think maturity not age. Our ICAEW employer panel talked about the value to companies both of life maturity and of the amazing array of skills and experience that returners can offer in comparison with a young graduate and even compared with people who have risen up through the ranks.
3. Appreciate your ‘Cognitive Diversity’. Brenda Trenowden, Chair of 30% Club, highlighted the push from UK business to increase diversity. Alongside diversity of gender, age and ethnicity the new goal is a team with ‘cognitive diversity’. Basically, companies are valuing people who think differently. From my experience, seeing the world in a different way comes easily to people returning after a career break – you return with a new, and often more balanced, perspective.
4. Be brave and move out of your comfort zone. Many of our panelists, including those with very impressive CVs, talked about the self-doubt and anxiety they had faced on modafprovig.com their return to work. However, all of them said that the pain was worth it in the end!
5. Move to action. This was my main takeout from the stories we heard. Don’t procrastinate endlessly, looking for the perfect next step. One of our panelists retrained as a mediator, before deciding that wasn’t the right path for her; she’s now working in a legal role she loves after taking a set of interim legal roles along the way. It may be a windy road back, but you’ll learn more by doing than by thinking.

More advice
We’re working on some advice video clips from Conference speakers and panelists and hope to share these with you over the next month or so. In the meantime, see our website for other returner stories and advice.

Posted by Julianne

Mastering the Difficult Conversation

How good are you at having difficult conversations? Learning to communicate more effectively can help to prepare you for your return to work.
Would you rather run for the hills than have a really tricky conversation that makes you feel uncomfortable? How good are you at communicating your own needs and reaching compromises and solutions?
If like me, you are naturally a people pleaser who dislikes conflict, you might find yourself using classic avoidance tactics rather than have a difficult conversation. We tell ourselves many things: “It’s not my place”; “Someone else will do it”; “What good will it do?” or “It’s easier to do it myself than have the conversation”.
But what is the price that we pay for avoiding these conversations?
Back in my corporate career days, I got much better at having difficult conversations – it took practice and time but I got there. However since becoming a mother and taking two career breaks I feel that these skills have got a little rusty! And sometimes, frankly, it can be harder to have the difficult conversations with those closest to you than it is with colleagues in the office.
I have found similar experiences amongst women who I have coached to return to work and who find it very difficult to communicate with other key family members about their plans to return to work.

This is often driven by a range of fears – “My partner won’t like the changes at home; “My children won’t like me not being around”; “My elderly parents need me and won’t understand”; No-one will offer me a job anyway so there is no point in talking about it…” and of course, the big one which is rooted in our own fear of what the new might look like for everybody, ourselves very much included.

The irony, however is that this is exactly the time when you need the support behind you to make the transition and journey back to work as easy as possible!

So how can you practice getter better at difficult conversations to ease your return to work and to help manage your career once back in the workplace?
  1. Change your mindset – ask yourself what is the risk to me and/or this relationship if I don’t have this difficult conversation? Try to identify what is difficult about it – what are you afraid will be the outcome? What is the worst that can happen?
  2. Remove emotion. Easy to say particularly if this is a conversation in our personal lives but try to control your emotion – use questions and ask the other person how they feel about the subject in question? Ask them what they would suggest and like to see happen.
  3. Be clear on what you are asking for. If it’s for more support around the house, for instance, be clear on what this might look like – ask your partner for input and suggestions and draw up a rota of chores. Make sure there’s time blocked out for each of you and time together.
  4. Don’t make it about winning an argument – see it as finding a resolution that works for everyone, particularly family life!
  5. Practice an easy one first. If you are not ready to approach the bigger subjects immediately, practice having a difficult conversation with a family member or friend – perhaps one you’ve avoided for some time but would like to address. Take confidence from that first!
Feeling more confident at approaching things you might usually avoid will help build your confidence in approaching people who can help with your return to work and asking for advice, input or introductions. Inevitably when you return to work there will be difficult conversations to be had at times with bosses and colleagues. Remembering the tips above will make this much less daunting when the time comes!
Posted by Kate Mansfield, Coach & Facilitator, Women Returners

Taking care of yourself: put your own oxygen mask on first …

If you’re anything like me, when you’re on a plane and the safety briefing comes on, you switch off and focus on your magazine (or screaming child!). But you probably know the bit that says “put your own oxygen mask on before your child’s”. Most women I know could learn from this. We tend to put everyone else’s needs before our own. So much so that we can end up exhausted, burnt out and at rock bottom before we actually take care of ourselves.

Chances are the demands on your time and energy are already copious. If you’re returning to work those demands will likely increase. If you’re also a mother, at this time of year when kids are back at school, it seems there are 101 small things to remember and this can feel exhausting. If you’re running on empty though you’ll struggle to truly enjoy life and be at your best. When I returned to work after my maternity leave it took me a throat infection that lasted two months and a shaky tremor in my hands that wouldn’t go away before I realised I was no good to anyone if I wasn’t looking after myself.
So stop, just for a couple of minutes and think – what’s my “oxygen mask”? What 3 things could I do to take better care of myself?
A few suggestions to help you think about your own personal ways to recharge your batteries:
  • Take a walk outside in the fresh air – ideally in a green, open space – spend some time in nature. Try to stroll and enjoy your surroundings.
  • Do exercise that you enjoy – highly energetic or reflective – just about any exercise will tend to do the trick!
  • Have a chat with a good friend – just ask them to listen to you for a bit – and feel free to ramble.
  • Rediscover a hobby or creative interest – watercolour painting, playing the piano, swimming, stamp collecting…..just something you enjoy! It can help if you are learning a new skill and where you are so involved in it you haven’t got room for worrying about anything else.
  • Get some extra sleep – go to bed early for a couple of nights, switch off electronic devices at least an hour before bed time, have a bath before bed.
  • Sit down for 15 minutes to have a cup of tea – and don’t do anything else!
  • Have an ‘electronic-free’ day – the incessant pull of technology can be draining. Switching it off can enable you to switch off for a while and literally ‘recharge’.
  • Cut out something in your life. If you had 5 fewer hours every week what would you drop? Give yourself some breathing space.
  • If you can afford it, have a massage.
  • Laughter is the best medicine. Watch a comedy or play silly games with your kids.
  • Meditation or mindfulness may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But simply sitting with your eyes closed in a comfy position and focusing on taking deep, slow breaths can do wonders.
  • Listen to music – sing along to your favourite song.
The next time you are feeling overwhelmed, when you know you are not at your best but are relentlessly pushing on, remember to put on your oxygen mask first.

Posted by Anna Johnstone, Coach & Facilitator, Women Returners

Coping with the return-to-work transition

There are many changes going on in my work life at the moment, as Women Returners expands rapidly in several new directions. Home life is also shifting as my oldest daughter ends school life and prepares for University. One moment these changes feel exciting and energising, the next they can seem exhausting and unsettling.

You may be experiencing similar up-and-down emotions as you are getting back into the job market or starting a new role after many years out. When I hit these periods of change, I find it helpful to remind myself that this emotional rollercoaster is completely normal. In the classic book Transitions, based on 30 years of research, William Bridges explains that we all go through a period of psychological readjustment when change occurs. Alongside opportunity, change can bring turmoil. It’s useful to know that this inner transition process typically takes longer than we think it will, and doesn’t necessarily correlate with the scale of the change or whether it’s a positive change such as promotion or negative change such as redundancy.

He provides a simple roadmap of the three stages of any transition process. Change starts with an ending and ends with a beginning:

1 Endings
2 Neutral
3 New
Every change starts with leaving the past
behind, recognising what you’re giving up & deciding what you want to hold on to
In this in-between state we readjust & reorientate. Emotional ups & downs are strongest at this stage
Finally, we launch into the new activities and start to embrace the change with renewed energy

Bridges’ research found that we’re much better able to navigate a change successfully if we anticipate these stages and take time at each step to adjust. Don’t misinterpret the confusing feelings in the neutral zone as evidence that you shouldn’t be making the change and a reason to retreat. Stick with it, weather the emotional upheaval, and you’ll eventually come through to an exciting new beginning.

Posted by Julianne