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 Write a “Back to Work” Cover Letter

We find that returners often struggle with cover letters, which can raise a lot of questions:

  • How do I introduce myself when I’ve been out of the workforce for so long?
  • Do I mention my time away from my career and how do I explain it?
  • Is my previous work experience relevant when it was so long ago?
  • How do I avoid just repeating my CV?

We’ll give you our top tips and help to answer these specific questions below.

General Principles

  • It’s essential to create a new cover letter for every application. Employers sometimes receive hundreds of applications for each job role, and will be quick to disregard generic applications. It’s your job to make it as easy as possible for the hiring manager to understand how you would fit into their organisation.
  • Length: No longer than a single A4 page. Your cover letter shouldn’t rehash your CV, but is the opportunity for you to pick out the most salient points for the role and put them across to the hiring manager in the most succinct way possible.
  • Address your cover letter to the hiring manager if you can find his/her name.
  • Your email address: As you’re likely to be emailing your cover letter, make sure that you have a professional email address that ties in with your CV. Don’t use your husband’s or family’s email address, or an email based on your married name if you’re applying using your maiden name. We would recommend creating your own personal email address for job applications, based clearly on the name in which you are applying.
  • Check for grammar and spelling mistakes – it’s easy to miss these, so try to get someone else to proof your letter too.

Suggested Structure

Start with a clear introduction

  • Start with your background and your target role, not your career break (e.g. “I am a marketing professional with 10 years of international experience and am writing to apply for the position of Senior Marketing Manager advertised on your website”).
  • Then mention your career break. Keep mention of your career break short, simple and factual (e.g. “Following a 5-year parental career break…” is sufficient) and emphasise that you are now motivated and enthusiastic to return to work in the relevant field.
  • Briefly mention anything you’ve done during your career break that is relevant to the role (such as further study, refresher courses, volunteer or paid activities and projects), stating how it has kept your knowledge/skills up-to-date and/or allowed you to develop new skills.

Explain your suitability for the role

  • Show how you fit the top 4-6 requirements of the role (in the job advert), using evidence from your previous work experience and relevant activities from your break. Resist the temptation to list other skills that are not specifically mentioned in the job ad.
  • Avoid stuffing your cover letter with meaningless buzzwords, such as ‘team player’ or ‘good eye for detail’ and instead, give concrete examples of your accomplishments that match the role requirements.
  • Remember that, however long ago it was, you did lead a department, manage projects, produce reports, negotiate contracts or whatever your former role required. You still have these skills, even if you haven’t used them for a while.
  • Your former experience includes both what you did and how you got it done, i.e. both your technical abilities and your soft skills. Even if your technical knowledge feels a bit rusty, you have the same capacity to learn as you always did and you will get back up-to-speed. Your soft skills don’t go away, and many will have grown during your break. For example, although we don’t recommend using parenting as a direct example in your cover letter, if your break was to bring up your children, you will have enhanced skills such as time management, empathy and negotiation!
  • You might be having trouble remembering some of the details of your earlier career. If so, dig out your old performance reviews and any other reports you might have kept. Re-reading these can also remind you of what others valued about your contribution in the past: these will be the qualities that you offer a new employer too. You could also contact old colleagues, who will have a more objective view of your achievements and could provide you with a much-needed reminder of what you did.
  • If you are applying for a role where you are overqualified, address this in your cover letter. Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager, consider the possible concerns from the company’s side, e.g. that you may be too expensive, that you might get bored, etc. and explain why you are applying for a less senior role than you previously held.
  • For returnship programme applications:
    • Make sure you mention that you have been on a career break, including the length of your break at the time the programme starts. This is a key criterion for candidates and you risk being excluded from these opportunities if you try to cover up your break!
    • There may not be specific role requirements, beyond ‘significant experience in one or more relevant areas’. If this is the case, use this space to list out 3-6 bullet points explaining the experience you have in the relevant area(s).

Finish with your motivation

  • Explain why you are interested in the role and why you would like to work for the organisation. Make this specific to show your interest and understanding. Base your comments on your research into the company and the job/department, using social media such as the company LinkedIn page, Twitter account and Facebook page alongside the website.
  • For returnships and/or flexible/remote working roles, it’s very important to show that you’re motivated by the organisation (and the specific job role if relevant), and not just the opportunity to get back into the workforce and/or work flexibly/remotely. Show how you can benefit the company, not the other way around!

Good luck!

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

Note: This is one of our most popular posts from 2015; updated in April 2018.

Returnships: what are they & where can you find them?

On International Women’s Day this week, Theresa May announced that £5m would be provided for the development of returnships in the UK:

It is fantastic to get support for career break returners on the Government agenda. I hope that this can build on the work we have done since 2014 to develop the UK returnship market based on the strong business case. The fund should provide a means of accelerating growth to new sectors and regions, enabling progress towards our objective of making returner programmes a widespread part of regular annual recruitment.

Although we’ve been highlighting the benefits to business and individuals of returnships in the UK for over 3 years, I’m aware that many people on career break hearing the budget announcement may be wondering what a returnship is and where they can find one. So here’s an update of a blog we first wrote back in Nov 2013*.
What is a returnship?
A returnship is a higher-level internship designed specifically for professionals returning after an extended career break (usually defined as over 2 years, to target the group who find it hardest to resume their professional careers). The UK programmes are open to men as well as women, whatever the reason for the break, however it’s no surprise that the vast majority of people with big CV gaps are returning mothers/carers.
A typical programme consists of a short-term fixed term contract for 3-6 months. You do professional-level, CV-worthy work, leveraging your skills and experience. Best practice programmes offer support through coaching, training, mentoring and networking. You’ll be paid at a professional level (this isn’t a minimum wage or unpaid internship), but usually not at full-market rate until after the programme to allow for the up-skilling period and the cost of the support. There is a strong possibility, but not a guarantee, of an ongoing role at the end of the programme. Many programmes offer flexibility, sometimes including part-time work. Cohorts are small, often in the range of 5-15 participants, to ensure that suitable roles are available at the end of the programme.
For the returner, it offers a supported pathway back to a mid to senior level role, rebuilding your professional confidence, refreshing your skills and gaining recent experience. You also get to test out whether the role/organisation is right for you, as well as whether it’s the right time for you to return to work. You stand an excellent chance of getting a permanent role and, in any event, it’s a great springboard to another role elsewhere. From the employer’s side, the organisation can tap into a new talent pool of high-calibre professionals to fill their skills gaps and increase their diversity at managerial levels. The hiring manager also reduces the perceived risk of hiring someone without recent experience directly into a key role in their team.

Are they worth doing?
Great idea – does it work in practice? We’ve now supported many employers and cohorts of returners on returnship programmes and we can answer a firm ‘yes, it works for both the returner and the organisation’ – just read our returner programme case studies. It’s not a box-ticking exercise for companies. We’re not claiming it’s been plain sailing for all participants, or for the programme managers come to that, however if you approach a returnship with the right mindset it’s one of the best ways we’ve found to take the fast track back to a professional role. The majority of participants, typically 60-85%, are  offered ongoing positions and for those where the right role isn’t available most have taken up great opportunities elsewhere (see Anna’s story for an example).

There are downsides. You have to live with uncertainty during the programme about whether you’ll get a permanent role at the end (if you feel ready and able to get straight into a permanent role, a returnship probably isn’t for you). These are pilot programmes for most organisations, so you need to have a pioneer mindset and to play an active role in making the programme work for yourself and the business.

Where can I find one? 
We keep a list of UK & other European returnship programmes on our website: see here. There were 23 programmes in the UK last year and some programmes are now on to their 2nd or 3rd year. Numbers are still small, but rising quickly, and the budget funding should provide a major boost. Although there is a focus on the South East and on financial services and construction, the market is evolving rapidly and we’re co-developing programmes in a range of sectors and locations. As the concept becomes more well-known, keep your ears open locally as you may well find companies offering returnships we don’t hear about (do keep us posted as we aim to collect on-going statistics on the returnship market).
What if there aren’t any in my area/sector/country?
Don’t sit back and wait for the market to develop and your perfect returnship to appear! If the concept appeals, try setting up your own informal paid ‘returnship’ in a company where you have contacts – you may prefer to talk of it as a project or temporary/trial position. Be a pioneer yourself! We’ll talk more about pitching your own returnship in a future post.

*read the original version of this blog here if you want to see how far we’ve come

Posted by Julianne

How the O2 Career Returners Programme Helped Me

This week we are featuring an inspiring video that highlights 2 returners from the 2016 O2 Career Returners Programme, on which we partnered with O2. The video was recorded ahead of National Inclusion week, which raises awareness of the importance of inclusion in the workplace and the business benefits to having an inclusive workforce.

Paula McAleavey is a mother of two and Project Manager within the Network Futures team at O2 and Jacqueline Scott is a mother of two and Business Manager at O2.

Anticipating the empty nest

Last month my youngest child turned 18 and I suddenly found myself in the position of being a parent of two adults. While this has been a long-anticipated state, my focus has been on my daughter’s multiple celebrations not what her new adult status meant for me. Now, as she prepares to follow her brother to university next year, I am finally contemplating my empty nest.

In reality, I’ve been preparing myself for this stage since my children were born. Indeed, it was the fear of facing the prospect of an empty nest which ultimately propelled me into action with returning to my career, along with my desire to make a difference to society in some tangible way. When I retrained as an executive coach eleven years ago, I didn’t have a clear idea of where I would be going with my new qualification or how I would rebuild my career. But I was clear that I wanted to be engaged in work where I could lay foundations for a time when I would be freer to focus more on my own work than my family responsibilities.

My return to work was small scale at first. I was content to work with just a few clients and to continue to put the majority of my energy and focus into my family. As I gained experience (and with it confidence in my abilities) and my children grew up, I actively sought more clients and even accepted the occasional overseas assignment. Self-employment allowed me to forge a new career while retaining the parental role I wished to have. At the same time, it hasn’t always been easy and I had plenty of self-doubts along the way. The next major step I took in building up my work role was co-founding Women Returners, which has unintentionally provided another buffer to the empty nest effect. Our business and network are rapidly expanding, with the time and energy commitment that entails, as my involvement with my children’s lives is decreasing.

If you’re also motivated to return to work by the looming prospect of the empty nest, the good news is that there are many more routes back to work than existed even 10 years ago, with the arrival of returnships and our innovative supported hiring approach. Companies and government are also acknowledging that returners are a neglected population who have skills, training and experience which are valuable. If you are seeking ideas and inspiration for how to return to work before your children fly the nest, take a look at the success stories on our website and the blog posts in our advice section.

Posted by Katerina

Thames Tideway Tunnel returnship success

Great news! All seven ‘returners’ have been offered positions following completion of the first engineering/construction sector returnship, the Tideway Returner Programme, on which we partnered with Thames Tideway Tunnel.

The programme ran for 12 weeks from April-July and was the first UK returnship to run outside the financial sector. Participants were from diverse professional backgrounds and had taken career breaks of between 2 and 17 years. All have now been offered ongoing roles, in a variety of areas, from legal to finance to communications to engineering project management.

 
Participant feedback
Rachel Tomkins, who has taken up the role of Operations Manager after completing the returnship, said: “The past 12 weeks have provided me with an invaluable opportunity to prove myself in the workplace after a considerable career break. With Thames Tideway Tunnel and Women Returners, we’ve been offered great mentoring support and advice to successfully make the transition back to full time work. I am absolutely thrilled to have been offered a permanent role on such an exciting project and I hope many more women and companies can benefit from this scheme.”

Business Sponsor feedback
Julie Thornton, Head of HR at Thames Tideway Tunnel, said: “We have been delighted with our first cohort of returners; each has been a huge asset to our team over the past 12 weeks, demonstrated by the fact they have all landed positions on the project. I hope this encourages other engineering and construction companies to follow suit, and to realise they could be missing out on a hugely valuable pool of talent.”

Evidence of success
The programme success adds to the growing body of evidence that experienced professionals can quickly and effectively contribute to the workforce even after a very long career break. This is not news to us, but is vital information to challenge the stereotypes that still blind so many employers and recruiters to the talent they are missing by bypassing candidates with a CV gap.


Posted by Julianne

Credit Suisse Real Returns: Q&A with a Returner

As the
application deadline for the 2015 Credit Suisse London Real Returns programme
approaches next Friday, Julianne interviewed Julia Dawson, a 2014 Real Returns
participant to find out more about her experiences and to get her advice on
applying for and making the most of a returnship. 
What
prompted you to apply for Real Returns?
I had
read about returnships in the United States and so knew about the concept. I
had been on a career break to raise a family for over three years and was
interested in going back into banking but not into equity sales where I had
spent the previous 11 years. The Real Returns programme at Credit Suisse seemed
to open up new opportunities, allowing me to apply my skills and experience to a
different area.
What were
the benefits to you of the Real Returns programme?
The
programme offered an open door back to banking with no downside and great
potential upside. The 10-week framework structured around the school terms
allowed me to trial a return to the workplace without too much disruption to my family
routines. It was an easier transition than going straight back into a
permanent role and gave me the opportunity to really show what I could
do.
Real
Returns gave me a lot of confidence – it was fantastic to see so many capable
women finding their feet. The peer group was a really positive aspect, as we were all in it together. There was more
involvement from very senior management than you might think – you get amazing
access as everyone was interested in finding out more about the inaugural Real
Returns cohort.
What type
of work did you do?
I led a
research project on diversity, The Credit Suisse Gender 3000, a subject that
remains very relevant and incredibly interesting. [Julia’s research report was
published in September 2014 and can be viewed here]. All the
participants were involved with business critical projects and made a
significant contribution.
What
support did you receive?
We had
support from the programme managers throughout the 10 weeks. In addition, each returner
was assigned a mentor – a great point-person for introductions, particularly
for people looking more broadly within the bank for opportunities. We also received
training and career coaching, which I was initially sceptical about but found
extremely rewarding and eye-opening on a personal and professional level.
What
happened at the end of the programme?
I was
offered a full-time job in equity research within the Thematics team. I was appointed as a Managing Director, the same level as I was prior to my career
break, so I have not had to take a step down in my career progression
at all.
What
advice would you give to potential applicants to Real Returns or other
returnships?
Be honest
about who you are in your application and get your application in as soon as possible – you have nothing to lose
and a lot to gain. It is a wonderful way to get back to work and maybe to try
something new in a related field.
What
advice would you give to future returnship participants?
Several
things made this a valuable experience for me. I would advise other
participants to network as much as possible – take the opportunities given to
you. Keep an open mind about the areas that might interest you – coming back to
work brings a great freshness and invigoration and many departments want to
take advantage of this. Make the most of the coaching sessions as they can
be very revealing and rewarding. And finally, really showcase your contribution
on the program – you are part of a
valuable talent pool so show what you can still do and have to offer.
Any final
comments?
I was
surprised how little pressure I felt once I got through the door. It was
thoroughly enjoyable and invigorating. I am extremely happy to be back at work.
 
If you are inspired by Julia’s experience to apply for the 2015 Real Returns programme, you can find more information and application details here. You’ll need to be quick as the application deadline is Friday 16th January.
Posted by Julianne

Vodafone “Return to Technology” programme – participant story

For our final post of 2014, we decided to share Nina’s return to work success story.  Nina has returned to a role in technology following an 11 year career break.  We hope that her experience and tips will inspire you to believe that your own return might be possible in the new year.  We are really proud of having helped at least 15 returners back to work in 2014 (these are the ones we know about personally).  We hope that there will be many more of you in 2015.

I returned to the mobile phone industry after an 11 year career break due to family commitments. Before that I had been working for a variety of multi-national mobile technology firms.  I had an earlier 4 year career break during which I took an MBA (and had two children) but during this last break I had re-trained as a maths teacher in senior school which I ended up hating and that really knocked my confidence. Also, with the break being 11 years long I had not kept in touch with colleagues.
I heard about Vodafone’s six-month “Return to Technology” programme in one of the Women Returners newsletters. I threw everything and the kitchen sink at getting the job, asking my husband to review my application and my friends and fora for interview advice. I applied online, was interviewed over the phone by HR within a couple of days and face to face by engineers within a week. I went from no-hope to employed in a month!
Am I enjoying it? YES It’s fantastic. I really enjoy being back in work, I enjoy the team and I feel energised and happy. The only problem is the difficult commute from Surrey to West Berkshire which I have solved that by adjusting my working hours. Vodafone has been open to my need for flexibility. I have had to employ an au pair as I still have a 13 year old boy who needs to get around. I employed a mature unemployed Spanish Biology teacher who is here to learn English to improve her job prospects, thereby offering my very own returnship.
Much of the learning is on the job although I have been using Vodafone’s fantastic on-line Technology Academy to get myself back up to speed. We are getting career advice and we will be shown how to apply for internal jobs later in the programme.
My best advice for technology returnships:
– In 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 an LinkedIn account and get back in touch with old colleagues. Technology is booming and someone is most likely looking for help on some project or other so you can get some recent experience under your belt.
Posted by Katerina

Morgan Stanley launches UK ‘returnship’ programme

We are delighted to report a new UK ‘returnship’ programme.

Morgan Stanley has just launched the Return to Work Programme London, a paid 12–week internship for professionals who have taken a career break and are looking to re-enter the workforce on a permanent basis.

Note: application deadline is Sunday 15th June 2014

Location 
The programme is based principally at the Firm’s London offices

Dates
24 September – 17 December 2014

Opportunities
Participants will be placed based on their skills and interests. A limited number of opportunities exist across the Firm in Commodities, Fixed Income, Finance, Global Capital Markets, Human Resources, Institutional Equities, Internal Audit, Investment Banking, Investment Management, Legal and Compliance, Operations, Research and Technology. On completion of the Programme, participants may receive an offer of permanent employment.


Qualifications, Skills and Requirements

  • Around five years or more experience in the financial services industry or other relevant areas
  • Interested in returning to the workforce on a permanent basis
  • Excellent leadership, interpersonal and communication skills
  • Problem solvers with strong analytical skills
Application Process and Deadlines
For further information and to apply see
www.morganstanley.com/returntowork
The deadline is Sunday 15 June, 2014.
Questions
Posted by Julianne

Morgan Stanley London launches Return to Work workshop

Returnship programmes are taking off in the UK! Companies are recognising that returning
professionals are a strong talent pool and may need support to get back into
corporate roles.

Morgan Stanley have just announced a Return to Work workshop on 20th May, [note 5/5/14: applications closed] prior to launching their own ‘returnship’ programme in September.

Morgan Stanley’s workshop is targeted at professionals who:

  • have been out of the workforce for over 2 years, particularly those who have been caring for their family
  • have prior experience in financial services or a related professional field

The workshop will run from 10am-4pm at the Morgan Stanley office in London E14 and will include sessions on CV writing, preparing for interviews and networking. The workshop is focused on building up confidence and skills in preparation for applications and recruitment processes.

To apply send your CV and a covering letter explaining why you would like to participate in the workshop to:
Returntowork_london@morganstanley.com
The deadline is Monday 5th May. Places are limited and successful applicants will be notified by Monday 12th May.

Posted by Julianne