Tips on returning to work after a career break

Return to workIn 2013 I returned to work after a career break of two and a half years, following the birth of my second daughter. I am fortunate enough to work for an employer with an extremely generous policy on career breaks (UK Civil Service) and so I had originally asked for, and been granted, a five year career break. However after I had done two years, I felt like I wanted to bring my return forwards and so decided to return early.

I have absolutely loved returning to work, despite initial nervousness about how I would balance my childcare and my new job, and whether I would still be able to have the necessary drive and energy to work in a fast paced environment and manage this part time. My biggest struggle at the beginning was with my confidence but that has now definitely returned and I am so pleased I made the decision to come back. The balance of part time working and parenting works really well for me and my family.

These are my top tips for returning to work or for those thinking about it:

Before you return, think about how you can update your skills. Even having a short break from work, I found that I lost a lot of confidence in my abilities so well before I was due to return I started doing things in my ‘spare’ time that I thought might help me at interviews. For example, together with a friend also on maternity leave I set up a blog to provide local information to parents. This gave me social media experience, marketing experience and experience of raising revenue for a small business. I also got involved with a group of parents setting up a new Free School and became the project manager. This strengthened existing skills I had. I then did a Prince 2 project management course. All this meant that I had lots of current and interesting things to talk about at interview.

Think about what you want to return to do. I also took time, with a career coach, to think about where I wanted to be long term and therefore what sort of roles I should look at. This was really helpful. If you can’t afford a coach you can do this on your own by thinking about where you want to be in ten years’ time and then thinking about three or four steps you would need to get there. Make sure you look at roles that will take you towards your eventual goal.

Meet up with old colleagues. I personally hate the word networking and think of building a network of colleagues past and present as one of the most rewarding aspects of work. When I was thinking about returning I met up with as many people as possible (with or without my children!) to talk about what they were up to now and get ideas for contacts, possible opportunities etc. This also had the added benefit of boosting my confidence and reminding me of the ‘work me’ I had been out of touch with for so long.

Sort your childcare early. I initially had a childcare disaster with a nanny I had spent ages recruiting leaving me after only one week (my children are not that bad honestly). Luckily I had arranged for the childcare to start before I went back to work so I had time to find another nanny. I was able to settle her and the children in before I went back to work so that I could go back with confidence. Whatever your arrangements are – nanny, nursery, childminder, grandparents – just make sure you are happy with it so when you are at work you can concentrate on it fully knowing your children are in good hands.

Be confident that you still have the same strengths - and probably some new ones too! When you are out of work for a while you can feel like things have moved on and you might be left behind. I would say that you can easily catch up on what is happening in your sector by reading a lot and meeting up with people. Knowledge can be regained quite quickly and once you have that you will find that you still also have all your old strengths as well. I’ve also found that I am now much more motivated and enthusiastic about work because taking time out showed me how much I value it and how important a rewarding work life is to me.

Deborah Brooks is a senior civil servant working in the Cabinet Office. She runs the ‘Cabinet Office Part Time and Jobshare Network’ and leads work across the Civil Service on raising the profile of job sharing as a career option. She is also a school governor, charity trustee and founder of the website North London Mums which provides local listings and information for families. You can contact Deborah @deborahbrooksn3

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