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.
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.
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!