Going back to work after a career break can be tough in the current climate, but the toughest challenge you face is building up your confidence to apply for jobs. Lack of confidence is a huge barrier facing women who have taken years out of the workforce. You need to think about the experience you already have, both in work and outside work. Not only have you built up a raft of skills as a parent which are useful in the workplace, including time management, communications skills and patience, but you may also have been involved in voluntary activities, such as on the parent teachers association.
You need to target what sort of job you want and what kind of hours will suit you, but prepare to be flexible over flexible working. You may think you can only do a few hours a day when with flexi hours and homeworking you might be able to take on more. Flexible working is all about negotiating what is right both for you and the organization you work for.
Looking for a flexible job can seem an uphill struggle as few are openly advertised and many people negotiate flexibility within an existing job. So where do you begin?
1. Tap your networks, including friends, family and former employers/colleagues. Exploit social networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Many jobs are advertised this way nowadays. If you are contacting an employer who doesn’t know you, you could ask to do a few days’ trial or a short-term project so that they can see what you’re capable of. Put forward a good business case for why hiring you on flexible hours makes sense for the organization.
2. Try organizations that specialize in offering flexible work, like Workingmums.co.uk, which works with employers who are keen to promote their family friendly credentials. Also, do research in the field you want to work in to find out what the best firms to work for are in terms of flexible working. Working Families runs an awards scheme that identifies good practice. Check the websites of the firms you want to work for – look at their HR policy and check out issues like their attitudes to flexible working. Those that have good policies on flexible working are usually keen to advertise it and to list what they offer. Look out for companies that offer a range of different types of flexible working, from flexi-time and compressed hours to working from home and job shares. Talk to people who work there, if you can, as this will give you a better idea of whether policy translates into practice.
3. When you go for interviews, don’t be shy about asking about the company’s flexible work policies. You don’t need to ask outright if you can work part-time or from home. It is better, at interview stage, to ask indirect questions about the company’s policies, about whether people normally work beyond their contracted hours and about how many of their employees work flexibly. If you are offered the job, you would then have to make a good business case for why you should do it on a flexible basis. Be realistic and don’t ask for a degree of flexibility which clearly will not work for the kind of job you are applying for.
4. If you have not agreed a flexible work pattern when you join as part of your contract of employment, it is advisable to go through a formal procedure for agreeing flexibility [this can be done after the first six months] so that your work pattern is written down and becomes part of your contract after you have worked it for more than a year. You can refer to this if the company subsequently seeks to change your hours which they would have to do in consultation with you or risk being in breach of contract.
5. Remember that you still have to have childcare covered for flexible options such as working from home.