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Women returners can build up that back-to-work confidence

Women returners can build up that back-to-work confidence

 July 19, 2023

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Despite the many benefits a career break can bring, it can also knock our professional confidence.

With so much of our identity defined by our work, a career break of any length of time can certainly wear away our sense of self when we're looking for our next job.

Any lack of confidence can make it difficult to successfully return to work and reclaim our former identity as an impressive and talented professional.

Common anxieties of women returners include feelings like "I'm out of touch with the industry," or "I'm not the same person I was before the career break," or "I can't keep up with more competent and qualified colleagues,, or even "I'm just too old," and "I don't fully understand this new way of working,, or "I might not be able to connect with new colleagues."

These feelings, however, can be completely normal. 

According to a report from Vodafone UK, more than a third of all workplace returners experience a loss of confidence, which is nearly twice as common in women, who, often as primary caregivers, are also more likely to take career breaks.

But, anxiety over re-entering the workplace can also be a positive feeling, if it helps to embrace new challenges and mentally prepare for a different workplace than the one that was left behind. A lack of self-confidence, however, can be destructive if it prevents job applications, leads to failed interviews, or affects workplace performance.

Feeling over-whelmed, intimidated or anxious about returning back-to-work?

women returners confidence

Feeling intimidated and insecure can sometimes be common for many women returners. Plus, there can also be aspects related to inclusion that can make people feel somewhat alienated or excluded. Gender, age, race, ability, orientation, and many further aspects can layer workplace dynamics in a multitude of ways. Yet, this is a further critical reason to choose a Prime Employer for Women where diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging are absolutely central to these progressive organizations.  

For women returners struggling with self-esteem, remember that a career break isn't a gap in your CV, but a different source of unique knowledge, skills and experiences that can be tapped into by both you and an employer. Adjusting to this mindset is a first step in building back crucial confidence.

There are, however, actionable steps that can be taken. Set yourself up for a successful re-entry into the workplace by following these useful strategies.

Reflect on past achievements

Take the time to reflect on your past accomplishments, both personal and professional. Remind yourself of the skills and experiences gained throughout your career, and your career break, and consider how they can be valuable in your current journey. Recognizing past successes can be a huge confidence booster.

Update your skills and knowledge

Any changes or advancements in your field during your career break? Invest time in updating your skills and industry knowledge. Attend workshops, webinars, or online courses to brush up on industry trends, technologies, or best practices. Think about key support groups, networks or professional associations to join. This renewed expertise can help you feel more confident in your abilities when you return to work.

Set realistic goals

Start by setting small, achievable goals that align with your career aspirations. Breaking down your larger objectives into smaller and more manageable tasks can help you build momentum and a sense of accomplishment as you make progress. And remember to celebrate each milestone to further boost your confidence.

Research employers with a strong track record for inclusion

Select relevant employers that are well-known for their inclusive policies and practices. Choose to apply for jobs at organizations where the leadership team consistently espouses and supports a strong sense of diversity and belonging within the organization. Look at the organization's website and social media feeds. Do you see yourself represented there? Does their messaging and imagery convey a progressive narrative, that reinforces that diversity in all its forms is valued? Do employees of the organization come across as open, supportive, happy and helpful?

womenreturners building confidence

Network and seek support

Connect with other women returners, professional associations, or networking groups in your industry. Engaging with like-minded individuals can provide critical support, helpful encouragement, and valuable insights. Surrounding yourself with a supportive community can boost confidence and provide opportunities for collaboration and learning.

Practice good self-care

Take care of your physical and mental wellbeing. Make time for activities that recharge you, such as exercise, meditation, hobbies, or spending quality time with loved ones. When you prioritize self-care, you'll generally feel more energized and better equipped to confidently face challenges when returning to work.

Seek mentorship or coaching

Consider finding a mentor or career coach who can provide guidance and support as you navigate your career re-entry. A mentor can share their experiences, offer advice, and help build your confidence by providing a sounding board for your ideas and concerns.

Embrace a positive growth mindset

Adopting a growth mindset means believing in your ability to learn and grow. Understand that setbacks and challenges are part of the process, so view them as opportunities for growth and improvement. Embracing a growth mindset enables you to approach each the new situation of your return-to-work with resilience and confidence.

Practice self-affirmation and positive self-talk

Be mindful of your internal dialogue, and replace self-doubt with positive affirmations. Remind yourself of your strengths, skills, and potential. Engage in positive self-talk to counter negative thoughts or impostor syndrome. Repeating useful affirmations can help reframe your mindset and build confidence over time.

Bring your confidence to a career with a prime employer

Ready to re-enter the workforce?

Check out these fabulous employers who actively recruit women returners.

These employers embrace career breaks, while making it easier for women returners to get back-to-work through providing good support starting a new job. 

Building confidence is an ongoing process, and it takes time and effort. So be patient with yourself, and celebrate your progress along the way.


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Disclosure: Where Women Work researches and publishes insightful evidence about how its paid member organizations support women's equality.

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