Returning to the workplace

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When you’re returning from a career break – for caring, health or other reasons – your ‘CV gap’ can seem like a huge obstacle. It may feel that, despite your qualifications and years of finance experience, your knowledge and networks are so out of date that you need to start all over again.

This loss of professional self-confidence, combined with widespread recruiter bias against candidates without recent experience, can lead returners to accept lower-paid, lower-skilled work, which is both demoralising and a huge waste of your talent.

Returner programmes provide a supported route back to a professional role. Here are the three most common types of returner programme for you to understand which route could be best for you to return to work.


A returnship is a professional-level, competitively paid placement for three to six months, with a strong possibility of an ongoing role at the end of the programme. Effectively, it’s a higher-level internship specifically designed for returning professionals, typically run annually with a cohort of fellow returners all starting at the same time.

As part of a returnship, you will receive extra support to help you get up to speed as quickly as possible. This could include a buddy, a mentor, support from a previous cohort and/or coaching. These are all designed to proactively manage your returnship to set you up for success and maximise your chance of a permanent opportunity at the end of the placement.

Many returnships are within a single company, but some are part of a cross-company returner programme where several employers, in a similar geographic location and usually in the same sector, join together.

Employers share learnings and costs, and collaborate to increase sector-wide diversity in recruitment. Returners retain the benefits of a cohort programme, building a diverse, rich and supportive peer network.

Supported hiring

The term ‘supported hiring’ describes the process of bringing returning professionals directly into permanent roles with the same wrapper of transition support as on a returnship.

When you join in a supported hiring role, you will typically receive coaching support through the transition period. Depending on the organisation, you might also have a buddy, a mentor and training to fill any gaps needed.

Returner retraining programmes

Returner retraining programmes are run by employers and include a combination of paid work and study, rather than being purely a training course. Although some are newly created, they are usually variants of existing company training programmes, originally developed for graduates or career changers, and adapted for and targeted at returners.

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The structure of these programmes varies. With some employers, you start in a job from day one, combining work with on-the-job training and study. With other employers, you have an initial training course followed by a longer-term work placement. You may also receive coaching or mentoring support.

Some retraining employers are looking for people with specific transferable areas of experience, such as professional services, whereas others have a broader target and are more interested in assessing your potential through your skills and attitudes.

Tips for applications

Crafting your CV is time-consuming, and it will need to be tailored to specific opportunities. To increase your chances of success:

Don’t apply too late: Sometimes adverts/applications close early because there has been a lot of interest, or the advert link breaks, or you might have problems with your internet connection.

But don’t apply too early: Take the time to adapt your CV to clearly show why you are a good candidate and make any cover letter specific about both your fit and your motivation.

Don’t neglect the detail: Check grammar and spelling and make sure your layout is consistent. Recruiters will view a lack of attention to detail poorly. Double-check your contact details as typos in your phone number could result in missing a call for interview.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help: It’s easy to miss your own errors so ask a friend or family member to proofread your CV and covering letter, and to check you have evidence of all the desired competencies, qualities and skills from the job description.

Don’t send it to the wrong person: Double-check the email address and if the job advert has a specific name to send your application to, ensure you are spelling it correctly. Avoid ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ as this sounds very dated now. Use ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ instead.

Don’t forget the attachments: Have you been asked for a separate cover letter, proof of right to work, or other documents? Name all necessary documents in a professional and helpful way; for example: YOUR_NAME_CV, YOUR_NAME_COVER LETTER.

Author: Angharad Boyson, coach and relationship manager, Women Returners

More information

Women Returners aims to remove the ‘career break penalty’ by making extended career breaks a normal part of a 40 to 50 year career. Its services include an online community providing free advice and news about returner opportunities. Sign up to the Women Returners Professional Network.

Find out more from ACCA’s dedicated Returners’ resources

This article was first published in AB magazine March 2023

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