Rachel’s story: Returning to medicine after 12 years

“The post was well supported but returning was very scary. I was convinced I had a giant beacon on my head which said: “I am old and weird.” But it got better, and I started to really enjoy the feeling of confidence I got from returning and doing something as me, not as mum.”

I started medical school in 1987. I went to St Andrew’s University for the pre-clinical course and did a BMedSci (Hons), then successfully applied to Trinity College, Cambridge, for my clinical years, graduating in 1994. I did my house jobs in Addenbrookes and Huntingdon, then did a medical SHO post, before becoming an SHO in histopathology in Nottingham in 1995, progressing to lecturer/honorary registrar.

In 1998 I took a sabbatical to do a postgraduate diploma in law, as I was contemplating a career as a coroner. During this year, I became pregnant and had my first baby in 1999. Although I did finish the law degree, I then decided I wanted to stay at home and I had another child in 2002. Although I continued paying my GMC fee, and stayed registered, I really stopped thinking of myself as a doctor.

In 2011 my husband decided he wanted to set up his own company, which also meant he was at home on some days, which he never had been before. So, after 12 years at home, I felt the time was right for me to return to work. I had already contemplated being a classroom assistant after helping in school whilst not working (not for me) and re-training in nutrition (expensive course). Then one day, it occurred to me I was still a registered doctor…

So, I picked up the phone, and asked the Royal College of Pathologists if I could come back? The answer was yes – but they didn’t know how.

After many rounds of phone calls to various people in histopathology (all encouraging) it became clear that to retrain, I needed “foundation competences”, which I’d never even heard of. This required returning to a junior acute medical post. However, I couldn’t apply to the formal foundation programme as I had too much experience. So, as this issue appeared insoluble, I applied for a part-time locum post in histopathology, and, much to my surprise, got it.

I commuted to London, from Derbyshire, for a year. The post was well supported but returning was very scary. I was convinced I had a giant beacon on my head which said: “I am old and weird.” But it got better, and I started to really enjoy the feeling of confidence I got from returning and doing something as me, not as mum. But I still couldn’t apply to the histopathology training programme, although I explored every way to overcome the foundation competences issue.

Finally, seeing no other way, I applied for a locum post on a foundation programme rotation, as a 50% job share. I revised clinical knowledge hard and made sure I was up to date on acute scenarios by completing Intermediate and Advanced Life Support. I was well supported in my initial placement, but it was a very hard year. However, I did feel competence and confidence return, with, to be honest, improved empathy and kindness from the life experience I had gained on my years out.

I then successfully reapplied to the histopathology training programme. I stayed working part-time and am now a specialty registrar in paediatric and perinatal pathology.

The things I found most helpful when I was returning to work were:
– lots of revision, so that I felt I knew something
– updating my skills to make me safe
– my hairdresser, so I felt I didn’t look quite so mumsy
– being myself and confident about why I had taken time out

I would have liked, but didn’t get:
– a peer group for support
– a good IT induction and reskilling
– a more formal, structured revision course
– easier access to information

Dr Rachel Rummery, B Med.Sci(Hons), MB, ChB (Cantab), DipRCPath, PGDL.
Health Education England National Fellow, Supported Return to Training
Specialist Registrar, Paediatric and Perinatal Pathology

Rachel will be joining us at
our Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’ Conference in London on 13
May. She will be part of a panel of returners who will share their story
to
help and inspire others. Find out more about
our Conference and book your ticket now at the Early Bird price of £90.

Make your CV stand out: Use Action Verbs

If you’ve taken a long career break it could be many
years, and possibly even decades, since you last wrote a CV. Don’t just redo an old version, as CVs are now written in a very different way (see How to Write Your Post-Break CV).

One of the major changes is the shift from talking about your past responsibilities to highlighting your achievements. Gone are the days
when simply describing your previous roles was enough to secure an interview. Now you need to explain what you achieved in previous jobs which made you stand out.

We suggest you aim for 3-5 bullet points for each of your previous roles (and for your career break if you have done any work/volunteering/studying or developed skills in other ways such as relocation).

Beginning your bullet point with an action verb is a great way to start off.



What are action verbs?

These are some examples:

 

achieved     completed     conducted     implemented    improved     negotiated
produced     secured        created         established       launched     developed
organised    revitalised     evaluated      restructured     simplified    drove

Why are action verbs important in your CV?

  • Action verbs describe your past achievements in a compelling way that highlights your strengths and suitability for the role you’re applying for.
  • Action verbs keep bullet points short – particularly important if you have lots of past experience and are trying to keep your CV to the recommended maximum two sides of A4. For example, ‘Delivered XYZ project on time and within budget’, reads better than ‘I was responsible for delivering XYZ project on time and within budget.’
  • Action verbs have more impact. They are specific, strong and powerful. If a recruiter has lots of CVs to sift through, action verbs make your achievements stand out. They also help if employers use applicant tracking software programmed to look for specific words to describe the experience needed for a role.
  • Action verbs help you to be specific in describing what the results of your actions were and how you achieved them.
  • Action verbs can highlight your relevant skills/competencies (see below)

Which action verbs should you use? 

  • Scan the job advert and job description, similar job ads in the same industry, and the company’s website to see which verbs they use. Describing your past experiences using these words will give you the best chance of making your CV fit the bill.
  • Look at this action verb list which groups action words by skills group. Think about which skills you want to demonstrate – again, matching this back to the skills/competencies asked for on the job advert
  • Don’t use the same action verb more than twice. Use an online thesaurus or the action verb list to avoid repetition and keep the recruiter’s interest.

Do read our other blogs How to Write Your Post-Break CV and Return to Work CV Tips for other advice on writing your back-to-work CV.

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

Rachel’s story: Returning to work with Mastercard

“Women Returners was the only website I found which offered an opportunity to re-engage with respected corporates on a dedicated, supported programme.” Rachel, 10-year career break

Prior to my career break I worked for a global IT company. I had joined from University and stayed with the company through different market sectors from Local Government to Telecommunications across client facing Business Development and Account Management roles to then leading the market sector.

I had my family whilst still working for my first company and I was lucky enough to benefit from a great HR department and to be able to flex my time down to four days per week after each child, moving back up to full time shortly afterwards.

I wanted the best of both worlds – to be a hands on parent and to have a career, but this became increasingly challenging as my husband travelled and worked long hours. In the end something had to give and we agreed that something was my career.

I knew if I stayed at home I would need something to keep me engaged so I joined the school Parents Teachers Association and quickly became Chair. I found this sense of giving back to the community so rewarding that by the time I finished my term I was already looking for something else which would work around the children and a busy home life.

My husband had been a Non-Executive Director on the Board of an NHS Trust and knew this would be perfect for me, so he connected me and it grew quickly from there. I became a Governor for a Mental Health Trust, and then a Non-Executive Director for Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust (BHT). I still sit on the Board at BHT where I chair the Commercial Development Committee. I am also a Director of Buckinghamshire Healthcare Projects Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trust which I set up to drive commercial income for the Trust.

I then joined Citizens Advice as a Trustee and was then headhunted for other Non-Exec roles across other sectors. At this point, my husband suggested I go back to work full time.

Easier said than done.

I was at a loss to know how to re-engage. I had a few false starts – I knew returnship was a theme and found a few different websites, most wanting money and delivering very little value, before I was told about Women Returners. Women Returners was the only website I found which offered an opportunity to re-engage with respected corporates on a dedicated, supported programme. After 10 years it was very obvious that although I had built a portfolio Non-Exec career, I needed support to transition back into a full time role at a level comparable to my skills and experience.

Mastercard stood out for exactly this reason. The seniority of the role offered and the fit with my skills was unique. Most of the other roles on offer were looking for specific professional qualifications in either Project Management, Accountancy or Programming rather than General Management and Account Management experience.

The application process was a wholly supportive and positive experience. It wasn’t drawn out or onerous. After the initial online application I was contacted for a telephone interview with HR, then I had follow up interviews in person with my prospective Manager before I was contacted again by HR with the offer to join.

I was absolutely delighted.

Mastercard recruits for potential, weights emotional intelligence and is open minded enough to consider that not only could the skills I had developed in my career transport into Payments, but also that I had the opportunity to add value and innovation by bringing a different perspective.

I joined Mastercard in January 2018 and am delighted to say I am still here. I’m having the most amazing time. It feels like I’ve always been here – a part of the Mastercard family.

Would you like to Relaunch your Career at Mastercard? Find out more here

Sign up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities. You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.

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.

I’ve been on a career break for over 10 years – is it possible for me to return to work?

So, you’ve had a long career break and now want to return to meaningful work that builds on your skills and experience. It’s only human to feel daunted by this and we won’t pretend your route back to work will be a stroll in the park. But do believe in yourself – it is possible and there’s lots of help out there. You’re still the same capable person you were before your break – just a little out of practice.

First of all, check out the advice hub on our website – this will help you throughout your return to work journey. And for inspiration, and to show it’s possible, here are some real-life examples of women who have returned to work after a break of 10 or more years. Enjoy reading their stories – they have some great advice and tips!

 
M – Software Developer (14 year break)

M, who worked as an IT contractor, had a 14-year career break on and off. During her time away from the world of IT she did some teaching of basic IT skills and ran a business with mixed results. She decided to return to work as a software developer using recruitment companies. She is now a full-time PeopleSoft software developer.

Here are M’s top tips:

  • The best advice I have is to just go for it
  • Be determined if you have made up your mind that you definitely want to go back to work
  • Even after I received the standard rejection emails from the recruitment agents, I still phoned them to ‘check whether they had received my email’ and tried to show some personality, drive and ambition in a two minute phone call! It worked and the agent who sent me for the job interview had initially rejected my CV

Sarah-Jane – Portfolio Manager (15 year break)

Sarah Jane worked in asset management for 17 years before taking voluntary redundancy in 2002. During her 15 year career break she trained as a homeopath and worked for a small printing company. A change in family circumstances in 2017 prompted her to re-establish her career in asset management. She returned via the Fidelity New Horizons Programme.

Here are Sarah-Jane’s top tips:

  • First and foremost, believe it is possible!
  • Be organised, do your research, brush up on skills that will be needed once you are working
  • Contact old colleagues and ask for advice – they will be happy to give it
  • Receiving rejections is hard, but learn from each interview and treat each setback as a chance to consolidate and assess your next move
  • It may take time to find the right role in the right company but it will have been worth the effort when you do

Jill – In-house Lawyer (12 year break including career change)

Jill worked for 8 years as an in-house lawyer. After a 7 year career break following the birth of her third child she re-trained as a family mediator. Although she enjoyed her new career, she didn’t like working from home and realised how suited she was to being an in-house lawyer and how much she enjoyed it. She began with a returner course for solicitors and after plenty of setbacks and dead ends, six months later she was offered her first interim in-house role.

Here are Jill’s top tips:

  • Be determined in pursuing what you want and don’t be afraid of trying new areas, even if it is not exactly what you think you are looking for
  • No experience is wasted and you will learn a lot along the way
  • A very practical point: take the earliest interview date possible. In one case the company stopped interviewing after they saw me
  • Returners are often more positive, motivated and enthusiastic than other people, which is great for any business

Sara – Software Developer (13 year break)

Sara graduated with a BSc in Computing and pursued a career as a software developer. She became a full-time mum when her first child was born. Sara returned to work 13 years later via the Capgemini Returners Programme.

Sara says: “Software development has changed immeasurably, but the problem-solving mindset remains the same and it is this ability to problem solve that makes a software engineer. I’ve learnt that I can go back to work, and my family won’t fall apart. My children can survive.”

Sara’s advice is: “Go for it! You know more than you think you do and the maturity and diversity that you bring to a team is immeasurable in adding to its success.”

Nina – Mobile Technology Specialist (11 year break)

Nina worked for a variety of multi-national mobile technology firms before her 11 year career break during which she retrained as a secondary school maths teacher. She returned to the mobile phone industry via Vodafone’s six-month Return to Technology programme.

Here are Nina’s top tips for technology returnships:

  • When selling yourself, focus on your skills, not your knowledge
  • There are loads of technology jobs out there, someone is looking for your skills set. Don’t worry about having been out of the industry for some years, they are looking at what you can do for them
  • Don’t wait for the perfect job that matches your long-term ambition. Get your foot through the door and you can look around once inside
  • Get yourself a LinkedIn account and get back in touch with old colleagues. Someone is most likely looking for help on some project or other so you can get some recent experience under your belt

You can check out all our return-to-work success stories here.

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How to Write your Post-Break CV

When you’re launching yourself back into the job market after a long career break, updating your CV can feel daunting. However, this is your chance to convince a prospective employer that you would be a good investment for their company and so it’s worth taking the time and effort to get it right. Bear in mind that employers can receive hundreds of CVs for every advertised job, so you need to make sure that yours stands out (for all the right reasons!)

Some returners think that a skills-based CV would be a good idea to try to ‘hide’ the career break. However, we wouldn’t advise this approach as we find that recruiters usually find it irritating to have to piece together your work history. It’s also worth noting that if you’re applying to a returner programmes, your application may be passed over if you cover up your career break.

We recommend sticking with a clear structure, such as this:

  • Heading: personal & contact details
  • Profile
  • Key skills (optional)
  • Career history
  • Education / training
  • Languages (if fluent)
  • Interests (optional)

Heading

  • Don’t use the heading “Curriculum Vitae”, as the sifting software typically used in recruitment these days may think that this is your name!
  • Instead put your name as the central heading, with your contact details (email/phone) underneath.
  • Don’t include a photo or your date of birth, age, gender, marital status or details about your children as these have become inappropriate on CVs following discrimination legislation.

Profile

  • Open with a profile statement, describing in 2-3 sentences the highlights from your background and qualifications, adapting this to the job opportunity as much as possible.
  • State you are returning to work after a career break.
  • If you are shifting sector/role, you can also state that you are looking for opportunities in [target sector]. Otherwise you don’t need an objective.

Key Skills (optional)

  • For each job application, tailor your skills to fit the requirements set out in the job description. Try to use their key criteria words, as the first CV screen may be performed automatically by keyword sifting software. It also means that the recruiter does not have to work as hard to understand why you would be right for the role.
  • Avoid a laundry list of generic skills (strong team player, highly-motivated, etc.) as this won’t impress anyone! Use specific skills such as strategic planning & implementation, procurement, digital media marketing, etc.
 

Career History

  • In this section, list your experience in reverse date order
  • For each job, give 3-5 bullet points for specific achievements and contributions, not just your responsibilities. Quantify achievements if possible.
  • If you have a long career history, it’s fine just to list early career role titles.
  • Include your “Career Break” as a section with dates. You can include a reason for your break (e.g. parental career break; career break for caring responsibilities) but you don’t have to.
  • Include any work you have done during your career break, including running a business (no matter how small!) and freelance projects. Also include any skilled volunteering roles you held during that time (e.g. School Governor, Charity Treasurer). A LinkedIn study from 2011 found that 41% of hiring managers consider volunteer work to be equally as valuable as paid work, so don’t hide this experience in a voluntary work section at the end.
 

Education / training

  • In addition to your highest-level qualifications, include any relevant training you have completed during your career break, even where this was a short and/or online course.
  • If you don’t have recent work experience, but your break has included significant further education or professional qualifications, you may like to put this section before your career history.
  • There is no need to include your A-Levels, GCSEs (or O-levels) or school (unless specifically requested to do so)
 

Interests

  • Don’t list bland interests (e.g. reading, cinema, etc.). Only include those that are relevant, unusual or impressive (e.g. society memberships, triathlons, etc.), otherwise there’s no need to include an interests section at all.
 

Final words of advice

  • Appearance: Use font size 10-12 and write in the third person with no pronouns, for example: “Reduced the month-end accounting timetable by 3 days”.
  • Length: Keep your CV to 2 sides and aim for about 1,000 words. This means you need to include only the most important pieces of information, so prioritise and leave the rest out.
  • Format: Make sure the CV looks good on the page and that the formatting is perfect. When emailing your CV, it is best practice to send it as a pdf to avoid any ‘format jumps’ that can result from viewing an editable document (such as a Word document) on a different device.
  • References: It’s no longer necessary to give details of references or to say “references available on request”, so leave this out.
  • Grammar / spelling: Check that there are no spelling or grammatical mistakes and that you have been consistent in tense with all your verbs. When you are happy, ask a friend to look over it for you with a fresh pair of eyes for any errors you may have missed.

Once you’ve perfected your CV, it’s time to think about your cover letter. Read our how-to guide to get started!

For further advice and support in your return-to-work journey, you can sign up to our free network here

 
 
Note: Original post from 2014; updated in May 2018

Sara’s story: My Journey as a Woman Returner with Capgemini

“My advice to anyone thinking of returning is: go for it! You know more than you think you do and the maturity and diversity that you bring to a team is immeasurable in adding to its success.” Sara, 13-year career break

A lot can happen in a year. A year ago, my day revolved around school runs, play dates and generally organising three kids, a husband and a dog. Today I have another dimension in my life…work (in a paid form)! I work with talented people who plan, implement and architect technical solutions and I’m part of that team.

I had been a full-time stay at home Mum since my eldest was born, 13 years ago. Life was chaotic, busy but fulfilling and I certainly have never regretted staying at home. As the kids have grown older and my youngest started school, I began to have more time on my hands and began to think about returning to work. Given that all the stuff I do as a full-time Mum still needed to be done and a husband who has a hectic work schedule himself, my primary need was for a role where I could have flexibility to work around my family commitments. I knew I had value to give but not sure of where or how to apply it.

What to do? BK (Before Kids) I graduated with a BSc in Computing and pursued a career as a software developer (primarily Java for those that are techie minded). My career history was all very techie. Within tech, I’d not really seen any evidence of flexible working or heard of anyone returning after a career break. Technology changes and development had moved at such a rapid pace I knew I was totally out of date skill wise. This was reinforced when I searched the job sites. There were lots of jobs needing software developers (me BK) but all needing framework or methodologies x and y (this is where I fell short), technology had evolved into cookbooks and camels!

Then along comes the Capgemini women returners programme, focusing on recruiting women with tech backgrounds back into the workplace after a career break. I heard about the scheme via Women Returners; there was no harm in applying. First step was creating a CV. I think it’s a hard task at the best of times but when there is a large gap to fill and career milestones are ten plus years ago it felt a huge task in putting something together. My only reference to development since leaving work was in teaching coding to 10-11-year olds. I had become a STEM ambassador enabling me to set up code clubs in schools as a volunteer and help teach coding to children. In terms of relevant experience, that was as far as it went.

Capgemini – The Interview

It came as a bit of a shock when Capgemini asked me for an interview. Self-doubt had set in and my years out of the workplace had left me questioning my ability to do the job that I used to confidently do. From my first contact with HR, I got the loveliest response. Whether I ended up at Capgemini or not, I was impressed with them being able to recognize that taking time out to raise a family has a value and gives a whole new set of skills and experiences that are transferable to the workplace.

The interviews were tougher than I expected. It felt like something out of The Apprentice, hopping from one interviewer to another. Questions were asked from a standard corporate list; ‘A challenge that hasn’t worked out for you in your last role?’. With advice to not be afraid to use experience from my career break, I duly explained how my recently acquired bathroom tiling skills had gone array. Of course, many of the questions were about my last role and I really enjoyed these ones. I realised that I hadn’t forgotten everything I knew, and I had done some quite impressive things in my career.

I left the interview thinking that Capgemini was an amazing company with what they were doing. I’d gone in thinking that the whole process would be good experience and whether I was offered a position or not I’d be happy to have had the experience. I underestimated how much I enjoyed getting back out into work environment, being part of a team and problem solving talking about technology. As I awaited feedback I realised I’d be disappointed to not go any further. I must have done enough as I was then asked to come back a week later for a coding test, eekk!!

I was given a heads up on what I was going to do: sit with a fellow coder and solve a simple problem. However, I hadn’t written any code for 10 years plus, another ‘eekk’ moment! I spent days before the interview writing/testing and learning. As it was, the reviewer who sat with me during the test was lovely. I definitely didn’t blow her away with my coding skills, but I think I did enough to show the thought process was there if a little rusty.

Within a couple of days, I had heard from Capgemini that they would like to offer me something…yippee! There were a few bumps along the way from being accepted for the returner programme to finally being made an offer. The returner programme was a new initiative and as I was one of the first. It took a few months to get me up and running under the programme, but I finally started on October 2017.

First Day

Induction day or ‘Be Inspired’ as I now know it, is learning the Capgemini principles and… being inspired. There were 40 new joiners on my induction, all at various levels and different divisions. I was the only returner (although interestingly there were a couple of people returning to Capgemini, a good sign!). During introductions, I was careful not to let slip just how long my career break was (I was worried that it could be perceived negatively) and focused on asking questions of others. Fighting my initial instinct to ask about their children, I tried to focus on the technology.

Day 2

Met with my line manager who was very supportive and positive. The plan is to get Java 8 certified. Perfectly reasonable, however it feels like a huge mountain to climb given that Fizz Buzz (reference for coders) is the most code I’ve written in 10 years! On my route home I order Oracle Java Programmers guide…can’t be that hard can it?

One Week in…

Had my first coaching session as part of the returners programme run by Women Returners. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Prior to the coaching I had completed a skills/strength finder. Always been a sceptic of these but was surprised by how closely I thought some of the skills aligned. Reassuringly they did reinforce what I consider my strengths: analytical problem solving and a conflict resolver… I might be in the right job!

One thing I hadn’t given much thought on was my introduction to people. My coach recommended I give some consideration to how I introduce myself and importantly that I shouldn’t start with “I’m returning after a career break”. More “I have x years’ experience, took an extended career break and now I’m at Capgemini as …”. Also, for me to consider is my personal brand…and I’m working on that!

Work Environment

OK, so the technical stuff I expect to be hard with the challenges of catching up. Ironically what is feeling just as challenging is the office place itself. Slack/Confluence/Skype/Pinging, technology in the workplace had been much more widely embraced. If I need to know anything: communicate on Slack and check Confluence!

Hot-desking. My last role I had a desk with a phone and a PC. I sat at the same desk every day. Not so today, I have had to learn the hot-desking system! With the drive to work from home it can feel quite isolating with so many co-workers remote working or on client site. It can feel hard to integrate into a team.

Acronyms: everything is an acronym. After some searching, I now understand that I am part of the OSCE team within AD&I under CBS and hope will be placed in the AIE (I’ll let you try and guess what all that is)!

Three weeks on…

I’m ploughing my way through learning Java again with the aim of getting OCA Java 8 certification in the next couple of months. It’s a tricky little exam, designed to make you fail. I’m based mainly from home as most of my day is studying.

Woman In Tech Conference

I was lucky enough to be put forward for the woman in tech conference #WeAreTechWomen. I wasn’t really sure quite what to expect with this. There are not enough woman in technology so I’m interested in how we can encourage young girls and women and show them that there is a rewarding career in tech to be had. Lots of inspirational guest speakers shared their stories. A common thread seemed to be that they have all at some stage felt they have had to work harder or shout louder to be seen/heard. In a Q&A session a lady in the audience explained how she was unable to get back into tech after having a career break, she was struggling to find companies that were interested in her. It made me feel proud to be part of Capgemini that they were supporting woman returning after a career break.

First three months

I’m often asked by those around me ‘How’s work going?’. I really don’t feel as though I have started working properly. Much of my time I have been working at home studying for my OCA exam, which I finally passed after an intensive couple of months.

Six Months On

In the six months since I’ve started, I’ve spent time in the AIE (Applied Innovation Exchange) working on proof of concepts, been on numerous training courses and am now shadowing an integration architect on a client project. Every day I’m learning new technologies and ways of working. I’m growing in confidence and my technical knowledge has grown immeasurably. Tackling my knowledge gap will be ongoing; it’s hard to catch-up and keep up with everything. I hope that I am showing more of what I can do, rather than what I can’t. As for the future, I hope to continue my journey at Capgemini.

In Summary

What I’ve learnt.

Most importantly for me, I’ve learnt that I can go back to work, and my family won’t fall apart. My children can survive. The much talked about work-life balance can exist (though it takes a bit of effort). Flexibility is there in the workplace, I work a four-day week. I can still make the important dates – school performances, teacher meetings – and I can get home early enough to be there. Yes, the house is a little messier than it used to be and that’s OK.

From a job perspective, I’ve learnt that I can still do tech. It has been a big challenge to go back to learning. Software development has changed immeasurably, but the problem-solving mindset remains the same and it is this ability to problem solve that makes a software engineer.

I’m excited by technology and feel very fortunate that Capgemini have envisioned a place for women returners. The outlook is really promising. With continued emphasis on diversity and inclusion, and with returnships evolving and adapting, the future for woman returning to work looks really promising.

My advice to anyone thinking of returning is: go for it! You know more than you think you do and the maturity and diversity that you bring to a team is immeasurable in adding to its success.

If you would like support with your own return-to-work journey, you can sign up to our free network here.

Sarah-Jane’s story: Returning to financial services after a 15-year break

My advice for anyone trying to get back to work is, first and foremost, believe it is possible!” Sarah-Jane, 15-year career break

Before my career break, I was a portfolio manager, a Director of Fixed Income at Merrill Lynch Investment Managers, for 17 years. In addition to managing global fixed income portfolios, I was responsible for front office IT development (electronic reporting, trade order management and compliance monitoring) and new product development, which included launching a High Yield CBO. I took a voluntary redundancy package in 2002. During my career break, I focussed on my family as well as training as a homoeopath, establishing a small practice. I also worked for a small printing firm, concentrating on contract management and corporate governance. So I was definitely not putting my feet up!

Changing family circumstances in 2017 provided the impetus for me to re-establish my career in asset management. This was a tough thing to do, so I contacted my old boss to ask for advice and guidance and he suggested investigating women returner programmes. Finding the Women Returners website was the turning point. It provided me with information about current programmes as well as being a valuable resource and support. I didn’t have a clear idea about the role I was looking for, because I didn’t know how to value my previous experience in the context of such a long absence from the workplace. Fortunately, potential employers did. The real revelation came when I was interviewed for a role as a Fixed Income Portfolio Manager on the Fidelity New Horizons returnship programme – my previous work experience was still very relevant!

When I approached Fidelity International, I was initially interviewed for a role in Fixed Income before being asked to interview with Multi Asset. Multi Asset offered me an extraordinary opportunity: to become a Portfolio Manager in a dynamic, growing part of the business and learn new skills in an exciting area of asset management. They offered me a position that would stretch and challenge me – an opportunity that would have been exciting 15 years ago – and one that I grasped with both hands. There was a real job opportunity behind the 20-week contract and a chance to carve out a new career. I’m pleased to say that I now have a permanent role with Fidelity.

It is difficult to exaggerate the magnitude of returning to the workplace after such an extended period away. There were moments when it was completely overwhelming. However, the Multi Asset team was very welcoming. Whilst I was very much in at the deep end from the start, there was plenty of help and people willing to answer my questions. I only had to ask and support was there. This remains – I still ask questions and I still receive fulsome answers.

Fidelity has given me the time I needed to find my feet. As well as receiving help from my colleagues within Multi Asset, there has been good support more generally. I needed to sit the IMC exams and was given the resources and time necessary to do this. Other returners have helped by sharing their experiences, but probably the greatest support was the individual coaching received from Women Returners. This was superb. Anna, my coach, ensured that I managed my work/life balance and reassured me that the gamut of emotions I was experiencing was normal and to be expected. She had the enviable ability of being able to listen to my thoughts, order them and come up with a strategy. Whatever topic I chose to cover, I received measured advice and would leave each session with a list of steps to follow. Anna ensured that I could concentrate on my strengths and what I brought to the role. It is all too easy to focus on what you perceive as your weaknesses.

I am so glad that I made the giant leap back into the workplace. It has been challenging but stimulating and enjoyable. There is a renewed spring in my step and I am determined to make the most of every opportunity presented to me. My advice for anyone trying to get back to work is, first and foremost, believe it is possible! Be organised, do your research, brush up on skills that will be needed once you are working. Contact old colleagues and ask for advice – they will be happy to give it. Receiving rejections is hard, but learn from each interview and treat each setback as a chance to consolidate and assess your next move. It may take time to find the right role in the right company but it will have been worth the effort when you do.

If you would like support with your own return-to-work journey, you can sign up to our free network here.

Note: Fidelity’s latest returnship is now open for applications: Fidelity New Horizons Global Platform & Advisory

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