559: How to Translate Your Value to Organizations After a Career Break



Caroline, Senior Business Manager

Caroline hit burnout after being in a high status job for 17 years. After taking a 2 year career break, she decided to return to the workforce but was unsure of how to find a career that fit.

on this episode

“I woke up one day and I thought, I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to do this anymore
but at the same time, I have a family I have financial responsibilities, and I just knew I had a big choice to make”

Caroline had been at her organization for 17 years and she was burned out. She was trying to balance having a family with a high-demand job, and was being overworked due to global hours. This left her feeling bad about herself because she felt like she was failing.

She ultimately decided to take a step back from her career:

“I hit burnout. I had low self confidence. I resigned from a company that I had worked with the 17 years I moved countries. Additionally, I had always been a city dweller and made the decision to move to the countryside, buy a house that needed huge renovation, and at the same time at the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted to I needed to go back to work and I didn’t know how to do that.”

When Caroline decided it was time to return to the workforce she knew she wanted to do something different, but she wasn’t sure what she could do outside of the company where she had spent the majority of her career.

How could she translate all of her skills, strengths, and experience from that company to seem useful and valuable to other organizations?

In this episode, you’ll hear how Caroline figured out what she wanted and needed out of her career, learned how to communicate that in her job search, and landed a role that was customized to her.

“Having clarity on what your strengths and transferable skill sets are, and being able to communicate those, followed by working out what’s really important to you puts you in a position to just have an open and honest conversation with people. And I think that was the biggest lesson for me— I will always default to assume that it’s not possible and that I’m asking for too much. And if there is one takeaway from this process, it’s just let people know what you’re looking for and let them decide if you’re asking for too much or it’s impossible.”

What you’ll learn

  • How to break free from the confines of your previous career trajectory, even after a hiatus
  • How to translate your experiences, expertise, skills and strengths from one industry or organization to another
  • How to identify your transferable skills and use your strengths to craft a compelling career story that resonates with potential employers
  • The importance of prioritizing personal fulfillment and balance in your career decisions

Success Stories

Scott, and Lisa and the whole team it's been a pleasure to work with you. I’ve been talking to everyone about your program and think the best of the work you do and the tools you put out. It took me a few months to look for outside help. That was the thing I needed. Particularly as someone who has been successful it was hard for me to say I could not do this by myself. I’m a smart person I should be able to figure this out. As soon as I had my first career coaching experience it completely turned around my approach to find a new job. It completely gave me the power back and the tools I needed. If you know exactly what you want to do, you probably aren’t listening to this podcast, but if you don’t know there are a lot of tools, and resources, and people out there that can help you. For me that made all the difference.

Laura Morrison, Senior Product Manager, United States/Canada

as I was diving into the bootcamp at Happen To Your Career, and I was really trying to think broadly, I had this moment of thinking, "Okay, should I even should I be a lawyer? What should I do?" so I worked with Happen To Your Career really started trying to dig deep and lay a foundation… it was helpful to have Lisa through the interviewing process, and all the little events like "oh, someone responded like this, how should I respond?" How should I deal with all the steps along the way? I also had a tendency to form myself into what I thought they were looking for and Lisa helped me be who I actually am in the interviews.

Rebecca Maddox, Attorney, United States/Canada

Caroline 00:01

There was a part of me that definitely recognized that I had strengths, and I had value to offer an organization. But I didn't know how to navigate the next steps, or work out how I could communicate what my skill sets and values were.

Introduction 00:27

This is the Happen To Your Career podcast with Scott Anthony Barlow. We hope you stop doing work that doesn't fit you. Figure out what does and make it happen. We help you define the work that is unapologetically you, and then go get it. If you feel like you were meant for more, and you're ready to make a change, keep listening. Here's Scott. Here's Scott. Here's Scott.

Scott Anthony Barlow 00:52

Let's say that you took a break from your career. Many people do. I've personally done it. Whether it was for your children, your health, travel, whatever. When it comes time to return to the workforce, it's common to not want to go back to the same work that you were doing before your break. However, if you've only worked in one industry, or done one type of role, or worked for one organization, it can feel, well, a little challenging. It can be really hard to figure out how to translate the experiences you've had to a new industry or new role or new opportunity. So the question becomes how do you do that? How do you translate all these experiences in a way that becomes useful to other people?

Caroline 01:36

There was this fear about what I could do outside of EY. And how I could translate what I did inside EY to another company. Given that my role and responsibilities couldn't really be packaged up neatly into a box.

Scott Anthony Barlow 02:00

That's Caroline. When she contacted us, she'd experienced a huge upheaval in her life. She'd hit burnout at a job she'd been at for 17 years, resigned, moved countries, bought a fixer-upper, and decided to stay at home with her children for two years. She took that time at home to really establish what was important to her. And when we later got to help her she knew she was ready to return to the workforce. But she wanted this chapter of her career to be a better experience. And she was feeling extremely lost, very lost on how to do that. She climbed the corporate ladder at her previous company, she'd done really well for herself. But she'd been so focused on growing in that company specifically than now. She was having trouble translating all these skills, all these strengths, all these experiences, all of these things to what was going to be useful for other organizations. You're going to hear in my conversation with Caroline how she did an amazing job figuring out what she wanted, and what she needed out of her career. And she learned to communicate that in her job search. She was so sure about what she wanted and needed that when her new role first came along, she actually turned it down because that offer wasn't ideal. Guess what? Spoiler alert, the company ended up modifying the role to fit her. So let's jump into the conversation. Here's Caroline talking about her first role in account management.

Caroline 03:25

My career began working for Datamonitor PLC as an account manager within their professional services function. And my role there was to basically manage and sort of cross-sell a portfolio of research and consulting services to those clients. One of those clients was Ernst and Young. And my client at Ernst and Young suggested that I apply for a role as an account manager at EY. So that's where it all began. And so I interviewed for a role at Ernst and Young back in 2004 and joined as an account manager in their consumer products division in London.

Scott Anthony Barlow 04:14

Circa 2004. So I'm curious when you took those couple opportunities, was that always the plan to end up with those types of organizations initially?

Caroline 04:30

So when I was at university, I always expected and thought that I would become either a management consultant or an IT consultant.

Scott Anthony Barlow 04:40


Caroline 04:42

I did a degree in... a combined degree in, it's called information management. So becoming a hybrid manager, one that can understand the IT and understand the business and therefore be able to communicate and hopefully get to a solution that is more aligned with what the business needs. So my degree was focused on Computer Science Information Studies and Management. And I don't know, just from what I saw externally, what I'd heard, I thought that might be an interesting thing to try. When I graduated, it was 2000. So dotcom crashed, and all of the big companies suspended their graduate hiring. So I thought I would take some time, I would just take a role, and then apply the following year. And that role sort of what I didn't really... I enjoyed the work that I was doing but I felt that it wasn't, I kind of let myself down by not necessarily pursuing the dream. But at the same time, once I was working, and living life, there was very little time to focus on graduate applications. And so I think when the opportunity came up to join EY, I thought it was my way of sort of crossing over to that kind of big corporate organization and working my way up the ladder to the corner office with the amazing views.

Scott Anthony Barlow 06:22

I can understand that. I can appreciate that. So here's my question for you, as you made that transition into that new company, new role, what happened next?

Caroline 06:34

I really enjoyed my first role at EY. I was working on some really, really big new clients. I was working with a great team that was progressive, fun to work with. And also, we were kind of leading the way in best practices that we were sharing across other accountings. I did the role in two years. And at that point, I was beginning to think what's next. So at that time, it wasn't possible to move from being an account manager to a business development director. And I knew that I wanted more responsibility, promotion, and the ability to earn more money. So at this point, I started exploring a couple of different options. One was moving into consulting and becoming a chargeable consultant. And I spoke to who was the global business development operations director at the time. And she mentioned that there was a big investment in China firm and that they were looking for somebody to go out and basically recruit, train, and manage a group of account coordinators in China. And that they had interviewed a few people and they hadn't found anyone suitable. So I put up my hand and said, "Well, could I go?" Never having recruited, trained or managed before, but at the same time, I was a good account manager. And at that point, I had the bravado and the confidence to just put my hand up, and then figure it out afterwards. And that resulted in very quickly a series of interviews and me being offered a position to move to the China firm. So based in Hong Kong, and the next, I guess, Korea chapter for me.

Scott Anthony Barlow 08:43

You said at that point, "I had the bravado and the confidence." First of all, that's awesome. And I'm curious, at that point, there's something more behind that statement.

Caroline 08:55

I think when I first started my career, I don't know the world is your oyster. And I had a vision of what I wanted to achieve. I had no idea how to achieve it. But I also had no view on what my strengths were, what my weaknesses were, and what the road ahead looked like. So I think it was just, "Okay, I want to get to the moon. Let's just start driving." And I think over the years, you hit more and more bumps along that road, and potentially it probably made me a little bit too cautious to the point, I think, by the time I left EY that I didn't believe there was a road ahead.

Scott Anthony Barlow 09:53

Let's talk about that. What led up to the point where you became, you called it overly cautious, or what led up to the point where you decided to leave?

Caroline 10:05

I think a number of setbacks– not getting the promotion opportunities, or roles being changed and no longer qualifying for promotion opportunities. People, so by this, I mean, challenging characters, and having to navigate, you know, not just the stakeholders, but your teammates, your colleagues, and everyone's individual agendas, you know, the typical corporate system asks you to collaborate and work as a team. But at the same time, you're benchmarked against each other. And ultimately, it's a triangle. So you start off with a lot of people at the base, and there's only a few people that can move through. So regardless of people's personalities, and what they may want, it kind of forces people to compete, versus competing openly, it just sometimes becomes a series of, you know, toxic behaviors and like a minefield that you have to navigate through.

Scott Anthony Barlow 11:27

Why is that for you?

Caroline 11:29

I think I'm an individual that leads from the heart goes with kindness like simplicity is open and honest. And, you know, what I enjoy is just coming together with a group of people and getting a really good result. And all the mess in the middle, I think I now realize that it's unnecessary. And it kind of impacts everyone that's involved in those situations. So actually, if we all just took a step back and challenged ourselves and our behaviors into like, "Okay, what is the best way for us all to move forwards?" It would be so much easier. But as I said, the system in most organizations doesn't support that behavior. So for me, it was a series of setbacks around promotion, it was working with individuals that I found personally quite toxic. And I think my... Although I'd had a phenomenal career and opportunity after opportunity, I hit the hurdle that happens to a lot of people, you sort of end up in a role that isn't set up to succeed for various reasons. And so I think I had, you know, I'd been riding the wave, and I'd been lucky. And, at times, I had probably made the choice to compromise on what I wanted in my career as I started to have a family because balance became most important thing. And then when I accepted the final role, I found myself in a situation that I couldn't deliver results in. And so that kind of impacted me in two ways. I was someone that had always delivered results, and all of a sudden, I couldn't. And as much as I had senior partner sponsorship and understanding, and was being asked to just hold, they knew that the role wasn't working, and it would be looked at, at the same time, there was middle management constantly pushing for results, asking me what I was going to deliver, and when. And that ultimately, combined with working global hours, which sometimes started at 6am, with calls at 6am in the morning, calls finishing at midnight, just ultimately led to burnout. And also took out my self-confidence because I then started internalizing that it was me that was failing.

Scott Anthony Barlow 14:39

What did that feel like at that point in time? So obviously, this is even now thinking back about this, this is hard for you. And I recognize that. And I'm curious at that point in time, what did that feel like for you?

Caroline 14:57

Ultimately, at the end, I woke up one day and I thought, "I can't do this anymore. I don't want to do this anymore." But at the same time, I have a family, I have financial responsibilities. And I just knew I had a big choice to make. And I actually saw... I decided to speak to someone. And I had a couple of sessions with a therapist to finally accept that I wanted to resign and that I could resign.

Scott Anthony Barlow 15:41

I think one of the things that we don't talk about enough on this show, or any place in the world, is the idea that it is okay to leave in one way, or if it's not serving you, it's okay to leave. So I'm curious for you, looking back, what do you think made it so difficult? And then what helped to allow you to decide, "Yeah, this is actually what I want."?

Caroline 16:10

The piece that made it difficult was the financial responsibility. We were a two-income household. And Hong Kong is and has been the number one most expensive city for many years. And I felt this sense of responsibility and guilt. I felt selfish. Because the choices that I might make will impact my broader family. So leaving the company wasn't hard, it was the impact of that choice that was difficult. I also recognized that underlying that there was this fear about what I could do outside of the EY, and how I could translate what I did inside EY to another company. Given that my role and responsibilities couldn't really be packaged up neatly into a box that fits automatically into kind of a different company, like I wasn't doing a finance role, or I wasn't a qualified project manager, I was an IT consultant. What I had sort of built was sort of 18 years of experience, simplifying complexity, and taking problems and opportunities, developing strategies, and getting buy-in, and executing to deliver results. And so I was really struggling to see how I could go out into the market and say, "I do stuff. Just trust the magic, and I will deliver results." Because essentially, that is how I felt that's what I did. And you know, that is not how you communicate in the professional world.

Scott Anthony Barlow 18:26

Turns out, just showing up and be like, "Oh, yeah, I totally do stuff" is not that helpful to other people. Even though, like, you get stuff done, like, nobody's business, I don't think anybody can argue with that. But it's more difficult to your point to communicate that and translate it into a way that becomes useful to other people. So let's talk about that for a little bit, then. I think that's an important part of your transition. I think that's also a problem that many people face, like, "Hey, how do I... I have been in this industry. I've been in this combination of roles. I've been in this situation, whatever it is, how do I translate that into something that becomes useful for other organizations?" How did you work through that? What worked for you?

Caroline 19:12

So if I stepped back, I hit burnout. I had low self-confidence. I resigned from a company that I had worked with for 17 years. I moved countries. Additionally, I had always been a city dweller. And I made the decision to move to the countryside, buy a house that needed huge renovation. And at the same time at the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted to and I needed to go back to work. And I didn't know how to do that. There was a part of me that definitely recognized that I had strengths, I had value to offer an organization. But I didn't know how to navigate the next steps, work out how I could communicate what my skill sets and values were, or find a role that would fit my new life in the UK. It's really scary to leave a role and not know what's next. And on top of that, the career change process feels incredibly intimidating when you've got so many sources of information coming at you, in terms of how you should present yourself, how you should format your CV, how you should interview, and it's a lot, and it feels like a lot of work. And you're not quite sure what will actually help. So it's not that you're afraid of the hard work, but you're like, which piece of advice do I listen to and what do I do? And at the same time, it's quite a lonely journey because you can have really, really supportive family, friends, and colleagues, but there's only one person that can do the work. And that's you. So for me, there was a lot of fear of the unknown, fear of not knowing how to navigate. And as I mentioned, I felt that you needed to own every single process. And having a coach was such a game-changer. Because you've got somebody that kind of points you in the right direction, helps you along the journey, helps you overcome your blockages, and gives you accountability. But also, if you find the right person, you've also got an ally and a friend and a safe space to have a conversation. And so this is the point where I recognized that I needed some help. And I reached out to Happen To Your Career team and sort of started on the bootcamp and coaching journey.

Scott Anthony Barlow 22:35

As you went on that journey, what do you feel like was the most difficult part for you between now and that point where you decided, "Hey, I definitely want to go back to work."?

Caroline 22:51

Self-confidence. How I communicate my values.

Scott Anthony Barlow 22:57

You talked about, "how I communicate my value." And at that same time, you were feeling low confidence, which doesn't take a rocket scientist to add those two together and say, "I'm trying to communicate my value, but I'm feeling self-confidence." And we already know that you wear your heart on your sleeve in many different ways. So that combination of things makes it especially challenging. What did you find worked for you? Or what did you do specifically to communicate your value or get better at communicating your value?

Caroline 23:30

The Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment was probably the most important tool for me.

Scott Anthony Barlow 23:38

Really? In what way?

Caroline 23:40

So taking the output from the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment helped me do two things. One, understand why my previous role and environment were not the right place for me. The two gave me platforms language that I could use to communicate my strengths to the market.

Scott Anthony Barlow 24:08

What's an example of that now? Like, how would you describe one of your strengths or one of the things that are your talents?

Caroline 24:17

So one of my strengths was relator. So I can articulate that in, obviously, I focus on building relationships, that I'm able to connect with different stakeholders and team members, understand them and get to know them, how to work with them, bring the best out of them.

Scott Anthony Barlow 24:44

How do you get to do that? Let's fast forward to this for a second, just now, and how do you get to do that now? How do you get to use that natural ability to relate and connect and how does that show up in your current situation?

Caroline 25:01

Being a relator is just helped me able to kind of navigate a new company, new stakeholders, new teammates really, really quickly, and move from meeting people from the first time to kind of productive relationships quite quickly.

Scott Anthony Barlow 25:23

How does your newest opportunity? When do you start?

Caroline 25:31


Scott Anthony Barlow 25:32

Okay, so you've been in mid-September. What feels different to you, compared to previous situations?

Caroline 25:40

It's a fresh start. I have chosen to work in a very, very different environment and culture with leaders who prioritize their people, as much as they are focused on growth. It's an entrepreneurial space with a flat hierarchy. And it is very different from what I have experienced in the past. And so there is a little bit of sort of excitement. And at the same time, there's a little bit of nervousness in terms of navigating in such a different space.

Scott Anthony Barlow 26:27

Yet the learning curve of going into a new environment, even if more pieces of that environment are a fit, I think that's something a lot of people don't anticipate when they sort of get to the thing. They feel like, everything's going to be, I don't know, rainbows, butterflies, whatever else. But within every new stage, there's new pieces. And honestly, I think it'd be boring if there weren't. But I think that's what I hear you saying is that there's that learning curve in addition to the pieces that you were looking for, like, having a different style of leadership, for example.

Caroline 27:04

Yes, absolutely. And I think for me, taking a two-year career break, I had mentally prepared for going back to work by organizing the juggle. So how do I manage childcare? How do I feed my kids healthy food? You know, work with the nanny. How do I get myself to the office? And I started work, and then all of a sudden I say, "Hold on, this is really, really different. Who do I report to? I don't seem to have clear reporting lines. Right. Clear reporting lines aren't really a thing. What am I roles and responsibilities? Oh, okay, this is a new role. So I am..." it's almost like a bit of a science experiment. And we're going to build the role as we go. Or there's different stakeholders that one have completely different priorities. And all of these things I hadn't really thought about for two years. And so I wasn't prepared for them. But at the same time, all of that experience is there and it's sort of coming back quite quickly. And at the same time, I really do see this as an opportunity to grow. It's uncomfortable, though, at times.

Scott Anthony Barlow 28:36

Growth, as it turns out, it's not really growth if there's not some degree of outside your comfort zone. So I can fully appreciate that. As you look at this opportunity as a whole, what were you looking for in this next role and then how much of it lines up with that? What are the pieces that line up with, "Hey, I was looking for these types of things, this type of environment, these type of abilities, my strength" this type of whatever else your ideal career profile, essentially, and what are the pieces that you now have that do in fact line up with that?

Caroline 29:17

So I was really looking for an environment that aligned with my values– leadership that was authentic, colleagues who want to collaborate to deliver results, and an environment where I was able to use my skill sets, as well as develop new ones. And then, from a practical point of view, I was looking for a company that was open to flexible working, reduced hours, and working from home as well. So, and I'll be honest, I didn't know if I could find that. It seems like one of those, I don't know, magic moments. And that's where the Happen To Your Career coaching process sort of really kicked in. And I've really understood the value of leveraging your network and just having open and honest conversations, and actually just seeing where this can take you. So what do I have? Now? I have a role in a midsize entrepreneurial company. I work three days a week, 24 hours split across four days, and one of those days I go into the office. So from a practical perspective, I have ticked all of the boxes that I needed to be able to manage my home life and my work life, and my personal preferences.

Scott Anthony Barlow 31:08

Most people would say that's impossible.

Caroline 31:11

No, I know. And I think I'm still one of the... I'm still pinching myself. And I'm not quite sure how it happened. Because when I received... when I first received the offer for this role, it didn't align with my ideal career profile, and in a few different ways, and it was more around the flexibility and the money. And that morning, I had seen a quote on Instagram that said, "You must do the one thing you think you cannot do." I don't know how, but that gave me the courage to turn down the position.

Scott Anthony Barlow 31:57

What did you say when you turned down the position? Do you remember?

Caroline 32:00

I thanked them for the opportunity but said that I couldn't compromise on the salary and the flexibility to that level at this point in time. I focused on the value and the experience that I was bringing, and I left it there.

Scott Anthony Barlow 32:28

A long before they came back and said, "We still want you here."

Caroline 32:32

Two weeks. But I will say that there was no change in the salary but what we negotiated was around the flexibility. And that was the most important thing to me. As I mentioned to you before, it's something that I knew I wanted but, you know, and I'd heard maybe on the podcast or, you know, Instagram or reading articles, you come across individuals that might have it but they're on the minority, not majority.

Scott Anthony Barlow 33:05

Yes, yeah. Well, so I think what is... I don't want to undermine at all the work that you had to do because it's easy to listen to this, and get a snapshot and say, "Well, that's probably possible for Caroline. You know, she's the one person who got that unicorn role." But in reality, and we know that if you're understanding exactly what you want, and then you're actively looking for and trying to solve the problem of finding what you want in the real world, then that's the only way to get where you want. Because if you don't try if you either don't know what you want, or you don't try, then it is going to be impossible. However, it's strange how many times it, as you said, magically works out. It's not magic. It's a lot of work. But it's strange how often it works out when you have those two things. So nice work, by the way.

Scott Anthony Barlow 34:00

Most of the episodes you've heard on Happen To Your Career showcase stories of people that have taken the steps to identify and land careers that they are absolutely enamored with, that match their strengths, and are really what they want in their lives. If that's something that you're ready to begin taking steps towards, that's awesome. And we want to figure out how we can help. So here's what I would suggest. Take the next five seconds to open up your email app and email me directly. I'm gonna give you my personal email address, scott@happentoyourcareer.com. Just email me and put conversation in the subject line. And when you do that, I'll introduce you to someone on our team who can have a super informal conversation with and we'll figure out the very best type of health for you, whatever that looks like. And the very best way that we can support you to make it happen. So send me an email right now with conversation in the subject line.

Caroline 34:00

Thank you. And I think along the coaching process, I kept having to say to myself, "Trust the process. Trust the process." And for the first time, I completed most of the templates that are available via the coaching bootcamp, and I followed the structured process step-by-step with interventions from my coach. And it's funny how having clarity on what your strengths and transferable skill sets are, and being able to communicate those, followed by working out what's really important to you, puts you in a position to just have an open and honest conversation with people. And I think if I was... The biggest lesson for me is, I will always default to assume that it's not possible and that I'm asking for too much. And if there is one takeaway from this process, it's the end, a top tip that I would give to anyone. It's just let people know what you're looking for and let them decide if you're asking for too much, or it's impossible.

Scott Anthony Barlow 36:30

Here's a sneak peek into what we have coming up in store for you next week.

Speaker 3 36:36

Career change isn't just about a title or about tasks. It's really understanding you and yourself and what you want and what you are enjoying, and what you want to be part of.

Scott Anthony Barlow 36:49

You might not know this about the HTYC podcast. But before I hit the record button with our clients to share their story of how they changed their career, I almost always share the same thing. I tell them, I don't want to misrepresent what career change is. It can be wonderful. Also, sometimes when we get a snapshot in time in the form of a 35-minute-long podcast episode, you don't always get the full picture. So I ask our clients to share, not just the great parts of their career change, but also what was hardest about it, what were their challenges, and what was different than what they thought.

Scott Anthony Barlow 37:25

All that and plenty more next week right here on Happen To Your Career. Make sure that you don't miss it. And if you haven't already, click subscribe on your podcast player so that you can download this podcast in your sleep and you get it automatically. Even the bonus episodes every single week, sometimes multiple times a week. Until next week, adios. I'm out.

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