Ready to make a career comeback? Here are the six commandments to obey if you want to kick-start your career after taking time out – whether you want to dive back in or start afresh.
My own story
When I left my job as Director of Communication at a large City firm, I thought that was a decision for life. My kids were 4 and 6, the constant juggle had become too much and it seemed the right thing to do to put my family first.
The problem was, no-one told me they wouldn’t be 4 and 6 forever.
Fast forward six years, I began to look at the twenty years ahead and wonder what had become of my career. I wasn’t alone. Many of the women I met at the school gates were pondering the same question. Lawyers, bankers, accountants, marketeers, journalists, you name it, all had a sense of unfulfilled potential and were starting to think about what to do about it.
Is This You?
This was the title of a Sunday Times feature back in 2017 in which I tried to shine a light on the plight of thousands of women who had taken breaks from their careers, were ready to return, and who were being ignored by the recruitment industry.
Since then, I helped hundreds of women relaunch their careers after a break or career hiatus of any kind. Here’s what I’ve learnt.
It begins in your head
“I’m too old”, “The technology has moved on,” “I’ve left it too late”, “My technical skills are too rusty”, “The kids wouldn’t cope without me.”
It’s so easy to begin with the obstacles. And most of the negative stories we tell ourselves are just not true. Put them to one side to begin with and, instead, think about your future self. Where do you want to be in three to five years. What sort of work do you want to be doing, who do you want to work with, what will that add to your life?
Think about your life to date – your skills, knowledge and experience that you bring to the party. What do you have to offer that’s going to be interesting and valuable to en employer.
Jenni, who returned to a teaching role after ten years out, had worried that she wouldn’t be the teacher she once was – first in every morning and last to leave at night. She was right, she is now a different teacher, and a better one. She’s brought up two children with different educational needs and she is so much better placed to help both the pupils and their parents because of the wealth of experience she brings to the classroom.
A Brand called You
“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room” Jeff Bezos.
How are you going to describe yourself? In one line, when you meet someone for the first time; in a short paragraph, at the top of your CV and in a bit more depth, when you take the opportunity to speak at that event?
Here’s a clue.
“I’m Catherine, I used to be a lawyer. I have two children and I’ve had a 6 year career break. I’m looking for part time work” isn’t particularly compelling.
“I’m Catherine, I have fifteen years’ experience working as a commercial lawyer for a large City firm and subsequently in-house at HSBC. I recently took a data privacy qualification and I’m looking for my next role” is much more likely to catch the eye.
Your brand isn’t your life story, it’s what you’re selling to an employer. Think Dove, Innocent, Charlotte Tilbury – all great brands with a “promise” that goes way beyond the simple product.
Use your Connections
Your network is so much stronger than you realise. Women often hate the word “networking”, associating it with glasses of warm white wine in stuffy hotel rooms.
What I’m talking about here is all the people you know – those you trained with, people you worked with, previous clients, people in your social circle, everyone you know at the school gates – those connections can be invaluable. My research found that people were nine times more likely to find work after a career break through their network than they were through a recruiter.
Emma was 48 when I met her. Her boys were 16 and 18 and, as she put it “it’s my turn.” She wanted to get her career going again and had worked out that a law firm would be the perfect place for her change and project management skills. Trouble was she didn’t know anyone who worked in a law firm.
However, she knew people who did. So she set up coffees, walks in the part, telephone calls to ask for advice, which led to more introductions, more coffees, more walks etc. Nine months later she landed her dream job. She didn’t realise it at the time but what she was doing here was networking.
And of course, what really helped was that she had her brand nailed before she went into those coffee houses, so that the people she met were clear how to help.
Pivot before you Leap
Remember, your next job is exactly that: your next job. It isn’t necessarily the final destination.
Think carefully about where you want to be long term and make the right choices. Ayana always wanted to return to her career in supply chain logistics but wanted to move from car manufacturing to pharma. She took a job in the local school working in the admin office. No connections to either supply chain or Pharma and unlikely to help her long term ambitions.
More recently, she began work in a new role on the supply chain team of a firm supplying PPE equipment to the NHS and care homes. In this role she is also beginning to make contacts in the Pharma industry. That’s what we mean by pivoting.
Brush up your Skills
There are so many free resources available, there really is no excuse for feeling “out of touch”. Brush up your technical skills and industry knowledge: depending on your background, there will inevitably be a range of resources to draw on.
Follow the relevant thought leaders on LinkedIn, check out company websites and LinkedIn pages for the latest trends, join alumni organisations or industry-related networking groups. Use resources like Eventbrite, FutureLearn and the How To Academy to find courses or talks relevant to you.
Remember the Basics
Your CV and LinkedIn.
Your CV is your right to be considered for work. It’s a marketing document, there to secure you an interview. It has to sing out “This woman is perfectly suited to this job and you have to see her.” This means it needs to be tailored for every job application and the summary at the top has to describe in a few sentences why you are a perfect fit.
The hiring manager is unlikely to be terribly interested in what you’ve been doing during your career break and the fact that you volunteer for the PTA. Explaining you have an engineering degree from Imperial and spent fifteen years working in the pharmaceutical industry is going to be much more eye-catching. (If, indeed, you’re planning a return to big pharma rather than a role working in the school office).
Again, you’re not on your own. There are lots of websites and resources that can help. My Perfect CV, for example, has lots of free advice and sample templates for professional job seekers.
And don’t ignore LinkedIn. You have to be on it. Potential employers will check you out there and it’s also where all the jobs are. Use the jobs listed there to research the right key words to use on your own CV, check out who’s hiring in your sector, work out where you have connections who could make an introduction.
If You Don’t Believe Me …
Join us on 4th May for more tips, advice and to hear some inspirational stories of women who have moved on to the next phase of their careers with our clients. Register here.