Virtual upskilling for your return to work

Hazel, our Client and Relationship Director, gives tips on how best to approach and succeed in the task of refreshing your skills to prepare for your return to work. Given the current COVID-19 situation, she’s focused on virtual rather than in-person options. Hazel has also created a short webinar on “Upskilling in Preparation for your Return to Work” as part of our series to support our network through the COVID-19 crisis – there’s a link at the end if you want to watch the full 12 minute webinar.

Refreshing your skills and knowledge is an important component of your return to work plan. It not only demonstrates to potential employers your commitment to self-development, it can also increase your confidence during the interview process – and of course when you start a new job. What is great about learning nowadays is there is so much choice available. This is literally at your fingertips 24/7, which on one hand can be exciting, but on the other quite daunting. Where do you start?

Fixed v. Growth Mindset

I suggest you start with having the right mindset – aim for growth instead of fixed. A fixed mindset is believing that our intelligence and abilities are static, and that they don’t have the capacity to change. A growth mindset is knowing that we can continually develop and improve through hard work. In adults returning to work, a fixed mindset can manifest itself in thoughts such as “I’m too old to move into a new area” or “I’m hopeless with technology”. An open mindset sounds more like “I haven’t mastered video-conferencing yet“. Remaining open to growth and self-improvement will greatly improve your chances of success in finding a satisfying and fulfilling new role. You can learn more about Growth Mindset in our blog and from Carol Dweck in her Ted Talk.

Choose a Topic

Next get clear on what you want you most want to learn or where you have skills gaps you want to fill before you get back to work. Do you want to obtain or refresh a technical skill, such as digital marketing or software development? Do you want to work on more personal skills, such as presenting or leadership? Do you want to get yourself up to speed with the latest developments in your profession or sector? If you’re feeling overwhelmed by options, just start somewhere; we find that many returners get a confidence boost from upskilling in IT, so reading this post on sharpening your tech skills may be a good place to begin.

Platform Options and Learning Style

Now explore different platform options. Professional associations, such as the Law Society or Women’s Engineering Society may be your first point of call. For more in-depth learning, there is a huge variety of online study courses. Industry journals and LinkedIn articles are useful for updating sector knowledge, and podcasts now cover a wide range of topics.

Consider your learning style when choosing a platform. Are you a visual learner, leveraging charts and mental pictures to absorb information? Do you enjoy learning through reading/writing? Do you prefer auditory learning? Or are you a practical hands-on learner? Understanding which learning style works for you will help you decide on the best option to use. At the same time, consider if you prefer independent study at your own pace or are energised by interacting with others. If you enjoy reading/writing consider reading professional blogs and online journal articles and reports, or explore taking an online self-directed-learning course through platforms like Alison, Coursera or Open Culture. If you prefer auditory learning, then listening to podcasts or Ted Talks is an easy and free option; for more in-depth study, look for a course with virtual interactive instruction such as the Open University. If you are a hands-on learner then you may prefer a practical focus, such as reskilling on a tech course with Digital Garage. You can find more ideas in our blog on free online courses and the list of Courses for Skills Building in our Advice Hub.

Create a Plan

Finally, it’s time to make a plan. Research the options available, decide what is interesting or going to be most helpful for your return, identify the best days/time of day when you have free time (and energy) to commit to your learning. Make sure what you’re taking on is feasible in the time you have available. Then write down your week-by-week action steps, put your plan somewhere visible and commit to it. Set small and tangible milestones so you can get the sense of satisfaction of achieving these, even if you are working towards a bigger upskilling goal. And then get started – while your motivation is high!

For more tips on upskilling watch our pre-recorded webinar: Upskilling in preparation for your return to work, presented by Hazel Little [12 mins]


Updating your digital toolkit for your return to work

Are you worried that your digital skills may be out of date? Our guest blogger, Nikki Cochrane of Digital Mums, gives advice on updating your digital toolkit if you’ve had an extended career break.

Returning to work – whatever your situation – is a daunting process. Couple that with the dreaded imposter syndrome us women seem to feel more than our male counterparts and it’s a surprise any of us pluck up the courage to dust off our LinkedIn profile and put ourselves out there.

But as the well-used saying goes, knowledge is power, and in today’s ever-advancing world of digital, it’s confidence-building too. With government predictions showing that 90% of jobs will require some digital proficiency within 20 years but a quarter (23%) of adults still lacking basic digital skills, it’s time to take control of your career and bring your digital toolkit right up-to-date so you can dazzle prospective employers with your digital know-how and feel empowered in the 21st century workplace.

Here are Digital Mums’ top 5 digital tools for surviving in today’s Brave New World: Slack
“Do you remember when we used to send emails?”  Those are the words you’ll most likely be hearing in a few years’ time. Email is dying in many workplaces and in its place are new communication tools like Slack, which operate like WhatsApp on steroids with the ability to set up public and private chat groups all under the same roof, share documents and link to your Trello board…

Post-its meets wallchart meets calendar. Finally there’s a collaborative tool that allows you to organise your weekly and daily tasks, tag in work colleagues, link to documents, colour code by priority (goodbye, highlighter pens), add notes and checklists to yours and other people’s boards and change priorities with a quick click and a swipe. It’s so effective at getting even the most disorganised organised that you’ll be using it to sort out your life admin in no time. 


Forget standard video updates and past-it PowerPoints, TouchCast puts the fun into presenting. Best described in their own words: “TouchCast looks like TV and feels like the web”. There’s a newsroom style backdrop for company updates or you can turn instant pro by using a green screen to transport you to any backdrop in the world. To aid engagement and bring to life presentations, you can share documents, web pages, and other media from within the video to get people interacting – the best way to learn. 


OK, so it’s not the newest of digital tools, but used correctly and it is your key to finding the job of your dreams. As well as making sure you’re picture perfect (your profile is 14x more likely to get views with a photo than without one), LinkedIn is all about attracting the right people and growing your network to achieve your career goals. As well as following companies you’d like to work for and engaging with people who can help you get there, share articles on your chosen subjects and spark conversations by adding your own spin on what you’re sharing to attract like-minded people. 

Google Suite

Head in the cloud? That’s exactly where it should be in today’s working environment. Google’s free suite of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook equivalents are saved in the ‘cloud’ meaning you never need to worry about forgetting to press ‘save’ again.  It automatically saves as you go and let’s you share documents with other people to work on at the same time. You can even chat in the document while you’re working. Google Meet meanwhile, makes remote working less remote through group video calling where you can share screens to get as close as possible to an ‘IRL’ meet-up. 

Nikki Cochrane is co-founder of digital training academy, Digital Mums.

5 tips for retraining during a career break

If you’re a mother thinking about retraining during your career break, this week’s guest blog by Elvira Tynan, Co-Head of Learning at Digital Mums, is for you!
Retraining can be a great option if you’re thinking of getting back into work after a career break. Here at Digital Mums we train mums in social media marketing so they can find flexible work that syncs with family life. Many of the mums who come to us have been out of the workplace for some time and find our courses are a great stepping stone to new opportunities, not to mention a much needed confidence boost. On graduating many Digital Mums go on to work as freelance social media managers from home. But for others retraining is a route to a returnship. One of our graduates, for example, is currently part of a returnship at Mediacom after 24 years out of the workplace.
Making the decision that you are keen to retrain (or indeed just to do some training) is the first step but how do you make the most of the opportunity after a potentially long time away from studying?  Read on for our top five tips for making the most out of possible training opportunities (and not just ones with Digital Mums!):
1. Try something new.
Just because you’ve not done something before, it definitely doesn’t mean you can’t. At Digital Mums for example our courses are in social media marketing but many of our students come from really diverse backgrounds.  In fact some of our most successful social media managers and digital marketeers have come from the most – on paper – unlikely career backgrounds. Think teachers, solicitors and accountants.
2. Choose the right course.
While there is no doubt there is a huge variety of courses out there, we would say many are ineffective because they replicate old fashioned ‘chalk and talk’ classroom styles like those you probably had at school. Avoid courses that focus too much on theoretical learning and instead find one that allows students to practically apply what they learn through real world projects or challenges. Online courses are also a great option as it should mean that you can study around your current family and life commitments.
3. Create a good working environment.
You’re likely to be studying at home a great deal so it’s important to set up your home in the right way. Devote an area to your studies and keep it distinct from the rest of the house. Don’t let your children near it if at all possible! Try to work out a routine for how you will fit your studies around other commitments. Many of our students will be up by 5am for example (providing the kids aren’t!) to get their studies out of the way earlier in the day. For others, being a night owl makes more sense. Find what works for you and try to stick to it – regular hours will help maximise your time. But also take advantage of smaller chunks of time during the day and use them to tick off the less ‘brain heavy’ tasks that make up your training.
4. Get digital.
You’re going to be busy juggling your current family or life commitments with training and this could be the first time you’ve learned anything formally since school. There are loads of great digital tools and apps out there to help you manage your time. Get a Gmail account to access Calendar, Google Drive, Docs and Sheets all of which can be used from your phone. Check out Trello which is a brilliant desktop tool and app to manage your tasks and time. Pocket allows you to save articles and blogs to read when you have the chance. And, the extremely nifty If This Then That (IFTTT) has great ‘recipes’ to connect your various digital tools together in useful ways.
5. Connect to your fellow students.
Studying online may make the most sense with the practicalities of your current commitments. But choose a course that has a student forum and where you can connect with your peers to brainstorm ideas and work collaboratively on projects. You can get some face-to-face time via Skype or Google Hangouts too. Research shows that peer-to-peer learning can be very powerful so you’ll benefit in lots of ways.
You can find out about Digital Mums Social Media Management Courses at

Free online courses to support your return to work

If you’re looking to boost your skills and knowledge ready to return to work, and don’t have much money to spare, then a free online course could be just what you need. We have compiled a list of some relevant courses to help you to feel prepared for your return to work. Don’t forget to also look at any CPD courses that are provided by relevant industry associations.
If there is one skill that would improve both your chances of finding fulfilling work, and improve your success when in your new role, then networking is it.  This course by Future Learn aims to help you build and sustain your professional relationships to open up career opportunities: Business Fundamentals: Effective Networking
Public speaking
TED is an excellent source of free-to-watch online videos that cover nearly every aspect of your professional life. This playlist collated by TED shares many innovative ideas for great public speaking: Playlist Before Public Speaking
Computer Skills
Microsoft is still king in corporate environments. Luckily there is an abundance of free courses to help you get back up to date with any of the changes since you last had to pull together a spreadsheet. If you are looking to learn Excel as fast as possible ready, this great course from Udemy takes just 1 hour! Online course provider, Alison, has many courses published by Microsoft themselves including Excel, Word and Outlook: Microsoft Courses on Alison
Many companies have now moved over to Google for the majority of their applications. This includes Google Docs, Blogger, Gmail, Analytics and Adsense. Have a look at Google Courses on Alison. Other free sources of tech updating include:

  • The Digital Garage – free Google training in digital skills & social media
  • Udacity – tech skills from Silicon Valley companies
  • – a wide range of online tech and other skills courses (paid but often has 30-days-free offers)


University Courses

If you want to learn about a specialised subject or to update your knowledge in your professional field, then free MOOCs (massive open online courses) are a great place to look:

Posted by Donna

8 tips for confident communication when returning to work

This week’s guest blog is by Sophie Clark from Denison Clark

Communicating with confidence and impact
consistently in meetings, on conference calls and during presentations can be a
challenge when returning to work.  As a
workplace communication expert I help people to build their confidence, polish
their skills and avoid some the common pitfalls when speaking. I have put
together 8 tips and tricks to remind you how to communicate with greater impact
when returning to work.

me time to think
Speaking too fast is a credibility
disaster. Pause. All the time. Break up what you’re saying. If you speak how I
am writing now, if you pause often, it’s the cheapest trick in the book to look
calm and authoritative. Yes, it really is that simple. Watch Condoleezza Rice
to see it done well and steer clear of Tony Blair’s pausing style.
There are people who say 93% of your
message is body language and voice. This has been taken out of context for
years. Getting your content right is critical and so stop naval gazing and first
think about your audience. Lead with why your audience should listen to you?
What should they know? How will it impact them? What do you want them to do?
don’t put on a ‘show’
We are often told to “fake it till you
make it”, but this advice is better targeted when taking on a new role, not with
your communication style. News flash – you are most likable when you are your
warm, authentic, natural and professional self. I spend my life removing the masks
from my female clients, so don’t wear a mask thinking it will help you appear
more confident when you speak. Pretending to be someone you’re not is not only
exhausting but it makes it harder for others to trust you.
This term was coined from Harvard
professor, Amy Cuddy. If you don’t know who she is, take 20 mins and watch her
35 million times viewed TED talk. Taking time to make yourself ‘big’ before you
speak has been scientifically proven to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone)
and increase testosterone (the confidence hormone). This uses your body’s
natural hormones rather than play acting being someone else. If you haven’t
watched this talk I cannot recommend it highly enough. Find a spare board room
or empty bathroom and ‘wonder woman’ your way back in.
your hands up
Put your hands (and forearms) on the
table in meetings if you want more presence. If your comfort zone is to place
them in your lap, then please, change your comfort zone! This matters
particularly for women. 70% of my female clients show this behaviour and it can
make them look small and under confident. Only about 5% of my male clients do
this and the perception difference is huge.
how you introduce yourself
Humans judge each other. Naturally, sub
consciously, all the time. You will likely have an opinion of The Queen, Barack
Obama and Sheryl Sandberg even though you may not have met them. I’ve met
returning colleagues who have said “Hi, I’m Alex. I’m back after maternity
leave and am working 3 days a week now”. What I take away is the external
side of Alex’s life and their working hours. What I am missing is what is Alex
is doing in her role and what impact that is having to the firm. E.g. “Hi,
I’m Alex. I’m back after maternity leave and I’m working mainly on X project X for
Y client.” There’s nothing wrong with talking about your time out or
your children, but be careful if that’s what you lead with
or the only thing I know about you.
up and be counted
Perhaps your comfort zone is to sit,
watch and participate later, particularly as you catch up and build confidence
back. Whilst no one likes the over talker in a meeting, be aware that
repeatedly saying nothing can be career damaging. A sage piece of advice I was
once given was by a senior female investment banker who said “don’t speak
unless you have something worth saying, but don’t let people judge your silence
as a distinct lack of interest or ability”.
finally..  stop the negative chatter in
your head
Internal communication matters just as
much. Mentally, many of us have “obnoxious roommates in your heads” as Ariana
Huffington calls them. Voices who say – you’re not good enough/ you’re brain’s
been a little mushy since the baby/ technology has moved on so quickly/ people
are going to know I’ve lost my edge/ I can’t give it the time it deserves…. I
even had clients who refer to themselves as “has-beens’”. You have the power to
stop these thoughts, especially if they are not helping you. If this is
happening, it’s time to get some control back and park them.
Good luck. Power pose. Pause. Think
about your audience and please be your authentic, polished true self.
About Sophie
Sophie is a communication expert at Denison Clark. She coaches
small groups and individuals to speak with more confidence, clarity and impact across
their work conversations and presentations. 

Sharpening your Tech Skills

Sylvie Garvey, Founder of Computer Fitness and our Women Returners go-to tech expert, suggests a variety of ways to update your IT skills for your return to work. 

Making the decision to go back to work is a tough one. Deciding what role might suit you best, incorporating the logistics of
family commitments, facing interviews and getting back into the mind-set of committing your time to something new can be very daunting.

Most of us have enough to think about without the worry of the whole IT side of things. The feeling that your technological
skills might have become obsolete over your career break does not help with building your confidence. IT seems to change so frequently these days, as we see from constant updates to computers and smartphones, and the worry can be that it
might be the same in the workplace.
Show up with the knowledge
Employers do expect you to get up to speed yourself with basic office management software before you start back to work.
You should be able to demonstrate this during your interview if the topic comes up. If you are able to say that you have been on a refresher course for MS Office or the Apple Suite of products, both you and the potential employer will
feel more confident about your return to work. You can do this in many ways depending on how big you think the gap in your knowledge is and the skills you need to feel confident. You could attend a course at a local training centre which would cover broad aspects of office management software. If you’re a self-directed learner, there are many online courses available (some free) which will guide you through software packages, for example Microsoft online  and YouTube can be an excellent source of knowledge for brushing up on how do to specific tasks like consolidating Excel spreadsheets using pivot tables or inserting links into PowerPoint.

If you prefer more personal, tailored training you can get a trainer to guide you to areas that are specific to the role that you hope to be going back to. You could also ask a student or friend to spend a few hours getting you up to speed on the changes.

Get your home IT fit for purpose
Another aspect of IT and your return to work to consider is whether your job will allow you to work from home and if
your home IT capabilities are up to scratch. You might be provided with a work laptop eventually but be prepared to access work remotely initially, especially if trying to put those extra hours in at the beginning. Trying to participate in video conference calls or working on documents from home maybe part of what is expected of you so make sure that your computer has a robust anti-virus, fast broadband, the capacity to access shared work folders and emails and the software to review and edit documents. For technically specific jobs, find out if the employer can get you up to speed themselves and if they will provide a
technical updating piece to your training. New software and applications and tools emerge every month so don’t expect to know what each one does or how it works. Many are custom-built tools used only within the company. It would be impossible to keep up with all emerging products and as with all aspects of returning to work, be patient with yourself and be open to trying new tools and accept all training offered.
Sylvie Garvey is the Founder of Computer Fitness, an IT troubleshooting and training company specialising in small business and home office environments. She worked in Management Consultancy for 15 years before starting Computer Fitness. She can arrange group or one-to-one training on most office software and can advise on future-proofing your IT []. 

Lending your Skills to get Ahead – How to do ‘Strategic Volunteering’

Strategic volunteering can build your skills, be intellectually demanding and provide a route back to work after a career break. We hope this week’s second post by Jill Ridley-Smith will inspire you to explore this route further.
The new CEO of the £225 million turnover business turns to
us, the Board, saying he wants our input into the development of his five-year
strategic plan. He also wants to initiate an acquisition strategy to diversify
revenues because he’s worried the core business is too dependent on a single
source of income. His team have identified the first potential acquisition and
will present it to us for our consideration in the next meeting. He surmises
that his inherited management team and organisation structure aren’t right to
deliver the new plan; where are the gaps, strengths and weaknesses in the
senior team? He knows his top line is vulnerable as customers are increasingly
more discerning and demanding and the business needs to respond – well, given
students now have to pay University tuition fees this is hardly unexpected.
Yes, this is what it’s like being on the Board of Governors for one of the
largest Universities in the UK.
There are almost limitless possibilities in the non-profit
sector for individuals willing to give up some of their time and expertise –
boards of charities, sports bodies, education, and Government organisations to
name a few. These roles can be interesting, relevant, thought-provoking and
rewarding. The individuals who take them on are respected and appreciated. This
month on the website Women on Boards
there are 220 roles advertised and roughly two thirds of these are in
non-profit organisations. Most of these roles are pro-bono (i.e. unpaid), but
they often cover expenses.
As very few of us have the luxury of being able
to work for free, the clue is in the term ‘strategic’ – if you are considering
this type of volunteering as a route back into the workplace, it needs to be
volunteering with an agenda. This could be to take a role that leverages your
historical business experience, or if you are looking for a career change, a
role where you gain experience in a new sector; or it could simply be to get
back in touch with the working world and become current again.
As with every job search,
it’s improbable a CV enhancing role as a strategic volunteer will fall into
your lap. It requires re-engaging with your old business networks, getting out
there and making new connections; for instance, you could be very pleasantly
surprised by what can come from simply being sociable at the school gates. Be
mindful too that strategic volunteering roles are ‘proper’ jobs (to get one
you’ll need a good CV, references and to deliver at the interview) and these
roles carry considerable responsibility. When working on the Board of a charity
under the auspices of the Charity Commission or a public sector body that
manages Government money, the buck stops with you.
Boards must have good governance, appropriate risk measurement and assessment
and must sufficiently scrutinise financials and probe the operational decisions
of the management. As a good example, the Trustees of Kids Company simply did
not apply the necessary rigour required; this is an extract from the House of
Commons Committee report into the collapse of the business: “Trustees relied
upon wishful thinking and false optimism and became inured to the
precariousness of the charity’s financial situation.”
So, assuming you are not solely motivated by the social
cause, why strategically volunteer if it’s no easier to get a volunteering role
than a paid one and the role comes with a
weighty responsibility? Well, the attraction is in the relatively limited time
commitment for the intellectual return: the norm is quarterly meetings and
their prep, a few strategy days and a commitment to a few years’ service. When you’ve got very young children, time is
so precious and we all do our very best to juggle work and family life. For me,
at that time, strategic volunteering was a manageable commitment that kept me
on the career track. I started with one, then two strategic volunteering roles
and this has now morphed into fully ‘going plural’. It means that rather than
working full-time for one company, I’m self-employed and I have a number of
non-executive director positions with different companies.
I still do some unpaid business mentoring and I have one
pro-bono NED (Non-Executive Director) position
but it’s less of a means-to-an-end now so I can enjoy it for what it is and the
social benefit that comes from it. I lent my time to get ahead and it’s been a
win-win journey for me and the organisations I remain committed to.
Jill Ridley-Smith
works as a Business Mentor and is a Non-Executive Director on three Boards. She
took a career break in 2009 after a successful career in Private Equity with
HgCapital and prior to this she held management roles at GlaxoSmithKline and
LEK Consulting. She has an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Management. You can read more of Jill’s return to work story here.

For more information on becoming a trustee, also visit Getting on Board, a charity that helps individuals become new leaders in communities through board-level volunteering. Watch out for more information on their new campaign in early March that is aimed at encouraging women on a career break to take up charity board positions.

Posted by Muriel

How ‘strategic’ volunteering can support your return to work

If you’ve been out of the workplace for many years, we often recommend that you consider strategic volunteering, but it may not be clear to you exactly what we mean by this or how it can be a route back to work. For me, strategic volunteering was a crucial step in getting back to work after my career break; I reflected on this during a trustees’ meeting this week (taking time out from Women Returners). As with so many people who take a career break, I had lost any sense of myself as a professional person possessing management and leadership skills that would be of use outside my domestic role. Through joining a charity board, in a non-executive role, I had the opportunity to rebuild my self-belief in a variety of ways:
  • talking with other professionals, as equals, on matters of strategy, policy and operations reminded me that I knew about this stuff!
  • taking on specific projects, such as overhauling the financial reporting systems, was a concrete opportunity to contribute and make a difference
  • feedback from my colleagues was positive and encouraging (in contrast to the normal complaints from my children)
  • I learned that my different way of looking at matters (from being the sole female and not steeped in the charity’s historical way of operating) was valued.
What separates strategic volunteering from the other unpaid roles you may have taken on during your break, from class rep to community volunteer, is that the work you are doing creates a platform for your return, either through refreshing or developing your skills, or by being an entry route to a new role.

Strategic volunteering comes in many guises. These are examples of other people who’ve used it as a starting point for their new career:

  • Jill volunteered as a business start-up adviser which allowed her to create a portfolio career with a number of NED positions.  You can read her story here
  • For Suzanne, being PTA chair was a perfect way to revive her dormant people management and influencing skills (there is nothing harder than engaging a group of volunteers), allowed her to be creative in a public arena and gain experience in presenting and speaking to large groups. A bonus was that getting to know her co-chair led to them setting up a business together when their term of office ended.
You can read some other inspiring examples in our previous post: Finding your way back through strategic volunteering.

If you have a story to share, we’d love to hear it!

Posted by Katerina

How a MOOC can help you to test your career dream

I heard this week on Twitter about a free new online course just launched by coursera for fledgling social entrepreneurs, guiding people who want to set up a business with social impact to move from idea to action. This is a fantastic addition to the rapidly increasing number of free online courses run by University-level experts that you can take part in from your own home in your own time. I’m a great fan of these MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and think that they are a wonderful resource for returners: I’ve heard very positive reports from colleagues, friends and coachees, who have followed courses on subjects ranging from creative writing to medical neuroscience.

There are many ways in which you might be able to use a MOOC:

  • Testing whether you have the interest and commitment to invest in a masters programme, either to become more specialised &/or retrain into a new field.
  • Updating/refreshing/upskilling before returning to your previous field.
  • Exploring more creative possibilities, either purely for fulfilment and enjoyment, to investigate whether you want to take your working life in this direction or to finally to write your novel.
  • Keeping your brain working & your CV current while you are prioritising caring responsibilities.

Returning to social entrepreneurship, I know that for many women returning from a long career break, there’s a desire to find work with meaning and purpose; if you’ve been wondering how you can combine setting up your own business with doing something more meaningful, the coursera course could give you the impetus you need to test whether your dreams can become reality (see here for more details).

Let us know if you have studied a great free online course – we’d love to receive any recommendations!

Some MOOC Providers
Posted by Julianne

Find your way back to work through Strategic Volunteering

Volunteering is a common activity among former professionals who are on a career break, whether or not they wish to return to work at some point. Charities, PTAs and local campaigns are always in need of additional support and committed people: for people on a career break they can provide the companionship and sense of purpose that they previously found in their career, as well as essential flexibility.

It is very easy to fill your time with voluntary roles and you can quickly feel very busy, productive and valued.  If you are thinking of returning to work at some stage, though, it is worth thinking about volunteering that can help you with your return either through developing your existing skills or acquiring new ones and, additionally, building your network. This is what we mean by strategic volunteering – work that does more than just make you feel that you are giving something back.

We have worked with many returners for whom strategic volunteering was their launch-pad back to work. In some cases this was a deliberate approach and in others, there was a more organic development by discovering a new interest or uncovering a previously hidden talent. You will find more details about some of these examples in our success stories.

These returners planned their volunteering deliberately as a route back to work:

Sue* was a volunteer Games Maker Selection interviewer for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. She’d previously had a career in HR and used the opportunity of our weekly shift to connect with the London 2012 HR team to find out about other permanent roles in the organisation. Three months into volunteering she was employed there.

Amy* a former City lawyer volunteered in the legal department of a national charity, advising on contractual matters which was her expertise. After some months she negotiated a move to the trusts and legacy team where she built the knowledge and expertise that enabled her to apply for employment in her target area of private client practice.

In our success stories you can read about Caroline Boyd who joined the Parent Gym as a volunteer trainer/facilitator following a 4 year break from a career in marketing. She loved this new type of work so much that after a year she successfully applied for a permanent training role with the Mind Gym, the commercial arm.

Lynda* a former radio producer used a series of volunteer roles as stepping stones to a new career, starting from the school PTA where she ran a portfolio of increasingly successful fundraising and social events for a number of years. Having regained her professional confidence she volunteered as the campaign manager for a London mayoral candidate, using her journalistic instincts to develop an effective PR campaign from a standing start. Armed with this experience and many new contacts, Lynda was employed by a new political party to manage its PR activity.

If you have a strategic volunteering success story to share, we’d love to hear it!

*names have been changed