Last year we were delighted to be invited back to the biggest Mumsnet Event of the year.  Workfest16.  A yearly event focusing on supporting women back to Work after Maternity Leave.

This is an event offering lots of interactive support to women considering their options after maternity. There were presentations, workshops, career clinics, and lots of opportunities to network with employers, business owners, and of course other mums.

We found a lot of women we met attending this event were really not sure what they wanted to do next.  Although some were very clear about what they didn’t want to do we found on the whole for most they were undecided about the next step.

  • Return to work and pick up where they left off?
  • Change career direction and/or re-train?
  • Start a small office home office business?

These dilemmas were not really a surprise given the nature of this event.  The event was a great opportunity to network with other people in a similar situation, share stories, suggestions, and ideas.  It allowed these women to explore alternatives to just going back to their previous job.

For a few individuals, it was clearly one of the first full days they were away from their children.  A rare opportunity to think clearly and focus on their options.

Common Themes

Between career clinic appointments we decided to make good use of our time by networking and were invited to attend one of the workshops on offer to the delegates.

It was a great opportunity to observe and pick up the women’s real concerns, fears, and what was of particular interest to them regarding interviewing skills.

Lost Confidence

A high percentage of women had expressed that they had lost some confidence since leaving work to look after their children.

They were particularly concerned about what the hiring managers (recruiters) would think about the time out of the workplace.  They were concerned about whether they could actually demonstrate they were still worthy of hiring.

They doubted their ability to persuade the hiring managers that the gap in employment wasn’t an issue. However, they were equally concerned that this gap may well be an issue.  Out of date skills and knowledge and a genuine concern and worry about the rapidly changing market in their absence.

We understand this must be a concern and unfortunately, we cannot claim that there aren’t hiring managers that feel this way.

We do know that if you go into an interview with any doubts about your ability it will have an impact on your performance.  If you doubt your own capability or you lack a little confidence or you go into the interview with the perception that you’re not worthy of the job then this will most certainly affect your performance.

Here are some tips to help you maintain your confidence during your maternity:

Agree on “Keeping in touch” days: If your employer follows best practices you’ll be offered an opportunity to attend up to 10 “keeping in touch” days throughout your maternity leave. The nature of these days is for you and your manager to agree.  We think it’s a great way of keeping in contact with colleagues, what’s going on in the team, the organization, and thus maintaining your confidence as a valued employee. Even if you’re not sure you will return to that particular job or organization we think it’s best to keep a foot in the door and keep your options open.

Read & keep informed: Regularly keep up to date with trends, news items or try to find some time to read professional journals in your sector. Okay, this is easy to say when you don’t have a baby to feed every 4 hours, nappies to change, not to mention, cleaning, shopping, and cooking! This doesn’t have to be a huge task, just 10 minutes every other day or two would keep you informed of hot topics.

Attend Events: Try to attend the odd seminar, breakfast meeting, or industry update – again this will keep you in contact with colleagues, keep you up to date with the latest trends, legislation, or regulation changes and it will help you feel more confident about your ability.

You’ll also collect actual evidence of keeping up to date to share with the interviewers. These events are also a great place to network and this is key to the success of any career development or progression.

Time for a New Opportunity

If you’ve already decided you’re not returning to the same organization or you’ve already resigned and have been out of the workplace for a number of years as a stay-at-home-mum, here are some tips to help you prepare for your job search.

Conduct a SWOT Analysis

It’s essential before you start creating or updating your CV or job hunting that you understand exactly what you can offer (skills, experience, knowledge, qualifications).  Take time to understand what you want from employment (salary, career progression, training opportunities, hours, commute, etc.)

This is a step often skipped at the beginning of the process and later regretted. That old but relevant cliché comes to mind and it’s so true in this scenario.

“Fail to plan, plan to fail”

It’s important throughout your career that you regularly carry out a personal SWOT Analysis & Resources or at least keep a journal.

This will help you at formal appraisal times to map out any training needs, address any developments (weaknesses).

It’s always useful when looking for the next step in your career both internally (promotion or progression) or externally (new job or career).

If you don’t even know where to start either watch my video (get ready with pen and paper!) or SWOT Analysis & Resources.

Handling Tough Questions

What also came out of our observations were the fear of certain types of questions at the interview.

  • The dreaded “strengths and weaknesses” question.
  • The “tell me about yourself” question
  • The “why should we hire you?” question
  • The left-field questions like “how would you evacuate Manhattan?” or “how many tennis balls fit into a mini?”

For the record, I’ve never asked the last two questions!

  • What are your Strengths and Weaknesses?
  • Tell me about yourself?
  • Why should we hire you?

We agree with the women at Mumsnet that the strengths and weaknesses question is one of the most difficult to answer.

Particularly if you’ve not properly prepared and it is likely to catch most candidates off guard.

Hiring managers still ask this question today.  So you absolutely must prepare in advance for this one. There are very few candidates that can “wing” it on the day and get it to spot on to the job requirements.

For some useful tried and tested tips on handling tough questions visit my blog: How to answer tough interview questions.