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Interview with Women Returners’ Head of Coaching

In this blog, we speak to Women Returners’ Head of Coaching, Karen Danker, about her background, why she joined Women Returners, what her role entails and her hopes for the future…

What is your professional background, Karen?

I started my career as a solicitor and then moved to a City law firm to run their graduate recruitment and development function. After a brief career break in the US with my young family, I returned to the UK and joined Women Like Us (now Timewise), a brilliant flexible working consultancy, where I first gained real insight into the challenges women often faced returning to work after a career break. I loved working with them to help them find quality flexible work that matched their seniority and skills, and to provide great talent to organisations. Most recently, I worked in the charity sector, running leadership development programmes for young adults and professional women. The common thread that’s run through my different roles has been this real driver to enable others to develop and flourish so that they can fulfil their potential in line with their skills and values.
Why did you decide to join Women Returners?

I’d known about Women Returners for quite a long time and had been following their progress. I was really excited about what they were doing – championing a route back to work that really helped maximise the success for returners. I also knew they were a voice within Government and had built partnerships with big corporates. I was excited by the impact they were having. 

Their values also chimed with mine – and that’s become increasingly important to me as I’ve got older. Their aim to make a positive difference to society was a key driver for me. They’re professional, innovative and ambitious and that for me makes them a really dynamic organisation to be part of.

What is your role at Women Returners?

I joined in January 2019 focusing on one-to-one coaching at first. As Head of Coaching, the main part of my role now is to be the focal point for our brilliant team of coaches and to make sure we continue to innovate, evolve and develop our materials and resources – and, of course, ourselves as coaches.

What do you think makes Women Returners’ coaching work?

Firstly, we have a team of really skilled, talented coaches with backgrounds in the corporate world. They understand both our clients’ business needs and the experience of being on a long career break and the challenges of returning to a professional role. They’re also incredibly warm and empathetic people. So for returners who start on day one feeling a little anxious about returning to work, our coaches really help them start well and progress successfully.

Secondly, we work with our clients from the beginning to understand what their business needs are so that we can tailor a programme to support them. A key objective for us is to set up programmes for success from the onset. We offer initial training for a client’s recruitment team and line managers so that they understand upfront the return-to-work marketplace and the practical steps they need to put into place to allow returners to perform at their best both at interview and when they join the organisation.

For returnship programmes, we run our Career Returners Coaching Programme which has been specifically tailored to address the practical and psychological challenges faced by professionals re-entering the workforce. The coaching workshops are very effective as they coincide with various transition stages the returners are going through. Our coaching for supported hire roles follows a similar pathway. The coaching is tailored to the group or individual and includes building professional confidence, sustainable working patterns, networking skills and action-planning for success.

We also offer a variety of Return to Work coaching for individuals outside of our corporate programmes, which include CV, LinkedIn and interview preparation coaching. 

We get fantastic feedback so we know the process works!

Finally, how do you see the job market for returners developing?
My hope is that, with people having longer working lives, taking career breaks for all sorts of reasons will become the norm. I’d also like to see supported routes back into work become a normal part of any recruitment strategy to find senior talent. I’d like to see all returners have the ability to hit ‘play’ on their ambitions and careers knowing that they will be sought-after by top organisations. And when they do return, to know that they will be supported, trained and mentored so that they can get back up to speed really quickly. I hope all organisations will recognise that if they’re not doing this they are missing out on some great talent.

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Gillian’s story: Returning to corporate life after a 15-year break

Fifteen years is a long time to be away from the corporate world but re-joining has been easier than I thought. For anyone considering returning to work, my advice is to go for it!

Before my career break, I worked for a global accountancy firm as an employment tax manager. My route there took me through university and working for a number of smaller accountancy firms before joining one of the Big Four. It was a dynamic, fast-paced environment, where I got a number of exciting opportunities and learned a lot. 

Two children and seven years later, the company was offering voluntary redundancy and my husband and I decided it would a great time to take a career break and spend more time at home with the children. That was 2003 – little did I know my career break would last 15 years!

During that time, I’ve been pretty busy. Working from home, I set up and ran an e-commerce business before selling it on in 2011. I also started childminding for my family and friends in 2003 and over the years, gradually built up a nursery business which now employs qualified nursery nurses, provides childcare for 30 children and runs smoothly with a manager in place.

Running both businesses allowed me to carry on developing my financial skills while developing a host of other skills! From number crunching to nappies, it was great to be home-based over the years while my kids were growing up. Now, with two older teenagers, I felt the time was right to take the big step back into corporate life.

After mustering up some courage and carrying out a bit of research I found Women Returners. It seemed perfect for me. I updated my CV, got a crash course in LinkedIn and applied for a role that seemed a great fit on their cross-company Returners to Financial Service, Legal and FinTech Scotland programme.

Grant Thornton appealed to me as they seemed to be doing things a little differently and I really liked their dynamic outlook. When I walked through the door for my interview, I immediately felt at home. My delight on hearing the news that I’d been successful was short-lived and quickly overtaken by the dreaded imposter syndrome. Would I really be able to learn new systems, to tackle this role, to keep up with the fast pace of corporate life after 15 years?

I really shouldn’t have worried – or had the sleepless nights. My experience of returning has been smooth and everyone in my team has been very supportive. While I had doubts that I wouldn’t be able to operate at the same level as before, I’ve been encouraged not to be too hard on myself and that it will take time to learn new systems and get back up to speed.

Importantly, I have been supported by a buddy, a mentor, coaching and an understanding people manager. This support has allowed me to relax into the role, knowing that I can ask for help when I need it. Grant Thornton also promote agile working to offer their staff a healthy work-life balance. I have chosen to work part-time, but I can also work from home when possible. This definitely provides a great work-life balance and it works well for me.

Now, over two months into the role, I’ve started to get into my stride and I was thrilled to have my contract extended. It has given me confidence, knowing that I am doing a good job. Now, I’m starting to work directly with clients and I’m enjoying this interaction and being back in a professional working environment.

Fifteen years is a long time to be away from the corporate world but re-joining has been easier than I thought. For anyone considering returning to work, my advice is to go for it! You will be surprised at just how much you have to offer employers and your confidence will soar. What you get back in return is simply invaluable.

Sign up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities. You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.

Return to work planning for your financial wellbeing

Our guest blogger, Ian Simons from the Chartered Insurance Institute, highlights some financial aspects to consider when returning to work.
Planning your return to work is a great opportunity to take stock of your current financial situation and plan for your future. The tips below, taken from the Insuring Women’s FuturesFinancial Wellbeing Guide, show how you can actively engage in your own financial life journey and also raise awareness of the financial Perils and Pitfalls facing women.

Engaging in your own financial life journey

As you return or search for work you should consider the below:
1. When researching potential employers take time to compare financial packages, pensions and perks

2. Research the gender pay gap – reporting legislation requires employers with 250 or more employees to publish statutory calculations annually

3. Understand employers’ opportunities for flexible workers – openly disclosing policies is a good sign

4. Find out from potential employers what are the career prospects for returners and those with family commitments and are there carer policies?

5. When you start a new job, check out your employer’s pension arrangements, free employer contributions and tax deductions, and fully consider joining the pension scheme. If there are options on how much to contribute, you might be surprised how much bigger your pension pot could be if you paid in at a higher rate, together with the added ‘free employer and tax relief money’

6. If you want to work part-time, in multiple jobs or temporarily, think carefully about how you can maximise your workplace pensions (including any existing policies you may have) and any eligibility criteria
that might preclude you. Reflect on whether you might be inadvertently missing out on valuable contributions

We encourage you to read the full Financial Wellbeing Guide, in particular the re-entering the workforce section, to review your personal situation in more detail.

Arming yourself with knowledge

Once you have assessed your specific situation there are many places you can go for more information including:

  • Insuring Women’s Futures website: The resource page contains research, videos and links to useful websites and tools
  • ACAS website: You can find out more here on equal pay and gender pay gap reporting
  • Your employer: Once you are back at work, many workplaces run sessions for returners or have helplines
  • Your existing pension provider: Find out the position of your existing pension schemes and understand your options for reinvestment and transferral
  • An independent financial adviser: If you need further financial advice, you can search for a qualified, local financial adviser on Findanadviser

Empowering others

This November, Insuring Women’s Futures are running a campaign called Talk 2 10K. They are challenging as many people as possible to talk to at least 10 other people about women’s financial wellbeing. To get involved all you need to do is:

  • Read the toolkit and watch the webinar
  • Organise your conversations (these can be anything from a chat with a friend to a formal session with colleagues)
  • Spend a few minutes on 21 November sharing an anecdote, photo or video from your conversations on social media – make sure to use the following in your posts – #MakeEachMomentCount #InsuringFutures #WomensFinancialWellbeing and @CII


Ian Simons is Marketing Director at the Chartered Insurance Institute. 

Sign up to our free Women Returners network for more advice, support and job opportunities. You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.

Returning to work? Don’t let Imposter Syndrome hold you back

Do you sometimes feel that you don’t deserve your success or that your achievements are flukes that can be put down to just good luck? Do you feel that it’s only a matter of time until you are ‘found out’?

If you do then you’re certainly not alone. These feelings are so common they have a name – Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome was first identified by psychologists in 1978. There are three defining features: a belief that others have an inflated view of your abilities, a fear that your true abilities will be found out, and a tendency to attribute your success to luck or extreme effort. There have been many studies into Imposter Syndrome since then, including one in 2011 that found that 70% of people will experience the phenomenon at some point in their lives. And it’s not just a ‘women’s issue’ –  research now suggests that men are just as likely as women to experience impostorism. 

Imposter Syndrome is most common when we’re moving out of our comfort zone and facing periods of change or uncertainty … such as returning to work after a long career break.

If Imposter Syndrome strikes, here are our tips to help you tackle it:

1. Remember these feelings are normal. Imposter Syndrome can affect anyone, even people who seem to be the most confident and capable. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has been quoted as saying: “There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.” And even Albert Einstein considered himself an “involuntary swindler.” 

2. Avoid putting your successes down to luck. Write down all your career and personal achievements to date, and think about the role that your abilities and hard work played. It will become clear to you that your successes were largely due to your hard work and abilities – not ‘just luck’. Read this blog for advice. 

3. Reconnect with your professional self. If you’re doubting yourself because it’s been a while since you were in the workplace, remember that you are the same professional person you always were, you are just out of practice. Aim to reframe your time outside the workplace as a positive not a negative.

4. Ask friends and family for feedback on your strengths and skills.
 Listening to what others say about what you do well will help you challenge your negative thoughts. Remember – you’re often your own harshest critic.

5. Keep a feedback log. Once you’re back in a new role, keep a log of all the positive feedback you receive – via formal feedback sessions, thank you emails or verbal compliments. If Imposter Syndrome does hit, look at this log to remind yourself that you are a competent and experienced professional who deserves to be where you are.


Sign up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities.You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.

Why your career break is a positive not a negative

There are lots of reasons for a career break – to care for young children or other relatives, for health reasons, to study, to travel or simply to recharge your batteries.
Far from being something to try to hide when you want to return to the workplace, there are very good reasons why you – and your potential employers – should celebrate your break.
We know from experience that returners re-enter the workplace with a fresh perspective, together with renewed energy and motivation. Employers value this too. At our Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’ Conference, O2’s Andrea Jones told the audience:

“There’s so much experience the returners have before their career break and they’ve gained so many skills on their career break. They come in with a really fresh pair of eyes….they can look at our processes and our systems and the ways we work quite differently. I think it’s a real breath of fresh air – and that’s what we hear from our managers.”
Other employers spoke about the enthusiasm of the returners they had hired, the fact that they are incredibly efficient as time management comes more naturally to them, and their desire to contribute more broadly to the organisation rather than just doing their job. Returners were also valued as role models for younger employees of people who had taken a non-traditional career path.

Dependent on the reason for your career break, you are also likely to have developed a variety of new skills. For example:

  • If you’ve taken time out to care for others you will have honed your communication, time-management and organisation skills. And nothing improves negotiation ability more than getting to a compromise with a teenager! 
  • If you’ve done skilled voluntary work you will have developed both teamwork and leadership skills – managing volunteers is much harder than paid staff.
  • If you were travelling or studying, this can signal an openness to experiences and a motivation to learn and develop. 
  • If your break was because of a personal trauma or health issue, you will have developed resilience and fortitude.

When writing your return-to-work CV and cover letter and preparing for interviews consider everything you’ve done during your break. Make sure the skills and experience you’ve acquired come across – they are an important part of who you are now.

Switch your focus. Rather than seeing your career break as a negative to employers, focus on how it differentiates you and makes you a better employee,  gaining maturity, perspective and many new skills. You will be an asset to your next employer because of, not in spite of, your career break.

Sign up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities.You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.

What does success mean to you?

What does success mean to you? It’s an interesting question to ask yourself from time to time – especially when you’re considering returning to work after a career break.

Often we judge how successful others are in their career by looking at their salary level or how far they’ve progressed up the corporate ladder. If you’ve taken a long break and so haven’t progressed as far as your peers who didn’t step off the career ladder, it’s easy to label yourself as ‘less successful’.

However, research shows that the majority of people tend to use more subjective measures when judging their own success. A classic study* by Jane Sturges found that factors such as enjoyment, accomplishment, influence, expertise and personal recognition rated highly in a group of managers’ descriptions of what success meant to them. For all of the women in the study, the content of the job was rated as more important than pay or status. Some people considered how effectively they balanced their work and home life as a key measure of success – a definite marker of success in our view but one we rarely hear or speak about.

Defining what success means to you can help you to feel more positive about the choices you have made in your career/life to date, and can point you in the right direction for the future.

Ideas to clarify what success looks like for you

1. Fast-forward
A useful exercise is to mentally fast-forward to your 70th birthday. To put yourself in the right frame of mind, imagine who is there with you, where you are, even what you’re wearing. Now imagine you’re giving a speech discussing what you’re proud of having achieved in your career and – most importantly – in your life as a whole. What comes to mind? What will make you feel you have succeeded in your life? Write down whatever comes to mind and you’ll have a good starting point for developing your own personal view of success

2. Think-back
Consider the proudest achievements in your life. What were the moments that made you feel really good about yourself? Can you see any common themes? Could these past accomplishments help you define what success will look like in the future? Has your perspective changed during your career break?

Once you’ve decided what success means to you, you may find yourself stuck on how to get there. Read our blog on the various routes back to work for ideas.

And don’t forget to build your self-efficacy so that you believe you can succeed!

*What it means to succeed – Jane Sturges (1999)

Sign up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities.You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.

Why ‘back to school’ is a good time to focus on your return to work

The nights are already drawing in and soon there’ll be an autumnal chill in the air. Many people have that ‘back to school’ feeling at this time of year – whether they have children or not – as the move into September can feel like a new beginning – more like New Year than New Year itself.

And it’s a great time to focus on a return-to-work as businesses return to full strength after the lull of July and August and start hiring again. You may also have taken time over the summer to relax and now feel refreshed, revitalised and raring to go. This can get your return-to-work off to a flying start!

Here are our top tips to capitalise on that ‘back to school’ feeling:

1. Getting started

Two of the most important things to nail when you start thinking about returning to work are clarity and focus. It’s therefore important to begin by taking the time to develop your return to work career direction as this will save you wasting time and energy on unhelpful job-hunting strategies.

If you’re struggling to decide what kind of role to look for it’s worth bearing in mind that studies consistently show that one of the key things that make us happy at work is using our strengths. Read our blogs for advice on how to identify your strengths and your unique strengths combination.

Once you have carefully considered your reasons for returning to work and what you want to do, you may find that you have too few choices or too many choices and therefore need to work on these. Taking the time to focus on your options at this stage will maximise your chances of success.

2. Making progress

Once you are clear on your career direction and the kind of roles you want to look for you’ll need to put together a great post-break CVoptimise your LinkedIn profile and brush up on your interview technique.

If you find yourself thinking things like ‘I’m too old to move into a new area’ or ‘I’m hopeless at networking’, these can be signs that you may have a fixed mindset, and this could impede your progress. Read our blog on how developing a growth mindset can improve your chances of finding a satisfying and fulfilling role.

Perhaps your professional confidence has taken a knock if you’ve had an extended career break – hardly surprising considering how much of our identity is tied up with our work. We have some top tips for boosting confidence and advice on how to look more confident than you really are.

Read our tips on how to be a successful returner candidate and also advice from people who have successfully returned to work. The advice from employers for returners on recognising your value can be especially helpful.

3. Keeping going

Looking for a new role after an extended career break can sometimes feel overwhelming and the inevitable setbacks may mean sustained motivation – so necessary for success – can wane. Read our advice on how to stay motivated in your return to work job search.

If you find yourself becoming demotivated – our stories from women who have successfully navigated a return to work will help give you encouragement and reassurance.

You’ll find lots more help in the advice hub on our website. And don’t forget to sign up to our Women Returners Professional Network for information on returnships, returner roles and return-to-work events and webinars.

Five tips for writing your back-to-work CV Back-to-work CV tips

The end of the holidays and the new school year will be with us in a few weeks. If that’s got you thinking about re-igniting your own career Victoria McLean, Founder and CEO of career consultancy City CV, has some tips to get your CV in great shape.

Returning to professional life can be daunting. But a career break should never hold you back. The first step in your back-to-work plan is to make sure you have a professional, targeted and compelling CV that highlights your relevant strengths, achievements and skills.

Here are my top tips for creating a CV that will convince prospective employers of your value to them:

1. Tailor your CV to your target role

Think about what the employer really needs. What skills are they looking for? Why would they pick you over potentially hundreds of other candidates? Be positive and make a list of your skills and achievements from previous roles and personal experiences that demonstrate you have what it takes to match their requirements.

2. Get up to speed on Applicant Tracking Systems

If you’ve been out of the job market for a while, you may not know about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). These work like a search engine – scanning CVs for key words. If your CV is to get past the ATS and onto the desk of a real human, you need to identify the key words from the job description – and then use them.

3. Don’t start with a gap

Mention your career break, but keep it simple and lean. Include a short ‘Career Break’ section under your work experience, with dates, including any professionally-relevant activities such as skilled volunteering or a home-based business.

4. Cherry pick

It can be a challenge to distil a long or varied career into two pages. But, it is possible if you highlight exceptional projects, skills and experience that align with your target role. Facts and figures are a great way to reinforce your results and achievements.

5. Don’t forget about the six-second test

On average, recruiters take just six seconds to decide whether to reject a CV or read on – so it needs to be compelling. Would your current CV pass this test? If you’re not sure, sign up for our next CV webinar below.

‘The Perfect CV’ FREE webinar with Women Returners and Victoria McLean, founder and CEO, City CV
As founder and CEO of City CV, Victoria has reviewed over 50,000 CVs over the course of her career and many of our clients have benefited from her workshops at the Women Returners annual conference. In this webinar, Victoria shares her knowledge on how to market yourself and build an effective business case on your CV. She’ll be talking about how to create a personal career story that showcases your most relevant achievements and helps you open that door to the job interview. We’ll also delve into the details of CV writing, with lots of practical tips.

Sign up to the webinar here

When: Thursday 26 September 2019

Time: 12.30pm to 1.30pm

How to develop your return to work career direction

At our Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’ Conference earlier this summer, our CEO Julianne Miles led a session on how to get focused and develop your return to work career direction. Here are some of the key takeouts.
We find that many returners adopt one of these unhelpful strategies when they want to return to work:

  • Treating it like a research project with lots of thinking but little action
  • Taking a scattergun approach – randomly applying for a range of jobs online
  • Waiting to ‘find their passion’ or for the ‘perfect job’ to come along.

For success, it’s important to have greater clarity and focus. Julianne explained, “When you’re thinking of going back to work, there are three questions you need to answer – why do I want to go back to work? What do I want to do? How do I get there?” This session focused on helping you to answer the first two questions.

Why do I want to go back to work?

Start by working out exactly why you want to return to work. Your motivation is often a mix of different things.  It could be a need for mental stimulation, to use your qualifications, or to be a role model for your children. It could be a desire for a more tangible sense of achievement or to get your professional identity back. It could be financial motivation; in this case consider whether you need the money, want to have your own money or want to have the affirmation of being paid what you are worth. As you think about your options, check that you’ll be fulfilling your major motivations in the job(s) you’re considering.

What do I want to do?

“This is often where people get off track,” said Julianne. “They don’t recognise that there is a trade-off triangle – it’s very difficult to optimise job fulfilment, flexibility and pay/level. I recommend that people start with job fulfilment and then think ‘how can I do that flexibly (if this is important to you) and how can I get the salary I want?’ A return to work is unlikely to be successful unless you enjoy what you are doing and are getting enough out of the work day-to-day.”

There’s a lot of evidence that if you orientate your career, and life as a whole, around knowing and using your strengths you are likely to be better at what you do and also to be happier. Often other people are best placed to give you very valuable feedback on your strengths. This is because we tend to underestimate our own strengths as they are often the things that come naturally to us – and we tend to value more the things we find harder.

It’s also important to determine your work values – what is most important to you in your working life? Test which aspects you can compromise on and which are make-or-break for you.

Likewise, working out what interests you is very important. What do you enjoy doing? Remember that you’re more likely to find your passion if you start off by doing something that interests you, rather than waiting for your passion to appear!

Use these factors to develop your decision criteria. This will help you to develop new options or to narrow down the options you have already identified.

The next step is to actively explore your options. 

Julianne said: “Pick two or three options that you have the most energy to investigate. Go out and talk to people to find out more information. Start by talking to family and friends. Go to conferences, seminars – parachute yourself in with lots of people who are already doing what you want to do – and investigate if this could work for you. This way you’ll be able to clarify which option best meets your decision criteria. And don’t underestimate the intangible aspects – which job feels most like you – as this is equally valuable information.” 

Sign up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities.You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.