Louise Sweeney

Returning to work after a career break with Louise Sweeney

Starting a new job can be a daunting task. Returning to work after a career break is even more so. People take career breaks for a variety of reasons, but often feel a sense of apprehension at the prospect of returning to the workforce. Confidence may be impacted and it can be intimidating to think that the world of work they once knew would be unrecognisable on their return, technology has moved on and their skillset is no longer as desirable as it once was.

LinkedIn’s latest research has shown that 51% of women have taken a break in their careers at some point for reasons such as education or parental leave. Indeed, LinkedIn now has 13 new ways to reflect reasons for career breaks, thus empowering women, and also men, to normalise their flexible careers.

Much has been written about the challenges faced with a return to the workforce. However, there are some positive and concrete steps you can take to overcome these challenges. I spoke to Louise Sweeney, Aspira Account Manager, about her experience returning to work after an extended career break and got her advice on making the transition back to work a smooth one.

Louise, you might give us a bit of background on your career?

Louise: With a background in science and engineering, I started my career as an engineering change coordinator in a global manufacturing company, Celestica. In 2000, my now husband and I were given the opportunity to move to Toronto to work in Celestica headquarters. At that time, the Toronto office was leading the way in research and development and I moved into a leadership role managing the prototyping arm for a key client.

What prompted you to take a career break?

Louise: I suppose neither my husband nor I had what you could call a “nine to five” job, so we quickly came to the realisation that if we wanted to start a family one of us would have to take a step back. I got pregnant in 2003 and in Toronto you get a year’s paid maternity leave. During this time my husband got a new job in California and I got pregnant again. The fact that we were living abroad, away from the support of family, and with 2 kids under the age of two the decision for me to stay at home was the only reasonable one.

What made you decide the time was right to return to work?

Louise: I guess I made the decision that it was the “right time” about 5 years before I actually returned! The kids were settled in school, becoming a little more independent and my husband was no longer effectively commuting from Cork to the Bay Area which added stability to our day-to-day lives. I suppose I felt the time had come and I could consider returning to work. And this was all great in theory but for one thing, the doubt. Would things have changed too much, had technology moved along too far to catch back up, would anyone even consider me for a position, or were my skills considered too stale? Where to start? I was much better at talking myself into the negatives than the positives. 

So once you had made the decision to return to work, where did you start?

Louise: In the end, it actually happened quite quickly. I used my existing network and reached out to an Aspira contact with an updated CV. I was given no time to overthink which was brilliant. I met and had an interview with a couple of the Aspira folks and enrolled in a short PMP course that week. Within a couple of weeks of completing the course, I had interviewed and secured an onsite role with an Aspira client – I was on my way!

How has your experience been?

Louise: It was actually relatively easy in the end. For all the agonising I did, ultimately making the decision to return to work was actually the hardest part! Before I started back at work I attended an in-person two-day project management course which helped me refresh my ‘business language’ and helped me overcome the nerves I had about re-engaging with people on a business level. I came to realisation very quickly that I still had the vocabulary, I still had the skillsets – the blockers that I had been manufacturing for myself were simply not there. The attributes and experience that had made me successful as an employee in the past were still there.

Having been through the process recently what are your top tips for someone about to embark on a similar journey?

Louise: My first tip would be this – be willing to take a step, or a few steps back. Whatever job you initially take make sure it’s something that you can do with relative ease. You don’t have to go back in at the level you were operating at when you took your career break. You need to recognise that there are other factors at play when returning to work, such as re-organising your home life, so you need to be able to deal with the job that you are doing quite comfortably.

Attending a training course of some sort can be a great way to reignite the business part of your brain and meet people again on a business level. The subject matter is not necessarily that important!

But in a nutshell, my key tip would be to find the right company to start your new career with. Me, when I initially met with the Aspira team I walked away from the meeting that day feeling like “I can do this!”. You want a company that will instill this belief in you and will genuinely want to support your return to the workplace.

If you are considering returning to work after a career break, or simply looking into your options, the Aspira team would be happy to help! Please contact us at Resourcing@Aspira.ie

Emma Daly - Head of Business Resourcing

Emma Daly - Head of Business Resourcing

Emma Daly is Aspira’s Head of Business Consulting and comes from a broad background of Project & Programme Delivery and PMO Consultancy in both the public and private sectors. Emma, and the Business Consulting team, partner with our clients to assist them fulfil their business needs both at strategic and operational levels. Emma has also worked as a senior project and change management consultant in Aspira’s Advisory team.

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