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.

And why not sign up to our free network for advice, support and job opportunities.

10 Tips to Get Back to Work after a Career Break

If you had spoken to me this time last

year, I never would have believed I would be in the position I am in now.
Charlotte

Whether you’ve been out of the workplace for one year or many years, the thought of restarting your career can be daunting.
The following 10 tips are directly inspired by our library of success stories of people
like you who have taken time out from work only to return stronger than ever.
Read on and you never know where you might be this time next year.

1. Prepare to step out of your comfort zone
No-one can deny that rejoining the workplace
after an extended leave is a scary prospect, but it’s also an exciting one. Push
yourself out of your comfort zone and you never know what might happen. What
have you got to lose? Read Natalie’s story

2. Shape
the narrative of your career break

There are as many career break stories as there
are returners, and you are the only person who can tell yours. Think about all
of the skills you have built up in your time off work, and how they could
benefit an employer. You don’t need to make excuses for your career break or
try to hide it; it could actually end up being your biggest asset! Read Fiona’s story
3.
Work out what YOU need

Take time to have a serious think about what you
want from a job, and consider how much flexibility and support you would need. It’s
important to have those conversations with potential employers upfront to avoid
conflict and frustration further down the line. Don’t forget that you’re
assessing companies for their suitability just as much as they’re assessing
you. Read Clare’s story
4. Develop
a new specialism

It’s never too late to learn something new.
Whether you want to update your existing knowledge or head off in a different
direction, there are more study options now than ever, including short courses,
distance learning and on-the-job training. It’s worth taking the time to do
your research, such as looking at job adverts to find out which qualifications
potential employers are looking for. Read Carolyne’s story
5. Reach
out to your network

If you feel like you’ve got a gap in your
knowledge, then another option is to find someone to bring you up to speed.
You’re bound to have a contact in your industry who could help, either from a
previous job or your studies. Don’t be afraid to reach out, e.g. on LinkedIn,
and tell people what you need without worrying about what you can offer in
return. These same networks can also point you in the direction of
opportunities and could even open a door for you somewhere along the line. Read Carolien’s story

6. Apply your skills in a new field
Taking time out from work can provide you with the
distance you need to come back with a fresh pair of eyes and reassess your
career plan. This could be the perfect opportunity for you to move across to a
new area. Take some time to look around, talk to people, and see what’s
available. Read Maria’s story

7. Find your tribe

A good support network can make all the difference in ensuring a
smooth transition back into the workplace. You can set up your own group with
people you already know, face-to-face or on WhatsApp, or join our Women Returners group (for network members) on LinkedInRead Clare’s story

8. Consider coaching
If you’re unsure about how to explain your
career gap, worried about the practicalities of juggling family commitments with
a new job, or suffering from a lack of confidence or direction, you could
benefit from some career coaching. (find out about Women Returners coaching here). Read Kate’s story


9.
Look for volunteering roles in your sector

If you’ve been out of the workplace for a long
period, a volunteering role in your sector will bolster your CV with recent and
relevant experience, bring you up to speed with new developments and provide
you with references and new contacts in your industry. Some roles provide
training too. Read Antje’s story
10. And finally, don’t give up! 
It’s all too easy to lose confidence and feel
demoralised when looking for a job using traditional recruitment routes if you
have a non-traditional career path, but with more and more companies in the UK coming
around to the benefits of offering returner programmes and/or flexible working, there
are new opportunities available all the time. And one of them may well have
your name on it! Read Anna’s story

If you have decided to make the move back into
the workplace this year, or you’re simply considering your options at the
moment, make sure you’ve signed up to our network (sign up here) to get return-to-work advice, support, information and opportunities.

 
Posted by Elaine

Three Top Tips from Successful Returners

Over the
past few years, we’ve been delighted to hear so many inspiring stories from women who have successfully returned to work.
Here are three of their top tips.
Keep up your professional skills & knowledge
We all know that a
career break is not a break from life and is typically taken for either reasons
of caring, illness or re-training – none of which leave a lot of spare time.
However, many returners felt that their efforts to keep up their skills and
knowledge paid off when it came to returning to work. Fiona returned to
occupational psychology after a 6 year break and advocates maintaining your
professional knowledge, “I also always kept up with my profession in that I
receive journals and took an interest in developments in my field
.” Adrianna,
who returned to Investment Banking after a 9 year break agrees, “Read as much as you can – from every available source
– on topics related or potentially related to your business and the market as a
whole
”.
Rachel took a 9
year career break and during that time recognised some study areas she could
pursue to help keep her skills recent and relevant, “As I didn’t have any recent professional qualifications I starting working
my way through a project management course
.”
Many
returners also found they honed skills while undertaking ‘strategic volunteering’ – unpaid work that
develops your skills and knowledge. Carmen, who took a 7 year break before
returning as a Macro-Economist believes this approach helped her, “I became a
governor at a local primary school, which I feel helped me to hone my
negotiation skills and deal with difficult situations
.”
Networking is vital – you never
know where a lead will come from
When
you’ve been on a career break the typical routes of finding work through online
job boards and recruitment agencies often prove more disheartening than
helpful. We hear so many stories of role opportunities that come up instead from
networking conversations and contacts. Julia, who is now a Finance Director
after taking a 2.5 year break would concur, “A more effective strategy was
telling all my friends and mums at school gates what I was looking for – most
opportunities I received came from these contacts
.” Rachel, who returned to a
role in Investment Management after an 8 year career break set about talking to
everyone she could think of about what she was looking for. “Although there
were times when I wondered if the endless meetings I was going to were a waste
of time, I persevered and was ultimately successful in landing my ideal
role.  I had also applied for numerous jobs online and via
headhunters but got nowhere – networking really was the only useful route – the
effort will pay off
”.
Directly approach the firms that
you are interested in
In addition
to networking, many successful returners made the decision to bypass
recruitment agencies and directly approach firms that they’d like to work for.
Amy, who returned to Law after a 2 year break, took this direct approach, “I phoned a few recruitment
agents about part-time legal work. They uniformly told me that the law firms
would not be interested and refused to put forward my CV for any roles. I
short-circuited the agencies by applying direct to a firm. Bypass the agencies
and speak straight to the firms you are interested in.
Grazyna
returned to work as an architect and advises that “a direct approach is
generally welcome as firms often have flexible needs for skilled staff who are
hard to find by the standard recruitment routes
.” Fiona found
the same was true, especially of smaller firms. “I picked up the phone to call a local
solicitor who I knew slightly. That was the best step I took! I asked for work
experience and was surprised that he agreed to me coming in a few mornings a
week. I ended up being there 5½ years, thanks to making that one phone call.
Hopefully
these top tips have inspired you, and if you have any suggestions of your own
we’d love to hear them.
Posted by Anna Johnson, Lead Career Coach, Women Returners

Top 5 Conference Return to Work Tips

We’ve just about recovered from our Women Returners Conference last week … the pre-organisation, the excitement of the day and the post-event exhaustion! It was fantastic to see the enthusiasm and energy of our 175 attendees and very rewarding for us to read the positive feedback we received after the event (see here for Conference photos and comments).
For those of you who weren’t able to join us, I wanted to share some advice from our speakers and from our panelists of successful returners and returner employers.
Top 5 Return to Work Tips
1. Don’t underestimate yourself.  This was a consistent theme, starting with our first keynote speaker Jane Garvey’s observation that women too easily doubt our own abilities and that we need to recognise that we bring so much more to the table than we think.
2. Think maturity not age. Our ICAEW employer panel talked about the value to companies both of life maturity and of the amazing array of skills and experience that returners can offer in comparison with a young graduate and even compared with people who have risen up through the ranks.
3. Appreciate your ‘Cognitive Diversity’. Brenda Trenowden, Chair of 30% Club, highlighted the push from UK business to increase diversity. Alongside diversity of gender, age and ethnicity the new goal is a team with ‘cognitive diversity’.  Basically, companies are valuing people who think differently. From my experience, seeing the world in a different way comes easily to people returning after a career break – you return with a new, and often more balanced, perspective.
4. Be brave and move out of your comfort zone. Many of our panelists, including those with very impressive CVs, talked about the self-doubt and anxiety they had faced on their return to work. However, all of them said that the pain was worth it in the end!
5. Move to action. This was my main takeout from the stories we heard. Don’t procrastinate endlessly, looking for the perfect next step. One of our panelists retrained as a mediator, before deciding that wasn’t the right path for her; she’s now working in a legal role she loves after taking a set of interim legal roles along the way. It may be a windy road back, but you’ll learn more by doing than by thinking.

More advice
We’re working on some advice video clips from Conference speakers and panelists and hope to share these with you over the next month or so. In the meantime, see our website for other returner stories and advice.

Posted by Julianne

Return-to-work CV Tips and Ideas

Last month we hosted a free webinar for our Network members on how to create an effective CV for your job search. We offered many tips and insights about what recruiters look for and addressed questions such as how to present your career break, whether to write a functional CV rather than a chronological one and how to take advantage of open questions in job applications. We have collected the key insights in this post, for those of you who missed the webinar.

How should I structure my CV?

Recruiters will expect to see three key sections:

  • Profile / Executive Summary: this describes your background, expertise and role you are seeking in 2 -3 sentences
  • Key Skills: list your 5 or so key skills, with brief evidence. Avoid generic skills like team player, leader, highly organised. Use specific skills such as strategic planning & implementation, procurement, digital media marketing
  • Professional Experience in reverse chronological order: state your achievements and contribution, not a role description. If you have a long career history, it’s fine just to list early career role titles.

Following these sections include your Education & Professional Development, Memberships and other skills/activities (fluent languages, interests etc). Keep your CV to two pages in length.

Avoid functional CVs – recruiters don’t like them because they make it hard to piece together your employment history.

What should I include/exclude?


When deciding the content, think about the business case you are making:

  • Why should they hire you?
  • What expertise will you bring?
  • What sets you apart from other candidates?

How do I describe my career break?

  • Don’t try to hide it, particularly if you are applying for returner programmes where having a key break is one of the eligibility criteria
  • Call it a planned career break
  • Include any work (paid or voluntary) and training you have done which is relevant to the role you are seeking
  • You can include a reason for your break (e.g. parental career break; career break for caring responsibilities) but you don’t have to

How do I answer the ‘tell us about you’ question on online application forms?

This question gives you the opportunity to do more than just repeat what is in your profile statement. You can use it in two ways:

  • to highlight aspects of your skills and your expertise that are relevant to the role you’re applying for, to encourage the recruiter to look in detail at your CV
  • to express your motivation for and interest in the role which you don’t otherwise have the chance to do

One final tip
As 97% of recruiters will reject a CV with 2 or more typos, take plenty of time to check your CV carefully and get others to read it through with a fresh eye, to spot errors you might have missed.

For more advice on CVs check our previous posts:
How to write your post break CV
The ‘CV gap’ barrier: evidence it exists & how to get over it
What about the gap in my CV?

Posted by Katerina

How to return to work after a long career break

Telegraph Wonder Women, The Telegraph’s online section for women, has recently launched a new Work section: “a witty, informative and intelligent look at working life”. This week, we have contributed our top tips on our favourite topic:

How to return to work after a long career break (click to follow link)

It might not be witty, but hopefully it is an informative and intelligent summary of some of the topics we’ve covered in more depth on this blog. Useful to check which of the steps you have already taken on your route back to work and what you want to add to your action plan for September.

Posted by Katerina & Julianne

How to Ditch the Guilt – Top Tips from Work+Family show

On Friday and Saturday last week, we ran workshops on the topic of Learn to Juggle and Ditch the Guilt for visitors to the Work+Family show.  We introduced our coaching process for tackling guilty feelings and shared our top tips.  For those who were not able to attend the event, the three step process consists of:
1. Acknowledging the guilt feelings
2. Investigating their source(s). When is the guilt happening? What are the triggers? Is there any real justification or are beating yourself up for no reason?
3. Define actions to address the guilt. Take small practical steps focused on your guilt triggers. And let go of the pervasive ‘working mum’ guilt!

Our top tips are:

•Use our process to Acknowledge-Investigate-Act on guilty feelings

•Remember that working parents don’t have to feel guilty

o Children thrive with happy
parents

•Aim for good-enough not perfect

•Work out your priorities & delegate the rest where you can

•Look after yourself to better look after others

•Ignore other people’s judgments – they have different values

•Put practical & emotional support in place – we all need it!

Additionally, there have been some excellent articles written recently in The Washington Post and the Talented Ladies Club online magazine as well as our earlier post on guilt.

Posted by Katerina

10 return to work tips from successful returners

We have recently launched our first ten return-to-work success stories on www.womenreturners.com. If you’re finding it harder than you thought to relaunch your career after a long break, reading real-life stories of women professionals who have successfully done so can be very encouraging. They both demonstrate that it is possible to find fulfilling work after a long absence and offer a great source of ideas and inspiration for how to do so.

We asked our story contributors for their tips for other women returners. These are some of their words of advice:

Finding a role


1. “Set aside your ego – think about the level of work that you’ll be doing in the job rather than the title”

2. “Think outside the box to find work that fits in with your family life – don’t define yourself too narrowly by what you did before”

3. “Prioritise what is important for you: what makes work worthwhile and what you want to hold on to in your personal life”

4. “Tell everyone you know that you are looking & don’t undervalue your friends and family as contacts. Bypass recruitment agents and go direct”

5. “Consider starting small and getting yourself and your family used to working before ramping up”

Starting back

6. “Buy some new work clothes so you feel you fit in and get a confidence boost”

7. “Don’t underestimate your ability to learn fast when you do return – you did it before and you still can now!”

8. “Don’t feel you have to know everything when you go back. Technology is changing so fast that people are always learning new systems … and you can always Google what you don’t know!”

9. “Don’t be ashamed of being a mother and your career break”

10. “Believe in yourself, be brave and give it a go!”



Posted by Julianne

Other related posts

Ideas for routes back to work
How do I find a high level flexible role?
7 tips for your return to work after a career break

Top tips for Enjoyable Networking

You might think that enjoyable and networking are two words that can never appear together in the same sentence!  It is very common to find networking difficult, uncomfortable, too time-consuming and best avoided.  If this is your current thinking, take a look at “Do I really have to network?” to help you to approach networking more positively and with confidence.  If you’re ready to give networking a try, here are some key tips and ideas for making it enjoyable:

  1. You already know how to network.  It is part of life and you probably spend a lot of your time asking people for advice, information and recommendations in a natural, easy way.
  2. Practise telling your story before you start out networking, so that you are comfortable and fluent with it.
  3. Be realistic. You are unlikely to come away from your first meeting with a job offer. Or your 10th meeting. Or even your 20th. But each meeting you have will be taking you one step closer to your goal.
  4. Be really clear about your goal for the networking meeting.  It is much easier for people to be helpful to you if they understand what you need.  Are you looking for information about the requirements for a particular type of role that interests you?  Do you want to understand an industry or organisation better?  Are you looking for insights into specific people?  Do you need advice on how to find a particular role?  Are you looking for further contacts?  Do you want ideas on where your skills and talents might fit in an organisation?
  5. Work out why it would be helpful for the person you want to contact to meet you.  Remember that people are always on the look out for new information. What insights, knowledge, experience, skills, talents and network do you have?  You always have something to offer!
  6. Think, in advance, what will make each meeting a success for you and celebrate your success afterwards.  If you think of the meeting as a chance to talk about something that is interesting and important to you (an area that interests you & your future career), you are more likely to feel positive about your experience.
  7. Keep your meetings short.  People are busy and so if you say you’ll only need 20/30 minutes of someone’s time, keep to your commitment.  That way you make sure you don’t cause irritation.
  8. Find a networking buddy.  This is a supporter who can encourage you to get started and to keep going, someone to discuss your meeting preparation with who will also enjoy hearing about your experience.
Lastly, once you are in your new role, don’t stop networking.  It will continue to be important for you to learn new information about your field, meet potential customers and suppliers, as well as possible employers and even future employees.
Posted by Katerina