How to write your New Year return-to-work action plan

Is Returning to Work one of your 2019 Resolutions? 

How do you make sure you don’t let this fall by the wayside like New Year resolutions tend to do? Shift your thinking to make Returning to Work a goal, with a clear, specific and motivating personal action plan. Here are some of our suggestions on actions to include.
Action Steps to Get Back to Work

1. Clarify what you want from work 

Start by considering what your motivations are for returning to work. Do you need, or want, to earn your own money? Are you looking for the status a professional job brings? Do you want to be a role model for your children? Returning to work after a career break is a great opportunity to think about what you really want to do, so consider what kind of working life and job you would find most fulfilling and enjoyable. Think about what you most enjoyed about past roles and whether or not you need flexibility. You may prefer a corporate employed role, to work as a freelancer or to set up your own business.
Identifying your strengths can help you decide which career direction to take. And read our tips if you feel you have too many return-to-work options or too few. Don’t over-analyse at this stage – the ‘what shall I do with my life?’ career questions can rarely be solved just by brain-power. Move to action using a Test and Learn approach.

2. Fill the gaps in your work experience/skillset

Once you’re clearer on the broad direction you want to take, it’s time to identify any gaps in your experience and any new skills you will need. Get up to date with your old industry, or learn about a new one, by taking professional courses through industry associations, attending conferences, seminars or webinars, signing up to relevant newsletters and meeting up with ex-colleagues. Find courses locally through Floodlight and look at the free online MOOCs (Massive Online Courses). If you’re worried about your IT skills being out of date, take a course before you get back to work. Strategic volunteering can build your skills and experience and may even provide a route back to work.

3. Craft your return-to-work story

Talking about your career break and how it fits into your professional story can be tricky. Use our ‘Career Break Sandwich’ method so that you don’t fall into the trap of focusing solely on your career break (and neglecting your professional background) in response to the classic questions “what do you do?” or “tell me about your background?”.

4. Rebuild your work confidence

A loss of professional confidence can be a key factor in preventing you from making a successful return to work. Don’t let this hamper you – read our blogs on Re-establishing Your Confidence and addressing the Confidence Gap.

5. Re-write your CV and develop your LinkedIn profile

If you’ve been out of the workplace for any length of time it’s likely to be many years since you last wrote your CV. We have lots of CV information in the Advice Hub section of our website including How to Write Your Post-Break CV and the use of Action Words. A strong LinkedIn profile is also important – read our blog on how to make the most of your profile.

6. Select potential routes back to work

There are many routes back to work such as returnshipsnetworking and creative crafting of a role. Consider which ones would work best for you.
7. Prepare for interviews
Facing your first interview for many years can be daunting, and we have lots of advice on our website to help you prepare. Six Essential Steps for Successful Interviewing is a good place to start. We have advice on how to prepare for competency-based interviews, informational interviews and telephone interviews. You can also read how to respond if an interviewer tells you you’re overqualified for the role and what to wear to interviews.
8. Maintain your motivation

Our motivation to achieve our goals inevitably fades after a while. Learn from psychology research about how to stay motivated longer-term.

9. Come along to our Women Returners 2019 Conference!
If you’d like a return to work boost, join us in London on 19 May. It’s a highly motivational day packed with return-to-work advice, support and inspiration and the opportunity to meet informally with employer sponsors and other like-minded women. The day will be relevant to you no matter where you are on your return-to-work journey. Find out more about our Conference here and book your place at the Super Early Bird price of £80 (available until 27 January).
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How to look more confident than you really are

Self-confidence – if only we could create and bottle it we would make our fortune! The reality is that many women who have taken a career break suffer from a lack of professional confidence. And it’s really not surprising – it’s natural for confidence to fade when we take a long break from an activity that formed a large part of our identity.

The good news is that your professional confidence quickly comes back after a successful return to work. However if you’re struggling with your self-confidence at the moment, take heart from the fact that neuroscience and psychology show that our actions can change our thought patterns to build self-belief. So ‘faking it until you make it’ can often lead to a real increase in confidence.

Top tips for appearing more confident than you really are

Appearance

Body language

  • Walk into the room positively, make eye contact and smile to help build rapport and convey confidence.
  • Avoid fidgeting with pens or rings – gently closing your hands can help with this.
  • If you’re standing, stand up straight with your feet apart. If you’re sitting, adopt a wider posture with your feet on the floor.
  • Avoid crossing your arms as this can make you seem defensive.
Speech
  • Speak more slowly and deliberately.
  • In interviews, don’t be afraid to take your time when answering a question.
  • In a networking situation, instead of being preoccupied by what you want to get across, concentrate on listening to what the person you’re talking to is saying and show interest in them. For more tips read Are you missing the point of networking at an event?

And if your confidence needs a quick boost – here’s what to do:


The Power Pose

  • For a quick boost of confidence before a stressful event try Amy Cuddy’s two-minute ‘Power Pose’. In her 2012 TED Talk, Cuddy asserted that adopting a dynamic physical stance can make can make us feel more confident. And we can personally attest that the Power Pose works!
For more help and advice on increasing your professional confidence, we’ve a range of articles on the Advice Hub on our website.

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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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You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.

Three strategies to help women achieve their full potential

When we’re talking to people who are thinking about going back to work after a career break, there are certain books we recommend time and again, usually because they provide great tips on the practical elements of finding and applying for new jobs, or important strategies on overcoming psychological barriers to returning to work. We thought it would be useful to start sharing these recommendations here on our blog so that more people could benefit from them.

We’re kicking off with Tara Mohr’s Playing Big, which we love because it sets out practical tools to help women deal with the internal blocks and external challenges that prevent them from achieving their dreams, such as making that move back to the workplace.

Here are three of her strategies that we found to be particularly relevant to returners:

1) Learning to recognise your inner critic

2) Unhooking from criticism

3) Communicating with more impact

Learning to recognise your inner critic

We all have an inner critic, the voice of self-doubt, of ‘not me’, of ‘I’m not good enough’. This voice can become stronger for people who have been out of the workplace for a long time. While it’s impossible to silence it, it’s relatively easy to learn to relate to it in a different way:

  • Don’t try to argue with your critic. You won’t win! The trick is to notice the voice, recognise it for what it is, and refuse to let it determine your choices.
  • You could create a character for your inner critic to help you differentiate it from your true voice and/or try a visualisation exercise where you imagine turning down the volume on the critic’s voice whenever it pipes up.
  • Remember that experiencing fear or doubt doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track. In fact, our inner critic is never more vocal than when we’re stepping outside of our comfort zones, pushing ourselves, and on the verge of achieving something amazing.

Unhooking from criticism

Many women are relationship-oriented, which means that we work hard to preserve harmony and care about other people’s perspectives. While this is largely a positive trait, it can hold us back if it translates to a fear of disapproval. Bear these ideas in mind next time you find yourself overly worried about other people’s opinions:

  • A negative response doesn’t mean that you’ve done something wrong. Feedback is crucial: not because it tells you something about the value of your work, but because it tells you how it is likely to be received by the people you are hoping to reach. This also means that you don’t need to incorporate all feedback, but instead carefully select the parts that are strategically useful, and let the rest go, e.g. a former colleague’s opinion on your CV is more valuable than that of a friend in an unrelated field.
  • Criticism most affects us when it reflects a negative belief we hold about ourselves. The rest bounces right off. Use painful criticism as a way of discovering, and addressing, those negative beliefs that might be holding you back in your decision to return to the workplace.

Communicating with more impact

Do you ever feel the struggle between wanting to say something but holding back? Between sharing an idea and simultaneously diminishing it? Women are particularly affected by this, and are often guilty of dumbing down communication in order to be more likeable, at the expense of appearing competent.

Before hitting send on your next email to a potential or new employer:

  • Eliminate any undermining words and phrases (‘just’, ‘kind of’’).
  • Remove any unnecessary apologies (‘Sorry if this is a silly question’).
  • Take out any phrases that suggest that what you have to say isn’t worth much time/space (‘I thought I’d tell you a little bit about’, ‘just a minute of your time’).
  • Replace questions such as ‘does that make sense?’, which imply you feel you’ve been incoherent, with phrases such as ‘I look forward to hearing your thoughts’.
  • Delete the disclaimers (‘I’m no expert but’) and just say what you have to say.

This doesn’t mean being aggressive in your communication, but rather making a conscious effort to express warmth – e.g. expressing a genuine interest in the other person – without relying on diminishing phrases.

Watch this space for further reading recommendations, and please do comment with any books you may have found useful in your own return to work journey!

Posted by Elaine

8 Tips for Confident Communication when Returning to Work

This week’s guest blog is by Sophie Clark from Denison Clark

Communicating with confidence and impact
consistently in meetings, on conference calls and during presentations can be a
challenge when returning to work.  As a
workplace communication expert I help people to build their confidence, polish
their skills and avoid some the common pitfalls when speaking. I have put
together 8 tips and tricks to remind you how to communicate with greater impact
when returning to work.

Give
me time to think
Speaking too fast is a credibility
disaster. Pause. All the time. Break up what you’re saying. If you speak how I
am writing now, if you pause often, it’s the cheapest trick in the book to look
calm and authoritative. Yes, it really is that simple. Watch Condoleezza Rice
to see it done well and steer clear of Tony Blair’s pausing style.
Audience
first
There are people who say 93% of your
message is body language and voice. This has been taken out of context for
years. Getting your content right is critical and so stop naval gazing and first
think about your audience. Lead with why your audience should listen to you?
What should they know? How will it impact them? What do you want them to do?
Please
don’t put on a ‘show’
We are often told to “fake it till you
make it”, but this advice is better targeted when taking on a new role, not with
your communication style. News flash – you are most likable when you are your
warm, authentic, natural and professional self. I spend my life removing the masks
from my female clients, so don’t wear a mask thinking it will help you appear
more confident when you speak. Pretending to be someone you’re not is not only
exhausting but it makes it harder for others to trust you.
Power
pose
This term was coined from Harvard
professor, Amy Cuddy. If you don’t know who she is, take 20 mins and watch her
35 million times viewed TED talk. Taking time to make yourself ‘big’ before you
speak has been scientifically proven to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone)
and increase testosterone (the confidence hormone). This uses your body’s
natural hormones rather than play acting being someone else. If you haven’t
watched this talk I cannot recommend it highly enough. Find a spare board room
or empty bathroom and ‘wonder woman’ your way back in.
Put
your hands up
Put your hands (and forearms) on the
table in meetings if you want more presence. If your comfort zone is to place
them in your lap, then please, change your comfort zone! This matters
particularly for women. 70% of my female clients show this behaviour and it can
make them look small and under confident. Only about 5% of my male clients do
this and the perception difference is huge.
Practice
how you introduce yourself
Humans judge each other. Naturally, sub
consciously, all the time. You will likely have an opinion of The Queen, Barack
Obama and Sheryl Sandberg even though you may not have met them. I’ve met
returning colleagues who have said “Hi, I’m Alex. I’m back after maternity
leave and am working 3 days a week now”. What I take away is the external
side of Alex’s life and their working hours. What I am missing is what is Alex
is doing in her role and what impact that is having to the firm. E.g. “Hi,
I’m Alex. I’m back after maternity leave and I’m working mainly on X project X for
Y client.” There’s nothing wrong with talking about your time out or
your children, but be careful if that’s what you lead with
or the only thing I know about you.
Speak
up and be counted
Perhaps your comfort zone is to sit,
watch and participate later, particularly as you catch up and build confidence
back. Whilst no one likes the over talker in a meeting, be aware that
repeatedly saying nothing can be career damaging. A sage piece of advice I was
once given was by a senior female investment banker who said “don’t speak
unless you have something worth saying, but don’t let people judge your silence
as a distinct lack of interest or ability”.
And
finally..  stop the negative chatter in
your head
Internal communication matters just as
much. Mentally, many of us have “obnoxious roommates in your heads” as Ariana
Huffington calls them. Voices who say – you’re not good enough/ you’re brain’s
been a little mushy since the baby/ technology has moved on so quickly/ people
are going to know I’ve lost my edge/ I can’t give it the time it deserves…. I
even had clients who refer to themselves as “has-beens’”. You have the power to
stop these thoughts, especially if they are not helping you. If this is
happening, it’s time to get some control back and park them.
Good luck. Power pose. Pause. Think
about your audience and please be your authentic, polished true self.
About Sophie
Sophie is a communication expert at Denison Clark. She coaches
small groups and individuals to speak with more confidence, clarity and impact across
their work conversations and presentations. 
 

Mastering the Difficult Conversation

How good are you at having difficult conversations? Learning to communicate more effectively can help to prepare you for your return to work.
Would you rather run for the hills than have a really tricky conversation that makes you feel uncomfortable? How good are you at communicating your own needs and reaching compromises and solutions?
If like me, you are naturally a people pleaser who dislikes conflict, you might find yourself using classic avoidance tactics rather than have a difficult conversation. We tell ourselves many things: “It’s not my place”; “Someone else will do it”; “What good will it do?” or “It’s easier to do it myself than have the conversation”.
But what is the price that we pay for avoiding these conversations?
Back in my corporate career days, I got much better at having difficult conversations – it took practice and time but I got there. However since becoming a mother and taking two career breaks I feel that these skills have got a little rusty! And sometimes, frankly, it can be harder to have the difficult conversations with those closest to you than it is with colleagues in the office.
I have found similar experiences amongst women who I have coached to return to work and who find it very difficult to communicate with other key family members about their plans to return to work.

This is often driven by a range of fears – “My partner won’t like the changes at home;  “My children won’t like me not being around”; “My elderly parents need me and won’t understand”; No-one will offer me a job anyway so there is no point in talking about it…” and of course, the big one which is rooted in our own fear of what the new might look like for everybody, ourselves very much included.

The irony, however is that this is exactly the time when you need the support behind you to make the transition and journey back to work as easy as possible!
So how can you practice getter better at difficult conversations to ease your return to work and to help manage your career once back in the workplace?
  1. Change your mindset – ask yourself what is the risk to me and/or this relationship if I don’t have this difficult conversation? Try to identify what is difficult about it – what are you afraid will be the outcome? What is the worst that can happen?
  2. Remove emotion. Easy to say particularly if this is a conversation in our personal lives but try to control your emotion – use questions and ask the other person how they feel about the subject in question? Ask them what they would suggest and like to see happen.
  3.  Be clear on what you are asking for. If it’s for more support around the house, for instance, be clear on what this might look like – ask your partner for input and suggestions and draw up a rota of chores. Make sure there’s time blocked out for each of you and time together.
  4. Don’t make it about winning an argument – see it as finding a resolution that works for everyone, particularly family life!
  5. Practice an easy one first. If you are not ready to approach the bigger subjects immediately, practice having a difficult conversation with a family member or friend – perhaps one you’ve avoided for some time but would like to address. Take confidence from that first!
Feeling more confident at approaching things you might usually avoid will help build your confidence in approaching people who can help with your return to work and asking for advice, input or introductions. Inevitably when you return to work there will be difficult conversations to be had at times with bosses and colleagues. Remembering the tips above will make this much less daunting when the time comes!
Posted by Kate Mansfield, Coach & Facilitator, Women Returners

Kick-starting your Career Courage

Anna, one of our Women Returners coaching team, suggests ideas and exercises to build your return-to-work confidence and courage.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face Eleanor Roosevelt

In my coaching of women returning to work, the theme of confidence (or lack of it) is a common one. If someone is trying to build their confidence, I first ask some questions to understand where it is they want to be. Some typical responses are:

‘I want to put myself out there and network but I’m not sure people will want to meet me’
‘I want to go for that job but I don’t think they’ll be interested in me’
‘I want to go for interviews without worrying about sounding stupid and out-of-touch’

Digging underneath these responses, it is very often fear that is making these talented women hesitate. Fear of ridicule, of others’ opinions, of failing, of judgement, of stupidity, of being found out. Simply trying to be more confident doesn’t address the underlying fear.

Confidence to Courage

I often work with women to reframe confidence as courage. Courage implies feeling some sort of fear but going for it anyway. I also find women perceive courage as something positive they can aspire to. Ask them to say, ‘I am a courageous woman’ and they sit up a little bit taller.
So, in your own returning to work journey, how can you overcome your fears and build up your courage? Here are a few exercises and ideas:
  • Reframe fear as simply what happens when you are pushing your boundaries. I watched my 5 year old son stand on the steps of the swimming pool paralysed with fear. Yet he splashed in and took the first steps towards swimming. To become a better swimmer he will keep feeling fear but it’s a sign he’s trying something new, not of weakness.
  • Think about a time when you have been courageous. How did you nourish your courage and starve your fear? Taking a moment to think about your strengths and achievements can help in building feelings of courage.
  • Fear tends to grow if you don’t address it. Let’s say your fear relates to getting your opinions heard. On your return to work, you’re sitting in a meeting, time is ticking by, you haven’t said a word, and your throat is getting dry and your palms sweaty. Next time, get your voice in early. By doing something, anything, to move things forward you are demonstrating courage.
  • Imagine an area of your life where you do feel courageous – maybe it’s experimenting with new recipes, running long distances, setting boundaries for your growing children (believe me, it takes courage!). Think about the preparation needed, the consistent planning, the bit-by-bit improvement. Courage at work is the same – preparation and practice are needed. There isn’t a quick fix for courage.
  • Often, fear relates to others judging us – and in returning to work you’re likely to be hyper-sensitive to this. If someone does offer some critique, remember that they are commenting on your work and not you as a person. Often, we take ‘your views lack coherence’ to mean ‘you lack coherence’. Women, in particular, tend to internalise criticism ‘it’s my fault’ and externalise praise ‘it was good luck’. Try to separate one instance or piece of work from your overall view of yourself.
Remember, fear is a natural part of growth and progress. It takes courage and confidence to face your fears and move forward. It takes a big dose of courage to face some of the doubters and commit to making that return to the workforce. Sometimes, it can help to simply ask yourself, ‘What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?’

Posted by Anna Johnstone, Coach & Facilitator, Women Returners

You’re not a fraud! Tackling Imposter Syndrome

I first learnt about the impostor syndrome when I was studying for my psychology masters. I remember feeling hugely relieved that it was normal to be asking myself “What are you doing here?” as I sat in the lecture hall and started working with clients. Although not naturally plagued with self-doubt, I had found that retraining and practicing in a new profession after a long career break made me question my abilities. I felt like a fraud when I introduced myself as a psychologist, and wondered if I would ever truly feel like a competent professional in this new field.

The Imposter Phenomenon

It was reassuring to find out that even highly successful people can feel like frauds, and that these feelings are so common that they have a name. The ‘imposter phenomenon’ was first identified in 1978 by two clinical psychologists, Pauline Clance & Suzanne Imes*. They interviewed 150 successful women who, despite their qualifications, achievements and professional recognition, still considered themselves to be impostors in their fields. Clance & Imes drew out three main aspects: 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. Since then, there have been many follow-on studies supporting the findings of this research, with mixed-gender samples across a range of occupations finding that up to 70% of people have feelings of impostorism at some point. Unsurprisingly, researchers have found that these feelings are most common when people are making a move outside of their comfort zone, such as starting a new job or taking on new responsibilities. Although it’s not an area that’s been studied, it’s clear that returning to work after a career break is also a likely trigger for this irrational fear of incompetence, even if you’re returning to the job you did before.

A decade ago, the impostor syndrome was little known outside of psychology, so I’ve been happy to see that it’s now more broadly known & discussed. A recent article on the topic in the New York Times quoted Maya
Angelou, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going
to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me
out.’”

There is sometimes a misconception that this is another ‘women’s issue’ – lumped in with low self-confidence as something that holds women back more than their male colleagues. In fact, despite the initial focus on women, research now suggests that men are just as likely to experience impostorism. But maybe they are less likely to admit it?

How can you tackle Imposter Syndrome?

One of the most useful steps is to recognise that these fears are very normal & that many other people have them. Nobody knows everything and even the people at the top of your company or your profession probably have times when they too feel out of their depth. Don’t blindly believe your self-doubts or let them hold you back.

If you’re coming back to work after a long break, understand that you are more likely to doubt your abilities in this time of change and give yourself a boost. Spend time identifying what you do well and the part you played in your achievements, both in your pre-break career and during your career break. And remember that no-one’s successes are just down to luck!

* Psychology research ref: Feeling like a Fraud, Christian Jarrett The Psychologist, May 2010

Posted by Julianne 

Just do it! Taking action to bring back your confidence

Regular readers of our monthly newsletter will be aware that, Julianne and I have presented or joined panels at a large and varied number of events on getting back to work after a long career break. At one of these, a CFA Women’s Network panel, I was asked for ideas on how to build confidence, a very natural question. In my coaching work, this is often an area where returners wish to focus and I have also run dedicated workshops and written advice columns about it many times. As I have so much to say on this topic, I initially wondered how I could do it justice in a short answer. Ultimately I responded simply with a single effective method for improving confidence … just get on and do stuff!
I can illustrate this idea best with my own experience of speaking at all these events in the past months. I’ve always believed that public speaking doesn’t come naturally to me and so I haven’t actively sought speaking and presenting opportunities. In fact, prior to 2015, I’ve given maybe 6 or 7 public presentations in total through my whole career. However, since the profile that we have generated for Women Returners has led to multiple speaking invitations, I’ve had plenty of chances to gain experience.
As is normal when doing new things, the first few times didn’t go smoothly at all: I made many ‘rookie’ mistakes and felt what confidence I had at the start was draining away. Although I would have found it easy to decide that it was all too difficult and uncomfortable and decline to do more, I didn’t have that option because I had already committed to more events. So, I had to persevere, learning from my earlier errors and gradually developing an approach to public speaking which works for me. Each time I’ve presented or participated I’ve learned something new and as I’ve gained experience, I’ve learned to take the positives from it, rather than focus on the bits that aren’t perfect.
Over time I’ve noticed that I can stop my voice from wobbling and my heart from racing, that I know my topic and don’t need copious notes and that I can pause and take a drink without losing my connection with my audience. Through doing this – keeping taking action, while focusing on what has gone well – I’ve experienced a noticeable increase in my confidence at speaking. Even though it still doesn’t feel natural to me, I no longer dread it. Indeed I find myself looking forward to opportunities to test out my new skill!
When returners ask about how to improve their confidence, I will ask them what it is they would like to feel more confident about: we all have areas of our lives where we feel confident as well as areas where we don’t. Two areas where returners commonly tell me they feel low in confidence are re-establishing a professional network and going to interviews. Based on my experience of building confidence through taking action, these are some ideas for actions I recommend:
Re-establishing your network
  • Draw up a list of all the possible people you could get in touch with, including people from your past, your present and those you’d like to meet in the future
  • Starting with those who you find easiest to approach, set yourself a target of a number of calls to make, or emails to write, on a weekly basis.
  • Ask friendly former colleagues if you can meet for a coffee to talk about industry or sector developments
  • Join LinkedIn groups in your professional field and initiate, or comment on, discussions
  • Volunteer at or attend relevant conferences or professional network meetings with the initial goal of speaking to just one or two people
  • Reward yourself for meeting your targets, identify what went well with your approach so you can repeat it – and increase your targets as your confidence builds
Interviews
  • Performing well at interviews requires preparation
  • Ask family, friends and even former colleagues to support you by giving you practice at answering interview-type questions. Ask them for feedback on both what you do well as well as ways to improve
  • Take every opportunity for interviews as a place to practice your technique: even if you are not interested in the role, you can gain valuable experience from the interview itself
In whichever area you are hoping to re-build your confidence you will find that regular and repeated action will pay off.

Posted by Katerina – co-founder of Women Returners