How can you get back to work after a 10-year career break? We talk to one woman who did just that to find out.
Taking a career break can seem like the best thing to do at the time, but what you might imagine as a short break can sometimes last longer than you expect, making it hard to get back into the workplace at anything near the level you left at.
One person who has done that is Cheryl Townend. She thought she was just taking a short break when her second daughter was born, but it took her 10 years to get back onto her original career track.
She had worked for 13 years as a computer programmer and software project manager, but after her first daughter was born found the travel, long hours and lack of a nearby family support network ground her down. Her second daughter was born with a lot of medical needs, which made returning impossible.
Over the next 10 years she did some administrative work and taught maths part time at a secondary school while looking for ways to return to the IT project management work she loved.
She looked at apprenticeships for older people and eventually came across returner programmes, but either they didn’t offer a role which was the right fit for her or she didn’t get an interview.
So she beefed up her LinkedIn profile. When she started she had just five contacts on it; she now has 600. She trawled her contacts, but found many had moved on. She updated her profile, stating that she was looking for project management roles and to return to work after a career break. She even said she would consider an unpaid internship.
It was through that profile that FDM Group, which specialises in finding technology jobs for returners, found her. She sent her cv in and was selected for a trial day.
“I was beyond nervous,” she says. “I had to reboot myself from scratch.” She didn’t even have a suit and her friends helped her to practice her interview technique. In fact, the trial day was not the ordeal she had anticipated. There was a lot of group working, presentations and business problem solving plus a general knowledge test.
“FDM Group is looking at the total package,” says Cheryl. “That’s what makes them special. Everyone was very supportive. It was a rigorous professional process, but it wasn’t competitive. It was so nice to find my tribe and not feel so isolated. People had taken time off for many different reasons. Everyone had different stories. I had felt like a lone wolf before that day. I felt this might work, that this is what I need.”
Cheryl was selected for FDM’s seven-week training programme. It was based in London. There were 15 people in her cohort, including several men.
The initial focus was on confidence building. “The focus from minute one of day one was on building up our confidence. I realised that I didn’t need to apologise for taking a career break, that I had my previous skills and more from my career break and that I could be loud and proud about these. It was a revelation,” says Cheryl.
While she was searching for ways back in before, she consulted a career coach who told her to blank out her age and employment dates. FDM told her not to do that and that she should be confident and know her own value.
The training programme offered a range of skills training for different roles and trainees could choose those which were more appropriate and relevant for them. Cheryl earned certification in two different project management methodologies, including the agile scrum master methodology, and in business analysis.
FDM Group has a network of contacts across industry and the trainees’ cvs, which they polished over the course of the programmes, were accessible to account managers. By week four Cheryl had been recruited to a role which was a perfect fit for her. “Instead of seeking positions we were sought by the account managers,” she says. “It was a watershed moment. After spending a year and a half looking for positions people wanted me.”
FDM Group returners commit for two years and are placed as consultants within its network of industry contacts over that period. Cheryl’s first contract was a three-month one doing financial analysis at a bank. The day she finished and returned to FDM Group she got a role as a project manager at Deutsche Bank.
The role was full time, unlike the training programme, which operates on shorter days, gives trainees time to sort out or test childcare and get back into the swing of commuting. Cheryl says many of her cohort have returned to flexi roles, but she preferred to work full time with some homeworking.
Due to the cohort format of the training programme, she also has a supportive group of friends who know what she is going through and who meet regularly.
She says: “Everyone supports each other always. Part of that is because FDM Group never made it about competition. If anyone was placed it was because their skills matched the position on offer. I feel very lucky to have had the benefit of such a supportive programme and environment.”