How to get back to work after a break

The Women Returners’ annual conference heard some expert advice from coaches on how you get back to work after a career break.



How do people get back to work after a break? Returners often adopt a strategy that gets them stuck and unable to get back to a job they enjoy, a returners conference heard yesterday.

Women Returners coach Karen Danker told the annual Women Returners conference that some returners have such a long list of potential jobs to try that they don’t know where to start.  Some jump straight into a job, but not long after they realise that they are not enjoying it.  Others sit and wait for the perfect job and feel stuck. 

Questions to ask yourself

Danker said returners had to first ask themselves three questions in order to get back to work after a break

  • why they want to go back to work;
  • what they want to do;
  • and how they can get there.

That helps them narrow down their options and find fulfilling work, said Danker. 

She added that returners need to be specific about why they want to go back to work, for instance, it’s not enough to say for financial reasons. They need to drill down to whether that means they need the salary, that earning gives them a sense of value or that they want to contribute their fair share to the household finances. 

She said that when it comes to how returners often focus on things like pay and flexibility when they should look first at what job would make them feel most fulfilled. Research shows this is a job where you are able to play to your strengths and which is linked to your interests and values, a job that has meaning for you, said Danker. “If you are able to use your strengths, you are more productive and happier,” she said. 

She added that it is also important to be specific about what those values, interests and strengths are, for instance, you might question whether you are an ideas person who is good at innovating or whether your strengths lie in motivating people or organising. You could question whether your values are more about status and security or recognition or about making a difference or challenging yourself. Danker added that you can get an idea of where your interests lie through thinking back through the things you enjoyed most in past jobs or in voluntary work.

Being open to different types of flexibility

Once you have decided what fulfills you, you can then focus on the kind of flexibility you might need – and she said people need to be open to different forms of flexibility. When it comes to pay, Danker said to ask yourself what level of pay you might need and what level you might aspire to.

She also spoke about the importance of networking, exploring old work and local contacts, sharing ideas with other returners, building a support group and creating your own lucky breaks. 

Another coach, Stephanie Rix, spoke about one of the big issues facing returners: confidence. She said acting brings confidence and compared building back self belief to going to a gym. She spoke of people’s inner critics which whisper messages of self doubt. These will never be eliminated, she said, but they can be dialled down and balanced by a person’s inner mentor which tells them they can do it, that they are more resourceful than they think. 

Rix also mentioned the importance of being specific about skills. She spoke about the importance of voice, dress, interview background for video interviews, preparation and practice. These help boost confidence as does self awareness. And for those who overthink everything, she advised a focus on purpose. She added: “Don’t want to feel confident. Self belief comes later. Don’t make your life a research project. Confidence comes from action.”

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