Many of the women I often talk to are planning their return to work after a long career break. Taking time away from your career can seriously knock your confidence.
On the one hand, it’s a brilliant opportunity to re-evaluate your career and what you really want to do. On the other hand, knowing how to start your return to work can seem daunting and overwhelming.
So today I’d like to share the seven simple steps that I recommend to all the women who book a Career Break Power Hour with me.
But before I do that, I just want to give you permission to get scared, worried, overwhelmed, stuck or frustrated.
When you’ve been away from the workplace for a while, going back is like playing a giant game of snake and ladders. It’s a bit up and down. Expect to feel a whole gamut of emotions. And that’s ok. Just keep going, one step at a time.
Step 1 – Get clear on your values
One of THE most important things is to figure out what’s most important to you – not just what’s important about work but your terms and conditions for living life.
What’s more important – security and stability or freedom and independence? Which do you value more – integrity and professionalism or money and status?
Understanding your values will help you in your decision making about jobs and potential employers. It will also inform and influence your decision on taking part-time work vs full-time.
Step 2 – Identify your skills and strengths
You need to get a clear understanding (and appreciation) for what’s unique about you and the way you do it. It’s important that you are absolutely clear on your innate strengths and talents. Even if you’ve taken a career break (no matter how long it’s been), you still have the same skills and talents you always did.
Sure, you might be a little bit rusty but you are still uniquely you. Not sure what your strengths are? Ask your friends and family; or former work colleagues for feedback.
One simple way of doing this “Tell me what my strengths are”. Or another way “Tell me one thing that you think I should do more of, one thing I should keep on doing, one thing I should stop doing“.
Another way … what are the tasks and skills that bring you joy? What do you love doing and could do forever? Don’t just think about the skills you’ve used in the workplace but what skills have you acquired or used during your career break?
And if you’re thinking “yes but there are 100 marketing managers looking for work”, always remember that YOU are unique. Nobody else has the exact same match of skills, strengths, background and experience.
Once you are clear on your skills and strengths, you are ready to move to the next step which is to present your career story.
Step 3 – Your career story
The next step is to craft your career story so that you can easily explain to other people who you are and what you’re looking for.
There are three parts to your career story:
- your career background
- what you’ve done during your career break
- and what you are looking for now.
Once you have fleshed out your story, you need to present this on LinkedIn and on your CV.
Don’t use LinkedIn? Whoa … you’re talking to the wrong person. The world has moved on … if you’re not on LinkedIn, sign up today. Do it right now. And here’s why.
First though, spend time researching the current career market, former employers and their competitors, job advertisements etc to ensure that you are using the ‘on trend’ industry jargon and terms.
Step 4 – Mindset
Now you might think that as a career confidence coach, the mindset piece (confidence, self-belief, sense of identity, overwhelm) would be the first thing I’d deal with.
But actually very often dealing with some of the more practical tangible ‘stuff’ is a brilliant way to deal with any confidence or identity issues that might be getting in your way.
Plus … in order to properly explore and resolve any mindset issues you might have, you want that sense of safety and comfort you get when you have worked with somebody for a few weeks. Then you’re more ready and more able to deal with the trickier issues.
If you’re taming your mindset monkeys on your own, check out the 10 self-coaching questions that I have put together especially for you.
Know that you are NOT the only one going through this. It’s normal. And it takes time to tame those mindset monkeys. It’s an ongoing process.
Step 5 – Identify gaps
Now that you have got clear on your strengths, sorted out your career story, and started to take care of those mindset monkeys (don’t worry, they’ll be back from time to time to try and trip you up), then step 5 is about identifying the gaps.
You need to identify whether there are any gaps between what you have and what you need to go back to work after a career break.
Maybe you need to bring your technology skills up-to-date. Or you need to polish your LinkedIn profile. Or maybe it’s time to start networking again. Or perhaps you need to refresh your interview skills. Or more practical information on how to request flexible working.
If it’s the LinkedIn piece you need, you’ll love my free LinkedIn class on the 7 essentials. It’s about an hour but it’s time well invested in your future.
Step 6 – Create a plan
OK you have your values, your skills, your career story and you’ve figured out where you’ve got gaps. The mindset monkeys will play havoc from time to time. Let them. You’ll get more skilled at managing them.
The next step then is to create an action plan. Every project needs a plan which includes a clear timeline, an end goal and of course the milestones or stepping stones in between.
You might like my sticky note brainstorming toolto make sure you’ve got everything covered in your plan.
But don’t get stuck on planning.
As long as you know your end goal (going back to work), often it’s enough to simply focus on “what’s the next step”.
You don’t need to know every step or every milestone before you get started. The plan doesn’t need to be perfect.
Just get started even if you don’t know what the next step will be.
Step 7 – Get support
When you start planning your return to work after a career break, there will be ups and downs.
Some days, you’ll be feeling full of confidence and raring to go. Then you’ll get days when you despair that you’ll ever get back into the workplace because you didn’t get the interview; you didn’t hear back from your former work colleagues; an agency gives you feedback that makes you feel stupid for even trying.
It’s ok to have good days and not so good days. The thing is to pick yourself up and keep going.
This is when it’s SO important to get the right sort of support and accountability. Who do you know who’s already gone back to work after a career break? Who do you know who’s good at listening? Who’s got a positive mindset and can lift you up on the days you’re feeling down? Who knows you well enough to be objective about your strengths? Who will hold you accountable when you say you’re going to apply for that job, or reach out to that recruiter?
Ask around – who do you know who could be your accountability partner – another mum going back after a career break.
Buddy up and book yourselves in a fortnightly accountability call or email (just like I do with my clients) to keep yourselves on track.
It only needs to be a 30 minute call (15 minutes each) with a simple agenda:
- what have you done this week
- what will get done next week
- what’s gone well
- what hasn’t gone so well
The right support makes an incredible difference to how you feel about going back to work.
Put that support in place and you’ll soon be wondering why you ever doubted yourself.
Need more help with your return to work?
If you need more help to plan your return to work, have a browse on my website for loads more articles and career break stories.
To get you started:
- Ten ways to get back into work after a career break
- How to get clear on your strengths after a career break
- How to address a gap in your career on your CV
- How to get noticed on LinkedIn after a career break
- 5 things you can do in 5 minutes or less
If you want some more hands-on support with your return to work, from an experienced career coach who’ll give you practical straight talking career and confidence advice so that you come away with a realistic action plan, book your Career Break Power Hour today.
60 minutes of focused one-to-one time with me. Recorded so you can listen back later. (Daytime and evening appointments available).