I'm 35 and have spent the last six years at home looking after my two young children. I’d like to get back to work - my schoolfriends all have flash senior jobs and I’d love to feel that drive again - but I’m not sure what to do or where to look. I have a degree in business studies but didn’t settle properly into a ‘career’ before deciding to stay at home to have my children (I worked in the marketing department of a small financial firm but never really enjoyed it). Where should I start?
First things first, you need to take time to think – and I mean really think – about what it is you’d like to be doing when you return to the world of work. Whilst it’s great that your schoolfriends may be providing inspiration and motivation as you consider what the future of work holds for you, be careful that it doesn’t turn into a competition; remember, you’ve simply chosen a different, but no less an amazing path.
So here are my top tips for getting going:
Consider work experience or voluntary work to familiarise yourself with the workplace. Business studies is a fantastic broad degree that paves the way for lots of different options – but that’s not going to help you narrow down the list.
What do you really want?
You said you didn’t much enjoy your previous role before taking a career break, so try and pinpoint down the cause; if you had the opportunity to do the same job again, what would you change? If you’re not sure, the best way to know what kind of work you’d enjoy is to get started at something. Doing a short stint as a volunteer is a great way to experience being back in an office environment, meet new people, remind yourself of your strengths and boost your confidence.
Make a life plan. You need to visualise what you’re aiming for, so think hard about where you’d like to be in 5, 10, 15 years’ time. This isn’t just about work - consider your personal relationships, money, health and fitness, as well as practical matters such as where you’re living. Detail the image you have of yourself and your family at each time marker – it’ll become a great reference point, reminder and motivator as time goes on. After all, when you know what you want to achieve, planning how to get there becomes a whole lot easier.
Consider what an ideal (but realistic) work/life balance would look like. Then try to set out a priority list, pinning down those items that you’d be open to compromising on (the length of your commute, for example), and those that are set in stone (for example, if you want to be home for supper with the kids each day). Remember flexibility comes in all sort of shapes and sizes, encompassing anything other than a conventional ‘9-5’ office-based job.
Start networking
Understand what childcare arrangements are available to you, and at what cost. Ask family and friends whether they may be able to help with the school run, identify local childminders that have spaces available, or research in-home help such as an au pair or nanny. It’s important you start your search with the knowledge that your children will be safe and well-looked after – it will help you focus rather than worry, will give you confidence to embrace your job hunt, and having the information at your fingertips will enable you to make quick decisions should you need to.
Know your product – and how to market it. Think impartially about the skills you’ve built up and what you’re good at. You’re a product, and you need to sell this product to someone – what will you say? What can the product do? Then, it’s time to start networking. Don’t forget to get onto LinkedIn, and ensure your online profile is presenting you in the best possible light.
Get your CV right. Importantly, don’t shy away from mentioning your career break – you shouldn’t feel you have to apologise for it or hide anything away. Instead, opt for a skills-based CV that emphasises what you have to offer. Here’s where you’ll need to think carefully about the knowledge and experience you’ve gained whilst being at home on your career break that can be transported in a work environment.
Be realistic with your search

Organising school events, being involved in class committees and PTA meetings, fundraising, voluntary work – it’s all relevant to the workplace. And remember, tailor your CV depending on the kind of role you’re applying for, making sure the recruiter sees the skills and strengths that are most relevant to them.
Start searching – and persevere. You now have a good sense of what you are aiming for, the flexibility you need and what you’re offering your future employer. If you know what industry you’re aiming for, see if a ‘returnship’ is an option – these are rare, but can be a great way for you to develop your back-to-work self in your chosen field. Be proactive and organised; keep a list of the applications you send, and the date.
Don’t hang all your hopes on one advert, but don’t send off applications to all and sundry either – both approaches will waste time. Keep searching across different networking sites, job boards and recruitment agencies (there are several of each that specialise in flexible working roles), and apply to everything interesting and relevant. And even if you need flexible hours, do look at advertised full-time roles; you’d be surprised how many employers are open to flexibility but don’t say so when they recruit.
Get going – and good luck. It'll be worth it.
Louisa Symington-Mills works in private equity as a COO and is founder and CEO of Citymothers and Cityfathers, networks of more than 6,000 parents in City careers. She is The Telegraph's careers agony aunt.
Email your work and business questions to: work.advice@telegraph.co.uk
Louisa cannot print answers to every single question submitted, but she does read all your emails. Please note that by submitting your question to Louisa, you are giving your permission for her to use your question as the basis of her column, published online at Wonder Women.
All questions will be kept anonymous and key details, facts and figures may change to protect your identity. Louisa can only answer based on the information you give her and her advice is not a substitute for legal advice.

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