Ready to return to work?  Done with being a full time parent?  Looking to get your career back on track?

Kim Clijsters retired from tennis in 2007 with just one Grand Slam victory to her credit. She returned two years later, now a mother, won the US Open twice and the Australian open once. What a comeback.

How did she do it? Well, I’m pretty sure she didn’t lie around looking at a tennis racket thinking about it …

So many people – women in particular – step away from full on careers when they have small children, for all sorts of reasons. But having young children is a temporary condition and many later want to return. They dream of the personal fulfilment, learning, being with like minded people and – yes – the money.

The question, though, is where to start?  How do you get your career back on track in a way that works for you, recognises your skills and experience and doesn’t penalise you simply because you’ve taken some time out.

Dreaming about it won’t do. Having the right equipment is insufficient. You need grit, resilience and a plan of attack.

Here are some tips:

Know where to begin. And that isn’t “I’ve got two kids and I’m looking for part time work.”  The jobs market is a competitive place. Be clear on where you’re going to add value and where you can compete.

If you worked as a business journalist, for example, you might now have a much wider network of contacts who could provide insights into the world of freelancing, the gig economy and the trials and tribulations of running a small business.  This is valuable to an editor who wants to employ someone who can be relied upon to create great copy, quickly.

Get your story straight .  “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”   Who are you, what value will you add to an employer?

“I’m an expert in branding with a background in financial services and am now looking to take that expertise and apply it in a small business context” was how Lucy (who appears in our book) presented herself, before landing a role at the British Chambers of Commerce.  The fact that she wanted to work 2 ½ days was a secondary conversation.

Re-engage your network.  You are five times more likely to find work through your network than through a recruiter.  Talk to people, think about how you can help them. Don’t be shy about asking for help – most people will be flattered.

The good news is that all that time working as a freelancer means your network is wider than ever: and clunky as LinkedIn is, it is a tremendous tool for reconnecting with old colleagues.

It’s a job getting a job.  Welcome to your first job.  You are a recruiter. You have one candidate:  you. Figure out who is hiring people for the sort of role you want.  Follow them, look for connections, ask for introductions.

Present yourself as a solution first.  No-one wants to hear about your complicated childcare arrangements.  Don’t talk about the hours you can or can’t work, talk about what value you will add.  Employers are looking for solutions to their problems. Be the solution, not yet another problem.

Know your value.  Women don’t negotiate enough.  We’d much rather be seen as nice than being tough.   

Do your research on who is charging what for the work that you do. Make it easier for yourself by having a rate card. At She’s Back, we’ve (eventually) landed on a set price for a half day workshop, a price for a 1 – 1 ½ hour breakfast meeting-type event and a £9.99 version of our advice. Clients can also follow us for free on social media of course.

When it comes to selling – practise in the mirror.  Name your price then shut up. You’d be surprised at how clients actually take comfort from believing they are buying from someone who is confident in their own worth.

You’re ALL OVER this.  Just because you haven’t been in full time paid employment, doesn’t mean you haven’t been working.  Think about it: your time management skills are probably far more honed than ever; your negotiation skills can cope with stubborn toddlers and recalcitrant children; you can coach, mentor, teach, communicate. As one mother put it to me “I have peace making skills that would put the UN to shame.”

Added to which, the likelihood is that you’re probably completely on top of social media and for anyone in a sales, marketing or communications role today, that’s an absolute “must have.”   

Be at the net.  Have your childcare sorted and work out contingency plans.  Be able to answer the “Could you start on Monday?” question with an enthusiastic “Love to”.

And make sure those contingency plans include your partner, if appropriate.  Why should you be the first port of call if anything goes wrong at nursery or school? Have a specific discussion about how everyone’s life is going to change so that you can make the transition back to paid employment a success.

Lisa Unwin

Lisa is the co-author of She’s Back: Your Guide to Returning to Work  , described by Arianna Huffington as “ a must have guide to get more women back into the workplace.”


  • Lisa Unwin

    CEO & Co-Founder of the Reignite Academy

    Lisa Unwin, CEO & Co-founder of the Reignite Academy, helping women have long term, sustainable careers. Supporting returners. Banging the drum for women at work. Writing, consulting, speaking, changing things. Mother. Reader. Cyclist. Skier. Co-author of She's Back: Your Guide to Returning to Work