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Getting back into work after a long career break

by Sara Robinson | 16 December 2019

More and more legal candidates are finding it increasingly difficult to get back into work after a long career break. We often speak to candidates that are hitting barriers when trying to return to work and face discrimination because of a spell away from the legal sector, which can be hugely demotivating.

Whether your career break was planned, or for reasons out of your control, it can be challenging to get your foot back in the door, ensure you are interview ready and gain the relevant experience needed to get back into work. But we are here to help.  

Senior Consultant Sara Robinson recently sat down with Davinder Bal who has recently returned to work after some time out to get her advice on what candidates in the same situation should do, and how organisations can support more legal talent looking to get back into work.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced when trying to get back into work after a long career break?

One of the biggest challenges I faced was a lack of confidence. When you have been out of a sector like law for so long it can be nerve-racking trying to get back into it. I have been out of the legal sector for around five years. I took a break to have a family and to get involved in some property work, and during that time there have been many changes which made me doubt my ability to do the role successfully. My slightly outdated knowledge made me feel like it would make more sense for a firm or organisation to take on a newly qualified candidate because their knowledge would be more up-to-date. This obviously made me feel anxious about getting back into law and I bet that so many other candidates face the same confidence issues. 

What sort of stigma did you come across when searching for a new job after your career break?

I faced a lot of stigma around my reasons for taking a break, which I feel was unfair. I left to have a family and while I was off I also got the chance to do some property work. The whole experience has helped build my character and give me additional life experience that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. People often view career breaks as a negative, but I think they can be incredibly valuable and give people a new perspective that can be hugely beneficial to a company.

I also faced a lot of stigma around my need for some flexibility when looking for a new opportunity in the sector. I have young kids and I needed some leeway on the standard 9-5 working week and I found that there is still a lot of businesses that will shut you down on this. Overall, I felt like a lot of places just didn’t want to invest the time and training to get me back up to speed and did not want to give me the flexibility I needed to work whilst bringing up a young family.

What sort of things did you do to try and re-fresh your experience/CV?

A lot of people told me to volunteer at legal firms to refresh my experience but it’s not something everyone can do. It’s hard to pay for childcare that gives you the time to volunteer if you aren’t being paid for it. This can be extremely demotivating, and not having people around you can make this difficult.

Speaking to ex-colleagues and friends in the legal sector really helped me in this regard. It gave me a massive confidence boost that I could still do it without getting the experience I was told I needed. I do think there is a real gap in the market for accessible refresher and training courses. There are some out there, but they are so expensive that they’re only available to a few.

How do you think organisations and managers can support people trying to get back into work?

Businesses need to be open-minded and think outside the box. There aren’t enough of us to do the jobs that are out there, so if more businesses were open to candidates that have had a break they could help close the skills gap across the sector.

Having a return to work plan for people would also be great. This can include things like a phased return or offering additional support/training to returning employees in the first few months. Legal candidates coming back into the profession want to know that someone is going to work and support them, so making this clear is very important, and companies could really benefit from promoting what they can do to help from the offset.

There is also the money side of it. Renewing your PC is expensive and not everywhere offers support with this. If you’ve been out of work for a while, then this can be quite a big hit to take.

How do you think recruitment agencies can help people who are looking to get back into work after a long career break?

Recruitment agencies are hugely important and can help advise, but they need to manage expectations. It’s easy to tell someone you’ll be able to find them a job in a week and promise the world, but that isn’t always possible. It’s better to provide candidates with honest feedback so that they can try and improve moving forward and offer advice where possible. Things like helping candidates with their CV or offering advice for interviews would be helpful and can make the difference between securing a new job and not.

What experiences have you had with recruitment agencies during your search?

A lot of recruiters contacted me and told me they would easily find me a position, but I never heard back, which was frustrating. My experience with Sellick Partnership on the other hand was very different. They have been honest and open from start to finish which I really appreciate.

I felt like what I was looking for was really listened to and that the team at Sellick Partnership understood what I wanted and within a matter of weeks I had an interview lined up. I’m now back doing what I love, at a time when I really thought my legal career was over, and I can’t thank the team at Sellick Partnership enough for their help.

Can we help you?

If you are struggling to get back into work or are considering a career break and are looking for advice, please get in touch and a member of our legal recruitment team would be happy to help.

Alternatively, you can check out our latest legal jobs here.