Returning to work after a career break

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I’ve been privileged to be 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 and I spent 12 years in South Africa in a senior HR role. I left EY for seven years and returned four 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 and seeing their personal growth and confidence build, as well as the value and perspectives they bring.

Along the way, I’ve asked career returners what they’ve learned from the experience. Here are 10 things they’d like to share with you

1. A career returner programme has benefits over a traditional job search

Many returners told me they found it impossible to get a job after taking such a long break. One of them was even told at a seminar that, if you’ve been out of the market for more than six months, it’s considered that your skills are starting to wain or become irrelevant. At EY, we take a different view.

One of our returners, Rosemary, said, “I think traditional recruiting agencies these days use a computerised tick box-approach to hiring, rather than identifying the right person – their skills, personality and experience. 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 for a job, I want a professional career. And I wouldn’t have been able to do that without an initiative like EY’s Reconnect programme.

2. It’s OK if you haven’t worked in consulting before

Many of our returners have come from outside of consulting, including banking and insurance. People don’t expect you to be an expert after 12 weeks, but by then you’ll feel pretty well 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’ve had returners with long career breaks, who’ve found coming back into a corporate environment meant re-learning how to collaborate with colleagues and stakeholders, as well as getting up to speed with industry changes. Fortunately, you’re given plenty of time and support to transition back into using these skills

4. Returning to work as part of a group is a real plus

Although not everyone joins our group intake, those who do find it beneficial. Louise said, “one 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 we were going through was a huge advantage! No question was a stupid question and I never felt like an outsider.

5. Being back at work isn’t always easy

A number of returners I spoke to said learning how to balance work and children was tricky at first. I heard, “Working full time was originally a bit difficult at the start but EY have such a good flexible work arrangement and have supported me in finding that balance.”

6. Supportive teams make it easier

All 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. Louise said, “they treated me as part of the team – it’s been a very positive experience.”

7. It’s possible to work flexibly in a client-facing role

Rosemary, said, “everyone’s 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.” 

8. Flexible working isn’t ‘one size fits all’

There are any number of different ways to work flexibly at EY, suiting people’s different lifestyles, needs and wants. Many of our cohort who joined permanently in 2016 opted to work four days a week. One returner, Kemi, chose an annualised days’ contract, which means she works during term time and can spend the summer holidays with her family. That works for her, her team and her clients.

9. It doesn’t take long to learn any new technology

It’s true, technology may have moved on during your career break, but most businesses today use email, calendars (like Outlook) and instant messaging (like Skype) which a lot of people use at home. If you get a chance to familiarise yourself with these tools before you get back to work, it will help ­– although it’s not essential.

10. Take the time to make the right decision for you

Most returners have told me that it’s good to thoroughly 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 whatever you need to juggle, as well as going back to work and trying out new things?

One returner recommended going to webinars or presentations to research and get a feel for what it could look like. Once you start, you want to give yourself the best chance 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. Email me at if you want to get in touch.

Find out more about the EY Reconnect programme here.


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.

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