Workingmums.co.uk talks to Julianne Miles of Career Psychologists on how to get back to work after a career break.
Julianne Miles, the founder of Career Psychologists and the co-author of www.womenreturners.com, has years of experience in helping women to return to the workplace after a career break and to develop enjoyable careers which also allow them to have a good work-life balance.
Julianne, a mother of two, has personal experience of how priorities and careers might change following the birth of children. Prior to retraining as a Chartered Psychologist, she worked for 11 years in strategy consultancy and in senior management roles in consumer goods strategy and marketing.
She thinks that there are increasing opportunities for women returners and more role models of women who have successfully returned to professional careers. “There is greater recognition within many organisations of the skills and experience of women who have taken a long career break,” she says. “Also with developments in technology, organisations are more open to flexible working. For many women it is not just a case of whether they can get back to work, but whether they can find a flexible role that is both sufficiently interesting and pays enough to make it worthwhile.”
Studies may show that financial concerns in the recession have accelerated the numbers of women returning, but Julianne says that, for the women she works with, the timing of their return continues to be driven mainly by a reduction in their caring responsibilities, in particular when their children reach school age.
For Julianne, creativity is the key to finding a job after a career break. She adds that it is important to acknowledge that it is not easy to return after a long absence and that it requires persistence, being open minded and taking a proactive approach. She says: “If you just look for advertised part-time jobs you are likely to have a low success rate. Most women who have found their way back have done so through their contacts, by setting up their own businesses or by approaching organisations directly, whether large or small. You need to be creative in your approach, especially if you have had a very long career break or live in parts of the country where there isn’t as much access to a wide range of employers.” She suggests that proposing a fixed-term project-based internship can be effective if employers are worried about the risk of taking on someone who has been out of the office for a long period.
Julianne advises women to think through and be very clear about what they want and to let as many people as possible know about the kind of work they are looking for. “Never assume that people you know from school do not know people who have job openings,” she says, adding that she knows a number of women who have found jobs through talking to people at the school gates. “Women shouldn’t underestimate the networks they have.”
One of the major barriers to returning to work is confidence, says Julianne. “Women who have had long periods off work tend to undervalue themselves and don’t appreciate the skills they have developed through activities like voluntary work or study during that period,” she says. They also underestimate the benefits that they can bring to an organisation, such as maturity, motivation and a different perspective. One way they can build confidence is to get feedback from other people on their skills and achievements. Forming a small group with other women wanting to return to work can also be a great source of support and encouragement.
Another barrier to returning is guilt. Julianne finds that there is a tendency for mothers to “beat themselves up” about working. “We read so much about working mothers’ guilt that we can feel that we’re harming our family by working. Research doesn’t show working is detrimental to children. In fact working can have a positive impact on family life. If you consider your choices and do not want to make any changes (or practically can’t do so) then it’s really unhelpful to feel guilty. We need to talk about this more as this emphasis on guilt just drags women down and is destructive.