Career Returners Podcast – Top Return to Work Tips (2)

After 10 wonderful weeks, we’ve reached the end of our first series of our ‘Career Returners’ podcast. Here’s what we learned from our inspirational podcast guests as they navigated their return to work journeys:

When you’re first thinking about returning to work

  • Cast aside doubts that you’ve been out of the workplace for too long – with the right preparation and ideally support, length of career break should never be a barrier to returning to your professional career. Amongst our podcast guests, the length of career break ranged from 3 to 16 years – and we’ve coached women on returner programmes who have been out for 20+ years. If they can do it, so can you!
  • Don’t worry about the reason for your career break – your reason is personal and you don’t need to disclose it. There are a whole host of reasons why people take a career break, including childcare, eldercare, ill health, bereavement, travel, relocation, studying or starting your own business. The reason is immaterial to employers – what’s material is your skills, strengths, experience and fit for their role.
  • Be proud of your career break – reflect on all the transferable skills you have gained during it, such as increased empathy, negotiation, leadership, and collaboration skills. These are what employers are drawn to and they value the increased wisdom and breadth of perspective that returners bring to their teams.
  • Reflect on your broader skills and strengths – through online strengths tools, revisiting old appraisals, reflecting on the projects you were involved in and the expertise you brought to them. Reconnecting with your professional identity will boost your confidence and help you to focus your search on the types of roles where you can use your skills and strengths.

When you’re thinking about your path back to work

  • Start with what work you’d find fulfilling – that’s work that’s aligned with your skills, interests, and experience. Once you’ve identified work that you’d find fulfilling, then think about how you might be able to do that work with the flexibility you’d like and at the level of pay you’d like.
  • If you’re thinking about a career change, do your research. Ideally spend some time volunteering in this new field to see whether it’s the right work for you and to build your experience and network in this new area. Talk to people working in this area to learn as much as you possibly can. Alternatively, get your foot back in the door in an industry you know, and once you’re in, then explore whether there are any lateral moves you can make to re-orient your career in the direction you’d like to go.
  • Consider returner routes back in returner programmes can offer the perfect route back in as they offer real work with support to get back up to speed often in the form of coaching, mentoring, and training. Recruiters will value your career break, and you will be competing in a smaller pool, as opposed to general roles in the open market. You’ll also be given time and support to get back up to speed which will make your transition back to work smoother.

When you’re actively looking for work

  • Create an action plan for your return to work – update your CV, create a LinkedIn profile if you haven’t got one and start building and reaching out to your network. Keep taking small steps, one at a time, to keep moving forward in your return to work plan.
  • Prepare your professional intro – so that you have a clear, engaging, and focussed career story to tell during networking conversations, and later when you’re in interview! Start first with highlighting your sector background, key skills, and expertise, mention your career break briefly (e.g. that you’ve had a 5 year career break to raise your young family), and end on what you’re looking to explore now.
  • Be prepared for a few bumps along the way – many of our podcast guests spoke about the fact that it took them longer than they thought to get back to work. Schedule in time for focussed and tailored activity rather than sitting in front of your screen for 10 hours a day, applying for hundreds of roles. Ensure you look after yourself during this period – eat well, exercise and take regular time off to recharge.

And finally, in the early days once you’re back at work

  • Understand that you may experience a rollercoaster of emotions – this is perfectly normal as the adrenaline high of starting your new role subsides and the reality of now combining a busy workload with your busy life sinks in. Think about what help you can get at home, what you can delegate and what you can stop doing. Reach out to people at work to connect and build your internal network – this will help you to navigate your new work environment and learn who’s who, how to access the resources you need, and the people who can help you.
  • Maintain your work-life boundaries – this is so important in ensuring you make your return to work sustainable. Your work life balance may shift but recognising when you start to feel out of balance and taking steps to switch off and recharge will be key in making your return to work enjoyable and sustainable. Establish some boundaries for yourself – when you will switch off, not checking email in the evenings or weekends, switching on your ‘out of office’ – these will all help you to manage this balance and set yourself up for success going forwards.
  • Have faith in yourself and remain positive and proactive remember to be your own inner mentor and champion as you return to work, stay optimistic that things will work out well, and continue to take small steps to create opportunities that will hopefully lead to the next fulfilling chapter in your career story!

Huge thanks to our podcast sponsors Credit Suisse for helping us to bring these stories to life. If you’ve missed any of the episodes in our Career Returners podcast, then you can listen for free via any of the links below, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts:

Career Returners Podcast – Top Return to Work Tips (1)

Anna and Karen have loved interviewing three inspiring women for the first episodes of our Career Returners Podcast. Having already gleaned much valuable return to work advice from these successful returners to work, they’ve summarised their top 5 tips so far:

1.Value the skills and experiences you have gained during your career break

Don’t undervalue these skills, just because they may have been gained doing volunteering rather than paid work. Sarah McKelvie, who returned to medicine during the pandemic after a 12-year career break, found volunteering provided valuable transferrable skills such as collaboration, motivating people and leading a team, all skills which have really helped her be the well-rounded and empathetic doctor she is now.

2. Don’t give up

The experience of all our interviewees illustrates that the road back to work can be long and draining. You may face many rejections and feel like it’s never going to work out. Their advice was to be patient and persistent and to draw on support to help you to keep going. Use your social networks and talk to friends and parents at the school gates so that others know what you’re looking for and can tell you about opportunities they hear of. Join like-minded communities for peer support such as our growing Facebook Group to help keep your motivation levels up.

3.Get clear on your values

It’s important to think about who you are now and what’s important to you for this next this stage of your career. This will help guide your return to work and help you to feel confident in your new role. As Rachel Tomkins, who returned to engineering with Tideway after a 9 year career break reflected, one of the keys to her successful return was just being herself, being authentic and bringing all the additional skills, experiences, wisdom, and maturity that she gained during her career break with her to her new role.

4.The first role back doesn’t need to be perfect

Your first return to work job can just be a stepping-stone to get your foot back in the door and refresh your skills. Rachel reflected that once you’re back in, you can then explore a whole host of other opportunities that may open up to you.

5. Be prepared to feel a rollercoaster of emotions as you return to work

The initial adrenaline high and excitement often gives way to exhaustion and imposter syndrome a few weeks in. This transition is totally normal and one many returners go through and successfully conquer.  What helped Melissa Janvier, as she returned to law at the Bank of England after a 5 year career break,  was setting aside time to rebuild her knowledge through reading and training, and by growing her network of support – both from established team members and from the valuable peer support of the returner pool she joined with.

You can listen to the Career Returners podcast for free via any of the links below, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts. New episodes are published every Wednesday:

Women Returners Career Returners Podcast Webpage

Career Returners on Apple Podcasts

Career Returners on Spotify

How to Get Unstuck and Keep Motivated

Returning to work can be tough and it is easy to get stuck, particularly in the current environment.  It can feel like a drag to keep going – we want to bury our heads in the sand whilst feverishly wishing we would wake up and things would be different. If you’re feeling a bit stuck right now, whether that’s lacking motivation, feeling like you have too many hurdles to jump, that you don’t have enough time in your day or that you have no idea where to even start, let us help you get unstuck and motivate you to keep going.

Where are you right now? 

Wherever you are in your return to work plan you might be faced with a barrier. Whether that is knowing where to start, struggling to get your CV refreshed, finding the right job to apply for or working out who is in your network. Then you get stuck, so you leave it for a few days and then you have lost the energy to pick it up. Does that sound familiar?

Breaking Down your Barriers

Recognising the barriers that are impacting us and whether they are internal barriers (psychological) or external barriers (practical and tangible) is the first step.  Next, challenge those barriers to help you break them down. What one small step could you take to overcome them? On a scale of 1 to 10, how motivated are you to take that step?  If it’s 8 or 9, great then go ahead and do it now.  If it’s 2 or 3, what is stopping you? What do you need to do to get to a 7-8?

Here is an example:

“I’m feeling really fed up, I’m struggling to find the time to focus on my job search and what’s the point I’m never going to be successful.”

My barriers are:

  1. Lacking motivation (internal)
  2. Lacking time (external)
  3. Negativity bias (internal)

The small steps can I take:

  1. Speak to someone positive who will help build my energy
  2. Read about other returners who have overcome barriers to help me feel more hopeful
  3. Revisit my plan and identify an achievable quick win

My scale of motivation to take these steps:

  1. I don’t want to speak to someone right now (so I’m a 2)
  2. I feel happy to read inspirational stories (I’d rate that an 8)
  3. That will give me the impetus to revisit my plan (now a 5 but could go up if I feel more hopeful)

Psychology of Motivation

Deciding to do nothing breeds doubt and fear, whereas taking action builds confidence and courage. When you achieve even the smallest of goals, your neurotransmitters kick in and you feel good. That helps build momentum and encourages you to keep going, gaining that sense of achievement. Taking time to celebrate these small wins, recognising you are one step closer, is important in maintaining your motivation.

Be Patient and Persistent

It is likely to take a while to secure a role following an extended career break, but don’t be discouraged. For some returners it can happen in a few months, for others it can easily be a year or more. Use the time wisely to refresh your skills and knowledge, continue to build your professional network , take steps to prepare for an interview or do some advance preparation for your return. If you need to take a break, allow yourself to do so. Just do not give up! Set yourself a timescale of a week or two and commit yourself to a date when you will come back to it.

Needing inspiration?

We recommend that you read our Library of wonderful Returners Success Stories to help you feel motivated and inspired. Role models are important. If you can see and read about return to work successes, it helps to believe that if they can do it, so can you!

What does success mean to you?

What does success mean to you? It’s an interesting question to ask yourself from time to time – especially when you’re considering returning to work after a career break.

Often we judge how successful others are in their career by looking at their salary level or how far they’ve progressed up the corporate ladder. If you’ve taken a long break and so haven’t progressed as far as your peers who didn’t step off the career ladder, it’s easy to label yourself as ‘less successful’.

However, research shows that the majority of people tend to use more subjective measures when judging their own success. A classic study* by Jane Sturges found that factors such as enjoyment, accomplishment, influence, expertise and personal recognition rated highly in a group of managers’ descriptions of what success meant to them. For all of the women in the study, the content of the job was rated as more important than pay or status. Some people considered how effectively they balanced their work and home life as a key measure of success – a definite marker of success in our view but one we rarely hear or speak about.

Defining what success means to you can help you to feel more positive about the choices you have made in your career/life to date, and can point you in the right direction for the future.

Ideas to clarify what success looks like for you

1. Fast-forward
A useful exercise is to mentally fast-forward to your 70th birthday. To put yourself in the right frame of mind, imagine who is there with you, where you are, even what you’re wearing. Now imagine you’re giving a speech discussing what you’re proud of having achieved in your career and – most importantly – in your life as a whole. What comes to mind? What will make you feel you have succeeded in your life? Write down whatever comes to mind and you’ll have a good starting point for developing your own personal view of success

2. Think-back
Consider the proudest achievements in your life. What were the moments that made you feel really good about yourself? Can you see any common themes? Could these past accomplishments help you define what success will look like in the future? Has your perspective changed during your career break?

Once you’ve decided what success means to you, you may find yourself stuck on how to get there. Read our blog on the various routes back to work for ideas.

And don’t forget to build your self-efficacy so that you believe you can succeed!

*What it means to succeed – Jane Sturges (1999)

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 stay motivated in your return to work job search

“When you get into a tight place, and everything goes against you till it seems as if you couldn’t hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that’s just the place and time that the tide’ll turn.” Harriet Beecher Stowe

Searching for a job after an extended career break can leave you feeling overwhelmed and demotivated. We often find returners have no idea where to focus their job search. They find themselves applying randomly for jobs which becomes demotivating as nothing seems to fit or work out. Alternatively, you can get stuck in “either/or thinking” where you fix on only two options and then become demoralised and give up when neither work out.

We all know that effective job search requires effort, energy and sustained motivation. But how to maintain motivation in the face of setbacks, disappointments and the sheer length of time needed to pursue options, is the difficult part!

At Women Returners, we recognise that a clear focus for getting back into the job market and also strategies to maintain motivation are needed.

We work with returners to help them identify a good rationale for exploring particular career options based on what they want and need in any job role. We also help you to formulate action steps which are behavioural, specific and motivating. We understand the psychological blocks that can reduce your motivation to carry out actions after the coaching has ended, even though you were committed at the time.

Here are our top tips for maintaining motivation:

  1. Imagine yourself 3 months in the future when your enthusiasm for action is dwindling. What would you like to tell your 3-months-from-now ‘self’ to keep up motivation? Alternatively write a motivational letter to yourself and ask someone to post it to you in 3 months’ time.
  2. Remind yourself of your autonomy in choosing which action steps to follow; no one is telling you what you have to do. That notion can be empowering in itself.
  3. Revisit the end goal and remind yourself of its importance, especially if the action steps feel removed from what you are aiming to achieve. Consider linking the goal to your sense of identity, self worth and values.
  4. Identify role models who have achieved their goals through their own hard work and effort. Use the same techniques that they used.
  5. Remember when you succeeded in achieving your goals in the past. If you did it before you can do it again!
  6. Make it easy to achieve action steps by physically removing all distractions and having all the materials you need to hand and elebrate. Reward yourself with treats for periods of concentrated activity and actions accomplished.
  7. Find a group or a buddy going through the same experience and motivate each other. If you’re in the Women Returners network, our LinkedIn group can help you to find the returners in your area. It’s also a good idea to identify your return-to-work supporters.
  8. Break down steps into manageable chunks and make them specific and achievable. And find a way of physically marking off action steps when achieved. One technique is to physically throw away action post-it notes to symbolise completion.
  9. Visualise the steps you will take to achieve your goal.
  10. Finally just ‘get stuck in’ and commit to action and momentum will build!  As Goethe said, ‘whatever you can do or dream you can, boldness has genius, power.’

For more advice on Motivation see this previous post. Make sure you have signed up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities.

How to maintain your New Year motivation to return to work

Happy New Year!

If you’ve just set a goal to return to work during 2017, how can you maintain your start-of-the-year determination, and not let it fade away like most New Year’s resolutions?

Psychologist Richard Wiseman conducted two large-scale global scientific studies into motivation and found that only 10% of people successfully turned their dreams into reality. Why do we so often fail to achieve our goals? Reassuringly, this isn’t another reason to beat ourselves up for not trying hard enough. The research shows that the problem is not our weak willpower, it’s that the techniques we think will help us to achieve our goals don’t help us in practice.
A good example is the often-touted motivational technique of visualisation. A study at the University of California found that students asked to visualise their end goal – getting a high grade in their exam – for a few minutes each day ended up working less and getting worse marks. Another experiment found that students who often fantasised about their dream job were actually less likely to get job offers.
How can we boost our motivation? 
Richard Wiseman looked at the motivation techniques that people used most often and discovered that half were effective and half ineffective, and that most people were using the ineffective ones.

He identified 5 effective ways to boost your motivation …:

1. Making a step-by-step plan, breaking the goal into achievable and measurable sub-goals to reduce the fear and hesitation of change.
2. Telling friends, family and other people about your goals. In this way you both strengthen your resolve and get support.
3. Thinking about the specific ways in which your life will be better if you achieve your goal.
4. Rewarding yourself in small ways for achieving each sub-goal to maintain a sense of progress.
5. Making plans, progress, benefits and rewards more concrete and specific by writing them down.
… and 5 ineffective techniques to avoid:
1. Focusing on a successful role model.
2. Thinking about the bad things that will happen if you don’t achieve your goals.
3. Trying to suppress negative or unhelpful thoughts.
4. Relying on willpower.
5. Visualising your end goal or fantasising about how great life will be when you achieve your goal.
If using visualisation still appeals, watch Wiseman’s 59 second video for how to make this more effective.
 
Return to Work Motivation
If you’ve committed to yourself to return to work this year, think about how you can apply these principles to build your own motivation when your New Year enthusiasm wanes and the rest of life gets in the way.
Here are some ideas:
  • Buy a new journal, or create a spreadsheet if you prefer, and start recording your plans and progress
  • Set aside regular times each week to work on your job exploration
  • Set achievable and practical weekly return-to-work sub-goals
  • Decide what small rewards you will give yourself for achieving your sub-goals (avoid chocolate if getting healthier is another of your New Year goals!)
  • Create your own return to work peer group to share your goals and to support each other. If you’re in the London area, you can join our London Women Returners Networking & Support Group (and let us know if you’d like start your own local Women Returners group). Use our Facebook group as an extra source of encouragement too.
 
 
Posted by Julianne

Note: Updated version of previous post Jan 2015

Staying Motivated

Why do New Year’s Resolutions usually fail?
Why does our New Year’s Day determination to achieve our long-term objectives so often fade after a few weeks? Why do the same goals reappear year after year? This isn’t another reason to beat ourselves up for lack of self-discipline. It’s not enough just to set a goal and rely on willpower. And psychology research has found that many of the other techniques we think will help us to achieve our goals are also ineffective.
Last year I finally managed to achieve one of the goals that kept reappearing on my New Year list: starting running. I loved the idea of running – getting out in the fresh air, ‘easy’ to fit in with my schedule – but April arrived & I still hadn’t put a trainer-clad foot out of doors. I had lots of excuses (running 2 businesses, demanding teenagers, waiting for warmer weather) but the truth was that my motivation just wasn’t strong enough. The short-term comfort of staying home in the warmth always outweighed the long-term gain of getting healthier.
The turning point for me was signing up in May for a beginners’ running class on our local common. I realised that I needed the push of the weekly commitment in my diary, together with the pull of the sociable side of the group to give me the motivational boost to get out of the door. And it worked! I can’t say that I’ve turned into a dedicated runner, or managed to run regularly more than once a week, but I’ve shown up each week, even on those freezing, wet & windy mornings when a hot coffee in a warm house seems infinitely more appealing, I now enjoy running comfortably for half an hour, and I’ve signed up for the improvers’ class this year!
How can we boost our motivation?
There’s a lot of research evidence that having a long-term end goal just isn’t enough. A study into motivation at the University of California found that students asked to visualise the end goal – getting a high grade in their exam – for a few minutes each day ended up working less and getting worse marks. Another experiment found that students who often fantasised about their dream job were actually less likely to get job offers.
Richard Wiseman*, one of my psychology gurus, conducted two large-scale global scientific studies into motivation and found that only 10% of people successfully achieved their aims. He looked at the techniques that participants used most often and discovered that half were effective and half ineffective, and that most people were using the ineffective ones.

He identified 5 effective ways to boost your motivation …:

1. Making a step-by-step plan, breaking the goal into achievable sub-goals to reduce the fear and hesitation of change.
2. Telling friends, family and other people about your goals. In this way you both strengthen your resolve and get support.
3. Thinking about the specific ways in which your life will be better if you achieve your goal.
4. Rewarding yourself in small ways for progress towards your goal.
5. Making plans, progress, benefits and rewards more concrete and specific by writing them down.
… and 5 ineffective techniques to avoid:

1. Focusing on a successful role model.
2. Thinking about the bad things that will happen if you don’t achieve your goals.
3. Trying to suppress negative or unhelpful thoughts.
4. Relying on willpower.
5. Fantasising about how great life will be when you achieve your goal.
For me, the first thing that most strengthened my motivation was having a regular commitment that I treated as an important not-to-be-cancelled meeting in my diary. This created a ‘healthy habit’ out of running. The second was the group aspect, as we encourage each other and enjoy running together.
If you’ve committed to yourself to return to work this year, think about NYGoodHealth how you can apply these principles to build your own motivation when your New Year enthusiasm wanes and the rest of life gets in the way. Maybe create your own ‘return to work’ peer group to share your goals and support each other; set aside regular times each week to work on your job exploration; set achievable weekly return-to-work goals; and buy a journal to record and reward yourself for progress. And use our Network and LinkedIn group as an extra source of support and encouragement.
Happy New Year!

* See 59 Seconds for more of Richard Wiseman’s research-based advice

Posted by Julianne