How do I start a job search after a career break?

Your question:

Having had a career break to look after my young children, I’m now planning to return to work in September once my kids go back to school, but I don’t know where to begin. Do you have any advice to help me return to the workplace?

Our answer:

I’ve worked with hundreds of mums to help them return to work after a career break, so I know how easy it is to feel stuck in a career rut, and unsure of which path you should take.

This lack of direction together with a loss of confidence that many mums experience when they have been out of the workplace for a few years, means that is all too tempting to procrastinate and put off returning to work.

My top piece of advice would be to learn from other people’s mistakes to help you kick-start your own successful job search. Based on my experience as a career and confidence coach, here are the five most common mistakes women returners make – and how to avoid them.

1) Don’t assume things aren’t possible

So often mums talk themselves out of good ideas before they have properly researched and pursued them. For example, I often hear clients say, “I won’t be able to negotiate part-time hours from a new employer because I don’t have a proven track record” or “It isn’t possible to have a senior management position and work flexibly”.

I would always challenge these assumptions by asking “Why not?” – otherwise there’s a danger your beliefs can become self-fulfilling truths as they put you off even applying for roles.

2) Don’t undervalue yourself

Another common mistake returner mums make is falling into the trap of thinking they have to take a massive pay cut or jump down the career ladder to achieve the flexibility they desire.

So, unless you have a strong background in admin, don’t default to the solution ‘I’ll just work in the office at my kids’ school’ as you’re unlikely to get the role if you are over-qualified for it, and more importantly it may leave you feeling unfulfilled.

3) Don’t assume that all roles are advertised

The majority of roles (it’s estimated at approximately 70%) are never advertised, so don’t restrict your job hunt strategy to seeking out and applying for existing advertised vacancies.

Instead, work out what career path you want to take and then start telling people in your personal and professional network. You’ll be surprised how your network can open up with introductions to relevant people, and how many fulfilling and flexible roles there are out there.

4) Don’t restrict yourself to applying for part-time roles

Unless you only want to work a couple of days a week, then I would suggest you consider applying for some full-time roles as you may be able to negotiate some flexibility or part time hours as part of an overall package once a job offer has been made.

(You can read more about how and when to ask for flexibility during the recruitment process, and find out why 9/10 employers would offer it to the right candidate here.)

5) Don’t approach your job search too literally

Don’t assume that a role with traditional hours, or a very narrow interpretation of flexibility are your only career options.

Instead, you need to think outside the box and identify what working pattern could work for you and your family. It might, for example, be compressed hours (working five days in four), doing a job share, weighting your hours towards term time, or working two school days from home and three days from the office. By thinking creatively in this way, you should be able to open up a range of exciting new job possibilities.

Answered by our career agony aunt Fiona Clark from Inspired Mums. If you have a question you’d like Fiona to answer, please email her or call her on 07789 597209. If you feel you’ve lost your sense of career direction or lack confidence, contact Fiona for a FREE 30 minute 1-2-1 consultation. 

Need more advice? Download Inspired Mums’ free e-book For mums stuck in a career rut – 8 steps to finding work you love on their website. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.