So many of the articles you read about women who’ve taken a career break suggest that confidence is one of the biggest barriers to a successful return to work.
But what is confidence?
And how do you ‘fix’ it?
From the conversations I often have with women going back to work, this definition from the Oxford Living Dictionary sums it up for me :
“1.2. A feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.”
What is confidence?
It’s that self-assurance that you experience when you know what you are good at. It’s that self-assurance that you experience when you are asked to take on roles and responsibilities that play to your natural strengths and abilities. It’s that self-assurance, or confidence, that you experience when you are able to call upon your previous experiences.
The thing is … when you have spent two or three or maybe even five or six years, you’re a little rusty on appreciating your natural talents and strengths.
Nobody tells you “The client LOVED what you did with the fish fingers and mashed potato today“.
Nobody gives you feedback “The word from upstairs is that the bath temperature was just perfect, and the number of bubbles in the bath was spot on”.
Nobody congratulates you on a job well done “The whole team is impressed with the speed and efficiency with which you stripped the wallpaper and painted the skirting in the back bedroom”.
You stop getting those little reminders, that feedback, that acknowledgement and appreciation for your skills and talents. We forget. We lose confidence. Our identity and sense of self morphs with the identity of ‘mother’.
When you plan your return to work
Then you start to focus on your career again and plan your return to work, commuting into the City, alongside all those other highly experienced and highly qualified individuals. We start to compare ourselves and tend to focus on all the things we can’t do or haven’t done in a long time.
“I have never done that before” .
“The technology has changed so much”.
“I haven’t put together an employee engagement plan in aaages”.
“I’ve forgotten how to figure out who the stakeholders are”.
“I don’t remember what you need to include in the risk register”.
“They’ll find me out”.
Focus on the positives
When what you really need to do is to focus on the positives.
Focus on your strengths, your abilities and qualities to get back that feeling of self-assurance, that confidence. But it’s not enough to be told “get clear on your strengths“. What women want often ask me is “How do I that? How do I get clear on my strengths?”
Today I want to share with you, based on my experience, the best ways to get clear on your strengths after a career break.
The best ways to get clear on your strengths after a career break
- Ask friends who know you well or former co-workers for feedback on your abilities, qualities and strengths. Not sure how to even phrase the question? Here’s a simple email outline that I share with my clients. “Hi Jane, I’d love a quick favour. I’m doing a career development programme and this week’s task is to ask 5 friends about my strengths. Please give me your honest and objective feedback on what you think my strengths are.” This gives you a starting point and of course you can edit the email to suit your style.
- Make a list of all the skills that you have acquired during your career break. Even those skills you have learned as a parent such as conflict management, timekeeping, negotiation … although you can’t use ‘child’ examples in interviews, think about how you have honed and practised those skills and how you can transfer these to the workplace. Just ask yourself “How can I use this skill or strength in the workplace?”
- Think back to any time somebody has said to you “Wow, you make that look so easy” or “How do you manage to do that so quickly”. Think about the times you’ve been puzzled when you see somebody is struggling and you think to yourself “but that’s easy” or “that’s just common sense”. Easy or common sense WHEN it’s one of your strengths.
- Create your Hell Yes, Hell No list. It’s really easy and takes no more than 20 minutes.Get a clean sheet of paper – divide it into 3 columns. At the top of column 1, write ‘Hell Yes‘, column 2 ‘Hell No‘ and the 3rd column ‘Maybe‘.Write down all the things you LOVE doing in the Hell Yes column. Is it working with Excel spreadsheets, talking to customers, problem-solving, being part of a team, detail …In the Hell No column, write down all the things you hate. Maybe it’s working with Excel spreadsheets, talking to customers, being stuck behind a desk … we’re all different. What one person loves, another person hates. Anything you’re not fussed about, goes in the Maybe column. The Maybe column is for the things you don’t mind doing but you wouldn’t miss them.
- Get clear on your values. What’s really important to you about the way you live your life? What are the things that you don’t want to compromise on e.g. honesty, loyalty, quality, independence. If you’re not sure on your values, you’ll love the Core Values exercise in the online Career Club – you can download your free copy <<HERE>>.
- What are the things that you are naturally drawn to? What do you love doing? Perhaps outside of work you’ve always been a brilliant party organiser? Or you’ve got involved volunteering for your local NCT branch as a newsletter editor. Maybe you’ve discovered skills and talents you didn’t even know you had while you’ve been on a career break.
- Check out your LinkedIn profile (you do have one, don’t you?). What are the skills that are being endorsed by others? What have your coworkers or managers said about you in Recommendations (and if you’re feeling a bit icky asking for recommendations, check out the best practices on how ask for recommendations on LinkedIn).
- Go back through your old appraisals and performance reviews. Look at them objectively to pick out the patterns. If you find that hard, ask somebody you trust and who knows you well to review them to get their insights.
- When you go back to work after a career break, you need to make an impact on LinkedIn so that you attract the right people and the right opportunities to your profile. You need to ‘big yourself up’, talk about your senior roles more than your junior roles and highlight your skills on your profile. Are you maybe making one of these common mistakes?Not only that, you need to make sure your LinkedIn headline and your summary emphasise who you are, what you do and how you do it.
- Finally … check out some of the online strength finders or ask me about a DISC behaviour profile. My clients find the DISC reports amazingly accurate.
Now it’s over to you
As I said at the start, many of the articles you read about women going back to work after a career break suggest that confidence is one of the biggest barriers to a successful return to work. And that you need to get clear on your strengths to get back that confidence, but often they don’t tell you HOW to get clear on your strengths.
Once you are know what your strengths are, it’s time to start shouting about them. In your CV, in your LinkedIn profile, out networking, in interviews …
Now it’s over to you. I have shared ten of the best ways to get clear on your strengths after a career break. Leave a comment below telling me who you are, what you do and just ONE of your valuable strengths.
We cover all this and more in the online Career Club. Find out more here.