Advice from Employers for Returners – Recognising your Value

At our 2019 Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’ Conference, Claire Cohen, Women’s Editor of The Telegraph, interviewed five of our employer sponsors who have experience of running successful returner programmes: Bloomberg, Credit Suisse, FDM Group, Fidelity International and O2.

Read some of the highlights from the panel’s responses below (more to come in our next blog).

Why do employers run returner programmes?

“We were thinking about this talent pool that’s incredibly talented and has amazing skills and we thought we’re going to tap into this to help us solve one of our business problems. So we launched in 2014 and it’s been brilliant for us. We’re now in our sixth cohort and we have a fantastic group of alumni who’ve been through the programme and are active participants in our day to day work.”

“The proof is in the pudding. The more returnships we run and the more the hiring managers see the quality of the candidates coming into those programmes and what they can bring over and above another hire from another bank, or similar institution, is really valuable and I can only see that growing.”

What benefits do returners bring to the workplace?

“[Returners] come in with a really fresh pair of eyes. They can look at our processes and our systems and the way that we work quite differently and it’s a real breath of fresh air – that’s what we hear from our managers.”

“Another thing that I’ve seen is the enthusiasm when they come back and the fact that they bring so much – they want to give back to the organisation. I can cite several examples of our returners acting as mentors to some of the more junior women. They are active participants in key elements of our organisation.”

What are employers looking for in a returner candidate? 

“I want flexibility of mind. You’re not the same person as before your career break. You want us to see this a positive so you’ve got to see that as a positive as well. Be flexible, be open! Your time out has taught you a lot.”

“We’re constantly looking at ways to improve things so any type of improvement or process improvement [including during your career break] that you’ve done will be really valuable to organisations.”

“Flexibility – we want to move people around the organisation so I’d really encourage people to be really open-minded about what they initially start to do because it could lead on to so many other things once you’re there.”

What have they have been surprised by when running returner programmes?

“I knew the talent was going to be good but it’s far surpassed what I thought. For me its been really eye-opening. We get to see these amazing resumes coming in all the time. The talent pool is truly outstanding and it’s very much untapped.”
“I never expected how much of an integral part of the community [returners] would be in terms of giving back to the organisation several years in. They’re really involved and engaged and willing to support those coming after them.”

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Advice from Successful Returners to Work

Did you miss our Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’ Conference this week in London? For those of you who couldn’t join us, our next few blogs will talk about the takeouts from this sellout event.

Our Returner Panel session was chaired by the wonderful Jane Garvey from BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour. Five women who have successfully returned to work after a multi-year career break spoke about their experiences. Two had taken a break to care for small children, one for fostering and setting up a business, one to focus on family time with older children and one to take time out from a long career in a high-pressure role. Three had returned to work via a returnship, the other two via networks or stepping-stone roles.

Here are some of the highlights from their comments, including the panel’s advice for other women wanting to get back to work:

On where they are now:

“It’s been a revelation to me – the whole returnship process, the support the firm has provided me, the support from Women Returners and the whole promotion of the idea of being able to return to work… I managed not only to return to work but to start a whole new career in the finance industry.” 

“I didn’t know that returnships existed. I had set my standard of returning to work as ‘perhaps I could take a few steps back if someone would have me’ – I really had no expectations and not a lot of confidence that I’d be able to step back into a senior role…honestly, the programme has been transformative for me and my career.”

“It’s amazing – I didn’t think that from where I was two and a half years ago to where I am now was going to be possible.”

On how they first felt being back at work:

“It was a bit of a shock, I wanted it but it was quite challenging. The most interesting thing for me was the progression over a number of weeks. And what I learned from day one was not to crucify myself by setting totally unrealistic standards about what I wanted to achieve.”

“I think we all have that slight reservation that we’re not quite up to it or that we won’t know what to do when we (arrive) and sit down or go to a meeting. But I was amazed at how quickly it all came back. After about three weeks the senior management team were saying ‘we feel like you’ve been in the organisation for years – you’ve just fitted back in’.”
“My first day was a mixture of terror and excitement.”
“My employers were really welcoming…I was nervous about photocopiers and phone systems.”

“Don’t worry – within a week you’ll be back in the swing of it.”
“I was made to feel incredibly welcome from day one. I was given a senior woman as a mentor and meetings were set up for me to meet other people in the department.”

On setting boundaries/managing work-life balance:
“You have to decide what you’re going to do in a week, what you’re going to deliver and make sure you communicate that to people around you.”

“It’s really important for you to take responsibility (for managing boundaries). No-one is going to do that for you.”

“Don’t set unrealistic standards about what you can achieve when you first get back to work.”

On what to wear for interviews:

“A friend gave me some brilliant career advice once. He said – when you’re going for an interview don’t do things that will enable people to write you off from the beginning. If you’re going for an interview where – like it or not – they wear suits then wear a suit. Do your research.”

“For me, it’s about feeling confident. – if you feel confident in what you’re wearing that’s what’s important – and the fact that you project that confidence.”
“It’s very dependent on the workplace. I don’t think it’s to do with wearing a suit – it’s about getting the dress code right.”
“I went to the hairdresser for the first time in two years – I wanted to feel ‘put together’ and confident.”General comments/advice:

“What I would recommend is lots of positive talk to yourself in front of the mirror before you go into the interview.”

“We have to understand that we have skills – they don’t go away – they might be slightly rusty but I can reassure you that within a week you’ll be back in the swing of things and within three months you’ll feel you’ve never been away.”

“You’ve had a break, you’ve developed lots of positive behaviours and that’s what you’ve got to offer a new employer.”
“One of the women on my returner programme had been out of the workplace for 20 years and came back in and did the programme and got herself a job that she was absolutely thrilled to get and loves and is forging another career.”

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