Many mums who have taken a career break while their children are young contemplate returning to the workplace when they start school.
It’s no easy task and the difficulty level depends on a lot of different factors, including what sector their previous experience has been in, how long they have been out of the workplace, where they live, what they have been doing in the meantime and whether they have kept in touch with ex-colleagues.
Workingmums.co.uk gets lots of emails from women finding they are getting a lot of knock-backs.
One women said: “Totally fed up. Applied for loads of administrative jobs, but not even one interview. I’m certain that because I’ve spent the last few years raising a child, it’s assumed I’m too stupid to work. My vast array of relevant work experience seems to be completely dismissed. At my wit’s end.”
Another simply stated: “Yet another NO in the inbox today. Apparently I did “not meet the success criteria”. 20 years work experience down the tubes. My reward for having a child and wanting to return to work.”
Many consider retraining as a result. Workingmums.co.uk’s annual survey shows high demand for retraining. Some 64% in the most recent annual survey said they were interested in retraining and 70% said they would be more likely to retrain if the courses were flexible. Over half – 53% – had retrained within the last three years.
Recent statistics from the TUC show that many women would like to go back to work, but can’t get back in. Its analysis shows that, although unemployment has fallen in the last three years, the number of women who are economically inactive but want to work has gone up.
So what can they do to break back into work?
Career coaches say that one of the biggest barriers to return to work is confidence. After years out of the workforce, confidence can be at a low. Yet most women returners say that once they are back in the workplace they realise their skills and abilities to do the job remain intact. Technology may have changed, qualifications may need updating and new processes learned, but their basic ability to do the job is unaffected. Not only do are they able to tap into the years of experience they had before they took the career break, but there may be activities they have undertaken, including voluntary work, which have given them additional skills. There are also important skills linked to being a parent which are of increasing importance in today’s workplace, such as time management, communications skills and patience. How do you rebuild confidence? Drawing up a list of skills and experience can help as can talking to former colleagues and friends. Doing mock interviews is also a good way of getting feedback on presentation skills and confidence.
Many women who return to work may want a job on reduced hours since they may still have caring responsibilities. This can make it more difficult to find a job because employers are still reluctant to advertise flexible new professional roles. The job search can be easier if it is possible to work full-time hours, at least initially, or if some homeworking can be negotiated to get a foot back in the door. Otherwise it is worth targeting organisations that specialise in advertising flexible jobs and checking out the flexible working policies of prospective employers, if possible talking to people who work there to see how policy translates into practice.
A lot of women who have taken career breaks come to jobs through contacts, including friends, family and former employers/colleagues. Social networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn can be useful. Another way to get a foot back in the door is through freelance projects. Self-employment, including contract work, franchise work or direct sales, may be an option and a good way to build up confidence and brush off or learn new skills. The same is true of relevant voluntary work. Adaptability and persistence are key.
Catherine Deptford took a 14-year career break from her job as an investment banker in the City, during which time she set up an organisation with a friend which was initially about helping children through divorce. She found her current job as investment manager at fund consultancy Thompson Taraz after going on the Workingmums.co.uk site and seeing jobs for Capability Jane, a flexible work consultancy for senior professional women.
She says: “If I were to get passionate about anything now it would be about the number of 40 and 50 plus women who think their experience is worthless when it isn’t. That is just a question of confidence. Your cv is what it is. I had 14 years of solid experience working for big firms, a good degree and postgraduate investment analysis exams. I was quite surprised at how much interest there was when I first started looking. I had to take a three-week refresher courses and two exams to update my qualifications once I got my post which raised my confidence levels, but the practicalities of doing the job all came back to me once I took up the reins again. I know what I am doing. Not much changes in 10 years. And you bring lots of things to the workplace that you do not value, but employers do, like maturity and a reduced bandwidth for nonsense. If you also made something of your career break then all power to you.”
Another positive is the increasing number of returner programmes that have been launched in the last few months which aim to help those who have taken a career break back to work. Most are in the financial services sector, but there are a growing number in other sectors. They may only offer help to a few hundred women at present, but the fact that they are gathering momentum is evidence that employers are starting to look more keenly at women who have not had a linear progression in their career and are beginning to recognise that this could be a valuable talent pool for them.