At our 2023 Women Returners Conference, we heard from a panel of inspirational returners who shared successful stories of relaunching their careers, after breaks of 4 to 17 years, within the fields of Law, IT, Strategy, Project Management and Professional Services.
There were so many inspiring stories from our panellists:
- Rabiya, a qualified and experienced tech professional, applied unsuccessfully for more than 100 jobs after a 4-year career break due to relocation and ill health. She finally secured a role as a QA Engineer at The Very Group via their first returner programme.
- Antona, an experienced Risk Manager who had worked in Professional Services for 16 years, found it impossible to find a job in her old field after a 6-year career break to raise her 2 children. She worked for 2 years in her local petrol station, before getting her career back on track with the Deloitte Ireland Return to Work Programme.
- Sal took a 17-year break from her professional career to help run the family chain of Post Offices. With the support of Women Returners’ Career Boost Scotland Programme, she returned to her professional career as a Project Co-ordinator with the Scottish Government in 2023.
- Michele, a sales and marketing professional and entrepreneur, took a 5-year career break to raise her young family. She returned to her career via a Home Office Returner Programme in 2017 and is now Deputy Director HR at the Ministry of Defence.
- Tamsin, a qualified lawyer, took a 13-year career break from law to raise her two sons. During her career break, she followed her passion for social justice and worked in the charity sector in a women’s prison and as an advocate for high-risk domestic violence victims. She also took a sabbatical to travel the world. Once her children were older, Tamsin returned to law with Mills & Reeve.
Here’s a summary of some of their top tips for other women professionals wanting to successfully navigate a return to work together with some advice from our coaching team:
“Believe in yourself. Keep saying I can do it! You have so many skills”
Don’t let a long career break put you off! Value the things that you’ve done in your career break. You might think you’ve done nothing of value to an employer – “I’ve just looked after two small children” – but spend some time reflecting on it. List all the things you have done, and the skills you have used, to demonstrate the different competencies and skills you have developed during your career break and which you can bring to your new role.
“For every one thing you might be slower at there are 3 to 4 skills you are better at”
Remind yourself of the skills you have acquired BECAUSE of your career break – networking, multitasking, communicating, and interacting with different types of people. All of these are transferable skills which you are bringing back into the workplace.
“Equip yourself with knowledge and transferable skills”
If you’re looking to return to a new area of work after your career break, look into different courses that can help you to upskill. There are many free courses available online that you can sign up to – check out what might appeal here, for example Rabiya enrolled in an AWS cloud software course which had just a nominal fee. Upskilling will not only help you to test whether it’s the right career move for you, but it will also demonstrate your proactivity, enable you to talk confidently about your chosen area at interview, grow your network by meeting others exploring the same area and hopefully boost your professional confidence.
“Don’t hide your Career Gap”
Be open and transparent both about your career break and any caring responsibilities you have. You’ll be pleasantly surprised about how the corporate environment is less rigid now and different ways of working are more acceptable. Be honest in your interview; organisations are there to support you.
“Surround yourself with as much positivity as possible”
Surround yourself with people who will encourage you and cheer you on. Reach out to others who are doing the role you’d like to do to test whether it’s a good fit, to ask their advice and to explore potential routes in. Use LinkedIn to connect sending a tailored message to reach out. Ask questions, there are so many people willing to help.
“It is possible!”
Don’t give up! Even if you apply for jobs and get nothing after requesting feedback. Keep trying. If you persist, the right job will come. It’s very normal to have doubts as you return to work and to feel fearful, but this is very common and will quickly go away once you’re back to work.
Read the Success Stories on the Women Returners website as a great source of inspiration on days where you feel low.
These returner stories were incredibly inspiring and a real highlight of the Conference. It’s great to see how building self-belief, reflecting on the skills learned during your career break, looking for successful role models, and tenacity and perseverance have helped others to successfully return to fulfilling work.
For more inspiring stories of returning women, listen and subscribe to our Career Returners Podcast.