Returning to work? How to build confidence and brush up your CV and skills

Lacking confidence? Scared of returning to work? Taking time out to have your family does not have to mean career suicide and skills and confidence can be re-built. talked to careers expert, Linda Whittern about where to start.
Where do you start?
Many mums take several years out of their careers to have their family; some may return in between bouts of maternity leave, others may have a complete career break altogether returning only when the children start school, either at primary stage, secondary or in-between. However long you’ve left it, it is never too late to return to work or to take a completely different route to before and start a new and exciting career.
Linda Whittern, Director of Careers  Partnership (UK) says that the first thing to do is to think about the options ‘very carefully’.
“You’ve developed as a person with greater self-confidence and maturity perhaps and learnt new skills during your time out.  Aiming to take up your career more or less where you left off could waste better (or more practicable) career opportunities.
“Think about what you want (hours, conditions, promotion prospects etc) and what you’ve got to offer (vocationally relevant skills, qualifications and experience gained earlier and while you were a full-time mum).”
Linda says that it is really important to also think of it from the employer’s viewpoint and think who would want to employ a person like you:  “Research how many employers of this type exist within comfortable commuting distance of you (or offer teleworking opportunities).  Having done this preliminary research on potential employers, start monitoring their web sites for details of vacancies and/or make contact with the appropriate departmental manager to investigate whether they’re likely to be taking on new staff in the foreseeable future.” 
How should you fill the ‘gap’ in your CV?
Many mums are concerned that the long gap in their CV is akin to career suicide and may even act as ‘the elephant in the room’ when it comes to a job interview but Linda doesn’t believe it has to be like this and offers a top tip on how to deal with the black holes and chasms:
"Consider writing your CV as a ‘functional CV’ (listing your skills and achievements) rather than as a ‘chronological CV’ (a working through of your career history from year to year).  Wow employers with what you’ve got to offer them on the first page of your CV, briefly list your jobs and time out details in a short career history section on the second page of the CV."
“Make sure you mention any vocationally relevant experience/qualifications gained during your time out (for example my sister became a play group leader liaising with the local primary school and a school governor – those ‘jobs’ as a volunteer helped her get a professional job training school governors).”
If you’re feeling like your skills are a little rusty what should you do?
Even though you may have managed to paper over the holes in your CV you still may be feeling like you can’t do the job and that your skills are too rusty. Linda says that if this is the case you firstly need to check whether it is the skills that are really the problem or whether it’s just that you feel less confident because you’ve been out of the workplace for a bit.
“Ask friends who do similar work to talk you through how they do their jobs in detail.  Is there anything you’d find particularly difficult?  Could they coach you through the process or arrange for you to ‘work shadow’ them for a bit?” advises Linda.
You may also consider undertaking some refresher training in your field of expertise this will also indicate to your prospective employer that you are serious about returning to work and that you are willing to invest your time and money in getting your skills up to date.
Linda says:  “Sometimes it’s possible to get free update training – speak to your own professional institute about this and/or talk to your local college, recruitment agencies and next step careers advisers.  Consider doing some voluntary work to brush up on your skills.”
If you fancy a career change where do you start?
Your career break may leave you feeling a little differently towards your former job and you may now want to pursue a new path, start a business or re-train in a new profession. Many mums may also have a sense that they want something different but may not be able to identify what it is that they want to do.

Linda says the best place to start is with some self-analysis: “List the peaks and troughs of your past studies, work and leisure pursuits (including voluntary work).  Look for any patterns into what gave you a real high or a real low.  How might that pattern translate into the type of career that’s right for you?”

Having done that preliminary thinking, Linda suggests that you go onto any of the careers advice sites for example and work your way through the job profiles of jobs that interest you and/or the career guidance programme.
How can you build your confidence so that you come across as positive and able to your prospective employer?
“Obviously, prepare well,” says Linda, “If you know what you’re talking about (for example your achievements and career history and why they should impress this employer), then you’ll feel more confident and come across as knowledgeable and focused."
Linda adds that it is important to re-address the balance of power too: “When you’re applying for a job, you feel the power lies with the employer (who can give or refuse you the post) and not with you.  So change the psychological balance of the relationship. Do your research on the employer so you know what business problems and opportunities they’re facing and how the job they’re offering could enable them to avoid the problems and seize the opportunities (for example a good receptionist is often her company’s first contact with potential customers).
“Then think about precisely how you’d be able to help them achieve these goals.  Use any opportunities there are in the interview to explain your ideas and your enthusiasm for helping them.”
Good luck and be confident.

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