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 If you’re worried about your IT skills being out of date, take a course before you get back to work.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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You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.

How to develop a growth mindset

Psychologist Carol Dweck is one of the world’s leading authorities on motivation. Throughout her career she’s focused on why some people succeed and others fail.

In her TedTalk (above) – Developing a Growth Mindset – Dweck explains that those who have a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence and abilities are static and that they don’t have the capacity to change. On the other hand, those with a growth mindset know that these qualities can be continually developed and improved through hard work and persistence. 

In adults returning to work, a fixed mindset can manifest itself in thoughts like “I’m too old to move into a new area”, “I’m hopeless with new technology” or “I’m no good at networking”. Remaining open to growth and self improvement will greatly improve your chances of success in finding a satisfying and fulfilling role.

How to adopt a fixed mindset

1. Believe in the power of ‘not yet’. In her TedTalk, Dweck gives the example of a school in Chicago which replaced a ‘fail’ grade with ‘not yet’ and saw a huge improvement in student performance. If your job application is rejected, a ‘not yet’ attitude can stop you from giving up and encourage you to explore different option and strategies to achieve your goal.
2. Don’t see obstacles that stand between where you are now and where you want to be as immovable barriers, but rather as challenges or hurdles to overcome – opportunities to develop new skills and acquire more experience.
3. Seek out feedback with an open mind. We know it’s difficult, but try not to see negative feedback as a judgement of your competence but rather as an opportunity to learn and grow. Listen to what family, friends and former colleagues tell you, and make sure you ask for specific feedback if your job application is rejected after interview. What you learn can help you make changes to bring you closer to success next time around.
4. Take action. Adopting a growth mindset means believing in the power of neuroplasticity, that the brain can continue to make new connections in adulthood or strengthen connections that you haven’t used for a while. You can help to realise your own potential through learning new skills or practising ones that are a bit rusty.
5. Move out of your comfort zone. Conquering something that scares you is a useful way to teach yourself that you can grow and move forward. Celebrate your successes and seek out yet more opportunities to challenge yourself! 

Carol Dweck is the author of Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential

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

How to Stay Motivated in your Return to Work Job Search

“When you get into a tight place, and everything goes against you till it seems as if you couldn’t hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that’s just the place and time that the tide’ll turn.” Harriet Beecher Stowe

Searching for a job after an extended career break can leave you feeling overwhelmed and demotivated. We often find returners have no idea where to focus their job search. They find themselves applying randomly for jobs which becomes demotivating as nothing seems to fit or work out. Alternatively, you can get stuck in “either/or thinking” where you fix on only two options and then become demoralised and give up when neither work out.

We all know that effective job search requires effort, energy and sustained motivation. But how to maintain motivation in the face of setbacks, disappointments and the sheer length of time needed to pursue options, is the difficult part!

At Women Returners, we recognise that a clear focus for getting back into the job market and also strategies to maintain motivation are needed.

We work with returners to help them identify a good rationale for exploring particular career options based on what they want and need in any job role. We also help you to formulate action steps which are behavioural, specific and motivating. We understand the psychological blocks that can reduce your motivation to carry out actions after the coaching has ended, even though you were committed at the time.

Here are our top tips for maintaining motivation:

  1. Imagine yourself 3 months in the future when your enthusiasm for action is dwindling. What would you like to tell your 3-months-from-now ‘self’ to keep up motivation? Alternatively write a motivational letter to yourself and ask someone to post it to you in 3 months’ time.
  2. Remind yourself of your autonomy in choosing which action steps to follow; no one is telling you what you have to do. That notion can be empowering in itself.
  3. Revisit the end goal and remind yourself of its importance, especially if the action steps feel removed from what you are aiming to achieve. Consider linking the goal to your sense of identity, self worth and values.
  4. Identify role models who have achieved their goals through their own hard work and effort. Use the same techniques that they used.
  5. Remember when you succeeded in achieving your goals in the past. If you did it before you can do it again!
  6. Make it easy to achieve action steps by physically removing all distractions and having all the materials you need to hand and elebrate. Reward yourself with treats for periods of concentrated activity and actions accomplished.
  7. Find a group or a buddy going through the same experience and motivate each other. If you’re in the Women Returners network, our LinkedIn group can help you to find the returners in your area. It’s also a good idea to identify your return-to-work supporters.
  8. Break down steps into manageable chunks and make them specific and achievable. And find a way of physically marking off action steps when achieved. One technique is to physically throw away action post-it notes to symbolise completion.
  9. Visualise the steps you will take to achieve your goal.
  10. Finally just ‘get stuck in’ and commit to action and momentum will build!  As Goethe said, ‘whatever you can do or dream you can, boldness has genius, power.’

For more advice on Motivation see this previous post. Make sure you have signed up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities.

How to maintain your New Year motivation to return to work

Happy New Year!

If you’ve just set a goal to return to work during 2017, how can you maintain your start-of-the-year determination, and not let it fade away like most New Year’s resolutions?

Psychologist Richard Wiseman conducted two large-scale global scientific studies into motivation and found that only 10% of people successfully turned their dreams into reality. Why do we so often fail to achieve our goals? Reassuringly, this isn’t another reason to beat ourselves up for not trying hard enough. The research shows that the problem is not our weak willpower, it’s that the techniques we think will help us to achieve our goals don’t help us in practice.
A good example is the often-touted motivational technique of visualisation. A study at the University of California found that students asked to visualise their end goal – getting a high grade in their exam – for a few minutes each day ended up working less and getting worse marks. Another experiment found that students who often fantasised about their dream job were actually less likely to get job offers.
How can we boost our motivation? 
Richard Wiseman looked at the motivation techniques that people used most often and discovered that half were effective and half ineffective, and that most people were using the ineffective ones.

He identified 5 effective ways to boost your motivation …:

1. Making a step-by-step plan, breaking the goal into achievable and measurable sub-goals to reduce the fear and hesitation of change.
2. Telling friends, family and other people about your goals. In this way you both strengthen your resolve and get support.
3. Thinking about the specific ways in which your life will be better if you achieve your goal.
4. Rewarding yourself in small ways for achieving each sub-goal to maintain a sense of progress.
5. Making plans, progress, benefits and rewards more concrete and specific by writing them down.
… and 5 ineffective techniques to avoid:
1. Focusing on a successful role model.
2. Thinking about the bad things that will happen if you don’t achieve your goals.
3. Trying to suppress negative or unhelpful thoughts.
4. Relying on willpower.
5. Visualising your end goal or fantasising about how great life will be when you achieve your goal.
If using visualisation still appeals, watch Wiseman’s 59 second video for how to make this more effective.
 
Return to Work Motivation
If you’ve committed to yourself to return to work this year, think about how you can apply these principles to build your own motivation when your New Year enthusiasm wanes and the rest of life gets in the way.
Here are some ideas:
  • Buy a new journal, or create a spreadsheet if you prefer, and start recording your plans and progress
  • Set aside regular times each week to work on your job exploration
  • Set achievable and practical weekly return-to-work sub-goals
  • Decide what small rewards you will give yourself for achieving your sub-goals (avoid chocolate if getting healthier is another of your New Year goals!)
  • Create your own return to work peer group to share your goals and to support each other. If you’re in the London area, you can join our London Women Returners Networking & Support Group (and let us know if you’d like start your own local Women Returners group). Use our Facebook group as an extra source of encouragement too.
 
 
Posted by Julianne

Note: Updated version of previous post Jan 2015

Will you stick to your New Year resolutions?

Every January it is hard to avoid the talk of ‘new year – new you’ wherever you look. For women on a career break, the new year is often a time to set goals and make plans for returning to your career or re-inventing yourself. All too frequently, however, your initial enthusiasm and drive can quickly wane, everyday life takes over and the project of returning to work becomes too hard to pursue.

Why don’t resolutions work?
There are four key reasons why new year resolutions fail. It is usually because they are one or more of the following:

  1. too general and vague e.g. find a part-time job; do more networking
  2. too big and daunting e.g. retrain for a new career in x; work out what to do next
  3. unrealistic e.g. land a new role by Easter
  4. not sufficiently action-oriented, with little idea of the steps required for achievement

All of these factors can lead to a rapid drop in motivation, as discussed by Julianne in her post on maintaining New Year motivation at the start of 2015.

A new approach
I was reminded of how often resolutions fail by a friend challenging me about how I would achieve my stated resolution ‘to create more space for myself’. When she asked how I would achieve this, I had no answer. Her question forced me to acknowledge that my resolution was too general and vague and that I hadn’t taken the step of converting my idea into action. I saw failure looming!

Her suggestion was to try a new approach to make the resolution stick: do something specific, simple and quick and do it daily for a month. By doing something new, even for only five minutes each time, on a daily basis, I will be able to make tangible progress on establishing a new habit. This approach is backed up by psychological research into how new habits get established. Linking the new behaviour to a specific cue, such as ‘on waking’ or ‘before dinner’ can also reinforce the habit formation.

Your 5 Minutes a Day return to work plan
How could you use this ‘specific, quick and daily’ approach to support your goal of returning to work? Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Research useful updating or skills-development courses
  • Read a relevant news/journal article or book chapter
  • Connect with old and new contacts on LinkedIn
  • Read &/or contribute to a professional post on a LinkedIn Group
  • Email a contact to set up an informal chat
  • Work on a single section of your CV or LinkedIn profile

Of course you are likely to frequently spend more than five minutes a day, if returning to work is an important priority for you. However, by following the principle of doing a small thing every day, you will get into the habit of creating time to work on your return, so avoiding the common trap that everyday life gets in the way. This means that you cannot fail to make progress and will find it much easier to stick with and achieve your resolution by year end.

For further reading
How to form a habit – BPS Digest

Posted by Katerina

Staying Motivated

Why do New Year’s Resolutions usually fail?
Why does our New Year’s Day determination to achieve our long-term objectives so often fade after a few weeks? Why do the same goals reappear year after year? This isn’t another reason to beat ourselves up for lack of self-discipline. It’s not enough just to set a goal and rely on willpower. And psychology research has found that many of the other techniques we think will help us to achieve our goals are also ineffective.
Last year I finally managed to achieve one of the goals that kept reappearing on my New Year list: starting running. I loved the idea of running – getting out in the fresh air, ‘easy’ to fit in with my schedule – but April arrived & I still hadn’t put a trainer-clad foot out of doors. I had lots of excuses (running 2 businesses, demanding teenagers, waiting for warmer weather) but the truth was that my motivation just wasn’t strong enough. The short-term comfort of staying home in the warmth always outweighed the long-term gain of getting healthier.
The turning point for me was signing up in May for a beginners’ running class on our local common. I realised that I needed the push of the weekly commitment in my diary, together with the pull of the sociable side of the group to give me the motivational boost to get out of the door. And it worked! I can’t say that I’ve turned into a dedicated runner, or managed to run regularly more than once a week, but I’ve shown up each week, even on those freezing, wet & windy mornings when a hot coffee in a warm house seems infinitely more appealing, I now enjoy running comfortably for half an hour, and I’ve signed up for the improvers’ class this year!
How can we boost our motivation? 
There’s a lot of research evidence that having a long-term end goal just isn’t enough. A study into motivation at the University of California found that students asked to visualise the end goal – getting a high grade in their exam – for a few minutes each day ended up working less and getting worse marks. Another experiment found that students who often fantasised about their dream job were actually less likely to get job offers.
Richard Wiseman*, one of my psychology gurus, conducted two large-scale global scientific studies into motivation and found that only 10% of people successfully achieved their aims. He looked at the techniques that participants used most often and discovered that half were effective and half ineffective, and that most people were using the ineffective ones.

He identified 5 effective ways to boost your motivation …:

1. Making a step-by-step plan, breaking the goal into achievable sub-goals to reduce the fear and hesitation of change.
2. Telling friends, family and other people about your goals. In this way you both strengthen your resolve and get support.
3. Thinking about the specific ways in which your life will be better if you achieve your goal.
4. Rewarding yourself in small ways for progress towards your goal.
5. Making plans, progress, benefits and rewards more concrete and specific by writing them down.
… and 5 ineffective techniques to avoid:

1. Focusing on a successful role model.
2. Thinking about the bad things that will happen if you don’t achieve your goals.
3. Trying to suppress negative or unhelpful thoughts.
4. Relying on willpower.
5. Fantasising about how great life will be when you achieve your goal.
For me, the first thing that most strengthened my motivation was having a regular commitment that I treated as an important not-to-be-cancelled meeting in my diary. This created a ‘healthy habit’ out of running. The second was the group aspect, as we encourage each other and enjoy running together.
If you’ve committed to yourself to return to work this year, think about how you can apply these principles to build your own motivation when your New Year enthusiasm wanes and the rest of life gets in the way. Maybe create your own ‘return to work’ peer group to share your goals and support each other; set aside regular times each week to work on your job exploration; set achievable weekly return-to-work goals; and buy a journal to record and reward yourself for progress. And use our Network and LinkedIn group as an extra source of support and encouragement.
Happy New Year!

* See 59 Seconds for more of Richard Wiseman’s research-based advice

Posted by Julianne