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Advance preparation for your return to work

With the summer holidays fast approaching, are your plans to get back to work in September getting closer? This is the perfect time to get started to prepare for your return. Don’t wait for a job application or an offer, as advance planning can help you feel much calmer and more in control as interviews or your start date approaches.

We’d recommend tackling your preparation on three fronts: professional/technical, practical and – the bit we often forget – mental. Here are some tips for each of these.

Professional/technical preparation

Take steps to bring your knowledge back up-to-date. Resubscribing to professional journals or related press can help you to reconnect with your old sector and to understand any major developments, as well as new language or acronyms.

If you feel that your skills are rusty, there are lots of free online courses through websites such as coursera, udacity and Digital Garage, to name just a few which can help fill any skills gaps.

Get in touch with ex-colleagues and meet in person close to their work if you can. This is a good time to reconnecting with ‘dormant’ contacts through LinkedIn, particularly those colleagues you were once close to but have lost touch with in recent years. This gets you back in a professional setting and location, talking about you, your interests and the experience you bring. In turn, this can really help to boost your professional confidence. Talking about your career story with them can also help you to refine your narrative, which is very useful for when you’re meeting your new colleagues.

Practical preparation

Having practical support networks in place can really ease some of the stresses when you return to work. It helps to keep the focus on you and having the best possible start. If you’re going to need childcare, look into this asap to give yourself a good window to settle your child in before you start. And also think of your Plan B – who can look after them if they’re unwell? If you have other responsibilities, say for elderly parents, think about how you will fit in or change the care you provide now once you return.

Reflect on your current week, with all your commitments, and then consider how this will work once you add employment into the mix. With only 24 hours in a day, you’ll need to think about what you can delegate. Think about both chores and housework, and voluntary and community activities you may be involved in. Consider what you can start cutting back on or passing on, such as volunteering activities, and what other support you might be able to bring in. Get practiced at saying ‘no’ to free up your day.

This is a great time to get any other members of your household more engaged in domestic life and sharing the load! For mothers, start to delegate more to your children and encourage their independence. If you’re the default taxi driver, still ferrying your older children around, let them get used to public transport. Same with your partner, if you have one – start to hand over and share out more of the home responsibilities.

Think carefully about how work can fit with your life. Map out a balanced work week for you. When do you want/need to be at home & what for? And critically, work out what you are not going to do any more at home. You’ll need to be flexible about how this might pan out once you get into job discussions, but being clearer on your non-negotiables will help you to target the right opportunities.

Mental preparation

One of the things we often see with returners is that their professional confidence takes a hit whilst they’re on a career break. The professional preparation will help to boost your confidence, as you reconnect with the professional you and get clear on the strengths and experience you’d like to bring to your new role. Remember, your skills are still there despite your break, even if your knowledge might be a little rusty.

Spending time with supporters and those championing your return will increase your energy and enthusiasm for getting back to work and will help you to overcome any self-doubt or imposter syndrome! Sharing your excitement about returning to work with family members will get them involved in your journey and rooting for you as well as accepting of the inevitable changes that will come once you start work.

Seeing other people in similar situations succeed can also be a real motivator. Listen to our Career Returners podcast to hear the return to work stories of 9 inspirational women, and read our library of returner success stories on our website – if they can do it there’s no reason why you can’t! You can also read their advice for future returners to give you more tips.

And finally, don’t forget to take time for self-care. This is easy to forget in a busy life, but as important now in navigating the ups and downs of this return to work journey, as it will be when you start work.