Tackling Fears about Returning to Work after a Career Break

We are witnessing a very real change in the employment landscape for women returning to work after a career break. Employers are coming up with innovative ideas to attract and retain women, and showing willingness to implement the changes needed to entice returners. All in all, there’s never been a better time to return to work, so what’s stopping more women from taking advantage of these opportunities?

Elaine Russell, who heads up Women Returners in Ireland, and Karin Lanigan, Manager of Career Development and Recruitment Services for Chartered Accountants Ireland, talked to The Irish Times Women in Business Podcast about the common fears and challenges faced by women who are considering a return to the workplace. Below we have pulled out some of the key points and you can also listen to the full podcast episode here.

I’ve been out of the workplace for too long
You mustn’t let the length of time you’ve been out of work stop you from going back. We have worked with returners who have been out for 15 years or more and have successfully returned to professional-level work through returner programmes or through their networks. Remember that the length of your break doesn’t change your strengths, which are an integral part of who you are, and doesn’t wipe out the career experience you had beforehand.

Also, you don’t need to talk about the length of your career break when introducing yourself to prospective employers. Do reference it – don’t apologise or defend it – however, focus predominantly on your previous experience and what you want to do going forward.

I’m too old
Diversity is a hot topic right now, with many companies actively looking at ways of attracting older people. We’re seeing more and more women in their 50’s returning to the workplace, where they’re appreciated for their maturity, experience, perspective and stability.

I can’t get to grips with new technology
Technology moves quickly and some returners fear they’ll never catch up. However, it’s worth remembering that this rapidity of change means that everyone has to work hard to keep abreast of developments, even those people who have never had a career break. If you take some time to get yourself up to speed, you may actually be in a stronger position than others who haven’t had that time. It’s also worth bearing in mind that technology in the workplace is not so different to the technology we use at home these days, and so you might well find that you’re not as out of the loop as you may think!

I’ve lost my confidence
We know that women typically have less confidence when valuing their professional worth. Combine this with an extended career break, and professional confidence can truly plummet. It’s important to work on building your self-confidence so that you’re ready to go back into work with a positive mindset. Reconnect with your professional self and remember the value of your past qualifications and experience, and also of the skills you have gained outside of the workplace.

I can’t compete with applicants who haven’t take time out
Companies are actively looking for people like you, i.e. people who have taken time out and are coming back to the workplace with renewed energy. Remember that your time off is an asset in itself, and that during that time you gained a breadth of perspective and many new skills which you can feel proud of.

I’m scared of networking
While we often think of ‘networking’ as a process of selling ourselves, which can be a scary prospect, it’s more about meeting and chatting to people, which is what we do all the time. Networking can be enjoyable! You’re not asking for a job – you’re letting people know  about your previous work experience and what you’d like to do now, to see if you can get advice and information. Remember that most people want to help and are generous with their time.

I don’t have recent experience
Experience doesn’t have to be recent to give you credibility. Think back on the successes from your career: make a list and remind yourself of your achievements, perhaps even contacting former colleagues who can jog your memory. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, it still counts.

If you want even more inspiration, take a look at the returner success stories on our website, and read about how those women and men overcame their own personal challenges to successfully return to work after an extended break.

Read more on Tackling Return-to-Work Fears and Doubts here.

Posted by Elaine

How to Map your Network

I get that networking is important but I have no idea where to start? 
Most returners in this contemporary job market get the fact that networking is important. They realise that in this day and age, the majority of roles are filled directly from people’s networks and not from recruiters or adverts.
But for many of you there may still be a mental block when it comes to approaching your network – or even recognising that you have a network! Particularly when you throw a career break into the mix, adding to the overall effect by magnifying fears and worries about who and how to use contacts to help.
So let’s challenge some of the common assumptions that may be holding you back from thinking about how your network can help with your return to work.
I don’t have a network anymore. 
I hear this a lot from women who have had a career break. In fact, we all have a network. It may be a different network than the one you had before your break, it may be a combination of old and new contacts and it might even be a better one than you had before! You might just not be thinking of it as a professional network or be assuming that those you spend time with now won’t have any useful professional contacts.
I can’t ask people I know socially to help me with my job search. 
Would you help your friends if they asked you? We like helping other people. Remember you are not asking your friends for a job but simply for information or an introduction to someone in an area/organisation that interests you. It’s also a good way to begin practising your work story and re-engaging with the ‘professional’ you. A lot of leverage can come from a personal network, particularly after a career break.

Remember “Six degrees of separation”? The trick with networking is tapping into your wider network – most opportunities come this way. This means multiplying your contacts and reach by accessing your network’s network.

My current contacts won’t know anyone in my field of interest.
This is a common assumption, but you can’t have total awareness of your network’s network. One returner’s neighbour’s brother turned out to be very senior in the sector she wanted to get into and was able to make an introduction. You don’t know who might know who ..
We often meet women who have known potentially-helpful contacts for years but yet never had a conversation about their professional selves. You could be sitting on dynamite contacts right in front of your nose!
How to Map your Network


Mapping your network helps you to think about who you know and to prioritise who to approach.
  1. Create some quiet space and time to brainstorm different areas of your life in which you have contacts who might be able to help you. Be creative and think broadly!
  2. Consider contacts in Past and Present, together with ideas on new contacts you could develop in the Future. Here are some groupings to get you started (adapted from the excellent book Back on the Career Track):
    1. Past: School, university, professional training, work (colleagues, clients, suppliers, alumni groups)
    2. Present: Family, friends, neighbours, sports, hobbies, volunteer contacts, religious and community contacts, professional bodies, school network
    3. Future: Create local alumni network or job search group, volunteer, join an association
  3. Include all the people you know in each group. Make a rule not to rule people out. Remember to keep an open mind and approach it with curiosity – wouldn’t it be interesting to find out who people might know? Use LinkedIn to find people from your past and enlist others to remind you of people you may have forgotten about.
  4. Map it out in a way that works for you – it might be a spider diagram, post-it notes on a large piece of paper or a spreadsheet.
  5. Prioritise your 1st level contacts – those you will approach first – by creating relevant criteria such as: “Do they have relevant sector/function/technical knowledge?” “Do I think they will know a lot of other people who could help?” “Do I feel comfortable contacting this person early on?”   
  6. Then map out 2nd and 3rd level contacts – those you will approach later. John Lees’ book Just the Job is helpful in explaining how to work out different levels of contacts.
I’ve mapped my network. What now?
  1. Your primary goal is to use your network to make useful new contacts. Approach your 1st level contacts – tell them what type of work you’re looking for, relating it to your interests, skills and experience before and during your break. Ask them if they know of anyone who might be able to offer you advice or to provide information on your area(s) of interest, and if they would be happy to make an introduction.
  2. With each new person you meet, ask at the end of the conversation if they could introduce you to anyone else who would be interesting to speak to.
  3. Create a system for tracking your progress and adding to the network as you expand your list of contacts. A spreadsheet works well at this point.
  4. Reward your progress – it’s better to approach several useful contacts per week than to spend hours researching on the internet with no focus. Every time you set up a call, arrange a coffee or gain a new introduction reward yourself in some sort of way that’s meaningful for you – it will take time and effort but will be of great long-term benefit not only for your first role back but in terms of your ongoing career opportunities!
Posted by Kate Mansfield, Lead Career Coach, Women Returners

Are you Missing the Point of Networking at an Event?

This week’s blog is by Rachel Halsall, one of our Women Returners Coaching team.

One of my favourite ways to spend time is to work with coaching clients to design their networking strategy.

After having had the pleasure of providing coaching
sessions at the Women Returners Conference, it struck me that many of the women I spoke to were missing the point about what networking at an event is all about and what the benefits can be. What I heard in a number of these coaching conversations was a belief that networking is about walking up to somebody you don’t know, reciting
an elevator pitch and then asking them for a favour, an opportunity or a job.

Whilst it’s true that your next opportunity may well come about through your wider network, this is not what networking is about at all.

What is event networking about?

To ‘network’ at an event is …
  • To walk into a room of
    people and to engage in interesting conversations;
  • To find out more about another
    person and their perception and ideas;
  • To enjoy social interaction in person rather than through social
    media;
  • To share knowledge;
  • To build new contacts and widen your network of interesting people;
  • To find out what is going on in your or
    other sectors;
  • To make introductions to help interesting
    people meet other interesting people.

At the Conference I saw that some great conversations were happening all around the room, and that new relationships were being developed. I hope that these conversations continued after the event. Staying in
touch and nurturing that connection is essential – in most cases it is through this on-going effort, rather than the initial introduction, that
you will see the advantages of having a great network pay off.

How can you get better at event networking?
You can get better at this form of networking, and enjoy it more, simply by getting out there, attending some events and asking other people some questions. Practice listening
intently to somebody about their take on things. Be interested
in what you are hearing rather than worrying about whether or not you are interesting. Use the kind of listening skills that you would use on a first date and you will find that you remember much more detail than if you’re focusing on saying something impressive.

If I am paying attention to you, listening to you, enjoying your company, learning from you and sharing my knowledge with you, you are more than likely to want to stay in touch with me, to ask me for help and to help me should I ask. This is the point of networking.



To finish with an easy tip: Smile when you enter
the room and turn your ears on!
Posted by Rachel, Women Returners

The Informational Interview – and how to approach it

When I suggest interviewing someone for information, my Women Returners’ coaching clients often say:

  • I don’t want to waste people’s time
  • I’ll come across as nervous and unconfident
  • I’m not sure what I have to offer

Remember that the best way to find out about a job or a company is by talking to people with this knowledge. And here’s a statistic: One out of every 10 informational
interviews results in a job offer. Considering that the purpose of
informational interviewing is not to ask for a job, what a fantastic side
effect! How does that happen? Well, in two
key ways: you might tap into the hidden job market (i.e. ‘get in there’ before
the job has even been advertised) or they might be impressed by you and decide to
create a role for you.

Informational interviewing is not new; Richard Bolles coined
it in his book, ‘What Colour is your Parachute?’ in the ’70s. But perhaps it is
easier than ever now to hide behind sophisticated technology, scanning job
alerts, looking at job sites and skimming online adverts rather than researching
through getting out and talking to people.

What is Informational Interviewing?

  • It is a way of having a focused conversation
    with someone in your network in a job, sector or organisation that interests you
  • It is an opportunity to gather information
    about a particular industry sector or role, to get the ‘inside story’ from
    someone who is working in the area and to demonstrate your interest and
    enthusiasm to find out more
  • It isn’t asking for a job
  • It is an opportunity to build your network by
    asking for names of others they could recommend you to talk to.

 

How can you overcome your barriers to Informational Interviewing?

 

I’d like to tackle each of the fears mentioned above.

I don’t want to waste
people’s time
I’d encourage you to:
  • Do thorough research on the person, the role and
    the industry.
  • Prepare good questions to ask based on what you
    want to find out about.
  • Say your interviewee comes recommended: People love to
    be flattered if it is genuine!
  • Don’t ask for a job as they’ll have to say ‘no’
  • Ask for their help in giving suggestions, feedback and ideas
  • Manage the time; say ‘I only want to take up
    20 minutes of your time’; keep to this timing; thank them and finish.

Remember, people
love helping others if it is within their competency to do so and doesn’t take
up too much time. Allan Luks investigated what happens to people when they help
others. He described the experience as a ‘Helpers High’. Helping actually reduces
stress levels and releases endorphins, the brain’s painkillers.

I’ll come across as
nervous and unconfident
I’ll remind you:
  • Thomas Gilovich has found in numerous studies
    that people overestimate the extent to which they think other people can sense
    how they are feeling. We appear less nervous than we feel. He calls this the ‘Transparency
    illusion’.
  • He also shows that we imagine others are far
    more confident than we are. He calls this the ’Confidence Con’.
  • So, remember you look more confident than you
    feel. This is an opportunity to boost your self-esteem by dressing smartly for
    the meeting, maintaining your professionalism and getting back into the work environment.



I’m not sure what I
have to offer

I’ll reassure you:
  • Try and make the meeting mutual and think about
    what you can offer them. Perhaps you have some industry insights from former
    meetings or can recommend a good article or a useful contact
  • Ask about them, what they enjoy and like less
    about their work; how they got into it and what they would recommend. Then
    listen deeply. People love to talk about themselves if really listened to.
  • Do thank them. John Lees suggests that a hand-written
    note is still appreciated and it is a great way of showing gratitude and making
    yourself memorable.

Next time you are feeling wary of interviewing for
information remember the benefits; you might just uncover a role too!

This post was written by one of the Women Returners coaching team, Gilly Freedman. It is an edit of a post which first appeared on Career Counselling Services.

Tips for Networking at a Conference

The Women
Returners team are looking forward to meeting many of you at our Women Returners Conference next month. You will enjoy the
panels and workshops that we are presenting and there will be plenty of
networking opportunities. I know how scary the idea of networking is to many
returners so this post will attempt to reduce your fear and prepare you for
making the most of our Conference, which will be relevant for any other similar networking event.
3 Tips for Conference Networking
 
Set a goal: there are no rules about how many
conversations to have or business cards to collect, but if you set yourself a
goal, you can feel good when you have achieved it. For those of you who are
actively seeking to return to work, there might be a specific employer you want
to talk to, while for those of you just starting to think about your return, your
goal could be to practise speaking to a stranger. It is up to you to decide:
just make sure that your goal is realistic and remember to congratulate
yourself when you have reached it.
 
Plan your introduction: although one of the workshops will
cover in detail how to craft your personal story, you will help yourself by
having a brief introduction prepared. This needs three elements: your name;
your background; and your reason for being at the conference. You don’t need to
talk about the reason for your break, or its length at this stage. If you are
new to networking, it might help you to practise saying your introduction out
loud or with a friend, to get used to talking about yourself in this way.
 
Prepare topics: whether you are focused on meeting an
employer or still working out your future direction, advance preparation is
essential. This includes: researching individual speakers and employers online
and through your existing networks; developing questions you can ask both to
specific individuals and generally to other conference attendees. If you find
it uncomfortable to talk about yourself initially, asking questions of the
people you meet is an easier way to start a conversation. Advance preparation
means you can arrive at the conference confident that you’ll have something to
say to the new people you will meet.
Finally, remember that everyone else attending the Conference is a returner, just like
you. You are likely to find something in common with most of the people you
meet and you will have taken yourself one step closer to getting back to work.
For other
posts on networking see:
 
Posted by Katerina

Dipping your toes in the social media pool

Today we introduce Muriel Clark who will be a regular contributor to our blog. Muriel has joined Women Returners as our Digital Media Expert, following her own career break. She will be managing many of our online communications from now on and we are delighted to have her on our team.
After a 4 year career break and no Facebook, Instagram,
Pinterest or Twitter accounts, I felt out of touch with social media platforms.
While I was contemplating returning to work, I realised I had to do something.
I had to jump in. So I embarked on a mission to familiarise myself with social
media and develop a professional credible online profile.
If you are looking to get back to work and are Twitter shy or
LinkedIn adverse, fear not, you can teach yourself a few basic things that
really can help to kick start your career.
Before you start, it is worth assessing your online presence
by “googling” yourself. Potential employers will check your online credentials.
With this in mind, and if you have been prolific on Facebook with personal
matters, consider removing inappropriate posts.
LinkedIn and Twitter are the best tools for building your
professional network and staying current with relevant information. Start by
building your profile on LinkedIn. This can be daunting, but start with a
skeleton of your CV, an outline of your career, your interests, education and
volunteering experience. Read our previous blog for details on how to set up your profile, develop your
network and job search on LinkedIn. Your new network will be invaluable for job
searching, gaining references and endorsements and getting introduced to new
contacts.
Twitter is another useful platform to rebuild your
professional network. I know what you are thinking. What shall I tweet about?
Well, you do not need to tweet to get started; you can adopt a rather passive
approach that will show your areas of interest and more importantly keep you
abreast of real time news on topics, individuals and organisations that you
have carefully chosen. You can be a follower (on Twitter that is) and that’s
fine for now.  Look at potential employer
campaigns, find out about their current issues, research topics related to
women returning back to work and employment diversity. Follow your favourite
publications. Once you are confident, you can start “retweeting” useful information.
And if you get the twitter bug, you might start tweeting your own thoughts
before you know it.
Social media is not rocket science. Embrace it as little or
as much as you want. You can make the most of social media without having to
post something groundbreaking every 5 minutes. It is about embracing an
effective medium to revive your career by growing your network and uncovering a
new world of opportunities, sharing content as you see fit and not falling into
a pool of information overload.
As for me, I have gained confidence and expertise in social
media by doing the above and completing courses which were paramount to revive
my career in marketing communications. I was lucky to be part of the Back2BusinessShip
course (sponsored by Golin, Starcom Mediavest and F1), an excellent programme
for women wanting to go back to their PR/Media/Marketing/Communications careers.
I have completed comprehensive social media online courses (more on courses in
a future blog). And thanks to my expertise in social media and refreshed
marketing communications skills, I have recently joined Women Returners as their
Digital Media Expert.
 
Posted by Muriel

How Informational Interviews can help with your Return-to-Work

What is an Informational Interview?

The start of a new academic year is often a time when returners start thinking about going back to work. If you are at the stage where you are considering a variety of options, you’ll need to do some detailed research to help you to narrow your focus or even generate new ideas before embarking on a full job search. An essential source of information is people who have done or are doing the kinds of roles you are interested in: the way to approach them is by requesting an informational interview.

Informational interviewing is absolutely NOT about asking for a job and it is vital to separate the two. When both parties understand this, it takes away any discomfort about the meeting and allows for a more relaxed and informative conversation.

Uses of Informational Interviewing

Information interviewing is a research activity, for gathering data and getting advice. The range of potential uses include:

  • Finding out about the skills and qualities needed for a particular role that you are investigating and any specific qualifications that are required
  • Understanding the content of a role and the day-to-day responsibilities
  • Learning how a specific company is on the inside – information which isn’t communicated on the website e.g. the company culture and values and what it is like to be an employee
  • Gaining industry sector insight and finding out practical market realities
  • Making new contacts in your field of interest
How to set up and conduct an Informational Interview
  • Identify people in the role you are researching via your own contacts, LinkedIn or other networks (eg. alumni groups)
  • Contact people directly or request an introduction from your network
  • Email the person to ask for a short meeting or phone call: 15-20 minutes is a good length
  • Make it clear that you are looking for information, not a job. Don’t send your CV unless you are asked for it
  • Prepare your questions to make the best use of your time and keep the conversation friendly, brief and focused
  • Always send a thank you to the person you met (as well as the person who introduced you)
Overcoming your fears about this activity
Sometimes returners find it hard to ask for help in this way as they question what it is they can offer in return. Just remember:
  • People enjoy being asked for their advice and to talk about themselves and their careers
  • The people you are meeting may well have been in your position themselves and they know the value of the activity you are doing
  • Often people in a role don’t make time to read about current industry trends and news. As you gather insight, you may have useful, up-to-date knowledge to share with the people you are meeting
Posted by Katerina

How to build your post-career break network as a nervous freelancer

A common route to return to
work following a career break is by working as a freelancer, offering your
specific skills to companies or individuals on a project basis. I took the
freelance route when I first started building my executive coaching practice
following my career break and being quite shy and reluctant to ‘sell’ myself, I
found the process of networking to find clients intimidating. Mary Jane
Boholst, a self-described ‘shy, introverted, geeky freelancer’ shares her
expertise on how it’s possible to build your network despite your fears.

If you are like most introverts or you are just unused to talking
about yourself as a professional then the idea of networking to get clients or
jobs as a freelancer can be a daunting one.
There are a great many problems that arise, the most pressing of
which are where to go, who to talk to and how to talk to them. We’ll tackle
those one by one in a moment.
What you offer
Before we do I want to make networking less daunting by sharing
something that helped me to overcome the scary task of actually going
networking to get clients and connections when I decided to take the leap into self-employment
from my job.
This is something that I teach during my talks and seminars, which
attendees and clients alike tell me makes such a difference to how they feel
about networking and it’s:
Your service is a gift!
Now whether you are an employee or a freelancer, whatever it is that
you do as a job or a career, it makes a difference to the people you provide it
for.
That makes it, and you, a gift.
Whether you are an artist who brings a slice of beauty to everyone
who sees your art, or a digital media professional who advises growing
businesses on how to make the most of the social media channels or a business
consultant who can carry out research and analysis and present recommendations,
the service you provide is a gift that others need.
If you don’t know what your gift is then take some time to get clear
on that first! Photography, cooking, interior design, counselling, coding,
editing, copyrighting – take your pick! (I highly recommend choosing something
you are passionate about doing.)
Once you know you are offering something special to the people you meet,
where should you meet them?
Where to find potential
clients
If you are a freelancer or new to business then it is going to save
you time (and money) to think about who you would love to work with.
Who are the people who you think would benefit the most from your
gift and who you would love to share your gift with?
Companies, individuals, busy professionals, couples, techies,
creatives – the list is endless!
When you know who you are looking for it becomes easier to find them
and talk to them.
The best way of finding who you are looking for is to think about
places they would go and be at those places. If you struggle to find events
eventbrite and meetup have great events that you can go to meet people
with various interests. For more corporate/ professional individuals,
Internations could be a great way for you to meet people.
Each of these sites has a search facility so you can search for the
people, interests and topics that you, and your people, enjoy.
What to say
When you are at events meeting people, there are several steps to
having a great conversation and making sure it is effective.
Firstly, keep in mind that you are offering people something that is
a gift!
This will help you to feel less salesy when approaching people and
starting conversations.
Then I find it is useful to start the conversation by asking a
question like what’s your name? Or what brings you here?
Actually I find that curiosity is the key to having great conversations:
the more that you are interested in the people that you meet, the more they
respond positively and the less self-conscious you’ll feel because you are
focusing on the other person.
It also means that you listen to what people say, and who doesn’t
want to feel heard?
When it comes to what you ask questions about, the key is to find
out if you can help or support the people you meet in some way.
If you can help them with your product or service then you can ask
them if they are interested in hearing more about it, before telling them more about
it.
If not then you can give them a referral to a resource or
opportunity/event that might help them move toward their goals. Then you can
still ask them to be open to sharing about your work too, once you are done.
Networking and building a network is a long term strategy and game
plan, so if the first few people you meet are not your clients, still be open
to speaking with them because they may be able to get you one step closer to an
investor, referral, potential client, event or opportunity.
If you are introverted, shy and geeky, like me, then you could find
it especially useful to be curious and listen because it doesn’t require you to
be extroverted and someone you are not.
In fact I know that networking works best when you are being
yourself, because it is something my clients say to me all the time and
something I discovered for myself when I discovered how to build my network
effectively.
If you want more support to do this then please get
in touch
with me!
Mary Jane Boholst is the
founder of Conscious Cocoon helping women in tech and shy introverted business
owners to step out from behind their computer screens, speak up, speak out and
share their expertise. Find out more here.
For other posts on freelancing see:
Freelancing as a return-to-work option
Posted by Katerina

Five ways to build your back-to-work networks

Why networking is important for a back-to-work job search


We talk regularly about the importance of networking as one of the key routes to get back to work after a long career break. The value of networking has really been brought home to me by two recent experiences.

First of all, two highly experienced and qualified women who have successfully returned to work, one in investment banking and the other to a senior corporate role, told me how unhelpful headhunters were when they approached them. This included headhunters with whom they previously had relationships during their pre-break careers. The banker (who is now happily employed at Credit Suisse following a placement on the Real Returns programme) was told that her career break of 11 years was too long for the headhunter to place her. She was advised that the only way to find a role would be through her own network.

Separately in a meeting I attended to learn more about a new and growing professional women’s network, my contact told me about two roles that she was trying to fill, in a discreet way, that might be suitable for a returner. These two roles are examples of the true ‘hidden job market’ that really does exist: often managers want to make a hire quickly, quietly, inexpensively and without lots of administration. They rely on their networks to do this as they view their own contacts as reliable and credible sources of talented candidates.

Five ways to build your networks

To access the hidden job market and circumvent unhelpful headhunters you need to get networking. Networking doesn’t simply consist of walking into a room full of strangers and introducing yourself. More broadly, networking provides you with opportunities to connect with people who have similar interests, talents and concerns that you have. Through your engagement with them you will have opportunities to learn about potential roles and to talk about your own search. Ways to start making these contacts include joining any of the following:

  1. Membership organisations that match your professional interests. Networks exist for people with interests ranging from hedge funds to horticulture, oil engineering to oriental languages. These organisations commonly have informative newsletters, speaker events and training opportunities
  2. Relevant LinkedIn groups where you can initiate or contribute to discussions. In this way, you’ll learn more about the issues that are current, raise your profile in the group and gain openings to contact people directly
  3. Alumni groups. All universities and business schools and many employers and secondary schools have these in place, as they recognise the value of a long-term relationship with you. Many of these groups actively encourage members to talk to each other for employment advice
  4. Professional associations. If you have a professional qualification, your accrediting body will also have a useful network as well as offering other career support
  5. Informal networks. Aside from these formal routes, you can make valuable connections through broadening or taking a more active role in social or community activities – a community group, a volunteer organisation, a school parent body, a religious community. We rarely know who our local networks are connected to and the ‘hidden jobs’ they might know about.

As you build these connections, remember to talk to them about your background and what you are looking for, so that they will be able to help you. For your networking to be effective you have to be clear and convincing about the role you are seeking. See our previous post on Telling your Story if you are unsure how to do this.

For more advice on networking, see our previous posts
Do I really have to network?
Top tips for enjoyable networking
LinkedIn – an essential tool for your return to work

Posted by Katerina

Making the most of the summer

With Wimbledon and the World Cup behind us, you’ll probably be thinking about the long summer ahead and how to fill all those weeks until school starts again. You’re unlikely to be thinking much about how you can get yourself back to work, at least until the summer is over. However, the summer can provide you with time to step away from your usual routine, to think and reflect and to implement some changes at home, all of which will lay strong foundations for your return to work. At the same time do take time to relax and recharge so that you are refreshed and full of energy when autumn comes around.

Here are some ideas of helpful and simple activities you can do during the summer:

  • Create a network chart

Even if you aren’t ready to start networking, it is never too early to start creating your network chart. Divide your chart into three distinct categories on which you list everyone you can think of from different phases of your life: people from your past (your school and university classmates as well as former employers, colleagues and employees); your present (fellow parents and people you meet through voluntary work, hobbies or neighbourhood); and future (networks and groups you have yet to join). This is the kind of activity you can do all summer long, adding names as you think of them. Even if you start the summer thinking that you don’t have a network, you’ll be surprised how your chart grows.

  • Get clearer about what will fulfill you and what you might do next

Whether you have too many choices or too few, a useful way to think about what to do next is to think back to a work role (or part of a role) that you found fulfilling and reflect on what made it so. Our recent post describes a process for uncovering more about what gives you fulfillment.  As these factors are related to your deep values, they will continue to be of great importance to you in the future. By working out what’s important to you, you’ll gain motivation to search for your next role. And you can identify clues about what you want to do next: there might be elements of a previous role that you can craft into a new one or an idea for a business or a desire to retrain in an area which interests you.

  • Practise your story 

If you are going away somewhere and meeting new people that you are unlikely to see again, this provides a low risk way to practice telling your story. You can test out an answer to the dreaded question of ‘what do you do?’, refine it and get used to saying it. Telling your story might even lead to a networking opening, as I discovered when telling my story to the father of a family with whom my family had shared a hot, dusty and uncomfortable beach buggy ride.  He turned out to be a partner in a big four accounting firm and after the holiday introduced me to his head of HR, a great addition to my network.

  • Prepare your family
The summer is a great time to make changes to the family routines and responsibilities away from the hectic schedule of the school year.  If you’re hoping to go back to work, you’ll need to prepare your family for the changes that will be required of them.  For younger children, this might be a new kind of after school care or route to school.  For older children, you might want them to start taking responsibility for organising their sports kit, making their own packed lunches or doing laundry.  You’ll know best what adjustments you will need your family to make, to support your return to work, and the more preparation they have the easier it will be.  Read our posts on combating guilt feelings if these get in the way of making the changes that will help you.
Have a good summer, rest and recharge.  We’ll also be taking time to relax and recharge and will be back in a month’s time.
Posted by Katerina