I have been at home too long, my family couldn’t manage without me, everybody will be so young, I won’t understand all the new systems, I hear that there are no desk phones and everybody wears headsets now. Aargh! Does this sound familiar?
Over the past two years, I have met many women who have taken a break and are thinking about returning to the workforce and these are some of the things they worry about.
Let’s dispel some of these myths by telling you Anna’s story. Anna trained as an accountant and worked in Financial Services for 10 years. After her third child she took time out to raise her family (12 years). When I first met Anna she was worried that her skills and experience were out of date. and how her family would manage without her being at home to organise and support them.
Using the resources at www.womenreturners.com, Anna worked on the three areas below to get ready to go back to work:
Preparing her family. She talked to her children about going back to work, why she wanted to get back and what it would mean for each of them. She was surprised how encouraging her children were, they could see that she had the skills to return to work and quickly signed up to the extra jobs that would need to be done at home. Our children are more resilient than we think, they can take on more than we expect and when they understand how much ‘getting back to work’ means for our identity or financial security, they are, in my experience, very supportive.
Next, she worked on her ‘career story’. She followed our advice to outline her pre-break work experience and qualifications, highlighting key achievements in each role. She gave a brief explanation of her break mentioning relevant study, projects or volunteering. She finished her career story with a short description of the type of work she was now targeting.
Finally, she started telling her story to her network. But ‘I don’t have a network’ is the usual concern I hear from returners. Many mid to senior roles in Ireland are filled through the hiring manager’s network so contacts are important. My advice is get talking about what you want to do next. Tell friends, family and acquaintances what you are looking for as you never know who might have just the right contact for you. Update your LinkedIn profile and use it to reconnect with former colleagues. Join industry groups and attend professional seminars and conferences, volunteering to help if you can’t afford the cost.
After 3 months preparing, Anna applied for a returnship programme with a leading financial services firm. ‘Returnships’ are higher-level paid internships tailored to create a supported route back to mid-to-senior level roles for returning professionals. Returners take on professionally-paid work using their existing skills and experience, and receive support from the employer in terms of training, mentoring and often coaching to enable them to rapidly rebuild their professional confidence and skills. At the end of the contract there is a strong possibility of a permanent role.
Anna was successful in the competitive application process and is currently in the middle of the programme. She is loving being back at work – she’s enjoying the role, surprised at how much she has to offer the business, enjoying a strong sense of achievement and happy to be regaining her professional identity. She values the coaching programme she’s receiving from Women Returners, the internal mentoring and the supportive peer group of fellow returners. Her family are managing really well and she is happy to be a role model for her daughters. She hopes she will get a permanent role with the organisation at the end of the programme but knows that whatever the outcome, doing the returnship has increased her confidence and experience immeasurably.
In Ireland, we are starting to change the conversation around returners. Employers are recognising that this high-calibre and motivated group can help to increase gender and age diversity and fill talent gaps. Central to this change of employer mind-set has been the introduction of returnships and other returner programmes. Returnships range from 3 to 6 months, with a strong possibility of an on-going role at the end of the programme. Employers get access to an untapped high-calibre candidate pool, with the opportunity of a built-in trial period to reduce the perceived risk. We have also introduced the concept of ‘supported hiring’ programmes – bringing returners directly into permanent roles with coaching support.
What’s next for Ireland?
We’re taking the learnings from our extensive experience in the UK market to lead the introduction of returner programmes into Ireland in a way that works for business and returners. So far, we have partnered with Fidelity International and HubSpot to run returnship programmes in Dublin. We have most recently worked with Fidelity Investments to co-host a return-to-work event and develop a supported hiring programme with them.
How to find out more
If you are a returner, you can find out about current opportunities in Ireland here. Subscribe to our free network here, to be the first to hear about new return-to-work events, returnships and supported hiring opportunities as they come on stream in Ireland. Find our resource hub and other inspiring success stories at www.womenreturners.com.
Elaine Russell is Head of Women Returners in Ireland. Women Returners (www.womenreturners.com) is a consulting, coaching and network organisation which works with individuals and organisations to enable the return to work of experienced professionals after a long career break. They are leading the introduction of returner programmes into Ireland and run a free network community for returning professional women.