Getting back to work after a career break

Coach Nikki Nir is’s newest careers expert. She has been advising mums on their career dilemmas, for years and here provides a collection of  the most popular questions that mums ask when they’re looking to get back to work after a career break.

career break


Q: I was made redundant before I went on maternity leave. How can I jumpstart my job search?

A: Ask friends and family to let you know about jobs that are advertised where they work. Keep in touch with old colleagues and managers. Women are great at empowering other women, so network with working mums online and at the school gates. Also try temping agencies.

It’s a great way to get back in to the work force and can lead to a permanent job. Register your details on job boards and you’ll know about any new jobs straight away. You can set up LinkedIn job alerts and contact employers directly. ‘Like’ company Facebook pages and you can find out about jobs.

Q: I’d like to return to my old job but I feel like my knowledge and skills are out of date. What should I do?

A: Make sure you stay active in your career even if you are not currently working. Attend networking events and industry events, read industry publications and maintain your LinkedIn profile to keep up to date with what is happening in your industry.

Most companies offer keep in touch days where you can go into work for team meetings or events to keep yourself connected. You could also ask your HR team about staff eLearning modules or online courses.

The Open University courses offer great opportunities for mums to gain new qualifications either online or through home study that can fit around child commitments.

Q: I want to do something different. How do I justify this on my CV?

A: A career change does require some justification on your part, so that it makes sense to an employer.

You could include a career objective at the start of your CV to make your new direction clear and pick out the skills and achievements that are most relevant to your new career.

Or you could highlight your new career objectives in your cover letter. Also, think about the CV format that is most relevant. If you have no direct experience of the job you’re applying for, a functional CV is the best idea.

This places emphasis on your skills and achievements you have used or learned throughout your entire career rather than listing your experience chronologically.

Q: I feel like I’ve changed whilst on maternity leave and am not sure what career is for me?

A: Do a health check on your career. Identify your five key transferable skills, the activities you are best at and enjoy. Be clear about what interests you and what you currently value e.g. work/life balance, promotion, greater challenges or more development.

Check if most of these skills, interests and values are being matched by your current job and company. If not, maybe it’s time to think about freelance work or starting your own business.

These can all be excellent ways of earning money and building a flexible business around your family.

Q: I’ve had a career break after having kids. How do I explain that on my CV?

A: I would create a section on your CV that covers the dates from when you went on maternity leave to date and put everything you have done in this time together. Perhaps you have done some fundraising, organised some baby groups, coffee mornings for parents or volunteered at school.

All of these add valuable skills to your CV in terms of networking, time management, communication and team working.

Think about the skills you use daily to manage kids and consider how these transfer to a job. Being at home with kids develops your communication, problem solving and time management skills like no other job I’ve ever had!

Q: I’m anxious about going back to work

A: We’ve coached hundreds of women and all of them have found that they are still the competent career women they were before their babies! Get support from other mums. Remind yourself and your colleagues what you did and can do in the workplace.

Find your old appraisal forms and reconnect with work friends. Prepare a back to work plan and discuss this with your boss. Include things like changes to the team, work processes and policies and any training workshops for you to attend so that you feel more up to speed.

Clarify your job objectives and working pattern so you’ll know what’s expected of you. Make sure you’re comfortable with your childcare and start transitioning a month before you go back.

Remind yourself that you’re setting a good example for your kids and you get to go to the toilet by yourself. Now that’s something to look forward to!!

Q: I want to change my working pattern but I’m not sure how to go about doing this. What’s the best way to approach my boss?

A: Talk to your HR department about the flexible workplace policies available to you. Figure out the right working pattern for you. Examples of flexible working include job sharing, part time, working from home, flexi start and finish times for pick up/drop off and project work.

The next step is to look at your tasks and responsibilities. If you work flexibly where are the gaps? Who would pick up the work? Are there any aspects of the role that could be done from home?

Do you have any solutions? You need to consider the implications on the business, your customers and team. If you acknowledge these implications and propose a solution, you’ll have a stronger business case for why flexibility will work for both the organisation and you.

Think about how to measure the success of the arrangement and when to review it.

Speak to other employees who are working flexibly. Find out how they negotiated their working arrangements. Then organise a formal meeting with your boss to discuss.

Q: What is the best way to address the fact that you have young children in a job interview?

A: It’s illegal for interviewers to ask about whether you have children or whether you want them. You are being interviewed to see if your skills and experience match the job and nothing else.

It may come up in general conversation usually because interviewers are trying to determine how committed you will be to the job. You can talk about your strong work ethic, how you have contributed when you’ve been working flexibly and if you’re available to work overtime.

I would highlight that when you’re working, the kids will be in childcare or will be looked after and would also use this as an opportunity to ask about their parental culture and policies to see whether this is a place you feel comfortable working in.

Q: I feel like I’ve lost my confidence since going back to work after maternity leave. What can I do?

A: I have been coaching mums for over 10 years, and most mums returning to work do experience a knock in confidence. Try to identify a mentor, someone more senior to you in your organisation, who can provide advice on your career direction and who knows you well.

This person can be really helpful at supporting you. There’s a technique I use for confidence building called anchoring. Try this exercise. Think about a time when you were really confident in a work situation, when you have exceeded expectations and received positive feedback.

Think about how you felt at that time. What did you see, hear and feel, what did people say about you and what were your physical responses to the situation.

Create a vivid picture, and then, by anchoring this to a gesture, you will be re-create that positive feeling when you need it.

Q: I get so nervous before I go into an interview. How do I keep calm and control my nerves?

A: If you make sure you have done your interview preparation beforehand then you should feel a lot more confident in the interview. There are no right or wrong answers. It is all in “how” you answer the question.

That’s why it’s important to practice your interview skills by either role playing with a friend or having a mock interview with an interview coach. By using an interview coach you are reducing the ‘fear of the unknown’, such as how the process works, what to say and how to act which will allow you to give a more confident performance.

Try this exercise. Take two deep breaths before you start, this will help you to slow down when you start to speak and create a more confident first impression.

*Nikki Nir has over 10 years of interview, career coaching and CV writing experience as well as extensive training and workplace coaching expertise and says there are pretty much no career dilemmas her organisation, Careers with confidence, have not encountered and supported. If you have a question for Nikki, you can send it via our Advice & Support page.

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