Welcome to the Career Returner Blog
Updated: Oct 3, 2019
Welcome to the Career Returner Blog! In this first ever post, I share the story of why I took time out from working as a recruitment director to look after my children and then set up my own business coaching women returning to work after their career break. I run through what this blog is for and preview what to expect from future posts
Written by Emma Waltham | Career Returner Expert |
When you decide to go back to work after a career break, it is totally normal to feel like you have a mountain to climb. Confidence is low and your network has moved on. You may feel like you've changed after becoming a parent and often we have very different priorities. That was certainly how I felt.
In my experience, you can make it through and get to a good place, but it takes determination! And you will probably need some help.
"When you decide to go back to work after a career break, it is totally normal to feel like you have a mountain to climb"
The F Word
What worked for me was coming to understand what my strengths were and just what drives me (which is where I needed help, but more about this later). I decided to retrain, and now have my own coaching business doing work I love, while having the flexibility to spend time with my family.
Can I mention me-time too? I’m a HUGE believer in wellness and mindfulness. What’s the point of striving, striving, striving, if you don’t take time to enjoy what you have? I’m grateful and I want to savour the moment. You just never know what’s round the corner. Every day I make sure I make time to go for a walk in the woods, do yoga or have a swim. Having my own business gives me the flexibility to fit exercise into my day and I find it revitalises me for work and family life.
Now for the Bio
What about before my career break? Well, I was a director, working first in publishing and then in a recruitment business. I reached that point around my mid-thirties and enjoyed those busy, challenging roles.
Once I'd had my first baby, things began to change. By that time, I was in an organisation that wasn’t such a good fit for me and I wasn’t enjoying it. On top of that, women who’d gone back after maternity leave at my level were offered some flexibility but generally were expected to work four full days to keep a director-level job. I commuted for three hours a day to work, so I wouldn’t see the baby on the days I worked if I took up this option. He’d be asleep when I left and asleep when I got home. I just couldn’t face that to do a job I wasn’t enjoying.
Taking the Leap
So I left. I guess this was a big step to take. It was early 2011 when the economy wasn’t great and I walked away from an easy job with a good salary. But at the time I really didn’t feel any fear. I planned to have another baby fairly soon and after that I would just find another job. I was confident that I had lots of qualifications, experience and talents, along with recruitment expertise. I’d hired lots of people for my teams and clients. I knew how to write a good CV and just what interviewers were looking for. It would be easy to get a job, right? Nothing to worry about.
Mmm, once I was a stay-at-home mum with two small children, I had a major perspective shift. I just wasn’t the person I was before children. While having an interesting, fulfilling, well-paid job was still important to me, I didn’t want to be doing something where I was away all day and often travelled. I wanted to work part-time.
"Once I was a stay-at-home mum with two small children, I had a major perspective shift. I just wasn’t the person I was before children"
A Reality Check
I’d kept my hand in, volunteering for the NCT doing website work, fundraising for the local children’s centre and becoming a parish councillor. I wanted to have something to talk about on my CV when I was on my break. When my youngest turned 1, I felt ready to rejoin the workforce, put together a CV and apply for jobs. To give me a deadline to write the CV, I booked into a workshop.
While writing the CV, I audited my skills and strengths. I’ve had a career change or two, so I reviewed what I’d done and what I could pitch for. At university, I did a chemistry PhD so that was one geeky string to my bow. After I completed that I went into publishing, rising to Creative Services Director. Because of that, I had lots of experience to draw on in marketing, editorial, and people and change management. I was promoted to the Executive Board at 35, becoming jointly responsible for the recruitment services section of the business. That added senior leadership, commercial awareness and recruitment expertise to my skills set.
In the end, I decided I would apply for part-time project manager roles. I had a lot of experience of successfully setting up and managing projects, as well as a relevant qualification. I assumed it was the kind of work that was on offer three days a week.
So I went along to the workshop and the facilitator reviewed my CV and we discussed my thoughts. At this point I got a massive shock. When we came to discussing my salary expectations, she broke the news that a part-time job was unlikely to pay even half of what I earned before my career break, which was just two and half years long. And part-time project management roles were hard to come by. Getting one would be competitive.
"A part-time job was unlikely to pay even half of what I earned before my career break, which had lasted just two and half years"
I wasn’t keen to take such a huge pay cut, just to be able to work part time, so I changed the plan. The priorities for me were getting back into paid work, but to keep my flexibility. Instead of embarking on a job search I chose to go freelance and started to look for marketing and publishing work. Within a few months I’d got two regular jobs, one doing interviews for an autobiography publisher, and the other doing marketing and publications consultancy for a charity. This worked very well with family life – they both offered very flexible working and most of the time I could work from home. I had low childcare costs as I could work around the children – a huge bonus.
The Long Game
This couldn’t be a long-term plan though, as it was total step backwards professionally. I wasn’t utilising any of the skills I’d used in the last seven years before my break. So while I was juggling the freelance work and family life, I started to think about the long game: what I’d like to do in the future, once both children were at school full-time.
Remember when I said this is where I needed help? The answer came when I was chatting with an old friend. Sometimes other people see things that you can’t. She asked me if I’d thought about becoming a coach – the ‘aha’ moment. I had an executive coach when I was in leadership roles, and found that experience empowering and insightful. The time I was being coached was a pivotal moment for me, raising my self-awareness and helping me succeed at the challenging roles I was given. It continues to impact positively on my life, many years later. The thought of doing that for someone else was exciting.
“The answer came when I was chatting with an old friend. Sometimes other people see things that you can’t”
I’d done on-the-job coaching when I was a people manager, but before setting myself up as a coach, I wanted to do some training, to be sure I was offering people a service that was built on totally solid foundations. I did an Executive Coaching course and a Coaching Certificate, both at the University of Cambridge. I loved that time in my life. I learned so much, got my brain working again, and met many interesting people along the way. I was doing the right thing.
So, where am I now? Since 2016, I’ve been building up a coaching business specialising in working with mums who want to take that step back into work after a career break, but don’t know how to accomplish it. They are ambitious, capable and experienced, but thwarted. I understand how they feel and I get so much satisfaction from helping them.
While working with my clients I am able to draw on my coaching expertise, and my experience of working in a leadership role in a recruitment business. I have interviewed hundreds of people and looked at too many CVs to count! I know how to convince a recruiter they need to interview you and what they’ll be looking for once you’re in the hot seat.
"I specialise in working with mums who want to take that step back into work after a career break, but don’t know how to accomplish it"
I understand what it’s like to build a business, so if clients would rather go it alone, working as a freelancer, consultant or mumpreneur, I can help with that too.
What am I like to work with? I am fascinated by people and enjoy listening to their stories, challenges and aspirations. People tell me I’m easy to talk to, and they can open up and share their vulnerabilities. They say it transforms a difficult time into a much more positive, fun and energising experience that moves them much more quickly to where they want to be – and further than if they were working through it on their own.
And finally, I have all the necessary ‘official’ expertise – I am a qualified coach, certified by the University of Cambridge. I am a member of the Association of Coaching, and always work within its code of ethics. I undertake continual training to ensure my skills are tip top. (I also have personal liability insurance.)
Step back boldly
So, to wrap up, I support and energise mums who are in that floundering place, so they can step back boldly into the work they want and deserve – whether that's a job, retraining, freelancing or setting up a business. I help them to find clarity, confidence and purpose. Whatever their aspirations are. This is a scary, unsettling time, but it is also an opportunity. If you have to make a change, why not make it one that works for you?
"I support and energise mums who are in that floundering place, so they can step back boldly into the work they want and deserve"
That’s why I’m blogging. I understand exactly what it's like when you want to restart a career after kids – I've been there myself. I’d like to share my experience with as many people as possible, knowing that so many women find themselves in the same situation and what a lonely and confusing place it can be.
I’ll be covering everything you might need to know to get back into work:
Job hunting – from how to put together a compelling career-break CV, to cover letters and interview tips.
How to improve your mindset: evaluate your strengths and skills, and improve confidence and put a stop to those fraudulent thoughts.
How to go it alone, whether that’s working freelance or doing contract work, or setting up your own business.
Sound interesting? Ready to get back to work? Subscribe to get weekly career-returner tips and inspiration direct to your inbox. And if there is anything else you'd like me to write about, I'd love to hear about it. Just leave a comment to let me know.
If you're ready to confidently progress your career and get the support you need to do the work required, book a FREE consultation call with me today. Find out how you can get into the perfect position to land a dream role that pays well and works with family life