How to be a Successful Returner Candidate

There are many reasons why employers want to attract those returning to the workplace after an extended break. Returning professionals offer a wealth of experience, maturity and a fresh perspective. Employers are now starting to recognise this and other positives of bringing returners into their organisation. By hiring returners an employer is able to tackle skills shortages, improve gender and age diversity, tap into a high-calibre talent pool, and improve their organisation’s attractiveness to potential employees in general.
But what do employers look for in individual candidates and how can you make the most of your skills and experience when you apply for a returner programme or any open role?
Here are our five top tips:
  1. Don’t try to hide your break on your CV or make excuses for it in the
    interview. If you’re applying for a returner programme, it is especially
    important to mention that you have been on a career break, including
    the length of your break at the time the programme starts. You risk
    being excluded from these opportunities if you try to cover up your
    break. If it’s been a while since you updated your CV and cover letter,
    read our blogs How to Write Your Post-Break CV and How to Write a Back-To-Work Cover Letter.
  2. Don’t undersell yourself. Learn to tell your story. Make sure you’re aware of, and appreciate, all the skills, experience and perspective that you can bring to an organisation. It’s likely that you will return to the workplace recharged, refreshed and enthusiastic to take on the challenge with new skills developed during your break. Make the most of this in interviews. This is the time to blow your own trumpet!
  3. Low professional confidence is common in women who have taken a career break. If you feel this is an issue for you, take steps to build your confidence back up again so that you believe in yourself and in your skills and experience. And don’t forget to read the success stories on our website for proof that, no matter how long your break, you can get back into a great job.
  4. Research and prepare thoroughly for interviews. Consider why you are a great fit for the organisation/role and articulate what sets you apart. Develop detailed examples of your competencies and skills – including transferrable ones – and prepare answers to typical questions.
  5. Show your enthusiasm and positivity. How you behave and the way in which you communicate is just as important as what you say in an interview. Make sure the interviewer can see the energy and motivation you’ll bring to their organisation!

Remember that employers aren’t doing you a favour. They have sound business reasons for encouraging returners back into the workplace to take on stimulating and rewarding roles. Taking the time to prepare yourself to make the most of this will put you in a strong position to resume a successful career.

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Adopting the right mindset for your return to work

For many people, September brings with it that old ‘back to school’ feeling – a sense of fresh starts, renewed energy and optimism. And, of course, September is a great time to kickstart your return to work journey as companies tend to start hiring again after the summertime lull. So how do you capitalise on this ‘new start’ feeling to help you achieve a successful return to work? One of the most important things is to adopt the correct mindset.

If you’ve been out of the workplace for a number of years, it can be hard to approach your journey with unremitting optimism and indeed this can be damaging to your progress and self-esteem. Being too optimistic, without adding a dose of realism, can lead to unrealistic expectations. For example, underestimating the effort needed or a feeling that if you just keep using the same job search methods, even if they’re not working, everything will ‘come right’ in the end.

On the other hand, we often find that the returner who claims she is being ‘realistic’ actually has a pessimistic perspective and that she too quickly dismisses the possibility of finding a rewarding job. The ‘pessimistic realist’ tends to believe the worst, quickly becomes disillusioned when she hits a few setbacks and decides that returning to work is hopeless and not worth the effort.

A more effective mindset

Far better to adopt a mindset of ‘realistic optimism’ – as psychologist Sandra Schneider advocates. Schneider tells us that optimism and realism are not in conflict – we need both. Realistic optimists are cautiously hopeful that things will work out the way they want and will do everything they can to ensure a good outcome. The realistic optimist finds out the facts and acknowledges the challenges and constraints she faces. Her optimism comes into play in her interpretation of ambiguous events. She recognises that many situations have a range of possible interpretations and chooses a helpful rather than an unhelpful one. She gives people the benefit of the doubt, is aware of the positives in her current situation and actively looks for future opportunities.

Here’s an example in practice. You send a ‘getting back in touch’ email to a former work colleague and don’t receive a response after a week. It’s all too easy to conclude that she just isn’t interested in talking to you, but consider other interpretations. Perhaps she’s on holiday, swamped with work and hasn’t had time to reply, or the email has landed in her junk mailbox. Now decide how to respond: contact her through a mutual friend, resend the email in a week, contact her via LinkedIn or even pick up the phone and call her. If she still doesn’t respond, choose a realistically optimistic interpretation (e.g. she’s too busy) and focus on making other connections.

Tips to develop your mindset

Here are 5 of our tips to help you adopt a more ‘realistic optimism’ mindset for your return to work:

  1. Combine a positive attitude with a clear evaluation of the challenges ahead. Don’t expect your journey to be a smooth one – you are likely to have setbacks – but trust that you have the ability to get yourself back on track
  2. Avoid dwelling on the negatives or jumping to overly negative conclusions. Recognise this ‘negativity bias’ is a result of how our brains are built (read more on this here)
  3. Don’t wait for the right time – it may never come. Simply taking action will move you forward
  4. Focus on what you can control rather than worrying about what you can’t
  5. If you think that lack of confidence is making you pessimistic, check out our advice on how to re-establish your confidence

There is evidence that ‘realistic optimism’ can boost your resilience and motivation, improve your day-to-day satisfaction with life and lead to better outcomes. And be reassured that it’s not about your genes – we can all learn to be realistic optimists!

If you are interested in Sandra Schneider’s research see:
Schneider, S.L. (2001). In search of realistic optimism: meaning, knowledge and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist, 56(3), 250-263.

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