Returning to Work after a career break

I’ve been privileged to have been involved in creating EY Reconnect from its inception in 2015, and I continue to co-lead our current programme. My EY career journey started in 1996, I spent 12 years in South Africa in a senior HR role. I left EY for 7 years and returned 3 years ago into a talent and senior recruitment role for our EMEIA-wide Financial Services business, currently as an Associate Director.

EY Reconnect has been a truly inspiring and rewarding programme to work on, especially welcoming our returners into the business, to see their personal growth and confidence build, as well as the value and perspective they bring.

Through the process I have observed, taken notes, asked questions and sought feedback from the career returners - about the transition and process of getting back to work after a career break and I want to share these thoughts and insights:.

1.       Why not just apply for a job though normal channels?  Why apply via a career returner programme like EY Reconnect?
What the returners told me is they felt it was simply, impossible to get a job after taking such a long break. When first thinking about going back to work, one of them  remembers being told at a seminar that if you’ve been out of the market for more than 6 months it’s considered that your skills are starting to wain or become irrelevant....Really? 

Rosemary said “I think that traditional recruiting agencies these days use a computerised tick box, approach to hiring, rather than identifying the right person - their skills, personality and experience. If you’ve had a professional career you probably don’t just want a job; anyone can get a job if they want a job. I started looking at things I could do and that’s when I realised that I don’t want to just go to work every day, I want a professional career, and I wouldn’t have been able to do so without an initiative like EY’s Reconnect programme.”

2.       Even if you have not worked in consulting before, it’s okay:
Many of our returners have come from outside of consulting.  We have had individuals who have worked in a bank or insurer previously – so not ex-EY or consulting - and even though the consulting model is different there is a process of fitting into the working ways of the firm (i.e. technical areas, workplace changes, accounting changes etc.) People don’t expect you to be an expert after 12 weeks, but you feel like you should be nearly up to speed, especially after all the in-depth induction, training and web-based learning you’ll do.

3.       Professional and corporate skills DO come back:
We have had returners with long career breaks, and coming back into a corporate environment meant learning again how to collaborate with colleagues and stakeholders, and to also get up to speed with the changes in the industry. Fortunately, the firm has a large group of people as well as a diverse range of capabilities and personalities, that you are given the time and support to transition back into these skills.

4.       Supportive teams made it really easy
All of our returners reported how welcoming everyone was in the team they went into, they were incredibly supportive, helpful, and really pleased to have them on board. They were also very interested in the programme and from day one, Louise said “they accepted me as part of the team and treated me like that. It has been a very positive experience.”

 "To have that support network and be surrounded by people who understood what you were going through...was a huge advantage!" 

Louise, EY Reconnect 2016 participant

5.       The Reconnect cohort was a real plus factor
A cornerstone and real benefit of the programme is the cohort of EY Reconnect participants which naturally becomes a key support mechanism for the group.  Louise said: “The great thing about the programme was that there was a group of us who returned to work together. To have that support network and be surrounded by people who understood what you were going through and who just got it, was a huge advantage!  If you felt you had a stupid question, you wouldn’t be afraid to ask that question because no question was a stupid question and you never felt like an outsider.”

6.       What challenges did I hear about and observe from the returners on the programme?
Being able to step back into that corporate environment after being away from it for so long and finding it a lot less intimidating than people think, but being able to do so through EY Reconnect was the best way.

7.       What’s been the biggest challenge to overcome since returning to work after a career break?
A number of the returners I spoke to said teaching yourself again how to balance work and children. I heard, “Working full time was originally a bit difficult at the start but EY have such a flexible work arrangement and have supported me in finding that balance. And I think it was hard for the children, but it’s good for them to know that it’s okay for mummy to return to work, to see that I can return to a career and that there are opportunities for me going forward.”

 

8.       Is it really possible to have a flexible and client facing role when coming back to work after a break?
My discussions with our returners revealed that the culture and flexibility of the workplace is comforting. One of our returners Rosemary, said: “Everyone’s quite comfortable with the idea of flexible working. I sometimes choose to work late, but if I have to come in late because of a personal appointment or something to do with my children, no one bats an eyelid – as they trust that the work will get done.”  A large number of our cohort who joined permanently in 2016 opted to work 4 days a week which in turn fits and is managed with clients and the rest of the team.  One returner, Kemi, chose an annualised days’ contract which means she works during term time and can spend the summer holidays with her family and that works for her, her team and her clients. By the same token some opted to work full time.

9.       Flexible working is not ‘one size fits all’!
EY have really put flexible working into practice, I also know this from my own experience. People have the opportunity for flexible work arrangements and have the opportunity, both male and female, to do things in their lives as well as have a successful corporate career, and our returner cohort felt that is really important.  Not using one solution to fit everybody but having a variety of solutions that suit different people’s lifestyles, needs and wants.

10.   What about IT skills?
It’s true, technology may very well have moved on and changed a good few times during your career break, but most businesses today use email (Outlook or similar) which a lot of people use at home.  You will more than likely also be required to use your Outlook or similar electronic calendar and also instant messaging tools on your computer such as Skype for business or something similar.  A good idea is to refresh your skills with these tools or ask someone to assist you and play around with the tools beforehand so that when you get back to work you are reasonably familiar with them and not starting from scratch.

11.   What would your advice be to someone who is in a similar situation where they are considering going back into the workplace?
Most of the returners have told me that to make it work it is better to really think it through and be sure that you want to go back to work.  Ask yourself what you want to do, what you want to get out of it and where you want to be afterwards.  Will you be able to manage, say your family, children and home responsibilities or whatever you need to juggle, as well as going back to work and trying out new things?  One of the returners recommended going to webinars or presentations to get that research and to get a feel of what you could do or be doing, if you went ahead with going back to work. If you’re half-hearted about whether you really want to go back or not, you have to make that decision in your own mind rather than thinking “I’ll just dip my toe in the water”. Once you commit it will be great to see it through; you want to enjoy the experience and not regret your decisions.

I wish you the very best with your career return journey - should that be your decision - and I am available on eyreconnect@uk.ey.com if you want to get in touch.


 

Click here to go back to our EY Reconnect microsite for further insight and information about the programme. 

About the author

Gail joined EY in 1996, spending 12 years in our South Africa office. After leaving the firm for 7 years, Gail rejoined in 2014 as in currently an Associate Director in our Talent Team.