Returning to Work

Returning to the workforce can be challenging. If you have taken a career break – whether it was to raise a family, care for a parent or any other number of personal reasons – it is easy to feel out of step or left behind. Below, our career coach shares a few tips to get you going in the re-entry process.   

According to a recent McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace report, women currently hold only 14% of executive officer positions, 17% of board seats and make up 18% of our elected officials. Yet companies with women in executive roles are on average 15% more likely to outperform their competitors. Clearly, women have a skill set that is needed in today’s economy. How can we start to embrace our strengths and leverage them in a professional environment? And for women who have taken a break from the paid workforce, how can you start to regain your professional confidence?

According to the McKinsey study, there are two important things a company can do to encourage the upward mobility of women within their workforce and both can be applied to individuals as well. They are: 1) communicate, commit and track progress towards a goal; and 2) create opportunities for role modeling within the organization.

Let’s start with the second point, creating opportunities for role modeling. If you’ve been out of the paid workforce for a while and are unsure about the skills and experience you have that are relevant in today’s market, identify and connect with women who are working in the roles you’re interested in pursuing. Talking with these women will help you envision what professional life will look like and seeing them do amazing things in your field will remind you can get there too. It will also help you articulate the skills you already have and those you may need to improve, which can help you commit and track progress toward goals.

Once you understand what you need to be successful, you can evaluate opportunities to invest in additional training. Perhaps you’re feeling a bit rusty in Excel and won’t feel confident applying for an analyst position until you’ve taken the time to re-learn pivot tables. Or you find the idea of networking and giving your elevator pitch to an employer terrifying. If so, then joining Toast Master’s might be a good investment of your time so you feel more confident articulating your value add. Whatever it is, define your goals, commit to them and track your progress. To hold yourself accountable, consider creating your own Board of Directors. A Board of Directors can include friends, family and former colleagues who can provide support but also challenge you when you need it.

Of course, there will be times you are still nervous, even with all the preparation in the world. In these cases, try to remember this quote by Carrie Fisher: “Stay afraid but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” Science actually backs this up. One study found that when people assumed a high-power pose (think Wonder Woman) for just two minutes, their dominance hormone levels increased and their stress hormone levels decreased. As a result, they felt more powerful, in charge and showed a greater tolerance for risk. So when all else fails, fake it until you make it!

And when you succeed, celebrate! As women, we don’t do it enough. We carry a heavy load at home while also juggling multiple commitments in the community. We often feel rushed and don’t have time to stop, fearing if we do, something will fall apart. But we must take time. Not only does it change our outlook, but it fuels us to keep going. When you celebrate, endorphins are released inside your body and your mood is uplifted. Confidence comes with time. Don’t rob yourself of an important feeling that reinforces your commitment to success.

For more information, Carolina Alumni members can view a recorded webinar on returning to work.