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

Is Returning to Work one of your 2019 Resolutions? 

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

1. Clarify what you want from work 

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

2. Fill the gaps in your work experience/skillset

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 If you’re worried about your IT skills being out of date, take a course before you get back to work.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

3. Craft your return-to-work story

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

4. Rebuild your work confidence

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

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

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

6. Select potential routes back to work

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

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

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

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

What’s your USC (Unique Strengths Combination)?

Over the years I’ve asked many women to tell me their top three strengths. This question typically generates a look of embarrassment, a long pause and then a struggle to get beyond one or two, often prefaced by “Well, I suppose I’m quite good at ..”.

Despite the growing body of research into the importance of knowing and using our strengths, most of us are far more able to give a long list of our weaknesses than to describe where we really excel. And I’ve noticed that the strengths women most readily talk about are those which differentiate them the least. By far the most common responses I hear are two of the most generic – “I work hard” and “I’m good with people”.

Why is this so difficult for us? Unarguably the British culture, together with that of many other nationalities, puts down people who ‘blow their own trumpets’. And from school reports to work performance reviews, we’re encouraged to recognise our ‘development needs’ rather than to identify and build on our strengths. We also tend to undervalue talents which come naturally and easily to us, assuming that “everyone can do this” because we don’t find it hard.

Why are strengths important?

Knowing your strengths is one of the fundamental foundations of managing your career. It will help you to decide what direction you want to take, to build your self-belief as you restart your career, to market yourself effectively in CVs, networking meetings and interviews and, just as importantly, to shape your jobs to best suit you … not to mention making you happier and more productive.

How can you identify your strengths?

  1. Think about what you’re particularly good at and what energises you. There may be things you do well that leave you drained. These may be your skills, but they’re definitely not your strengths.
  2. Choose your comparison point as the average person. Don’t compare yourself with the best in the business or you’ll decide you don’t excel at anything!
  3. Be specific rather than generic. Think about what differentiates you from the next person. Rather than the bland ‘good with people’ focus on your particular people skills (directing, coaching, influencing, collaborating, teaching, etc.) and with what types of people you work best.
  4. If you’re finding this hard, ask your friends/family what they think you’re good at & to give you some examples. Other people often notice your talents when you don’t and you get the benefit of some positive feedback.

What’s your USC?

Aim to build a long list of strengths, with examples of each (this is a great basis for confidence-building and for interview conversations). Then prioritise, returning to the question “What are your top three strengths?” but this time with a clear, specific and credible response.

Loving a good acronym, I’ve created my own variation on your USP. Think of these three strengths as your USC – Unique Strengths Combination. Recognise how this mix of strengths positively differentiates you from the next person, both during the job search process and when you’re back at work. And make sure “I work hard” isn’t one of them!

Further reading
See Setting your career compass to read more about the benefits of using your strengths and for more ideas on identifying them.

Posted by Julianne 

Answers to some common return-to-work questions

We are often asked lots of interesting questions and thought it would be useful to share our answers to a few of these which we find to be common concerns after a career break.

I’ve done nothing in my break apart from bring up my children. What do I say about my break on my CV?

We always advise returners to specify that they have taken a career break rather than leaving an unexplained gap. It can be stated simply, with dates (e.g. 2008-date Parental career break), and does not need further detail if you were totally focused on caring responsibilities. It is important to state in your profile statement and cover letter that following your career break you are now motivated and committed to returning to work. In addition, don’t dismiss unpaid or low-paid work that you have done during your break which employers could find useful and relevant (e.g. organising a large event, setting up a small home business, studying for a qualification). Finally, if you are getting ready to go back to work, now could be the right time to find some relevant work experience, or to update your knowledge by studying for a qualification, to demonstrate your renewed interest in the field you are returning to.

For further reading:
How to write your post break CV
The ‘CV gap’ barrier: evidence it exists & how to get over it

I’m an experienced doctor with no wish to return to practising medicine following my break. How do I work out what my transferable skills are and who would find me useful?

We suggest that you approach the question of what to do next in a different way: rather than try to work out where your experience and interests might fit, we recommend that you start with investigating what your personal strengths and interests are so that you can focus on finding work that you will find satisfying and fulfilling. There are a number of books listed on our website which can help you to do this self-analysis. Alternatively, some people find working with a career coach is helpful to support you with working out your new direction.

For further reading:
Setting your career compass: identifying your strengths
How to identify work you will find fulfilling

I’ve relocated from overseas and don’t know how to get started with building a new network.


A useful way to think about your network is that it consists of people from your past, your present and your future. Your past network includes your previous work colleagues, suppliers and customers and school and university class-mates. Even if they are based in your prior location, they might well have contacts in the UK which they can introduce to you. Your current network includes all the people you engage with in your community in your daily life while your future network consists of people you can connect with through new activities you intend to start or training you plan to do. If you have a professional qualification, make sure that you contact the equivalent professional body in the UK to find out about membership, conversion requirements (if any) and networking events. An essential tool for building your network will be LinkedIn so make sure that you create a basic profile and build your online network too.

For further reading:
Five ways to build your back-to-work networks
Top tips for enjoyable networking
LinkedIn – an essential tool for your return to work

If you have other questions you’d like to ask, please get in touch with us or join our private LinkedIn group and share ideas with other returners.

Posted by Katerina

Setting your career compass: identifying your strengths

When you’re planning to re-start your career after a break, one of the challenges is working out whether to go back to your old field or to try something different .. and if so, what? One of my clients told me she wanted to develop an internal compass to point her in the right direction towards a job she would enjoy and find fulfilling.

How do we go about developing our own internal career compass? Thanks to recent positive psychology research, we’re now much clearer on what makes us happy at work. Studies consistently find that one of the key aspects is using your strengths. A true strength is something that you are good at AND energised by – maybe developing new ideas, analysing, seeing the big picture or empathising with others [We can be good at things but find them draining; these aren’t strengths in this sense].

Why focus your career choices on your strengths?


People who use their strengths more*:

1. Are happier
2. Are more confident
3. Have higher levels of self-esteem
4. Have higher levels of energy and vitality
5. Experience less stress
6. Are more resilient
7. Are more likely to achieve their goals
8. Perform better at work
9. Are more engaged at work
10. Are more effective at developing themselves and growing as individuals

*Source: Centre for Applied Positive Psychology.

Convinced? So, it’s clearly a good start point to ask yourself which jobs would best play to your strengths. However first you need to work out what your strengths are …

Identifying your strengths


I’ve found that most people can give a long list of their weaknesses, but few can describe their strengths in detail, and even fewer can pinpoint what strengths differentiate them from the next person. Often we don’t value our natural strengths: if you naturally get on with most people, you may assume that it’s nothing special and not realise that building relationships is a core strength for you.

Ways to build up your personal strengths list


1. Use an online strengths assessment: Strengthsfinder 2.0 is a good choice & one of the easiest to interpret yourself
2. For another perspective, get strengths feedback from your friends & family: ask them what they think you’re good at and to give you specific examples so you don’t just think they’re ‘being nice’ (& resist the temptation to ask them for your weaknesses too!)
3. Keep a note over the next few weeks of times when you are engaged in an activity and feel highly energised. Think about whether you are using one or more of your strengths at these moments. It can be helpful to talk this through with a friend who can help you to ‘strengths-spot’.

Once you’ve better understood your strengths & thought about where you can best use them, you’re on the way to setting your career compass. We’ll talk more about other aspects to consider (such as values and interests) in future posts.

Further reading
For more tips and advice on career decision-making see: using your instincts, too few choices and too many choices.

Posted by Julianne