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Is it possible to return to work after a career break at 50+?

Is it possible to return to work after a career break at 50+?

This is a question I discussed recently with Dr Ros Altmann, the UK Government’s Older Workers Business Champion. It is also a question I hear regularly from our Network, particularly those who have paused their career for health reasons or in order to look after elderly relatives.

While it might be true that some organisations fail to recognise the great value and benefit of hiring older workers, quite often the returners themselves are creating self-imposed barriers that need not exist. It is necessary to develop the right mindset where your age is to your advantage.

The women I speak to who are hoping to return to employment, regularly tell me that organisations are only looking for younger people or those who have worked their way up a career ladder. It is easy for them to fear that they are too old and too out of touch, to be considered employable. They worry that they won’t fit into the office environment and that their prior experience, expertise and qualifications are no longer relevant.

Instead of looking at what is missing from your CV, it is much more helpful to notice what your years of experience, both in and out of the workforce, have given you. As Michele (who found full-time work in her 50s, following a divorce) says:

‘I was attractive to my new employer because at my age I was reliable, I brought a wealth of different experiences which meant I could talk to anybody and I was serious about my work. At the same time, I wasn’t going to take his clients and set up on my own. And, I wasn’t going to get pregnant which made a big difference in a small company.’

A Harvard Business Review article, 3 years ago, which highlighted the concept of internships for returners mentions that such internships ‘… allow [companies] to hire people who have a level of maturity and experience not found in younger recruits and who are at a life stage where parental leaves and spousal relocations are most likely behind them. In short, these applicants are an excellent investment’. (HBR November 2012 ‘The 40-year-old intern’).

You may know that we have been working hard for the past two years to introduce such ‘internships for returners’ into the UK. Up to now, these programmes have mostly existed in the financial services sector but shortly more will be announced in a wholly new field and I hope there will be more during 2015.

It is also the case that the ‘internship for returners’ route is only one of many ways to return to work and I list below the links to other relevant articles we’ve published. However you plan to return, you can help yourself by remembering all the qualities described above and knowing that you offer future employers commitment and stability. You know you will stay a long time if you enjoy your work and are valued for what you bring to the organisation.

Dr Altmann has been tasked with making the case for older workers within the business community and challenging outdated perceptions. She will be reporting to the Government in March with her recommendations on what Government policy needs to be to enable older workers to continue to be productively employed. We hope that her work will help to dispel the fears of the over 50s that they are no longer employable and lead to more opportunities for older returners.

julianne&katerinaAuthor: Katerina Gould, from the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.

From Registered Nurse to Plug-In Developer

From Registered Nurse to Plug-In Developer

Now here’s a great story of a mother changing career. To inspire you all to try something new. Of course there is lots of work in nursing, but there is also lots of work in IT, and it’s probably better paid. Is it for you?

Read Steph Wells’ honest and inspiring story

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 Who are your best return-to-work supporters?

Who are your best return-to-work supporters?

What do we normally do when we’re thinking about making changes in our lives? Our natural instinct is often to talk things through with friends and family – to get their opinion and test out our ideas. I remember many mornings spent discussing future plans with other mothers over coffee when I was on career break.

It can be useful to chat about your return to work ideas – setting up a business, returning to your old field, retraining, or whatever your inspiration may be. As you speak about your thoughts, this can help them to become more concrete and move you to action.

But this can also be a risky strategy as your trusted friends might not be the supporters you need to develop your fledgling ideas. If they pour cold water on your tentative plans, this can be a major knock to your confidence, raising more doubts and worries in your mind and stopping you moving forward to action.

These are some reactions potential returners have told me they received:
From other at-home mums: “What do you want to go back to work for – you’re so lucky to be able to be at home?”
“I can’t imagine having the energy to work. All the working mums I know are exhausted”
From family & ex-colleagues: “I never saw you as a [creative person / entrepreneur / mature student ..]”
From partners: “Well, if you’re absolutely sure that’s what you want to do …”
“If you think you can manage that and the kids without getting too stressed …”

There’s a big difference between these generalised negative comments, which can make you want to give up, rather than helpful specific questions that encourage you to reality check your ideas. If you’re facing comments like these, rather than simply taking them at face value, it’s worth putting them in context. Here are a few things to bear in mind:

  • Your friends who are also on career break may want to keep you ‘on their team’. They don’t want to lose you to the workplace!
  • Your plans to return to work may raise doubts in their minds about the decisions they’ve taken. When we experience ‘cognitive dissonance’, where our actions don’t directly align with our beliefs (eg I should be using my education but I’m not in paid work), we feel uncomfortable. They may subconsciously try to convince you that it’s too hard to be a working mother to prove to themselves that their decision is correct.
  • Your ex-colleagues tend to define you by the role you used to have. This is similar to the cognitive bias called ‘functional fixedness’ where we find it hard to see familiar objects in a different light. Which is a real advantage if you’re returning to the same field, but limiting if you’re considering a new direction.
  • Growing up within a family we all often have set roles (the smart one, the creative one etc). If you’re stepping into a sibling’s role, they may feel challenged or disorientated.
  • Your partner and children naturally will prefer the status quo if it’s comfortable for them. Accept they may not be your cheerleaders initially at least!

To balance the naysayers, think about creating a group of return-to-work supporters:
1. Identify & seek out friends and family members who are encouraging and positive and fill you with a sense of possibility
2. Partner with one or more women who are also looking to return to work
3. Seek out a mentor – find a woman in your field who has successfully returned after a career break and ask for advice.

As our network grows we’re thinking about setting up a return-to-work support group. Also a number of successful returners have offered to be to mentors. Would you find either of these useful? In what format (eg.LinkedIn)? Let us know in the comments below or on info@womenreturners.com.

 

julianne&katerinaAuthor: Julianne Miles, from the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.

How to avoid the Top 10 Return to Work Job Search mistakes

How to avoid the Top 10 Return to Work Job Search mistakes

Over the years that I have been working with returners, I’ve noticed how many women make the same job search mistakes that can completely derail their return to work. To stop you falling into the same traps, here’s my summary of the Top 10 and a few tips on how to avoid them.

1. Relying on headhunters and recruitment agencies to find you a role
Headhunters and other agencies are paid for filling specific vacancies and if your profile doesn’t exactly match they won’t be interested. And a long career break labels you as a risky candidate. Do let any headhunter contacts know that you are looking for work and look for agencies sympathetic to returners. Just don’t make this your sole strategy or be deterred by the negative reception most will give you.

2. Sitting at home scanning LinkedIn, job boards and website for vacancies
Only an estimated 20-30% of vacancies are ever advertised, so if this is your approach to finding a role, you are missing out on the the majority of positions that are filled through recommendation, word of mouth and former colleagues. To access the ‘hidden job market’ you need to be more active, start networking and tell everyone you meet about your search.

3. Defining yourself too narrowly by your previous role
It’s easy to restrict ourselves to roles similar to our last job title or specialist qualification. This narrows your options and can make you feel that you’re not qualified for any role that fits with your life now. Instead, look out for roles that ask for the broader skills and strengths you possess within fields that interest you.

4. Sending one application at a time…
If you get excited about having found The Ideal Role and wait to see what happens with it before making other applications, you could be waiting a very long time. Hiring decisions are rarely quick, company priorities can change and you may not ultimately get the job for a variety of reasons. Keep networking, and seeking and applying for other opportunities in the meantime, until you actually sign the contract.

5. … Or making scatter gun applications
Don’t fire off applications or direct approaches to everyone you can think of. You waste time applying for roles that aren’t a good fit for you and you’ll appear unfocused in your application & under-motivated in an interview. Decide what to target and treat each application with care, researching the organisation and the specific requirements of the role and tailoring your application accordingly.

6. Applying for roles that are too junior
If your confidence in your abilities is low, you may apply for ‘less demanding’ roles as a way of easing yourself back into work. The trouble is that you will appear over-qualified to the hiring manager and are likely to become rapidly frustrated once you’re back up to speed. If you have a strong reason for choosing this route, clearly explain the rationale in your application.

7. Looking just for part-time or flexible roles
You might have decided that your job needs to be part-time or flexible. However many employers will consider flexible working ‘for the right candidate’ even though they don’t state it in the job ad. Consider whether the content of the role appeals and whether there could be a business case to do it flexibly.

8. Apologising for your career break
Explain the reason for your break on your CV (eg. parental career break) and in interviews and then don’t dwell on it, justify it or apologise for it!

9. Undervaluing what you’ve done in your break
If you have done something that has built your broader skills or opened new perspectives to you during your break, this is valuable to a potential employer, so don’t minimise or ignore it on your CV.

10. Not asking for feedback after rejections
When you are rejected after online tests or interviews it is easy to blame yourself and to become dispirited. By requesting feedback you can find out what you need to work on to make future applications stronger.

 

julianne&katerinaAuthor: Katerina Gould, from the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.

Re-connecting with your professional self

Re-connecting with your professional self

One of our top tips for women returners is to remember that you are the same professional person you always were, you are just out of practice. But why is it that you need reminding, and how do you gain back that easy confidence that you used to have in the past? Let’s have a look.

Why do we need to be reminded of this?

There are many reasons why, when we take a break from our career, we can develop a diminished view of ourselves from the one we held when we were working. In the mix are:

  • a change in priorities (our career is no longer our sole focus and might not be as important as it once was)
  • a shift in identity (taking a long break, especially when it involves taking on new responsibilities, changes our daily activities, what we think about and talk about)
  • refocusing of values (where we once valued position, responsibility and status, for example, we might now be more concerned with creating strong family relationships or working for a purpose).

All these changes can mean that we no longer recognise the previous professional version of our self, or doubt whether we can be like her again.

Remind yourself of the professional you were

Even if your perspective and priorities have changed in the years you’ve been away from your career, the things you accomplished during your career and the skills you gained have not. You are still the person who built strong client relationships, managed a team, delivered complex projects, won sales pitches and gained qualifications. These experiences are still part of you and you still have those skills and abilities even if you haven’t used them (professionally) for a while.

You may find it hard to recognise and value your former self because the work you did before didn’t fully fit you at the time. Maybe that professional identity felt false. Even so, you still achieved and gained experiences which you can take forward into a new role that will feel more authentic.

 

Regain your professional self

This is a really important step to take as you plan for your return to work. It will help with developing your self-belief (if you need it) and will provide content for your CV, LinkedIn profile and your interview answers.

  • Reflect on what you consider your career highlights and think about what qualities you exhibited. Are those qualities still part of who you are today?
  • Talk to former work colleagues, who remember you as the professional you were, and ask them for some feedback on what they saw you doing well or admired about you.
  • Practice your career story, starting with your professional background and expertise rather than your career break
  • Find a project or volunteer position which allows you to refresh your skills (Read more on Strategic Volunteering)
  • Subscribe to the industry journals you used to read and join on-line forums which are relevant.
  • (Re)join professional networks and attend relevant conferences. You can find a good list of events, many of which are free on the Mum & Career event-listing.
  • Take refresher courses in your area of interest or expertise.

If you are still finding it difficult to re-connect with your professional self, then you might like to consider working with another returner or a career coach to give you the boost you need.

 

julianne&katerinaAuthor: Katerina Gould, from the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.