01 Aug 2018

Returning to work after a career break

Tips on how to prepare for a return to work from Work Avenue's Emma May.

Are you considering a return to work after a career break? Perhaps you've taken a few years to be at home with the children? Or maybe you were made recently redundant and have a gap in your employment on your CV? It might also be that your circumstances have changed and earning a living has become an urgent requirement?

Whatever the reason, it can feel really daunting to start to think about work again after a long break.

But there are some steps you can start to think about now to start to prepare for your return to work.

Confidence is key

Confidence is without a doubt the biggest issue for the returner to the workplace.  And it really shouldn’t be!

I’m pretty certain you are an amazing multitasker, have juggled a huge range of completely unrelated tasks from the moment you wake up until bedtime (and through the small hours too sometimes!). Does that sound familiar?

As a parent, or a carer of elderly relatives, you were thrust into a role for which there was no rule book and no previous training.  And you learnt to cope – and perform to a high level.  On countless occasions, you have had to establish relationships with people you did not know before and work with them to make things happen.  All of this should be regarded as a superb training for the workplace.

As women, we are supremely talented at homing in on where we think we fall short.

Try instead to think about all these as excellent well-honed soft skills, which are completely transferable to the workplace.  You might think that other people who have not taken a career break are better skilled, more fluent and able to make a more valuable contribution to an employer.  Believe me this is not necessarily the case.  You are mature, wiser, reliable and can definitely be a safer, more responsible pair of hands.  Which brings me to the next point:

Skills boost

OK, depending on how long you have been out of the workplace, this may be a real issue.  There is barely a work environment out there that does not apply technology in a myriad of different ways to ensure cost and performance efficiencies in all aspects of occupation.

And it may be that this does indeed represent a sea change from your last exposure to work.

But there is something you can do about this.

There are some really useful websites that provide a range of online tutorials, and many are free.  Take a look for starters at Alison.com and LinkedIn learning or Coursera or Udemy, and not forgetting YouTube too for free, bitesized information too. If you'd like to boost your digital and social media skills organisations like Digital Mums are fantastic too. Social media is a great way to discover people who have the skills you're trying to learn too and you can then check out the resources that they suggest.

Some people do feel a bit intimidated by online training, and if that’s the case, then take a look at courses that may be available in your local area too.

Within my organisation, Work Avenue, two or three times a year we run a series of one day modular training in IT skills for the workplace: Excel, digital media, basic graphic design and more.  Free places may be available too according to your circumstances.

But however you upgrade your skills, the really important point is to put what you have learnt into practice to ensure you retain it as a demonstrable skill.  This will boost your confidence too.

So create a spreadsheet of household expenditure or draw up a new letterhead and invoice template.  Don’t just pay lip-service to your newly acquired skills.

Work on 'your story'

When you do start to make applications and get interviews, an employer will want to hear that you are able to present a consistent and coherent narrative as to why you are applying and what your career ambitions are.

If you have taken time out or if you have decided to change your career direction, then make sure that what has brought you to here this point sounds consistent and plausible from the employer’s perspective.   An employer does not want to hear that you are drifting into their business, or that you do not really care where you work.

So a lot to think about, but there is no doubt that you are definitely up to the challenge – as you have risen to every other challenge you have faced!  Do seek information, advice and guidance from experts who can really help you as well.  This could make the world of difference and really be the catalyst to you being back in the occupational driving seat!


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