Returners Career Advice

Top Tips to Help You Return to Work

Paul Brown
16.01.2019 Published: 16.01.19, Modified: 16.01.2019 09:01:49

Looking for work can be stressful at any stage in your career, but returning to the workplace after a prolonged period of absence can be particularly traumatic. Many of the obstacles in your way will be outside of your control, but there are things that you can do to help make the journey a little less intimidating. Since the launch of FDM’s Getting Back to Business programme in 2016, we have helped numerous returners restart their careers. Some have only been away for a year whilst others have stepped out for fifteen years or even more; nevertheless, the one thing they all have in common is their determination to make this transition work.

For this list, I am going to assume that you have your CV ready and that it is a true reflection of your skills and achievements; there are lots of great websites out there that can help you. I am also not going to concentrate on areas such as having an appropriate outfit ready to wear for when you go to the interview; for now, let us look at some tips around mind-set for consideration as you move forward.

  1. Make sure the timing is right.

There is no such thing as the perfect time to return to work, but I do think it is important to plan your return and make sure that the time is as right as it can be. What works for you and your situation? Do you have any care responsibilities you need to consider? Can you commit to the employer and your return? Do you have the support of those around you? Understanding these factors will help you minimise the pressure of returning, a successful return is all about planning.

  1. Have a positive attitude.

If nothing else, a great attitude will get you through most situations. You can achieve so much if you stay positive and take a step back to look at the situation. People always find it easier to deal with positive people rather than those that see everything in a negative light. Going back is hard, but do not single yourself out or believe that your situation is unique. Many people have difficulties with working; it is important to understand what is difficult for you and then find the coping strategies needed to help you work through the situation to a positive result.

  1. Be flexible.

If you have been away from the workplace, you may find yourself focusing on where you were before you took your career break, and what you expect the perfect role to be. The more that you narrow your field, the harder it is to make a success of your return. The end game is to get a suitable role; from there you can display your skills and start to create the perfect role for you.

  1. Believe in yourself.

It is easy to feel that you have lost your skills or that you will not be as good as you were before you took your career break, especially if you have had a substantial period away. Do not lose confidence in yourself or the people around you, and remember that the ‘hamsters have not eaten your brain’ whilst you have been away! At the end of the day, you are probably just a little rusty, but with determination and commitment, you really can be far better than you ever were. Set yourself achievable goals, but also ensure that you challenge yourself. It takes about four months to settle into any new job whether you have taken a career break or not, so do not despair.

  1. Know your strengths, skills and achievements.

You should know your own strengths and skills better than anyone else and be able to articulate them fully at an interview. You should feel comfortable talking about your previous work experience whilst also introducing the skills that you developed during your time away. Think about what an employer is looking for when they ask you a question, and tailor your answers around their needs and not your own. Always include examples to support your answers and be proud of the skills you have.

  1. Be determined and be realistic.

Grab every opportunity offered to you and you will soon find that you are in control of your own destiny. There will be knockbacks, rejections and disappointments, but you can learn from each experience and move forward. The jobs market is tough even when you have not had a career break; this journey is not easy, but it is achievable. You are in the ‘here and now,’ your past will only get you so far, you still need to show your determination and strength of character.

  1. Build your network.

The world functions on networks. If you do not know something, a strong network will ensure that you know someone that can help. Every situation can provide an opportunity to build your network and learn from the people around you. A strong network can be a cushion of support in your times of need.


  1. Flexible working is a two-way agreement.

Remember that flexible work and part-time work are two different things, there are many different options out there for you to explore and you do not have to focus on part-time work to get the flexibility you need. Employers usually offer some form of flexible working once they know that you can do the role. Let your skills and experience talk for you; convince the employer that you are the right person for the job and you will find that they will be more willing to accommodate your needs. There may also be times when the employer needs you to be flexible, such as month-end or when you have a big piece of work to deliver, try to accommodate their needs as well as your own. Flexible working is an integral part of being able to manage a full-time role for many and does not need to become a distraction.

  1. Understand there are elements of Team and Task as well as the Individual

Put yourself in the employer’s shoes and ask yourself why the company is hiring you and from there you can start to be a solution to their problem rather than providing further issues. Most employers will understand that you have been away from the workplace for some time and will support you in your return; however, they still need you to fit in with the existing team and contribute to the output in a positive way. If you have committed to being back at work, find a mechanism to make that return a success and understand that if you contribute to the team and the task then an employer will look after you as an individual.

  1. And finally, Stop Apologising!

Your career break has happened, and you cannot change your mind and take it all back, so don’t regret it and don’t apologise for your time away. There is so much that you will have learned during this time and many of those skills will be of use to an employer. There are numerous reasons why people need to step away from the workplace and each reason is equally valid, there is no right or wrong reason, sometimes life just happens. It is now time to move forward and get back in the game.

Kick-start your 2019 with our Getting Back to Business Programme.

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