Saturday, 23 February 2019

Getting Back into the Workplace | FAQ's

I mentioned a while back that I would write a post about my experience of getting back into the workplace proper after long break. I've done bits and pieces of social media work on a part time basis over recent years but this is my first time back in a role similar to what I used to do before the twins were born. When I talked about it on an earlier post, I had so many emails and messages from women who wanted to reignite their careers but didn't know how to. So here goes - I'm not sure if this will help massively because so much of the jobs game is about luck, timing and connections and no two situations will be the same. It's taken me an age to write it but hopefully bit and pieces of it will help a few of you out there.

I'm conscious that there are many of you reading this who never took more than the bare minimum off work and who work full time juggling work and home. Career vs Kids is such an emotive subject especially if you don't have a choice in the matter for financial or other reasons. It's a massive privilege to be able to stay at home with your kids and to have the choice to go back to work. Equally there are many reading who regret giving up their career and may feel envious of women who didn't, who are now flourishing in the workplace in their 40's. We're all in different situations and every woman out there is doing her best. No judgement. I've personally done all three - full time mum, full time working mum, part time working mum and I couldn't chose between them - they're all difficult and rewarding in their own ways.

Confidence
What I've found speaking to friends and reading your emails and messages is that the main barrier to going back to the workplace to do what you did before kids, is confidence. This can be for a few reasons. Some of us had a bad experience when we worked before. Maybe it was the motivator for you to leave. Others feel they've spent too long in a caring role to be able to function in an office environment again.

Confidence is your willingness to try....this was so helpful to read recently. Confidence is like a muscle - sometimes you have to get out there and push it to make it stronger. 

Like exercise, you can start to grow that confidence muscle with just one baby step. It's not about actually getting the job, that one step might just be sitting down with your computer and typing that word CV on the top of a page. Or calling out to a friend or an expert whom you know can help you with this because like exercise, it helps to have positive encouragement behind you from a coach, a friend or a life partner.

If you're really struggling, ask around for coaching recommendations. I had a session last year with Hollie from The Freedom Method and while it wasn't career specific, she did help me tease out what motivates me in my work life and it really helped focus my mind. She also helped me recognise my strengths and see the time I spent out of the workplace as a positive in that regard.

Shouting it out
Once you've decided you're ready to start looking, I urge you to call it out. Tell your friends, mention it on social media. Drop friends and ex-colleagues a friendly email asking them to keep you in mind if they hear of anything. Start a Linked-In profile and reconnect with work colleagues from way back when. So many temporary and contract roles are filled by word of mouth and if people don't know you're looking, they won't think of you when something comes up that needs filled fast. And a temporary job so often becomes a permanent one.

Applying for a job
Of course, while waiting for all the lovely referrals from friend and family, you'll have to start searching online applying for all the jobs that fit the bill. After a break, especially one as long as I had, you might have to pitch a bit lower initially and accept less money than you were hoping for, just to get your foot in the door. Also, don't get hung up on essential criteria - if you think you come close to meeting them, give the job a go. I was told recently that men are more inclined to disregard the criteria specifics and apply anyway in the hope that they can wing it at interview!

Register with a few agencies so that they come to you immediately if a suitable role comes to them but don't get too excited about any roles you see advertised online by agencies. My experience is that they're not great at updating online adverts and I came across so many that were already closed or even filled!

For that reason, I favour roles that are advertised directly by the hiring company. If you see something on an agency's site and it indicates who the employer is, go and look on the employer's website to see if you can apply directly.

When it comes to applications, there are still lots of companies that take a CV and covering letter. But it's become more commonplace to have to complete a competency based application form and in these situations you mustn't forget to answer to all of the essential criteria or you won't get an interview. Even if your application form has already detailed that you have a degree or 3 A-Levels in the education section...you will still have to talk about it again on the criteria section if it's one of the essential ones.

I can't say too much about interviews as I've only had one recently. I used a google list of typical interview questions and another google list of good questions to ask as an interviewee. I made a note of examples where I demonstrated the criteria  - initiative, leadership, team work etc - and brought them with me written down in a notebook, which I referred to a couple of times. And I smiled lots....I think that helps a bit!! No one wants a gurney bake opposite them in the office :)

Job hunting is a numbers game and you'll get better at the process the more you apply so keep at it and as difficult as it is, don't take the rejections personally.

Starting a new job
The practicalities of starting back in an office are another source of worry in your messages to me. With a good manager and team, you will adapt to your new surroundings quickly. Being in an office and being a full time carer are not greatly different. Negotiating, planning, communicating, finding ways around things and working hard. Only difference is in an office, you'll have peace to drink that coffee...and adult conversation.

Yes, you're going to struggle with the basics of logging in to a PC, working out how to do a spreadsheet again....and using printers hasn't gotten any easier in 10 years. Thankfully, I had a patient and knowledgeable 21-year old placement student to answer my endless questions and I had a manager who was clear in her expectations of me and the role for the first few weeks. It all really helped me to find my feet. I will assure you that not much has changed in the world of Windows since I was last in an office - 2 days in, and I was flying!


Coping when the going gets tough
And that's the thing - the first few weeks are actually comparatively easy because you're learning. People are making allowances for you and helping you. It's when you're a few months in that shit gets real. I've had a particularly difficult couple of weeks because I moved onto a new project and was struggling to get my head around it all. The goalposts were shifting and my manager wasn't available to help me. 

But it's back to the confidence thing again...it needed another kick up the backside to shift to the next level. I was so encouraged by lots of funny comments and DM's on Instagram where you told me you also felt like you were winging it every day and that this is ok. It's about reminding yourself every day that you've got this - you can do it....
......and perfecting the 'I am in control' face for meetings. 

What to wear
And finally....what on earth to wear. It's all business casual these days and it's a flipping nightmare! I've been relying on pleated or pencil skirts & jumpers, all worn with ankle boots or brogues but beyond that, I was really struggling - especially with trousers. So I set up a session with Katherin Farries at Victoria Square and she got me 3 pairs of work perfect smart casual trousers. Do consider asking for help from a stylist. Katherin does 1 hour express sessions ideal for this kind of thing.

A few tips beyond that:
  • If in doubt, dress up a bit. Always better to be over than under dressed. 
  • Don't show your toes in work. I have a MASSIVE bugbear about this - it looks so unprofessional.
  • Watch for cleavage and transparency of your tops. If in doubt, wear a vest
  • Another thing that hasn't changed in big offices is air conditioning...it's SO temperamental. Layers for the win - cardigans or light knits over a blouse are ideal.

Finally..,
I've not sussed it - I'm absolutely winging it in every respect. Down to writing this blog post in a convincing way. My house is a tip since I started and I have moments of panic every day when I think I can't do this. And I'm only part time in the office - though I am doing a day of self employed work too. But I keep reminding myself that I CAN do it....or at the very least, I'll do what I can and wing the rest.

Please do get in touch if you have any further questions or want to add to this blog post...you can comment below or email my on avril@alifetostyle.com.

Ax
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3 comments

  1. Always enjoy your posts Avril. You're authentic, warm and witty. I'm sure your employer is very lucky to have you.

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    Replies
    1. Oh what a lovely thing to say. Thank you so much. I hope they feel lucky to have me..it's certainly been a challenging few weeks so I'm hoping I've been doing a good job x

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    2. Ps I'm so sorry for the slow reply. I've not been getting notifications of comments for some reason and I've had a huge catch up this morning! People must think I'm ignoring them x

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