Welcome to Consult a Coach, our regular careers clinic for Bazaar readers. Send us your work dilemma, and we’ll ask our career agony aunt – the industry professional, executive coach and motivational speaker Jo Glynn-Smith – to answer it.
Here, Jo advises a reader on how to get back into the workplace after a long career break.
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I am 42 years old and have been parenting for the last ten or so years. Now, I would like to start doing something with my brain that also brings me satisfaction. I am lost at the moment, as I don't want to return to my previous career in marketing communications.
I have an emptiness in me that's triggered when I see women my age who are successful in their fields. Even though I have been there for my kids all along – and I wouldn’t change this experience – I also feel like I haven’t done much professionally, and it really gets to me these days.
Could you please help me with how to start?
Thank you in advance!
Thanks for writing in – this is a poignant topic and one that doesn’t just apply to mothers, but also to people who have taken career breaks for other reasons, such as for their health or when caring for someone. Re-entering the workplace after a significant break can feel overwhelming, especially in this highly digitalised world. But with the right consideration and planning, it’s entirely possible to get back on that wagon and enjoy a new career that will bring you the satisfaction you’re looking for.
First, you need to consider how you will structure your work with your family commitments. Do you need to be flexible around holidays? School pick-ups? Or do you have a partner or childcare support that means you could work full time? These are important logistical questions that can’t be ignored from the offset.
You mention that you don’t want to go back into what you did before, but that doesn’t mean you need to leave those skills behind. I advise my clients who might be considering a career change to list their skills and strengths, in order to get a picture of what it is that they could bring to a potential employer, or even their own business. Remember the distinction: skills are what people learn, acquire and get better at over time, with practice; strengths are the abilities which come naturally to a person.
To do this, list all the roles you had prior to having your family. Against each one, write down the strengths that helped you to do the job and the skills you formed along the way. Consider what you liked about the role, and what you didn’t – this is a useful self-awareness exercise. Is there a strong pattern? Are there roles that really jumped out at you as ones you particularly enjoyed, and if so, why? These answers could help inform you as to the direction you might like to take.
Next, list any particular interests or areas of business that you’d like to work in and match your skills and strengths against these jobs – do they align, or are there skills gaps that might require further training? Education is key when re-entering the workplace and most people will require a skills brush up (if not a complete overhaul) to give them the best opportunity for success. Consider what this would look like in terms of time, cost and commitment.
Finally, think about what you want to get out of working again. You mention a sense of satisfaction, but what else? What other expectations do you have? It’s worth being completely honest with yourself here. Consider the salary, type of role, how much time you really want to commit, the type of company, any travel and benefits, and the office culture as starting points.
You should now have a rough picture of what you have to offer and what you want to get out of working life, as well as where the gaps are and what you need to do to plug them. The rest is up to you.
Jo Glynn-Smith is a transformation coach, speaker and personal-brand expert from London who works with leaders, entrepreneurs and businesses to help maximise their team or individual potential. Before becoming a coach, she spent most of her career in the fashion industry working at the highest level with some of the biggest global brands. You can follow Jo for more coaching tips and advice on Instagram (@jojoglynnsmith) or visit her website, joglynnsmith.com.
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