Career advice

Has International Women’s Day (IWD) inspired you to kick-start your career? Victoria McLean, CEO of career consultancy answers your questions about returning to work after a career break

Q: I took a six-year career break to look after my two children. How should I show this on my CV?
A: I’m asked this question a lot. Many women (and men) desperately want to return to work after a career break, but suffer a crisis of confidence. They’ve forgotten all their fantastic career achievements and can feel a bit vulnerable and lost. Let me tell you now: You’re not alone.
Here’s a huge confidence builder to get you going. When you go back over your career history, rework your job descriptions into powerful achievements that show all the benefits you brought to the business, clients or team. I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how great you are. When writing about your career break, keep it simple and lean. Don’t focus on it. It only needs to be a line or two, ‘sandwiched’ between compelling points that emphasise your professional work.
If you’ve done consultancy or voluntary work during your break, then write about it in the same achievement-focused style. Active PTA involvement, for example, shows strong leadership, organisation and communication skills, which is great. But don’t go overboard with lots of detail about hobbies and family life.
I’m not devaluing your time spent out of work. Believe me, I’ve been there and know just how challenging it is. But your CV should focus on your professional life and sell you as the perfect person for your next role.

Q: I have interviews lined up and want to request flexible working. How should I do this and when?
Juggling a career with commuting and family life is a huge challenge. Thankfully, enlightened employers now recognise the importance of offering flexible working to attract and retain top talent, like you. But first, you’ve got to convince them you are that candidate.
Don’t ignore roles that aren’t advertised as flexible. Just go for it. You can negotiate once you’ve landed the job.
Research what sort of flexible working could suit you and the employer. Part-time isn’t the only option. Think about home working, term-time only, staggered, compressed or annualised hours. This might come up at the final interview, so be prepared. But try not to raise it in your initial interview.
Be realistic and negotiate hard. Prepare a business case, think of cost savings for the business and remember that flexibility is a two-way street so you may need to compromise. You could suggest a trial period to test the water and prove that the arrangement works but do make sure that it works for you too… Don’t end up doing a full-time role for less pay – something I have seen happen all too often.

Q: I am struggling with interview nerves. Any advice?
A: Many clients dread interviews after a career break. But, when we speak to them a few months later, they’re amazed at how quickly they’ve bounced back.
Research the company and the role, then think about the questions they’re likely to ask. Remember, the interviewer is on your side. They want you to do well and every question is an opportunity for you to shine.
Re-connecting with old work friends over a drink or going along to networking events can help you feel more like your old professional self. How you answer questions, what you wear and your tone of voice all need to show the interviewer just what a confident, capable person you are. If you’re really nervous, professional coaching can help overcome all kinds of interview anxiety.

Q: I’ve been offered a new job but the salary is lower than I hoped. Any advice on negotiating more money?
Research suggests men are twice as likely to ask for more money at work than women. If we’re to close the gender pay gap, that’s got to change. We shouldn’t shy away from demanding fair pay for the work we do and the skills we bring.
Do your research and negotiate from a position of strength. Gather evidence about the complexity of the role and compare the salary with competitors. Never underestimate your market value and
in-demand skills.
You must be prepared to market yourself and outline the extra value you will bring to the company. To boost your confidence, try role-playing your salary negotiation with a friend who’s successfully asked for a pay rise before.

Q: Work/life balance is really important to me. Where can I find flexible roles?
A: I have worked with lots of fantastic organisations in this area over the years. These are definitely worth a look: Women Returners, The Return Hub, She’s Back, Capability Jane, 2to3 Days, ten2two and Timewise Jobs, to name but a few.

Q: I want to go back to work but not to my old corporate life. What should I do?
A: There’s nothing quite like stepping away from the rat race to re-evaluate our life goals. Many dream of breaking free and starting a completely new career path… But which one? As a former banking recruiter, I’m a big believer in the power of job shadowing. We found that graduates who made an informed choice were more successful. Now there’s a fantastic new resource – – for adults looking at a career change.
The idea is that, before you take the plunge, you shadow an expert in the business area that interests you. There’s no substitute for experience and expert help when working out your next steps.

If you have any work related questions or would like to know more about City CV, contact Victoria on