My 5 Tips for Getting Back to Work after a Career Break – Birds on the Blog

My 5 Tips for Getting Back to Work after a Career Break

My 5 Tips for Getting Back to Work after a Career Break

By Avril Chester – IT Director, Board Trustee and Cancer Survivor

Finally, after years of hard graft my career was taking off.

I had earned enough stripes to step into Interim Management, master of my own destiny with the promise of new opportunities, challenge, excitement and change. I had also secured my first Board Trustee role for a charity. I eagerly started working on brand ‘me’ by getting into Twitter and writing my first blog.

Then, one morning everything changed. I was staying in a hotel ready for an early start at a different office when I found it. The day I didn’t have my shower puff ball.

Unfazed I went along with Doctors appointments, screenings, even a wire guided lumpectomy as all thought it was a fibrosis lump. It was 1st December 2015. I thought they had somebody else’s test results. What do you mean I have grade 3 breast cancer? I’m only 37 years old!

Mastectomy and chemotherapy later I’m spat out all battered and bruised. Emotions in tatters, body 1 stone heavier from all the steroids and bald. It had been a brutal 18 months in total if you include my marriage breakdown, divorce, house move then this. I swear somebody had hidden the ejector seat button.

Someone once told me that there are radiators and drainers in life. Surround yourself with radiators. This couldn’t be more true, especially when things get really tough. I am genuinely a positive person but even us positive souls need TLC and an encouraging lift in times of strife. Those closest to me listened, dusted me off, picked me up and reminded me of who I am.

Slowly but surely my inner strength, positive attitude, determination, persistence and being surrounded by the warmth and love of my radiators, I am back to my chirpy self. All energetic, full of life and ready to take on anything. It was at that point, I knew I was ready to head back to work full of confidence knowing I have a tremendous amount to give. I am keen to share my learning of this step with you.

My 5 tips for getting back to work after a career break

1. Network.

Go to a couple of events and conferences. Mingle (aka Network) for the day. Listen to what’s new and then listen to you. Was it interesting? Did it float your boat? Has that fire reignited in your belly? If it hasn’t, perhaps a new direction lies ahead or it may be too early to go back. If you are sensing the need to get more involved, then your initial acid test is complete.
2. Don’t dwell on the gap

How does one convince a hiring manager of your worth? Surely they will just see a gap in the traditional CV and not bother? Having thought about this a lot my answer is – if they see it in that way then they are short sighted and you wouldn’t want to work for them anyway. Don’t dwell on the gap in your CV. We all have valid reasons for a CV gap, whether illness, a career break, family matters.

The world has changed. We no longer live our whole lives dedicated to 1 company. We talk a lot more about behaviour, values and how we tackle a situation as well as core competency. Remember your core competency is still there.

3. Look at the Positives

Your behaviours, values and responses have just been tested more intensely than in many work situations. Whether you planned your time off or not, you have learnt more about yourself and now offer fresh perspective and thinking.

Perhaps you discovered hidden talents you never knew existed or found yourself to be in such demand that multi-tasking is now plain sailing. Whether it’s time management, negotiation, problem solving, delegating, innovating, financial management, dealing with risk, resilience, patience, creativity, determination… I can go on… Identify what you have learnt and capitalize on it.

When providing interview responses pick a previous relevant work example. Once shared, expand on how you would tackle this situation in future incorporating your recent personal development. Would you change your approach at all? Are you more confident in your actions? Are you more of a risk taker? Would you now apply different logic to your decision making? Have you recently encouraged a group of extremely reluctant people to come together for a common purpose? Did you deal with a different kind of politics? Perhaps you negotiated a path through a series of demands upon your time? Remember we get tested in our daily lives, your responsibility is to explain how this naturally transfers to the workplace.

4. Extracurricular opportunities

If you are just about to go on a career break and fancy keeping a light touch with the work environment plus learn new skills, then consider applying for a role on a Board as Trustee for a charity. Many charities need our help and I’m not just talking about traditional fundraising. Board meetings take place around 6-8 times a year. How about being a school governor? A mentor to some individuals in your old team? Maybe this is your chance to write a book? None of these options are full-time. Offer your skills in an advisory capacity, feel good about giving back and add to your CV.

5. Have confidence in yourself

Getting back to work is also about having confidence in yourself. Know your strengths, this is essential. We are not designed to be amazing at everything. That’s why we are so powerful collectively, utilizing all our different skills to achieve greatness. Hone in on you. Brand you. Focus on what you are good at and your confidence will naturally grow. You have something stunning to offer along with everyone else. In those moments where you feel a small wobble, I’d recommend following the example set by our phenomenal SuperHumans. Our 2016 Paralympians.


Avril Chester found solace in while suffering from cancer through writing poems. She hopes the release of her poetry book, “Be with me, its c” can help and guide others suffering from this cruel disease. You can purchase a copy at Amazon.

Follow Avril on Twitter.

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