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.

 

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.

 

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

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

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.