Rachel Bridgeman founder and campaign manager of The Flex Factor has interviewed a number of flexible working specialists including ourselves on How to explain your career gap. Here are what they all said: Sarah Broad from Attune Flexible Jobs: ‘Be Honest — you cannot hide from a maternity leave, career break — be confident in way you decided to have a career
How do you find a flexible role when you are not already working flexibly?
Why do you work flexibly?
I worked at Ernst & Young for 16 years in the Training team where flexible agile working arrangements are embedded in the culture. I first started working flexibly when I had children and agreed an arrangement to work reduced hours, three and half days with a half day at home. It worked really well, I was the manager in the team where flexibility can be easier as you manage your own work load, but everyone had the opportunity for some degree of flexibility whether that was working from different locations, homeworking, part-time or just working flexibly when they had things to do, e.g. school plays, fitness or caring for a parent. After 16 years, I left Ernst & Young due to a combination of factors, predominately the need for a new challenge and to broaden my experience coupled with the desire to have a better work/life balance for our family.
When you left your last flexible role, did you think it would be easy to find a new one?
I guess I didn’t realise how progressive Ernst & Young was with their flexible and agile working. So after two years with my children I wanted to get back to my career. I wanted to find something similar to what I was doing before so I could use my skill-set, but I wanted it to have some level of flexibility. I did find it difficult for a number of reasons: 1) there are fewer jobs advertised as part-time or flexible; 2) the jobs that were advertised were not in the sector I wanted; or 3) very few roles were advertised with my skill-set (add stat from Timewise). I knew my approach had to change for me to secure a job I wanted.
How did you find your role at Gowling WLG?
Networking. Through the process of looking for a role, I was able to decide what I wanted and what I didn’t. I told people, used LinkedIn and spoke to a friend already working at Gowling WLG. She knew they were growing their Learning & Development (L&D) Team and suggested I submit my CV, it wasn’t for a specific role at the time. I knew through my friend that they were proactive towards agile / flexible working as she had already adopted a flexible working arrangement which made it more appealing. When they did get in touch the role was full-time. I was unsure how to approach the subject but at the second interview I did let them know I was looking for reduced hours.
Why did you wait until the second interview to inform Gowling WLG you wanted to work part-time?
I wanted to be sure I was interested in the role. I think you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you at the initial stage. When I knew I wanted to work for them and I was really interested in the role and my skill-set matched their needs, then I told them of my intention straight away. Yes, it did feel awkward but I wanted to let Gowling WLG know and thankfully they were open to having a conversation.
How would you advise someone else to ask the question?
You have to go for it. Make sure you like the job, the firm, the team and then find the confidence to ask. It seems everyone’s biggest challenge is confidence. Even the most senior, Avril Martindale, a partner at law firm Freshfields, said that when she was asking for flexible working (which she was then granted), her biggest challenge was confidence. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-business/10935377/Flexible-working-How-to-ask-your-boss-for-flexible-working-without-being-turned-down.html) You have to say, ‘this is what I want to do’, and then obviously you can be flexible around how many days or which ones will be from home to suit you and the business.
How do you manage your time and the rest of the team?
I work in a fairly young team, who are not on formal working flexible contracts although some do work from home once a week. They all take the opportunity to work flexibly when they need to or from different offices, on the train etc. Our IT is very good and enables us to login whenever and wherever we want through a mobile or laptop. Some of the team rarely use agile working as they prefer to be in the office, but this is an individual’s preference and I like that there is the possibility to work flexibly and people can use it as and when. Unlike when I was at EY, I no longer have any direct reports, so I do not need to know where the team are physically or oversee anybody’s work. When we are not working face to face collaboration and teaming happens effortlessly as we all use Microsoft Lync for instant chat, we have a What’s App group for informal sharing (this is more for out of hours) and video conference calls (in which you can share your screen /work) are something of the norm round here and of course we have email for everything else.
Do you discuss flexible working when you are recruiting?
Absolutely. The firm supports flexible working and we are open to requests. It is definitely something that is being brought up by interviewees of all ages, especially from the younger generation who may not want to use it right now but want to know it is an option. I think it is something that is becoming expected and managers shouldn’t be fearful of it. In my experience, most people want to work hard and do well but they also want to know they can do this with a degree of flexibility so they can fit in other parts of their life. Flexibility is a two-way street in which both parties are willing to be flexible, for me this sometimes means switching my working days around or doing a long day and taking a bit of time back at a quieter time. Tuesday is my normal day off but with a bit of notice it’s normally possible for me to switch it around if there is a particular business need. I believe agile and flexible working patterns empower employees to work in new and smarter ways and increases motivation and levels of engagement. Flexible and agile adopters work just as hard as everyone else and it is known for boosting employee work place satisfaction which is good for retention as well as driving up the overall productivity of an organisation. It’s a win-win!
What is Gowling WLG’s agile working policy?
We have a firm-wide policy but agile working allows individuals to adjust their approach (often on a day-to-day basis) depending on client, team and business demands. This could mean working for instance one day a week away from the office, but flexing this around client commitments and team meetings.
There are plenty of examples across the firm at all levels, lawyers and business support. It is widely adopted.
Why did you want to share your story?
I am very pro agile working. I took it for granted in my previous roles, and found it tricky to identify flexible employers when I was searching in the cold job market. It’s wonderful that I found Gowling WLG who do this but I want it to become more of a norm in work places so that everyone feels they can ask about some degree of flexible working be it the recruitment conversation stage or later on. Agile working does not mean less ambition or less commitment – and it also doesn’t have to be forever.
What is your advice?
- Work out what you want first, it might take a while.
- Network, cast your net wider, use your ‘hidden network’ – friends of friends, colleagues of colleagues
- Use LinkedIn, it is a great opportunity for networking
- Be more vocal, when you know you have the skill-set, ask the question. There will be a chance they will say no, but just go for it.
- Target companies you want to work for and share your CV or sign up to their job alerts and apply even if they are advertised as full time and you are looking for reduced hours/part time. In professional services I found very few jobs are advertised as part -time. They might not have anything suitable straight away but they may one day and you want to be on their radar when that happens.
- Sign up to Attune Flexible Jobs! Or similar job sites that specialise in flexible working jobs in your sector.
Huge thanks to Angie for sharing her thoughts and advice on working flexibly. If you would be interested in taking part in a Q&A to share your story on flexibility in the workplace, we would love to hear from you. Contact us at email@example.com.