Whether you have stayed at home to bring up children, look after a home or been unemployed for a number of years, returning to work can seem like a daunting prospect. Lack of qualifications and experience, advances in technology, childcare and the availability of suitable jobs may all be issues that concern you. However many people retrain and return to work successfully following a period of unemployment or domestic occupation. Here are some pointers to start you off on the right track.

Finding a Job

Before you consider looking for employment, think about the type of job that will suit you. Make a list of factors that you need to consider, for example:

The number of hours and times that you are available for work

  • The minimum salary or wages you will accept
  • Previous experience and qualifications
  • Any retraining that you think you might need
  • The location that you wish to work and whether you are prepared to move
  • Available transport, the cost of and how far you are prepared to travel
  • The type of employment you are looking for, full-time, part-time, permanent or temporary

There are many places that you could begin looking for work, the following being the most common:

The Internet. There are many websites dedicated to employment and you could also try your local county council website which may have details of suitable public sector employment e.g. libraries, schools

  • The Job Centre
  • Word of mouth. Ask friends and family to listen out for any suitable vacancies
  • Recruitment agencies. Agencies specialise in different areas and offer temporary or permanent work, check the phone book for agencies in your area
  • The Internet. There are many websites dedicated to employment and you could also try your local county council website which may have details of suitable public sector employment e.g. libraries, schools
  • Local bars, restaurants, nursing homes and any places of work where you think that they might offer casual or part time work, this could always to lead to permanent full time work later on
  • Your child's school or nursery. You could begin by helping on a voluntary basis and listen out for any suitable vacancies. The types of jobs schools offer include learning support assistants, lunchtime duties and secretarial staff and they have the added advantage of fitting into the school day
  • Self-employment. Consider working for yourself by, for example, registering as a child minder or using your skills from previous employment to work on a freelance basis

Voluntary Work

If your main motivation for returning to work is not financial, you could consider voluntary work. It's a great way to meet new people and if money is a factor, working on a voluntary basis might provide you with much needed experience and help you to find paid employment. However, do check with the Benefits Agency if you are in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance as this could affect your entitlement.

If you are thinking about voluntary work try:

  • Local charities, including high street charity shops, help lines and victim support, fund raising bodies and work with the elderly, disabled and homeless
  • Your local Member of Parliament will probably be able to put you in touch with local organisations or, if you are of the same political persuasion, work within the local party office
  • Your local faith leader or religious organisations
  • Your child's school or nursery

Responding to a Job Advertisment

There are two main ways to respond to a job advertisement: through a job application form or covering letter and CV. Some advertisements will specify, but if you are unsure ring the company first. You don't want to waste your time drafting a CV only to be sent a further application form to fill in.

Follow these simple steps to maximise your chances of gaining an interview:

  • Check your form or letter for mistakes - carefully!
  • If you have an application form, photocopy and practice filling it in first. You will be less likely to mistakes when you copy it out and can check that your handwriting fits into the available space
  • Many people have failed to get an interview simply because of a spelling mistake. Produce your letter on a word processor and use a spell check (make sure that it checks for English and not American spelling!) or use a dictionary
  • Check dates and factual information carefully for accuracy. Make sure any dates tie up and there are no gaps or overlaps
  • Proof read your application to ensure it makes sense. Write it and come back to it in a few hours or ask someone you trust to check for you, a fresh pair of eyes may spot something you have missed

Convince your employer that you are the person they need:

  • Read the wording of the advertisement carefully and tailor your application to it. For example, if the advertisement says "enthusiastic, lively person wanted" you could state on your form that you have a "lively and outgoing personality", if they want somebody who is "hard working" you are "not afraid of hard work"
  • Think about what the position involves. If it means working with the public then you can mention your "excellent interpersonal skills", if it requires training then you are "always on the look out for a challenge"
  • Tailor interests or hobbies to the job. If the job involves using computers, mention that you regularly use the internet, if it is using your hands that you sew or knit for a hobby
  • Where competencies or a person specification is given, ensure that you write a couple of sentences to match each one as compentency based scoring is becoming increasingly common for shortlisting candidates. This involves scoring against each competency, so you will want to hit qas many as possible.
  • Where you lack the skills or qualification for a particular competency state 'I am willing to training in...' or 'I am willing to work towards gaining my qualification in....'

Mention your skills as a parent positively:

  • Having children equips you with organisational, practical, emotional, interpersonal and a whole host of other skills, not to mention the management qualities and financial budgeting involved in running a household
  • Do not state that you are a single parent on your application. This should not concern your employer at this stage and if it did it would be discrimination. However, it is important that you get an interview, so get the interview first and then convince them that you can juggle home and family life - in fact this gives you just the sort of time management skills and determination that they are looking for!
  • Be clear, concise and to the point - a covering letter for a CV should not be more than one page long. State where you saw the advertisement and why you think you are suited to the job. Be brief and refer to your CV for further details
  • Most word processors, including Microsoft Word, have a template for CVs or R?sum?s. Use one of these to help you prepare your CV. If you further help with writing a letter and CV, click here

Going for an Interview

  • Find out as much about the company as you can in advance. Think of some questions that you can ask and show them that you know something about the company.this will impress a future employer!
  • Dress smartly but comfortably. If you are not comfortable then you will not feel confident in the interview
  • Make sure you know how to get there and plan your route and travel arrangements so that you arrive in plenty of time
  • Ring the company in advance and ask them how long the interview will take, for a map if you need one, who you will need to report to when you arrive and whether you need to take or prepare anything in advance
  • During the interview maintain eye contact and look confident. Make sure you ask as well as answer any questions and show your interest in the position. Remember that you are interviewing them too and making sure that this is the right company for you
  • If you don't get the job, don't lose hope. Ring and ask why your application or interview was unsuccessful. Most companies and organisations will be happy to give you some feedback and it could be something simple that you can work on next time.

Retraining

If you are lacking qualifications, skills or experience you may need to consider retraining. This could mean updating skills that you already have, for example, computer or typing skills. Or it could mean learning a new skill from scratch because you feel like a change of direction or find that the demand for your previous skills are no longer there.

Retraining can take many forms, the most common being:

  • College or University. See our section on
  • Government training schemes. Your Local job Centre or Benefits Agency should have full details of any training schemes you might qualify for
  • Work experience. If you lack experience you could try voluntary or temporary work through an agency to build your experience up
  • On the job training. Some companies and organisations will offer training. If a job advertisement does not specify qualifications or experience you could ring and ask what training will be offered
  • Think carefully about what you want to do and seek advice from the Benefits Agency or other regarding bodies regarding funding. There is lots of help available for people who are on Benefits or who are on a low income and are looking to return to work

Coming off Benefits

If you are currently receiving Benefits, you need to check with the Benefits Agency about any schemes that will help you to return to work. There are many Government schemes aimed at getting unemployed people back to work, with extra financial assistance for retraining or people who are setting their own business up. When you do start work you may be entitled to Family and Working Tax Credits and help with the cost of childcare.

If you are deciding to return to further or higher education your entitlement to Benefits may be affected, particularly Job Seekers Allowance as you may not be considered available for work. Check with the Benefits Agency. Most further education colleges offer free or part funded courses to people on benefits or a low income. Course fees and maintenance loans for higher education are means tested and you may also be entitled to financial assistance for dependents and childcare.

Unfortunately funding for mature students in further and higher education is a mind field and can be affected by many factors. Contact the welfare advisor (each university students union should have a full time paid member of staff who is qualified to offer financial advice, and most further education colleges have a college advisor) to work out any funding you may be entitled to. Make an appointment to see them before you accept a place to study.