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: