Every week I talk to at least one woman who wants to go back to work after a career break but she’s stuck.
She’s stuck because she’s feeling overwhelmed by everything she needs to do. She’s stuck because she doesn’t know where to start. She’s stuck because she doesn’t know what career she wants to go back to. She’s stuck because she’s heard that 92% of companies now use LinkedIn for recruitment but she’s no idea how to use it.
When you feel stuck, you start to lose confidence. When you lose confidence, you stop – or don’t even start – taking action. If you don’t take action, nothing happens. And you’re stuck. Still.
Your head might be full of ideas, thoughts, and plans, but if you’re like any of the other women I talk to every week, your head is also full of questions, doubts and that inner critic telling you “you’re not good enough” or “you don’t have the right skills” or “you just can’t cut it in the City any more“.
And to rub salt into the wound, according to recent PWC research, 3 in 5 of women who go back to work after a career break move into more junior roles requiring less skill. This has a significant (and disproportionate) impact on your pay. (Think about it … less pay now also means less pension in the future!)
If you want to go back to work after a career break, I would love to share with you today 7 of the best ways on how to do this with confidence.
7 of the best ways to return to work after a career break
1 – Get clear on your values
When you go back to work after a career, it’s essential to get clear on your values and what is most important to you. Your values are your terms and conditions for life.
For some women, when they go back to work after a career break, stability and a steady income are the most important factors. For other women, it’s about intellectual stimulation or creativity or recognition.
Get clear on your values and what’s most important so that you are in a position to explore what you are willing to compromise. When you know what or how you can compromise, you can make sensible decisions on how you will balance work and life.
If you’re not sure what your values are, you can download a free activity here. Our values affect everything that we do: how we behave, how we think, and how we feel. It makes sense to get clear on what your values are and how they might have changed.
2 – Identify your skills
Identify your skills and your experience.
What skills did you use before the career break? What new skills have you learned during your career break (have you been volunteering, taken a new qualification or managed a big project e.g. renovation)?
Review which of your skills are transferable to other sectors? Other career paths? Which skills do you want to use and which would you rather leave behind? What skills have you been endorsed for in LinkedIn.
Even better, get a friend or former work colleague to review your skills list. You are SO familiar with what you do and you may take those skills for granted. They feel really easy (common sense even??) and therefore it’s common for ambitious women to downplay or not recognise their skills as being valuable. Somebody else can see your skills from a different perspective. It’s essential to understand what others see as your USP.
I find it so much easier to see what is unique and special about others than to recognise this in myself. Maybe that’s you too.
Definitely one of the things that women love about my Career Confidence workshop is the objective feedback from other women who can really identify with your situation.
3 – Investigate Returner programmes
More and more employers recognise that many smart ambitious women do not return to their career because it can be tough to balance work and family. But it’s not just about balancing work and childcare.
(By the way, I do get that it’s not only and doesn’t have to be the mother who takes on the childcare role. I’m simply reflecting reality. When I went back to work full-time, my husband took a career break, eventually retraining and returning to part-time work a few years later).
Many women who take a career break experience a dip in confidence and loss of identity. They worry that their skills are out of date or that they don’t have relevant experience.
A returner programme is a brilliant way to get real ‘on the job’ experience and retraining. More and more companies now offer Returner programmes. I encourage you to investigate who offers returner programmes in your sector. There is a fabulous directory of returner programmes at the Women Returners website.
4 – Start networking
Networking is key. It’s never too soon to start.
Many job opportunities never show up in a recruitment agency or on a jobs board. Many candidates find work via referral or recommendation. That is the power of networking.
Networking allows you to reach out to former work colleagues and meet others in your sector. Networking is rarely a quick fix solution to finding a job. It’s a longer term strategy but one that will serve you well throughout your career.
What is valuable about networking is that it gets you back in work mode. It helps you to feel grown up again. Networking allows you to rekindle former relationships and create new ones; discover the current industry challenges; keep up with the latest news and language in your sector.
It’s not just about in person face-to-face networking (and if that’s what you enjoy, you’ll love my City Conversations event). It’s also about your online networking such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.
Check to see if there is a networking group for you in my industry networking directory.
5 – Create a plan.
If you are serious about going back to work after a career break, you need a plan. The plan doesn’t need to be super detailed. However if you don’t have a plan, it will take much longer.
You probably already know some of what you need to do. Browse through my website and there’s loads of useful knowledge and content.
Treat this seriously. Plan your return to work as if it were a project. We’re not talking GANTT charts, stakeholders and MoSCoW. It only needs to be a simple plan.
Sit down with a clean sheet of pen and paper. Set a timer for 15 minutes.
Write down everything that you need for a successful and confident return to work. Don’t prioritise the tasks. Just get them out of your head. Neuroscience tells us that when your head is full of thoughts and ideas, it’s really hard to think clearly and make effective decisions. Get your thoughts and ideas down on paper to declutter your brain.
At the end of the 15 minutes, stand up, walk around, take a breather. After 5 minutes, sit back down and set the timer for another 15 minutes. Review the list of tasks to order and prioritise the plan.
Very often at the start, the plan feels overwhelming and you just don’t know where to start. At this stage, it doesn’t matter. My advice is always to take action. Take just one step even if you don’t know what the next step is going to be. Even if you only have 5 minutes, make the most of those 5 minutes and get started on something.
Simply taking action will energise you to carry on with the plan.
6 – Build your support network
Many women tell me that when they start to plan their return to work, they feel isolated and lonely. They’re in that ‘in between’ world – not quite back in corporate life and no longer knee deep in nappies and potty training. Some of their career break friends have no plans to go back to work and are very happy being a ‘stay at home‘ mum.
When you start to plan your return to work, it makes sense to build a support network.
Is there a Working Mums group in the area? Is there a local Meetup? What about on Eventbrite? Does your local NCT branch run Back to Work evenings?
That’s definitely one of the advantages of my 1 day Career Confidence workshop. You get a brilliant support network of other mums going through the same experience as you.
It’s not just the moral support, what other support might you want or need, now or in the future? Friends or family who could help out in a childcare emergency? Former work colleagues who could review your LinkedIn profile or CV?
Talk things through with your partner and discuss how life will change when you go back to work. For example, how you will handle emergencies such as a sick Nanny, sick child or if the school closed because it used as a polling station. Discuss too how the household arrangements need to be reorganised. Do you want to ‘outsource’ some of the housework such as ironing or cleaning or make more use of online shopping?
7 – Invest in specialist support
Invest in specialist support from a career coach or a CV expert.
A specialist career coach (cough, cough, you know that’s what I do??) will be a brilliant addition to your support network. She will support you to create an action plan and strategy to get you back into work that works.
She will provide you with a calm and objective perspective. She will help you to create a plan and plan your strategy. She will help you re-evaluate your skills and get clear on your values. She will work with you to identify your career options. She will polish your LinkedIn profile to make a bigger impact. She’ll show you how to ‘big yourself up’ on your CV.
She will keep an eye out for relevant opportunities. She’ll provide honest and open feedback. She’ll challenge you to step up and feel the fear. She’ll be your cheerleader on the days when you feel “I just can’t do this“. She’ll support you all the way and keep you on track.
Spending money on a course or a coach might feel like a big expense, a luxury even … however if you are at a cross-roads or you’re feeling stuck, invest in your career and personal development. It will pay dividends in the long term because you’ll get back into work more quickly, more confidently and more importantly, doing work you love.
In this article I have shared just 7 of the best ways to return to work after a career break. Get clear on your values so you know what’s most important to you about going back to work. Identify your skills and experience, your USP.
Investigate whether a returner programme is right for you. More and more companies are offering these as an effective way to bring back female talent that would otherwise be lost. Start networking – the sooner, the better. Create your plan and build your support network to support and encourage you along the way. Invest in specialist support.
If you’ve already gone back to work after a career break, what’s your best tip for other mums planning a return to work?