by Kath Sloggett

Are you contemplating returning to work once the children are at school in September?

If you are planning to return to work this year, before you do anything else, please read about these three mistakes I regularly see being made.  As a Career Coach, I help many women return to work after having a family career break, but I also help people return after any kind of career break.  I also regularly help both men and women to change careers.  These mistakes are common in all of these scenarios.

The good news is that, once you are aware of them, you can more easily side-step these mistakes which might have tripped you up.  You’ll soon be on your way to successfully returning to work.

Aiming too low

After coaching hundreds of people to return to work, I have realised this truth: whether someone has been out of the workforce for 3 months or 15 years has very little bearing on how they feel when returning.  Even after a very short break, people often can’t quite remember how they did the job they used to do. And that fact directly impacts on their confidence when returning to work.

It’s natural. During any career break, our brains have been fully utilised in other ways – keeping babies alive, nurturing children, studying, caring for elderly parents, and so on.  Our brain has filed away our work-specific knowledge somewhere safe, ready to be accessed when needed, but it is no longer at the front of our mind or on the tip of our tongue.   It can all seem like a distant memory.

As a consequence, when it comes to thinking about what role they might return into, many people pitch themselves at a somewhat lower level (organisationally/managerially/financially) than they were when they left work.

While this might seem like a sensible idea, and a reasonable compromise to get back into work sooner or to work part-time, it usually is not.

People often get fed up and frustrated within days or weeks of working at the wrong level.  They soon realise that they are doing tasks that they could do in their sleep – it is boring, repetitive, too menial, or not strategic enough.  Worse, some people can’t help but act at their previous, more senior, level despite being recruited into a more junior position, and they soon put people’s noses out of joint.  Ironically, when someone has taken the easy route, and effectively demoted themself, their performance can suffer and they can find themselves under more pressure to perform.

None of this is good for your long-term career prospects or your confidence.

Kath’s advice: Aim to return to work at the same level you left, or slightly higher.  Your work knowledge will return, your work muscle-memory will take over, and you will soon be back to your working best. 

“I Have To Do Something Entirely Different!”

If I had a pound for every ex-professional mother I have spoken with who wanted to launch a baby- or child- focused business …

When considering a return to work, many people reject their previous career, often for very good reasons.

  • Firstly, this might be a reaction to expected or known problems with returning to their particular field, such as law or banking.
  • Secondly, a career break might have coincided with feeling ready to change careers, and so this is the chance to make that change.
  • Thirdly, and this is something I see very regularly, it may be because a current life stage is so interesting that there is a genuine desire to share learnings or fill a gap for other people in the same life stage. Hence the ex-professional/new mum with her baby/child business idea.

There is nothing wrong with any of these reasons to change careers, but there is often value in stopping and taking stock, before making any radical decisions.

When I work with ‘return to work’ and ‘career change’ clients, we look at what type of work they enjoy and are good at, the working environment they thrive in, and their aspirations for the future.   It can be a huge change (and challenge) to move from a busy corporate background to working as a solo-preneur, or from consultancy to charity, etc so it is good to go into it with your eyes open.

We usually also discuss a range of roles, including some which utilise technical or transferable skills but also offer enough newness.

And, since I’m a serial entrepreneur and startup coach too, I help road test business concepts quickly so someone will know whether it has “got legs” (ie: is likely to be both enjoyable and successful).

Only once you know why you are making the change, and what you are seeking in your next career, can you make sound decisions about your next steps.

Kath’s advice: Spend some time thinking about, and talking about, why you are contemplating this career.  And think about how this new career/business will work for you, and keep your interest, over a 5 and 10 year horizon as you move into new life stages.

‘Online Only’ Job Searching

I’m going to guess that you are expecting to find your next job by searching online.  Perhaps you will search the major jobs boards, or perhaps you will spend time on more niche industry-specific, role-specific, or part-time job sites.  Maybe you have signed up to receive some jobs newsletters or alerts too?

That’s fine.  But statistically, you are unlikely to find your next job online.  And your odds are further reduced if you have had any kind of career gap or if you are deviating from the types of roles you have held previously.

Recruitment websites just don’t have much subtlety.  Their software ‘spiders’ are looking for specific keywords which show individuals with a clear career trajectory, with no career gaps, and whose experience closely matches the published job requirements.

So, while it is useful to use online searching as a part of your wider job search tactics, it is best not to rely on it in isolation.  Another approach, depending on your industry/qualification, might be to use specialist headhunters or recruiters.

The best way to return to work is by making contact with various people – including both people in your current network and people beyond your network.  By letting your family and friends know what type of role you are seeking, and by reaching out to new people who can help you find a new job, you are much more likely to be successful.

Kath’s advice:  Aim to spend more time meeting with, and talking to, people than you do searching on online for your next job. 

Have you fallen foul of any of these common mistakes?  Do you have any others you think we should include? Please drop me a line and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Kath x

You are invited to join our friendly Working Mums’ Hub Facebook Group for working, and would-like-to-be working, mums.  We answer questions, share career and start up business tips, and post returnships and family-friendly jobs.

If you would like to join a friendly group of like-minded ‘return to work’ mums, we are running a Return to Work Club, which will meet regularly from February to June 2018.  We will share job search tips, expert advice on CVs, LinkedIn, interviews, salary negotiation, and much more – all to help you successfully return to work in 2018. Read more here.

Find out more

Kath Sloggett is an entrepreneur, career coach and start-up adviser. She started her career in large organisations – including PwC, Coca-Cola and BT – before branching out into smaller businesses, becoming the CEO at Everyman Cinemas. Using this wealth of experience, she began coaching entrepreneurs and professionals, and launched her own businesses including Runneth. Kath is a working mother so she can speak from personal experience on managing parenthood and career.

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