Women in Law

Obelisk Support consultant Alisha McKerron Heese provides some advice to women returners on coming back to the law after a career break, from her attendance at CMS’s two-week programme for women returning to work – the first programme of this kind to be organised by a UK law firm .

Coming back into the fold after a career break is by no means an easy thing to do. As women returners, often the barriers we face come not from the gap on our CV, but how we approach it in our own minds. The biggest obstacles we encounter in returning to work are, in fact, those that we create for ourselves by not putting ourselves forward correctly.

Putting yourself forward after a career break requires considerable time and effort – more than you might think. It requires careful consideration of paperwork, including your CV, cover letter and online presence, and putting yourself across in the right way when networking and interviewing.  Allocating a mere half hour to the task is unlikely to yield good results.

1. Start With Your CV

Your CV needs to evolve beyond just a list of employers and experience, particularly when you have a career break to incorporate. Begin with a neat profile about what services you offer, and what you are looking for, so that potential clients can identify themselves as potential clients. Your summary lets you speak directly to your potential clients, and should be used to tell them why you’re their best choice. This should not be more than two or three lines.

Next, note down your previous work experience and education. Don’t just list the names of companies you worked for – it’s important to highlight your specific involvement in the companies, as well as the outcome of your work (example sentence: “Acme Corp: involved in X task, helped Y team complete merger Z”). This paints a more complete picture of your skills. Don’t be despondent that your work experience has dated: as a returner, it’s more about demonstrating the skills you have acquired than demonstrating being up to date. Spend some time thinking about the past – be sure to include anything relevant, no matter how many years ago it was.

Don’t try to hide your career break. Do disclose the length of your career break, but ‘sandwich it’ between past experience and what you are doing at the moment, e.g. any unpaid work that demonstrates recent skills acquired. Skills are transferable, which is why it’s so important to highlight them.

2. Consider Your Online Presence

LinkedIn is an ideal place to establish your online presence as a lawyer, as it is where head-hunters will look for candidates. For work use, other social networks such as Twitter or Facebook are not as vital, though you might see a use for them if you wish to establish a blog or a presence as a public commentator. Take the time to research how to use LinkedIn effectively so your profile really stands out from the crowd.

3. Network Effectively

Networking is less about trying to impress people, and more about gathering information in order to maximise the possibility of a win-win collaboration. It’s less about being interesting and more about being interested. It’s an opportunity to ask questions, to listen, to learn and to make a connection with someone.

Treat networking as an adventure and you may find that it is more pleasant than you might think. While you should not steer the conversation towards yourself, be ready with a synopsis of what you have to offer if asked. Don’t stress about having to talk to everyone – forming a closer connection to a few people can be as beneficial as talking to many. If you do want to talk to others, however, don’t be afraid to leave one person to talk to another. As long as you give a reason for doing so, and don’t leave the person on their own, that’s fine.

4. Prepare Your First Impression for Interviews

When preparing for an interview, it’s important to think about what impression you would like to make. Your first impression is perhaps more important than you might think! Even if the rest of the interview goes well, the first impression tends to dominate the interviewer’s overall impression of you (primacy bias). In fact, they will set about gathering information to confirm their initial assessment of you (confirmation bias).

Some of these biases can be harnessed for good, however: if you are able to match their behaviour – or, better still, pick up on something which you both have in common, you will make a better connection with the interviewer (affinity bias)! Give consideration to: your entrance and exit, what you wear, your deportment and volume, and pace of your speech. Turning up late to an interview should be avoided at all costs (an example of the primacy bias working against you).

5. Practice Your Success Stories

It’s also important to find out as much as you can about the interviewer, and to have a clear understanding of the job description. Think about what competencies the interviewer may be looking for. The work experience listed on your CV should help here.

Be ready to give “STAR stories”: examples of Situations you were involved in where you were given a Task that led to an Action you took, and the consequent Result. Prepare answers for likely questions that may arise. Ensure that you have a good organisational understanding of the company at which you are interviewing. Finally, take a moment to check the news on the morning of your interview, to show that you’re up to date with current affairs. 

A well-prepared CV, a good LinkedIn presence, and good networking skills put to regular use will, sooner or later, lead to an interview. Thorough pre-interview research and preparation will help turn that interview into a job offer.

You may think it’s much more complex than that, as I know I did before I attended the CMS programme. The preparation process helped me identify my skill set, which built up my self-esteem, which in turn built up my self-confidence. Hopefully, it will do the same for you.

Family & WorkObelisk In Action

This month, as part of #MyMillionHours, The Attic is sharing personal stories of talent being reactivated into the workplace.

I never imagined that I’d be given the opportunity to re-enter the workforce, to join one of the fastest-growing technology scale ups in London after an almost 7-year career break. But here I am – motivated, determined and more alive than I felt when I left to have children. Time out of work provides perspective and children even more so. I always knew that I wanted to return to my career and that the terms on which I would return would be dramatically different and in many ways challenging to employers on the receiving end. I wanted to find a role where I could manage my work and life responsibilities without feeling like I was succeeding in one and failing in the other.

To be honest, when I did decide to actively pursue such a role, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there were indeed businesses who were offering flexible working opportunities, and who were open to accepting returners and not discrediting their experience due to a break in their careers. In fact in most instances this was a complete non-issue. So I stopped making it an issue for myself and instead, focused on my experience, skills and expertise, coupled with gratitude for having spent time with my children, and having the under-valued skills that being a parent gives you, thus making me a valuable asset to any business.

Obelisk has given me the opportunity to live that truth and I have a deep sense of pride in my personal/professional story that has boosted my confidence and self-esteem. I have a stronger sense of clarity and purpose about my life; that I am a multi-faceted woman working smarter to live a life that I am already proud of.

I could only do this because I knew that returning to work needed to be different this time around on a values-basis – I knew for sure that I wanted to use my skills and be engaged in purposeful work. When the opportunity came to join Obelisk and work in a business that is focused on women in the workplace, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands – and it didn’t matter that I had zero legal experience! In fact, this was another non-issue that was refreshing and open-minded – a business that values my experience and what I have to offer even though I don’t know the industry – after all, what you don’t know, you can learn. Purpose really kicked in for me though with the talent pool that Obelisk is trying to reactivate back in to the legal industry. Even though I’m not a lawyer, I identify with these women and men who want to work differently and give 100% to achieving both their professional and personal ambitions. They, and we, shouldn’t have to make a choice between one or the other; they should and can work side-by-side.

Obelisk is currently running a campaign that is focused on bringing awareness to the available talent that legal businesses can tap into to help manage their workflow and make legal work work for them. All I want to say about the #MyMillionHours campaign is this: choosing to not explore different ways of working is choosing to stay in a comfort zone where there is no room for growth and innovation, which should get you thinking about what your business will look like in time to come – and if you’ll even have a business to look at? Not reactivating talent is choosing to participate in a wasteful economy, and that quite frankly is making the decision to not be and do better as a business, and as a human being.