Returning to Work

As a life and career coach and HR Consultant, I work with people returning to work after a career break who are ready willing and able yet often daunted and overwhelmed at the prospect. Given the gap in their CV – which could have been for a few months or a number of years – they may lack confidence, fear judgement and/or worry about balancing work with personal priorities and commitments.

Whilst many employers recognise the value of returners to organisations, others, sadly, may make unfavourable assumptions about an individual’s capability, commitment and motivation.

To this end, returning to work requires research and preparation. Here’s some steps to help you get started:

1.     Know what you want.
Before you start firing off applications here, there and everywhere, clarify what you’re looking for. Start to picture yourself in your ideal job. Notice the type of work you’re doing, the type of environment you’re in, the level of responsibility you have and what specifically motivates you. What are the deal breakers and where would you be prepared to compromise? Try asking yourself what you would like to be, do or have career wise in 6 months / 12 months / 24 months time. 

Additionally, look at your career history to date and notice what you notice in terms of your motivation for applying for previous roles; your achievements; roles you’ve most and least enjoyed and the reasons for this; your strengths, and your successes.  

I worked with a client who was having little success securing interviews following a career break. It was soon apparent that she had no interest in the jobs for which she was applying and was only doing so as she had previously worked in the industry. She therefore began to focus her energy on a new career path through volunteering in the first instance. Another client of mine worked from home on her return from maternity leave on the assumption that this was her only option due to childcare. She soon found that she was desperately unhappy and demotivated and missed being in a sociable team environment. She returned to an office role and is now excelling in her career having found that childcare was easier to arrange than anticipated.    

2.     Do your research.  
Online job boards, company careers pages, Linked In and industry publications list opportunities and job requirements, which can help you get a feel for what may or may not suit you.

 You can also gain valuable knowledge and insights on companies online (i.e. Linked In, Facebook, Twitter) in terms of projects, achievements, developments, culture, values, mission, vision etc. Glassdoor -  allows employees and ex-employees to review companies and their CEOs.

 Connecting with ex colleagues, ex bosses, recruitment consultants etc to let them know that you are returning to work enables you to get updates on industry / market / company activity and trends.

3.     Carry out a skills audit.
Establish the typical skills, experience and knowledge required for your preferred job and career. If you don’t have the skills, experience and knowledge, ask yourself what steps you can begin to take to address this. It may be that you undertake some classroom training or online courses, or volunteer or take temporary work to either ease you back to work, develop new skills, refresh your skills and/or help you see if this type of work is right for you. My client mentioned above used volunteering as a way of changing career and acquiring the skills and experience she needed.  

4.     Be clear on your motivation.
A study by Kaitlin Wooley (Cornell University) and Ayelet Fishbach (University of Chicago) (September 2018) showed that job candidates frequently underestimate how much recruiters want to hear them say that they love their job. They go on to say that this is about demonstrating your intrinsic motivation (doing something for the joy it brings), over extrinsic motivation (doing something for the external reward).  This doesn’t mean being unnaturally gushy on a CV or during an interview, it’s simply showing that you have a genuine passion and enthusiasm for what you do, or would like to do, which could indicate you’ll work hard and show commitment. If you are unable to articulate what you like about the role, company and/or industry, then have a think about if this is the right role for you.  

5.     CV
All jobs require a CV of some description and it’s essential that it succinctly stands out from the rest. To keep the reader’s attention, try and keep your CV to 2 pages and tweak it as required in line with the job for which you’re applying so that it’s relevant. Draw out your relevant skills, experience and achievements so that a hiring manager skimming through tens of CVs can quickly see your suitability in terms of what you’ve done and how you’ve done it. Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. If you were them, would you be able to easily see from your CV your suitability for the job? 

6.     Linked In
Many in house and external recruiters used Linked In to search for suitable candidates using key words and so creating or updating your Linked In profile can increase your chances of being headhunted. Look at what is being asked for in online and offline job descriptions and update your Linked In profile using the same language and terminology to make you findable. Click to say that you are open to new opportunities and sit back and let recruiters come to you!

7.     Network
Connect with ex-colleagues, ex-bosses, friends, recruitment consultants etc to let people know that you’re returning to work. Most recruiters would rather receive referrals and recommendations during the hiring process for peace of mind and ease and many companies have referral or recommend a friend schemes for this reason. Your network will also be delighted to hear from you!   

You may choose to additionally network online by, for example, engaging on social media with companies or individuals who post regularly with business or industry updates or with thought leadership articles.  

8.     Applying for jobs.
Most jobs are now advertised online including on company websites, Linked In, recruitment agency websites, general online job boards and industry specific publications and job boards.  Your network may also be able to advise you of opportunities.  

There is no harm in sending a speculative CV and covering letter to an organisation. If doing so, get the name of the hiring manager or department head (have a look on Linked In or the company website) and send them your CV and covering letter whilst also applying through the recruitment team / online application process too to maximise your chances. This arguably shows initiative, enthusiasm and confidence.   

Don’t be put off if you don’t meet all the required criteria for a role. A hiring manager doesn’t necessarily expect candidates to meet all criteria but will look for evidence that you are competent and passionate with the capability to learn and develop. The worst thing that will happen is that you don’t hear back and so really, you’ve nothing to lose.   

9.     Returnships
Some companies now offer higher-level internships for candidates who have had an extended career break. These are typically paid, short-term employment contracts that can range from three to six months in length and help ease the returner back to work with a view to hopefully securing a permanent job at the end of it. Last year, the government, spearheaded by the Minister for Women and Equalities, launched a £1.5m Returners Fund to help private companies support men and women back to work who have had a career break due to caring responsibilities.

10.  Feedback
In the event that you’re not successful, ask for feedback. This is not unreasonable and most decent companies would provide this anyway. Take on board the comments and see it as an opportunity for development. There is no such thing as failure – only feedback (NLP Presupposition).


Julie Greaves is a coach, HR Consultant and founder of Carrot Coaching. She works with clients, mainly female professionals, to help them reach their career potential with clarity, confidence and authenticity. To have a no-obligation complimentary chat with Julie about how she can help you, contact her at or .



















Julie Greaves