The Challenge of Returning to Work: A Personal Perspective

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When you were a child, you were probably asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and you no doubt answered with your chosen career: a nurse perhaps, or an astronaut, or maybe even a famous singer. As a child, you probably believed that you would choose one job and stay in that job for the rest of your life. But real life, and the modern world, is a very different place. These days there are a multitude of different reasons why you might choose to switch directions or need to re-enter the workforce.

I can speak from personal experience when I say that I know it can be a daunting prospect. It often feels as though you only hear from two different ends of the spectrum. One friend tells you that she went back to work, started her own company and now brings in a fortune. Meanwhile another friend says that he’s desperately trying to go back to work but can’t see a way forward. The reality, at least for myself, lies somewhere in the middle. Going back to work can be a challenge but it is certainly not an insurmountable one.

The importance of positivity

When you are looking for a new job, staying positive is probably one of the hardest things to do but, in my opinion, the most important! When my youngest child was a toddler, I was really struggling to find a job that would fit around my existing responsibilities. Around that time, I happened to mention to a new friend at a playgroup that I was working on an interesting project as a volunteer at a performance arts venue. A few months later, when a role became available in her team, she remembered our conversation and put my name forward for the job. It was a wonderful opportunity with flexible hours and the option of working from home. After an interview, I was offered the role and ended up working for that company for a number of years!

I’m not for one moment stating that you should treat every conversation as an interview, but it does show that it’s worth keeping your mind open to possibilities. During the interview for that role, the company had already heard all about my volunteering project and it was a great conversation starter. I know that volunteering can be difficult if you have caring responsibilities but I’ve always found it to be a great way of keeping my CV up to date and meeting potential employers. Some volunteering roles can even be done online so it is definitely worth seeing what opportunities are available.

Be open to learning

It’s also important to show prospective employers that you’re willing to learn so take full advantage of wonderful websites like Back To Work Connect which offer valuable support and guidance as you return to the workforce. As a stay-at-home parent to my two young children, I wanted to study and keep my mind active but without spending too much money.

Fortunately there are a huge number of websites offering free courses from respected universities; refreshing your skills will not only make you more attractive to potential employers but also give you a confidence boost. It is also worth seeing if you have any friends or acquaintances to partner with on a skills exchange.

A few years ago, we moved to Paris and I really wanted to learn French, both to help integrate and to improve my job prospects. After asking around, I was introduced to a budding actor who wanted to improve her English and so each week we met for a coffee, one week she would teach me French and then next I would help her to improve her English – not only was it fun and free but I can now put a more advanced language level on my CV.

Coming back stronger and wiser

Going back to work after some time away can be frustrating, especially if you were in a senior role before and you’re now being expected to prove yourself again. However, I’ve found that people who’ve taken some knocks are often some of the most inspirational and interesting people to work with. Through living abroad I’ve met many people who’ve used an international move to change direction in their career or, in some cases, even start something completely new!

Lawyers have become photographers, academics have retrained as translators and stay at home parents have worked their way back up to become business directors. I know that it hasn’t always been plain sailing and they’ve no doubt experienced more than their fair share of difficulties. However, these challenges have given them a unique creativity and approach to problem-solving which means that they’re often successful in their ventures.

So if you’ve taken a few knocks or received a few of those dreaded rejection letters, give yourself some time to wallow then come back again, stronger and wiser and even more determined to succeed.

Asha Mentzer currently lives in Switzerland but has previously lived in England, France and the United States. When she’s not writing, her hobbies are travelling and reading – ideally doing both at the same time! You can follow her adventures on Instagram @areaderabroad