Women seeking to go back to work may face greater confidence issues in the recession and will need more support to conquer these, says a careers adviser who specialises in working with women returners.
Bekki Clark, author of The Mum’s Guide to Returning to Work and a coach, trainer and adviser at Cambridge Women’s Resources Centre, says that in the current climate women returners who would in the past have found a job easily are getting knocked back and this can dent already flagging confidence. “It may have taken a lot for them to make the step to apply for a job. Some people are really frightened to start looking for work in the first place and the thought of doing so now can make it harder to build up confidence,” she says.
In her book she talks about the need for women returners to think positively about the skills they have obtained through work and through parenting and to spend time and effort countering negative thoughts such as “I’m useless at…”
Bekki knows what she’s talking about. A mum of two children aged 9 and 11, she had a career break when they were young and only went back to work when her youngest child was two.
Her book covers all the issues women returners need to consider, from cv writing and interview technique to flexible working, financial support and finding childcare that is right for you. It even covers the challenge of finding work if English is not your first language and support for lone parents.
There is a chapter on time management, a vital skill for any working mum. Bekki advises doing a time audit where you look at how you spend your time over a few days. “It’s quite revealing,” she says. “It shows up where you are not using your time efficiently and how little time women spend on themselves.” The aim is to find out what things you could cut out or do more efficiently since, if you go back to work, you will have to squash the time available for things like housework. She insists that you have to make time to look after yourself or you are no good to anyone.
“You cannot look after your children properly unless you look after yourself and have enough energy,” she says. “That means keeping healthy, eating healthily and exercising so you can deal with the stresses that life brings.”
Another important skill to develop is the ability to laugh at the often chaotic situations you might find yourself in as a way of releasing stress and avoiding negativity and depression. “I feel really strongly that you need to think positively. My mum might ring up on a day when I have been really busy. ‘Poor Bekki’ she’ll say when I tell her what I have been doing. But it is not as dreadful as it sounds. I feel more that I should be celebrating that I have achieved all of those things,” she says.
Another way of relieving stress is by talking about it with other people in the same position and being able to laugh about it, even if only in retrospect.
Bekki also talks about the importance of developing the ability to delegate. “Women can find this hard,” she says. “It can seem easier to pick up your children’s toys than get them to do it, but in the long term it is better to get them to help. There comes a point where you have to, where you cannot do everything,” she says. You have to be able to communicate with your family members, including your partner, and share the load when you go back to work, she adds.
She advises explaining the implications to all involved and writing down what needs to be done so it can be shared out. “The default position is that you do it all,” she says, “and others merely help out. It should not be about helping, but about sharing.”
In her book, she says only a small percentage of jobs are obtained through answering job adverts in papers or on the internet so it is important to ask around about job opportunities and use social networking sites as well as to go down the tried and trusted job ads route. She says it is definitely worth posting on Facebook that you are looking for work. You could start by doing small jobs and then these may expand. Voluntary work is also a good option for getting back in the swing of work and building experience and confidence. You could also consider a part-time role which is not too demanding and this may then develop into something more challenging. She says many smaller firms don’t advertise because of the expense so it is worth approaching them with your cv.
The Mum’s Guide to Returning to Work is published by Beamington Publishing, price £7.99.