Managing Return to Work Fears

Contemplating returning to work after a career break can feel scary and sometimes overwhelming. We’d like to reassure you that these feelings are very normal as you negotiate the ups and downs of returning to work. However, there are strategies that you can use to overcome them. These can be very empowering and help give you the boost you need to keep moving forward.

Common fears

These are some of the typical worries we hear:

  • ‘I’ve lost all my skills and knowledge after such a long time out’
  • ‘I’ll never get back to speed when everything’s moved on so much’
  • ‘No-one will employ me with such a large gap on my CV’
  • ‘My family won’t cope without me’

Fears such as these can be so powerful that they stop you in your tracks before you even get going.

Managing your Fears

The first step is to recognise that this is your Negativity Bias playing loud and clear! Our brains have evolved to keep us safe. In evolutionary times, understanding all the potential risks of a situation kept us out of danger’s way and alive. Nowadays, our minds have not evolved as much as our environment. So when we’re stepping outside of our comfort zone – such as looking to return to work after a career break – our minds fire up with everything that might go wrong. Your mind wants to keep you safe, but it can just keep you stuck!

Alongside negativity bias is its firm friend and accomplice: your Inner Critic! You’ll recognise your inner critic – it’s the unhelpful soundtrack that plays in your head. It might tell you ‘You’re too old to go back to work’, or ‘You’re being selfish for wanting to leave your family to work. We all have this unhelpful voice – recognising that this is what’s at play here, can help you to gain some distance and objectivity.

When your negativity bias rears its head, first acknowledge these are thoughts not proven reality. Then aim to balance the negativity, seeking counter evidence to reality-test your thoughts:

  • If your inner critic is suggesting you’re not capable, list out your strengths, together with the achievements and experiences that demonstrate what you have done in the past and can do again.
  • If your thoughts are focused on what could go wrong, consider all the things that could go right. We call this ‘positive what-iffing!’. So instead of ‘what if I don’t remember anything?’, reframe it to ‘what if my knowledge comes back quickly once I’m back in role, plus I also have a whole host of transferable skills I can bring to it from my career break?’ It opens your mind to the positive possibilities and helps you to get excited about your return.

Now find your ‘inner mentor’. This is your more compassionate voice, the one that would reassure a friend when they’re doubting themselves. In essence, give yourself a pep talk! Tell yourself, ‘you can do this’, ‘you’ve got years’ worth of experience both pre-break and from your break and they’re lucky to have you!’. Aim to mentally turn down the volume on your inner critic and raise the dial on the volume of your inner mentor!

As you navigate the ups and downs of returning to work, remember that fears and doubts are very normal. They indicate that you are challenging yourself to grow and push out of your comfort zone.

 

Returning to work at different ages

Returning to work can be a daunting process after a career break. You may be questioning ‘who am I’ professionally after several years out, and this may feel even more profound when returning to work after a very lengthy break.

Different life factors at play can also bring additional challenges – how does returning to work differ in your 30s, 40s and 50s – and what can you do practically to help yourself?

Your 30s

Careers often accelerate during your 30s, and it can feel hard to return when you’ve stepped out of your career while your peers have continued to progress. You may feel frustrated and that you have to play catch up with others in your age group to get your career back on track. Remember, as working lives grow longer with many of us working into our 60s and beyond, this is just a small pause in your career, and you will be back up to speed and smashing it before long!

The first step is to avoid the trap of comparison and focus instead on the value you bring. Reconnect with your professional brand – what you have to offer in terms of your strengths, skills and experience, and what you stand for – your values and your purpose. Read our blog here on personal brand and focus on raising your visibility in line with this.

This is a prime time to grow in your career and it can be really valuable to seek a mentor to help you think about your career progression, and spot opportunities for development as your resume your career. Explore organisations’ mentoring programmes, or be brave and approach people you think could be a great mentor to set up an informal mentoring relationship.

If you have young children to care for, this can be challenging both practically and emotionally.  Explore child care options early so that you’re well prepared on this front. The good news is that post pandemic, flexible working is here to stay and in many cases has made it easier for professionals to return to work. In addition new laws that come into effect in 2024 also mean that you will soon have the right to request flexibility from day one. Read our flexible working blog post for further tips and advice.

Your 40s

“The advantage to being older is that you know who you are and what you want” a returner in her 40s told us recently. Your 40s is a good time to review what you want from the next 20-30 years of your career. Reflect on your strengths, values and interests and whether these have changed since you last made career decisions. If you have children they may well be at school now, freeing up some time and space for you again and it’s a great time to reignite your career fire!

At this life stage, ageing parents may also start to pose new responsibilities and challenges.  Consider who else can help out to support loved ones when you’re back at work – other family members, friendly neighbours, community support? Explore these now whilst you have the time to set up and trial new arrangements.

Perimenopause can also bring its own challenges in your mid to late 40s. See our blog here on asking for the (peri)menopause support you need as you return to work.

Balancing all of these elements can be stressful so it’s important to practice the basics of looking after yourself well and reaching out for help. Join supportive groups for tips and advice, build your network and challenge yourself to be more visible. Listen to Tamara’s inspiring story on our Career Returners podcast about the value of networks and creating opportunities to reconnect.

Your 50s

At this age you will have achieved many brilliant things throughout your career and life. You will have years of valuable work experience, you may have lived or worked in different countries, developed your own business, volunteered your time, maybe created or designed something. You may have raised your children, cared for your parents, supported a partner, and witnessed life changing events. Value what you have to offer an employer.

Workplace ageism can be a challenge returning to work in your 50s and while it might be true that some organisations fail to recognise the great value and benefit of hiring older workers, the landscape is changing as more and more organisations embrace returner programmes and the government commits to new initiatives to help over 50s back to work.

Returners too often create self-imposed barriers that need not exist. There are lots of free online upskilling courses to help you get up to speed with new technologies, to pivot your career or to retrain into a new area. Explore our resource signposts here to get upskilled and grow your confidence.

Reframing and developing the right mindset where your age is an advantage is essential. There are lots of resources out there to help you realise your potential – check out Restless, a fast growing digital community for the over 50s and 55 Redefined, ‘champions of the over 50s’ with an over 50s jobs board and membership platform.

Whatever age and stage you’re at, remember that you bring many years of skills, experience and wisdom that employers hugely value.  For inspiration, delve into our Library of Success Stories to help you get started on this next career chapter.

Advice from Employers for Returner Candidates

At our annual ‘Back to your Future’ conference in May 2023, Upasna Bhadhal facilitated an insightful Employer Panel on ‘The Value Returners Bring and Top Tips for Success’, chatting to Esme Heaps from Workday, Claire Hodson from J.P. Morgan, Muniba Khan from Edinburgh Napier University and Alexander Trusty from Moody’s Corporation. We’ve selected below some of their comments on why they are targeting returner candidates and how attitudes have evolved towards candidates with career breaks, together with their top tips for returners.

What value do returners bring to your organisation?

  • “We value our programmes because we have seen the positive impact on our organisation … returners have such great skills and experience”
  • “Returners bring fresh ideas and perspective and a rich source of talent. They demonstrate their value through their contribution and now in turn as alumni are recruiting their own returners”
  • “Returners bring cognitive diversity and more value than they realise – the career gap is a CV gift!”
  • “We value diversity of thought and opinion. When businesses bring in experienced returners and get it right it’s a ‘magic combination’. Returners bring huge value and experience – they just need support to brush up their skills.”
  • “Returners enables us to diversity our workforce and enables those with huge talent to get back into the game”

Employer Tips for Success

  • “Own your career gap”. Don’t try and hide it.
  • “Don’t shy away from your career break, celebrate it!” Have a top summary paragraph on your CV with an overview, show what you’ve gained – tell your story!
  • “Do your research”. Look at the job advert to see what skills are required for a role. Then draw on your own experiences and make sure your relevant skills stand out in your application. Be specific about what you bring to the table.
  • “The returners who are curious are the most successful as it takes them further, they learn more and expand their networks.”
  • “Reach out and connect”. Shout loud and proud about your achievements.
  • “Use your support network, ask questions”. Once in the role, don’t get overwhelmed, reach out and seek support, and your skills and confidence will grow.

Advice from Other Returners on How to Successfully Return to Work

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

Top ten tips for making the most of our Back to Your Future Conference 2023

With our Back to your Future Conference just around the corner, here’s our top tips for making the most of the opportunity!

1. Set yourself a goal
What’s your main reason for attending? What do you want to get out of the Conference? Set yourselves some objectives to achieve over the two days e.g. registering your details with some key returner employers, connecting with other returners or making notes to improve your CV and LinkedIn profile.

2. Become familiar with the software in advance
We will send out details of Hopin – the fantastic online conference platform that we use – in advance so you have a chance to download it and set up your profile on it. You can also explore how you can use the different areas so you’re ready to go on the day.

3. Have a back-up plan for tech issues
Ideally you want to follow the conference on a desktop or laptop. But if yours sometimes has issues, have another computer, a tablet or a smart phone at the ready so you don’t miss out.

4. Make a plan
Become familiar with the agenda and identify which sessions you really want to attend. Where you have a choice of sessions, consider which one is going to be most relevant for your goals. Create your plan for attending and block out the time in your diary.

5. Prioritise
Conference days are not the days to multi-task. Make this your priority so you don’t get distracted and can maximise the opportunities offered.

6. Be prepared – do your research
Research employers so that you can prioritise which employers you’ll visit in their booths and chat to in session rooms. Prepare your list of meaningful questions that demonstrates your research – don’t ask questions that you can easily find the answers to on their website.

7. Get your friends to attend too
People often invite a friend for in-person events, but don’t think about it for virtual events. You can even get together on the day so you can sit in different sessions and swap feedback and ideas after.

8. Connect
Make the most of the opportunity to connect with other returners to build your peer support group. Spend time connecting 1-1 with others as well as meeting returners in the session rooms. Connect with people you meet over the two days on LinkedIn so you can continue to support each other.

9. Note taking
Have a pen and notepad ready to reflect on workshop exercises and panels and jot down notes. Set up one page for points that really resonate that you can reflect on later. One way to do this is to think ‘what is my key takeaway’, ‘what does this mean for me’, and ‘what am I going to do with this information’? Set up a second page for contact details or those you would like to connect with or follow. Don’t get distracted taking lengthy notes though – you’ll have the recordings of all workshops and panels for 30 days after the Conference to continue your reflections.

10. Take breaks!
We will be giving you the opportunity for breaks throughout the day. Do ensure you get up and move, get something to eat and drink and rest your eyes from screen time. This will prepare you to come back to your next session re-energised and re-focussed.

Our flagship Back to Your Future Conference on 10 and 11 May 2023 is a fully interactive online event packed with the advice, inspiration, tools and connections you need to get you back to a rewarding role.
To book your ticket, click here!

Navigating a Successful Career Change

As life expectancy increases, our working lives will get longer and many of us will be lucky enough to be working into our 70s and beyond. This provides an opportunity to move from the traditional model for our career and life (education, work, retirement) to something more flexible that enables us to enjoy a number of different careers with breaks interspersed throughout.

Often around mid-life, our focus shifts and we look for more meaning and purpose. Making the right career change for you on your return to work can enable you to pursue something that fits with your values, plays to your strengths and utilises your transferable skills.  Rachel Wright, Career Coach, recently joined us for a webinar for members of our Professional Network and shared her 3 step plan for navigating a career change.

1.Take stock and understand who you are

  • Reflect on what motivates you and interests you now at this stage in your life
  • Consider what your key skills and strengths are that you’d like to be using in a new role – ask a few trusted friends to share what they believe your strengths to be when they’ve seen you at your best, or use an online strengths tool such as Gallup Strengthsfinder
  • Look back over your career and reflect on the highs and lows. Why did you particularly enjoy a role – was it the type of work you were doing, team you were part of, organisational culture?

Capture on one page everything that comes out of your reflections and use this as a lens to assess job options.

2.Explore career ideas and gain clarity on what you want to do

  • Expand your list of career ideas first before narrowing them down
  • Carry out some research online to inspire and provide info on routes into professions (have a look at  https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/ or https://www.mynextmove.org/ ) capturing the ideas that energise you the most
  • Share these, and your one page reflection document with a few trusted people to ask them for advice about job ideas, and create a list of career options
  • Step back and consider what excites you most and narrow it down to a maximum of 3 career change options to research further

Consider: Is this area of work increasing or reducing in demand? How far will I be able to use my skills/strengths I enjoy and what skills/strengths will I need to develop?

3.Take action steps towards making a successful career change

  • Research your 3 chosen ideas further online
  • Reach out to your network to speak to people who can give you further insights into these areas or help connect you to other people
  • Use LinkedIn to connect with friends, former colleagues and new contacts working in areas you’re interested in exploring. Like and comment on other users’ posts who are working in areas you’re interested in to help get you noticed
  • Attend seminars, events, networking groups and join professional associations to build knowledge and relationships including possibly finding yourself a mentor
  • Explore opportunities for strategic volunteering to build your experience, confidence, and contacts – this could also lead to paid employment (see Strategic Volunteering in our Resource Signposts)
  • Research free online training and courses to upskill, develop and build your knowledge (see here for a selection of retraining courses)

By diarising time to take small actions, you’ll move one step closer every day to making your successful career change.

Six Common Errors to Avoid in your Return-to-Work Job Application

When you are applying for a job or a returner programme after a career break, you may be totally focused on crafting and perfecting your CV. At the other extreme, you may be aiming to quickly apply for as many opportunities as possible. If you’re in either camp, it’s easy to make simple mistakes that reduce your likelihood of success. Here are 6 common errors to avoid in your job application process.

1. Don’t apply too late

Don’t leave it to the last minute to apply. Sometimes adverts/applications close early because there has been a lot of interest, or the advert link breaks, or you have problems with your internet connection. If you leave it to the last minute, you may miss out!

2. But don’t apply too early

Don’t apply as soon as the advert opens. You need to make sure that you have tailored your application to the job/programme. You want your CV to be adapted to clearly show why you are a good candidate for this opportunity, and any cover letter to be specific about both your fit and your motivation to join this specific organisation.

3. Don’t neglect the detail

Ensure that you check for grammar, spelling, and consistency. Make sure that your layout is consistent across the document. Recruiters will view lack of attention to detail in your application poorly. Double check that your contact details are correct: typos in your phone number could result in you missing a call for interview!

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Ask a friend or family member to proofread your CV and cover letter. It’s easy to miss your own errors. If you give your proofreader the job description, they can also check off the desired competencies, qualities, and skills against your CV, to highlight if you need to add more evidence.

5. Don’t send to the wrong person

If you are applying via email, double-check the email address for typos. If the job advert has a specific name to send your application to, ensure you are spelling it correctly. Avoid “Dear Sir or Madam” as this sounds very dated now. Instead you can use “Dear Hiring Manager”.

6. Don’t forget the attachments

Before sending your email, confirm that you have attached all the documents that are required. Have you been asked for a separate cover letter, proof of right to work, or other documents? Name these attachments in a professional and helpful way, for example YOUR_NAME_CV, YOUR_NAME_COVER LETTER.

Building a Winning CV

Victoria McLean, CEO of City CV, shared her advice on how to write a professional and effective CV in a recent free webinar for our Women Returners Professional Network. We’ve summarised some of her top tips below.

The Basics

  • The aim of your CV – to show employers and recruiters that you will meet their requirements. Your CV answers the question of whether and how you will deliver what they need.
  • The look and feel – aim for conservative, professional and corporate. Have consistent formatting and show attention to detail. You want a clean feel with white space, no logos or tables. Aim for 2 pages long.
  • The format – use a reverse chronological CV, rather than a functional skills-based CV. Recruiters prefer this format as they can understand your career history more easily.

Preparation

  • Prepare your Pitch – understand the ‘return on investment’ you bring to an employer. Showcase your expertise and strengths and include what’s unique about you.
  • Key Word Research – 80% of online job adverts on the open market use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). The ATS typically does the first screen for recruiters, by matching applications that contain the desired key words to those sought in the job ad. While it’s reassuring to know that the majority of applications for returner programmes are screened by a human and not an ATS, you should still tailor your application to the role, being as specific as possible about mirroring the language required (e.g. Financial Accounting, Balance Sheet, Cashflow and Management, rather than ‘Accounts’).

CV Structure

  • Headline – when you’re returning to work, this should be your preferred job title. ‘Seeking …’ or ‘Candidate for a returner programme’ can also work well. Aim for a headline with presence and impact.
  • Summary/Profile – start with a bang. Your executive summary needs to capture the breadth of your sector experience and achievements, as relevant to the role you’re going for. Include relevant examples. This should hook the reader in and encourage them to read on.
  • Professional Experience – provide a brief organisational and role overview and ensure that you align the experience you highlight to that required in your target role. Demonstrate the arc of your progression and detail your remit and what you delivered. Where you can, include the size of projects, timeframes, budgets, global reach.
  • Showcase your Career Break in the following places:
    • Summary – the last sentence could read ‘Following career break, now seeking / looking for ….’
    • Professional Experience – Career Break (with dates). Include your career break to demonstrate that you qualify for returner programmes. Do include under Career Break any activities of a professional nature that you may have done while you were on your career break, if they’re relevant to the role you are applying for or give valuable transferable skills e.g. short term consultancy projects, running a home-based small business, senior volunteer work (eg. charity trustee)
    • Career Break activities – this is a stand-alone section after Professional Experience that captures other interesting experiences that provided transferable skills (e.g. project managing a relocation or house-build).
  • Interests – add in anything that has a WOW factor or is directly relevant to the role.
  • Qualifications and training – include succinct details on any degree, professional qualification and relevant professional development.

Overall, make sure you are showing your credibility to take on the role and aim to be differentiated to make yourself stand out from other candidates. Your CV should make an impression at first glance – it needs to pass the ‘5 second test’ and make the recruiter want to read on!

Your CV needs to showcase and align your professional experience to the results required in your target role, so do invest time in tailoring your CV to each role you apply for – it will reap dividends!

 

The Value Returners Bring and Top Tips for Success – Advice from Employers

An impressive group of programme managers and business leaders met on our Employer Panel at the 2022 Women Returners Back to Your Future Conference. They delivered an optimistic take on how the post-pandemic world has shifted very much in favour of returners, discussing the value returners bring as well as sharing tips on how to succeed at interview and back at work.

Claire Cohen, author and journalist, hosted our panel of Tiziana Casaula, J.P. Morgan; Dane Lloyd Dwyer, Amazon Lockers; Sarah Mavius, FDM Group; Brian Stanislas MBE, Civil Service HR (Cabinet Office); and Alexander Trusty, Moody’s Corporation.  Here’s a summary of what they shared:

Value Returners Bring

  • “Returner programmes are greatly valued as returners show huge commitment, grit, and willingness to contribute”
  • “Returners bring a bias for action and energy.” They’re ready to prove what they can do and eager to climb a steep learning curve
  • “We see lots of ownership from returners, they come with a diverse experience and their break helps them to understand cultural nuances and have more empathy”
  • They have a “drive to add value quickly” – this helps them to learn and be curious and enables them to move fast
  • Once they’ve made the decision to return, “returners are very proactive and want to prove to themselves and their employer that they can do it”
  • “Attracting senior female talent to our returner programmes helps us to reduce the gender pay gap and achieve gender parity in terms of leadership.”
  • “In the current war for talent, these programmes help us to find the right people!”

What employers are looking for?

  • Your previous experience fits the role you’re going for
  • That you “embrace the values and culture of our organisation”
  • “At interview we want to see your commitment and enthusiasm to return to work.” Employers are looking for reassurance that you are able to tackle your work as well as your other responsibilities.
  • They want to hear that you’re “managing all your stakeholders in terms of expectation setting” as you return to work including your family!
  • “Be transparent about what you need – openness and communication at the beginning are so important.” If you need flexibility, be open about it so employers can see how they can meet your needs. When this is done well, returners move fast and climb the curve more quickly than expected
  • “If you’re changing careers, outline your transferable skills e.g. stakeholder management, project management, communication skills, and align them to the role you’re going for”
  • They value your many years of experience, especially those of older employees. “Age is not a barrier to returning to work – your experience raises the whole team and is very valuable for more junior members of the team.”

We were left with a tangible sense of optimism that more and more employers not just welcome returners but are eagerly seeking out the experience, energy, and value that they bring to the workplace.

To hear the experiences and inspiring stories of returning women, listen and subscribe to our Career Returners Podcast, out fortnightly on Wednesdays.

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: