Conference 2024: Top Tips for your Return from our Employer Panellists

Day 2 of our Back to Your Future Conference is all about ‘Preparing for your Job Search’. We were joined by a fantastic group of forward-thinking employers for our Employer Panel who shared their experiences of running returner programmes in their organisations. Upasna Bhadhal facilitated an insightful discussion on ‘The Value Returners Bring and Top Tips for Success’, chatting to Alexander Trusty from Moody’s, Gee Foottit from St. James’s Place, Lorraine Toole from Workday, Tace Heuston from J.P. Morgan and Sarah Mavius from FDM Group.

We’ve shared some of their top tips and comments on why they are targeting returners and how attitudes have evolved towards candidates with career breaks.

What value do returners bring to your organisation?

  • “Having returners join our programmes helps to diversify our workforce and foster a more inclusive culture”
  • “Returners bring many years of experience and so much value – fantastic leadership and mentoring skills as well as expertise in their field”
  • “Returners are such a fantastic pool of talent – the knowledge and value that you bring to our firms is invaluable!”
  • “Diversity of background and experience, and transferable skills that can lead into other areas”
  • “Your CV gaps are your career gifts!”

How are returners perceived within your organisation?

  • “Perceptions are changing on career breaks – mindsets are very different now to what they were 10 years ago”
  • “Returners’ life skills and life experience are valued”
  • “Managers are actively seeking returners to join their teams due to the high quality of candidates”
  • “Past returners are now hiring new returners to join their teams – great ‘pay it forward’”

Employer tips for success

  • “Ambition is important, skills can be taught. Think widely in terms of transferable skills and know that if there is a gap it can be taught!”
  • “Don’t hide away from the excellent work you’ve done. Really important to showcase your experience built up over the years. Look at the job description and think about what you have done and the transferable skills you can demonstrate. Make sure this is clear in your CV.”
  • “Make your CV clear and concise! Employers want to be able to understand why you are a match. Explain (or avoid) acronyms.”
  • “Have a play about with AI for CVs and cover letters, see how it can help you. Important to tweak and adapt so that it feels authentic and appropriate for you and have someone else check it over too.”
  • “Do ask lots of questions, understand the working norms and culture of organisations. There is a level of informal flexibility that exists now that can help you to manage your return to work successfully.”
  • “Returner interviews – find out who will be at your interview, what to expect and the competencies being assessed. Get well prepared!”
  • “Be easy on yourself – it’s a really big process and you don’t need to know everything straight away.”

 

Conference 2024: Top Tips for your Return from our Returner Panellists

At this year’s Back to Your Future Conference, we heard from an inspiring panel of 5 returners who shared their stories and top tips for a successful return. Three of the 5 panellists had been in the Conference audience last year, providing a real motivational boost to those watching.

The panel was wonderfully facilitated by broadcaster Jane Garvey, and included:

Fifi Crowley, a Delivery Manager at publishing company DC Thomson. Fifi worked in Professional Services and Investment Banking for over 10 years. She took a 5 year career break to set up her own Art Gallery and start a family and returned to work in October 2023 via DC Thomson’s Returnship Programme. It was at the Conference last year that she realised she could use her skills and experience in a different sector and opportunities then opened up to her.

Dagma Cummings, an Operational Risk Analyst at Starling Bank. Dagma worked in Finance for over 20 years, but after her role was made redundant in 2012, she found it difficult to get a new job. After temporarily looking for alternative work, she ended up working 10 years in retail at Harrods. Alongside this, she set up a cake making business from home. Keen to return to her industry after 10 years out, she returned in April 2023 via Starling Bank’s Returnship Programme.

Victoria Grantham, a Senior Associate Solicitor at DAC Beachcroft LLP. Vicky returned to private practice in 2021 after a career break from law of 15 years to raise her young family. During this time, she also managed the finances and HR function of her husband’s small business, helping her to build commercial skills and stay intellectually stimulated. When she was ready to return, she spent a long time exploring different options before returning to law via DACB’s Reconnect Programme.

Subiya Muneer, a Solutions Developer at Deloitte Ireland LLP. After a 3 year career break due to her role being made redundant during Covid, Subiya struggled to return to work with a gap on her CV. Going through a divorce at the same time and with 2 young children to support, Subiya was keen to become financially independent. In 2023, she started the next chapter of her career when she joined Deloitte’s Returnship programme.

Iuliana Udangiu, a Business Optimisation Analyst at EDF Energy. After a 4 year career break for health reasons, Iuliana participated in our Bursary ‘Return to work’ Programme, and then successfully went on to secure a returnship with EDF in September 2023. Prior to this, her work experience included Finance, Project, Change and Asset Management within the Hospitality, Fashion and Tourism sectors. During her career break, she upskilled, continued her voluntary work and diligently worked to recover her health.

Here’s some of their valuable advice, together with some thoughts from our coaching team:

  • ‘Network religiously when you’re looking to return to work’. Expand your circle of contacts to maximise your exposure to different ideas and opportunities.
  • ‘Put yourself in different environments to work out what works’. Explore different roles, sectors, cultures and work places to test what’s right and aligns well with your values and interests now.
  • ‘Attend forums that inspire, to meet like minded people and hear new ideas’. Build peer support and learn from others as to how they’ve navigated their route back to work.
  • ‘Research free bootcamps that can help upskill you’. There are so many free courses available online – check out our resource signposts here.
  • ‘Explore returner opportunities – they open the door to a supported route back’. Returner Employers are specifically looking for those with a gap on their CV and will value transferable skills gained during your career break.
  • ‘Accept you may have to compromise at the start if you’ve been on a long career break’… but it won’t take long to get back to where you were and progress beyond.
  • ‘If you’ve taken a break for health reasons, be honest as to what might impact your prospective employer’, so that they can make any necessary adjustments.
  • ‘If your new role involves working from home, set up a proper office and have boundaries’. Wake up and get ready as if you were going to the office so you’re in the right frame of mind.
  • ‘If you’re working remotely, take time to visit your teams in person so you feel connected.’ Taking the time to do this in the early weeks will help you build relationships from the start and will help you to feel connected.
  • ‘Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable’. It will take time to get comfortable in your new role so pace yourself and take one day at a time.
  • ‘Have self-belief – if you believe you can do it, that’s half the battle!’ A positive mindset helps you weather the knocks and keeps you moving forwards towards your goal of returning to a fulfilling career.

Top 10 Tips for Preparing for Conference

Our top tips for getting prepared

With so much to look forward to and benefit from, how do you stay focused and get the maximum experience for you from the Conference? Here are our top tips.

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 RingCentral (formerly called 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.

Reframing your Career Break: Unearthing Value and Articulating Transferable Skills

Taking a career break, whether by choice or circumstance, often carries a complex mix of emotions and implications for professionals. While the reasons vary, including caring commitments, health reasons, relocation, redundancy and professional development to name but a few – returning to the workforce can feel daunting. However, what if we viewed a career break not as a gap in a CV but as a rich period of growth and learning? This post aims to help you reframe your career break by identifying its inherent value and learnings, and articulating your transferable skills in a way that resonates with potential employers.

Identifying the Value and Learnings

1. Personal Development: A career break often leads to significant personal development, including improved resilience, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. Reflect on how you’ve grown personally during this period and consider how these traits are valuable in a professional setting.

2. New Perspectives: Stepping away from the workforce can provide new insights into what you value in a career, your preferred work culture, and the type of work-life balance you seek. Your experiences on a career break may also help you to bring a different way of thinking and problem solving, which is hugely valued by teams.

3. Skills Acquisition: During a break, many individuals acquire new skills. Whether through exploring a hobby, formal education, volunteering or other employment, these experiences contribute to what you can offer a new employer.

Articulating Transferable Skills 

1. Communication: If your break involved coordinating activities for family, volunteer projects or other employment, you likely honed your communication skills. Employers value clear, concise communication, so this is a key skill to highlight.

2. Project Management: Organising any event such as leading a community project or planning a relocation can enhance your project management skills. Highlight how these experiences have taught you to manage time, resources, and expectations effectively.

3. Problem-solving: Life outside the traditional workforce is full of unexpected challenges requiring creative solutions. Reflect on moments when you had to think on your feet or navigate complex situations, demonstrating your problem-solving abilities.

4. Adaptability: Successfully managing a career break requires adaptability—a skill highly prized in today’s fast-paced work environment. Consider how adapting to new circumstances or learning new technologies during your break has prepared you for the dynamic nature of the workplace.

Making It Relevant to Your Role 

1. Tailor your CV: When preparing for your return, tailor your CV to the specific role. Mirror the language used in the job ad to describe your skills and experiences, making it easier for hiring managers to see the relevance.

2. List your transferable skills: Under your professional profile, list your key skills including your transferable skills developed during your career break as relevant to the role you’re going for now.

3. Confidence in your Career Break at Interview: When you land that interview, discuss your career break with confidence! Clearly articulate how your unique experiences have equipped you with a diverse skill set and a fresh perspective.

By reframing your career break as an opportunity for growth and learning and articulating your transferable skills effectively, you can make a compelling case for why you are not just a suitable candidate, but a valuable asset to any team.

 

Top 10 Tips for your Return to Work CV

If you’re thinking about returning to work this year, you may be wondering about updating your CV and how best to go about this. Getting started can often be the biggest hurdle, particularly if it has been a while since you last updated your CV and you are struggling to reconnect with your professional self. These tips will hopefully make the task ahead more manageable and enjoyable!

Getting started

1. Chronological CV

We’d recommend a reverse chronological CV which shows your career trajectory from what you’ve done most recently, over a functional skills based one. Your goal is to make the recruiter’s job as easy as possible to follow your career. If they need to work hard to piece together dates and work experience, they may lose interest and you may not get past the 1st hurdle.

2. Achievement and evidence based

Your CV should focus on your actual achievements and what you delivered in each role rather than read like a list of responsibilities. The recruiter will be looking to see the value you delivered so any evidence of your achievements will be useful to highlight e.g. % cost savings, improved efficiencies, £10m project managed on time and to budget.

3. Clear and succinct

Maintaining the recruiter’s interest is key so keep your CV to 2 pages. Avoid tables or photos, to ensure that you can upload it easily to any online platforms. Your aim is for your CV to be clear and succinct with bullet points pulling out the key info, rather than long winded paragraphs of text. It should also be written in third person.

4. Tailored CV for each role

Once you’ve created your template, you’ll need to tailor your CV for each role you’re going for. Pull out the key words in each job ad and ensure that you’re mirroring them in your application as well as highlighting your key relevant strengths and skills. The more targeted your CV, the higher your chance of getting through to interview.

CV Structure

5. CV heading

Briefly detail your name, email address and LinkedIn URL. Most recruiters will look you up on LinkedIn if your CV is of interest, so including your profile will give you an additional opportunity to impress! You don’t need to include your date of birth or home address, though including the city where you’re looking to work may be helpful in recruiters matching you online to an opportunity.

6. A professional summary

This is your opportunity to pack a punch and impress! Your summary is a paragraph of narrative and should capture the depth and breadth of your key strengths, skills and experiences across your career. You should include your years and fields of experience along with well-known companies you may have worked for as well as specific headline achievements relevant to the role you are applying for. Your professional summary will help you tell your career story – the threads that make up the narrative of your career and the key information you want to get across. This is important in your CV, but will also help you think about how you may want to introduce yourself professionally in networking conversations and in interview.

7. Key skills and experience

One way to highlight your relevant skills, strengths and experience and make your CV leap out, is to include a key skills section beneath your professional summary. You could include 5 specific skills and bullet point your relevant experience against them. This could also be a good place to highlight any relevant transferable skills gained during your career break which would be valuable for the role.

8. Career History

As you list each of your roles, consider what your purpose was in each role, what you undertook and what you achieved. Demonstrating what you did through the lens of your achievements will highlight the value that you added.

9. Positioning a career break

Our key message with a career break is not to hide it or apologise for it! Where you’re applying for returner programmes, recruiters will want to see evidence that you’ve had a career break, so it’s important to make sure it’s detailed on your CV. You would simply include it as your 1st entry under your Career History. If your career break activities gave you valuable relevant transferable skills, then detail them here. If not, just include the dates of your career break, and skip straight to your last professional role.

10. Education and Interests

Focus on your most relevant qualifications, including your degree and any relevant professional certifications. Showcase interests that highlight transferable skills or competencies or anything impressive that would capture the reader’s attention!

Updating your CV can feel a little overwhelming. Chunk each section down into small manageable tasks, maybe one section each day, to help you make progress. Once you have your template to work from, applying for future roles will become a lot easier as you’ll just need to tweak and tailor for each job.

 

New Year Return to Work Action Plan

The start of a new year always brings with it a renewed sense of action and focus. It’s a great time to turn your attention to your return to work plan and create some tangible outcomes for success.

Getting started

We can often feel held back in our progress because the task feels insurmountable and then procrastination kicks in as we simply don’t know where to start! We suggest a staged approach to your planning by breaking down the larger task of ‘returning to work’ into smaller sub sections. Typical sub sections could include upskilling, self-marketing, networking and applying for roles. Once you have your categories defined you can then divide each section down further into mini tasks.

The smaller your tasks are, the more inclined you will be to take action and tick them off your list, so make sure you break them down! Under ‘self-marketing’ you could list the bigger tasks of CV writing and LinkedIn but splitting them further makes them more doable e.g. update professional summary, write achievements section, write LinkedIn headline or About section.

Your tasks will have a different focus based on where you are in your return to work journey. Let’s think about that next.

1. Starting to think about your return

Sometimes this stage can feel the hardest – where to begin?! Your self-doubt and inner critic can be loudest here so it’s helpful to think about two parts to your approach – creating actionable consistent tasks and working on your mindset.

Start by scheduling some time in your diary to reflect on your career history. Revisit your professional background and achievements remembering what you enjoyed and, also what you didn’t like. It can be helpful to draw a career timeline depicting the highs and lows and jotting down key bullet points for each change. This reflection piece will help you to reconnect with your strengths, identify your interests now and understand what’s important to you about work (what you value), and will help you to begin to rebuild your professional identity and confidence.

Remember to also review your career break, this is invaluable time and will undoubtedly have shaped you personally and yield many transferable skills which you can talk about professionally when you return to work.

Finally, start talking about your desire to return to work to your network. Who could help you, with insights, ideas or intros… and who could you reconnect with? Get over the fear of reaching out and just do it! People are far more willing to help than we give them credit for. For more advice on the professional, practical and mental prep you can do, read our blog here.

2. Actively applying

There can be a temptation when returning to work to apply for many roles in the hope that one or more application will ‘stick’ and you’ll eventually get an interview. However, if you don’t focus in on the roles that you are really keen on, and which are a decent match for your skills, then you are far less likely to be successful.

Make a list of your key strengths, what you want and where you would like to be working, both geographically and in terms of organisational size/type and culture. It feels counterintuitive but the more prescriptive you can be in defining what you would like to return to and where, the easier it will be to narrow down your search and for recruiters to see your genuine interest. Ensure you review roles for ‘key words’ and make sure there is a reference to the same and similar words in your CV and application. This will ensure that your CV passes through automated CV reading technology and stands a better chance of reaching interview.

Ask a friend to read over your cover letter and application, check for errors and ensure you are drawing out the very best of your skills as relevant to that role. And finally, make sure you follow up with the organisation if you don’t hear back and also, if you are rejected. Ask them for some helpful and constructive feedback that you can take forwards.

3. Interviewing

An interview is a great opportunity for you to showcase your skills and strengths, as relevant to the role, and to establish if the role and organisation is going to be a good fit for you. You will want to stay focused during your interview and give concise answers which illustrate the impact your actions had on the business, clients or colleagues – the STAR format is still the best approach to use here. Do schedule in time to do lots of interview prep to practice your best examples that will illustrate you have the skills and experience they’re looking for.

We also recommend doing a mock interview with a friend or a coach to help you to prepare and practice those interview questions. It’s impossible to know exactly what you will be asked but knowing how to introduce yourself confidently, talking about your skills and knowing why you want the role and would be a good fit, will all stand you in good stead. Ask whoever is interviewing you ahead of the interview what competencies you are likely to be assessed against. You will also find examples of common interview questions and tips to prepare in our Advice Hub.

After your interview do take a few moments to reflect on what went well and what you struggled with and any particular questions that were tricky so that you can think those through with the benefit of hindsight for next time.

4. Just returned

If you have bridged your career gap and made it back into the workplace, congratulations on your return! At this stage you will want to concentrate not only on understanding the role and the organisation, but also on building great relationships with those around you, particularly your Line Manager. It’s helpful to have that friendly contracting conversation upfront with your line manager to set out how you would both like to work together, what’s expected of you, how the team works (team culture and norms), and flexible working norms within your team.

We recommend investing in this key relationship and ensuring you have regular catch ups and conversations with your line manager to ensure that you are on track and receiving helpful positive and constructive feedback for your development.

Consider who else you need in your network, both to get the job done but also to help you to develop your career. A mentor relationship can be so beneficial and can reap rewards on both sides. Your organisation may have a mentor scheme, or it may be more informal where you approach a potential mentor that you think would be a good match. A mentor can help you to understand the wider organisational culture and provide valuable contacts or support in raising your visibility within the business.

Time to recharge

Making the time to recharge is key, irrespective of the stage of your return. We live and work in a culture of ‘busy’ and it can be very easy to be swept up in ‘doing’ and not spend enough time ‘being’. It doesn’t have to be hard – make a note of the balance restorers that help you to calm and feel happy and then go through your diary making space for them! Small and consistent is the best way for building healthy wellbeing habits just as it is for creating your return to work action plan. And remember if you feel you are procrastinating at any stage, just chunk down your tasks into much smaller manageable tasks and you’ll find you get more done!

 

Positive boundaries to support your return to work wellbeing

When it’s a busy time of the year, it can be easy for overwhelm to take over and balance to disappear, whilst trying to stay afloat amongst the sea of planning, family and caring commitments. It can be very tempting to put anything non urgent to one side such as your return to work plan or, looking after yourself. Instead, take a moment now, before the mayhem begins, to plan what you can do to create some positive boundaries to maintain your wellbeing over this period and beyond!

What are boundaries and why do we need them?

Boundaries are healthy positive parameters which you set for yourself to help others understand your limits and your expectations. Boundaries are the foundation of good relationships and help to preserve your mental health and wellbeing.

Everyone will react differently to varying levels and types of stress, so understanding what is normal and healthy for you can help you avoid tipping over into stress or overwhelm. And the earlier you can identify your stress signals the better!

Physical boundaries

Let’s start with physical boundaries, those which relate to your body and health. How have you been feeling lately? Take a moment to check in with yourself scanning your body for areas of tension.

What are you missing right now? What have you been neglecting? And what do you need?

· Is it some regular exercise each day, getting outside in the fresh air? Maybe it’s stretching you need, with some yoga or pilates?

· Do you need to find some space for calm to help reset your mind? Some meditation, mindfulness or breathwork could help you to rebalance.

· Sleep. Does your bedtime routine need a tweak away from scrolling and towards winding down with a good book?

Mental boundaries

Mental boundaries relate to where or what, you give your energy to. If you feel mentally drained, then this is a clear sign you need to pull back and set some boundaries in place.

· Resist the urge to be instantly accessible and responsive. You don’t need to answer messages straight away and especially if you are relaxing in the evening. Consider muting WhatsApp groups if they are stressful or turning off notifications.

· Determine the best time of day to complete tasks, when do you have most energy? If you are at your best first thing, then you could schedule some time to keep moving forward on your return to work plan – update your CV, polish up your LinkedIn profile, research companies you are interested in.

Emotional boundaries

Emotional boundaries are about taking ownership for your own feelings and not taking responsibility for other people’s feelings. Emotional boundaries are a must for healthy personal and professional relationships and your wellbeing.

· A protective bubble image is helpful here. Imagine your own thoughts and feelings protected within your own personal bubble boundary.

· Avoid engaging in some else’s bad mood or energy. Choose to separate your thoughts and feelings by physically moving away or mentally visualising your bubble.

· Steer away from unhelpful conversation or negative talk. Well-meaning family or friends may offer return to work advice that isn’t supportive or helpful, remember that this is their view only, you have a choice not to take this on.

Moving forwards with a plan

You might be caring for elderly parents, relatives or children and juggling many commitments but it’s up to you to take responsibility for your wellbeing and prioritise it. When you have healthy boundaries in place you will feel and function much better – for yourself and for others.

Now is always the best time to take action and it doesn’t need to a grand plan! If you can create some small consistent steps each day to honour your boundaries you will be doing well. Here are some examples:

· Take some exercise every day, 15 min walk around the block or 15 mins of yoga. Pop reminders in your phone, diary or on post it notes around the home.

· Swap 30 minutes of your evening phone scroll to read, watch or listen to a helpful or inspiring resource. For your return to work listen to our Career Returners podcast or read our many returner success stories.

· Switch off some of your phone notifications, as many as you dare. Mute busy WhatsApp groups and know that the messages will still be there to answer when you are ready.

Take a moment now to jot down some positive boundaries for your wellbeing. Make them personal and specific to you and your needs and commit to taking action.

How to navigate hybrid working

The landscape on flexible working, and in particular where we work, has changed enormously since 2019. During the pandemic, city centres emptied out and workers across the country and beyond navigated how to work from home. Nearly four years on, where have we landed after this enforced experiment in remote working and how can you set yourself up well for the new way of working?

How organisations have evolved

Organisations have had to balance a new dynamic of differing employee expectations and demands in order to retain staff and attract new talent. Many employers which previously expected employees to be on site 5 days a work, such as professional services firms, have realised that it is possible to accommodate more flexibility. Although some organisations are now championing an ‘everyone back in’ policy, many are choosing to operate a policy of ‘hybrid working’, where staff come into the office or onsite 2 or 3 days per week and work from home for the remaining days.

Technology has been a key enabler in this changing landscape, equipping staff with the tools they need to work productively and effectively from home. Platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom have enabled people to continue to collaborate whether working from home or in the office.

An opportunity for returners

Looking at it through a returner lens, we have heard many anecdotes on how the ability to work remotely for some of the week has helped smooth the transition back to work. There are many barriers to getting back to work after a long career break, and navigating a long daily commute while continuing to manage caring responsibilities at home can be a significant one. Partially removing this barrier is helping many returners to focus primarily on the learning curve that comes with returning to work, while only having to manage the associated logistics a few days a week. In a recent article with Fortune magazine, returner Melissa Schofield shared her story of returning to work at Gallagher Re after an 18 year career break. Living 2.5 hours away from her London based employer, the option of being able to work from home 3 days a week was a game changing enabler for her return, “I think if I hadn’t got that flexible working, I wouldn’t have come back”.

However, remote working isn’t for everyone, so think if it will work for you. You may be keen to get out of the house. Maybe you don’t have a dedicated space to work well from home or you prefer to have a clear work-home boundary. You may have missed the social dynamic of being in an office and want to maximise the opportunities to network, learn and collaborate in person.

Making hybrid working work for you

How can you set yourself up well for hybrid working on your return?

Before you join:

  • Understand from your Line Manager what the hybrid working norms are for the team
  • Find out whether there are core days when you are required to be in the office or onsite. If not, explore which are the best days for you to be around for regular team meetings and collaboration opportunities
  • Plan any childcare/eldercare around your agreed days. However, build in flexibility -do have backup support (and backup for your backup!) in case you need to come in on another day for an important meeting or networking opportunity.

Working from home:

  • Create clear boundaries between work and home. Dedicate a specific working space if possible, free of clutter, where you feel happy to take professional calls.
  • Make best use of quiet time working from home by planning focussed tasks such as research, reading documents and drafting
  • Ensure you set up video calls with your team on days working from home to stay connected and lessen any isolation from working solo
  • Remember to take breaks – get some fresh air during your lunch break and remember to eat lunch!
  • If possible, close the door on your working space at the end of the working day, or close your laptop and pack things away, to enable you to signal to yourself that you are switching off

Working in the office:

  • Make the best use of being in person, by planning meetings with team members and networking conversations when you’re on site
  • Don’t miss the opportunity for informal conversations – these may need scheduling more than previously, if your team doesn’t have core days when you’re all in
  • Process the day and find a way to help yourself to switch off on your commute home, maybe by reading or listening to music or a podcast.

It looks like hybrid working is here to stay. We welcome this development, as it is helping to open up opportunities for more returners to kickstart the next chapter of their career! See previous post: Flexible Working – The Where, When and How

The value of networking throughout your career

At every stage in your career, networking can play a pivotal role. When you’re thinking about returning to work, networking can inform, inspire and help focus your efforts. When back at work, networking can help you develop, gain visibility and progress.

It’s important, but it can be uncomfortable. Many of us instinctively shy away from networking. It can feel manipulative and demanding. But it needn’t be – at its heart, networking is simply ‘a conversation with a purpose.’ It is about connecting with other people who have a common interest, whether that be work, hobbies, personal circumstances or life stages. The purpose is to share information, and in some cases to support each other. When you’re on a career break, you may have these sorts of conversations all the time  –  what do you do? have you been to any good events or exhibitions recently? can you recommend a restaurant/book/babysitter/plumber/course?  – you just don’t call it networking!

Preparing for networking conversations

It can be really helpful to plot your different networks on paper to capture your key contacts.  Create different groups, for example family, friends, former colleagues, student friends, community connections, gym friends and contacts through volunteering.  Don’t just include people you know well – think creatively about a broad mix of different people who can help provide ideas and perspectives that you may not have previously considered.

When we’ve been on a long career break, we often forget how we used to introduce ourselves professionally. Start with the headlines that are important to you, that highlight your strengths, key experiences and values now. Reconnecting with your career story, whether you are returning to our old sector, pivoting or changing completely, takes time and practice. Getting out and telling your career story to different people will help you to get clearer on what you want to highlight and will help your listener understand what you have to offer and where they can help. As Herminia Ibarra says in her brilliant book Working Identity, “We discover the true possibilities by doing ….by reworking our story as we tell it to those around us”.

Networking when you’re on the journey back to work

As you start your return to work journey, networking will help you build your knowledge quickly – of current trends, challenges, and opportunities – all great for upcoming interviews. It will also help you to build your understanding of what skills are valued now so that you can focus any upskilling on in-demand areas. And when you’re out and about talking to people, you’re in the right place to hear about unadvertised opportunities – whether jobs or volunteering opportunities to build your experience.

When approaching networking conversations during the career exploration or job search phase, there are 3 broad areas you can look to explore:

Insights – to understand the latest trends, opportunities and challenges for a particular sector. Or to understand the finer detail of a particular role you’re interested in, to see whether you have the skills or experience ?

Ideas – to test the validity of some of your ideas and how they land. Are you being realistic? If not what would you need to do to make your idea more viable? What ideas do they have that you might not have considered- types of roles, or organisations to explore? How do they see your skills and experience transferring across?

Introductions – this comes towards the end of your conversation when the person you’re speaking to has a good feel of what you have to offer, what you’re interested in and how they may be able to help. Are there any people they’d recommend you reach out to or they can connect you to?

With each contact, consider what are they best placed to help you with – insights, ideas or introductions.

Networking when you’re back at work

Once back at work, networking continues to play a key role. If you’re working for a larger employer, they may have internal Networks for Women/Parents’/Carers’/etc – joining one that fits with your circumstances can be a great way to meet new people. More generally, looking for ways to build connections outside of your immediate team can ease your return to work transition and provide valuable connection and peer support.

In the early days, networking can help you find out the key info necessary to help you get your arms around your new job. Talking to colleagues will help you to understand how departments interrelate and help you to quickly get a feel for organisational culture.  It can also help you to understand what skills are valued internally to help you focus and prioritise your learning in the early days.

In time, networking can also help you to raise your visibility and profile. Amanda Scott and Zella King’s ‘Personal Boardroom’ model advocates a strategic approach to building your network. It highlights the importance of building relationships with a wide range of people who can each offer different elements to help you progress, including ‘Information’ (subject knowledge, insights and ideas), ‘Power’ (access to people and resources) and ‘Development’ (feedback, challenge, courage and balance).

How to get started

Having thought about the who, the why and the what of networking, don’t forget to plan the how! Networking doesn’t have to be time consuming and by chunking it up into small activities, you can diarise them and weave them into your week/month:

  • Spend time plotting your contacts on paper. Leave space to add new names as you get started!
  • Reach out on LinkedIn to connect with a contact and take the time to tailor a personal direct message
  • Email a friend/former colleague to arrange a coffee to chat through some ideas
  • Look into Insight Events run by organisations running returner programmes to see what you can sign up to – there are lots of virtual events you can do from the comfort of your own home to learn more about different opportunities
  • Get out and about – meet a contact in person or attend an event in person. It will feel good to get professionally dressed up again and back connecting with your professional self!

Most importantly, choose the networking activity that you feel confident to accomplish, and just get started, little and often, to build your confidence.