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Help! Career MOT needed

Job driving you mental? We put your work dilemmas to our clever new careers coach. Here's what she had to say.

stressed businesswoman animation cartoon woman hand on head multiple hands holding out work items

Work not working for you? We hear you, sister. It’s so hard to get it right, isn’t it? Especially if you’re juggling a dozen other responsibilities. When we put a shout-out on Muddy asking for your work dilemmas, we were inundated with responses. Step forward our brilliant careers agony aunt, Helen Wright, founder of 9-2-3 Jobs, a local agency that helps professional women find flexible – and, crucially, high quality –  work in Bucks, Oxon, Berks and London. Helen is a high-flying BBC and ITV broadcast journalist who had to recalibrate her career after having children (sound familiar?) so she totally gets the problems women face in the workplace, or indeed trying to locate a workplace in the first place. She has some great advice and tips – are you ready? It might just be the catalyst for changing your life.



I’m a personal stylist and am going back to work after a six year break. I’m finding it exciting but daunting too as I now live in the countryside but all my contacts are in London, where I used to live. I would like someone closer by to bounce ideas off. Are there any local mentorship programmes or similar? @nadiafieldstylist

Helen says: I agree that working alone can be daunting at times – I’m still in touch with the business mentors who helped me through some difficult days. It is so useful to have trusted advisors (other than your spouse!) to bounce ideas off. Oxfordshire Business Support would be a good starting point for you. As well as a mentoring programme, they offer free advice on running and growing your own business.



I’m going to stay anonymous as this is a contentious one. I work full time in an office and would love to work flexibly and go down to four days per week but my boss says no. Basically, I’m one of the few employees who doesn’t have children. This doesn’t seem fair to me (I’m also never allowed to take time off during school holidays as all the mums get first dibs). Thoughts? Anon

Helen says: All employees have the legal right to request flexible working, not just parents and carers. An employer can refuse an application if they have a good business reason for doing so. And from what you’ve written, it doesn’t sound like your boss has given you good grounds! However instead of rocking the boat, would you be open to a compromise? Perhaps suggest working compressed hours – so you still fulfill your full-time hours, but work them over 4 days? Hang in there – last year we carried out some research and found that 3 in 4 office workers (both male and female) believed everyone would be working flexibly within five years. Flexible working is the future.



I’ve had 10 years out of the workplace bringing up my children and now want to return but my skills, especially when it comes to computers, are so out of date. I don’t know where to start and my confidence goes up and down like a rollercoaster. Help! Sandy Snelling

Helen says: Sandy, it’s a cliché, but believe me: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. In fact it’s because we’ve had so many conversations surrounding career breaks and loss of confidence that last year we launched The 9-2-3 Club. We have get-togethers at different venues where members can share experiences and gain in confidence before returning to the workplace (and these meetings are not as scary as they sound – in fact feedback is that members feel empowered talking to others in a similar situation; and they love getting their brain back into a work mode). We also have plans for workshops to bring candidates up to speed with their IT skills, LinkedIn and more. You can also try Digital Mums or, locally, Tech Pixies for more immediate help in re-skilling.



If you had a reasonable career and then a break how can you get round the ‘overqualified’ problem? Should I take loads of jobs off my CV, as someone suggested? I had a 23 year career before a break. @FionaDFulford

Helen says: This can certainly be a bit of a Catch-22 situation. I remember speaking to a candidate who had a short career break and when it came to returning was told she didn’t have enough recent experience for the senior roles she was applying for, so she started applying for more junior roles, where she was told she was far too senior! Argh! On a positive note we work with clients who are delighted to be able to attract such “overqualified” candidates – they love bringing such experience into their organisations. As for your CV Fiona, we recommend trying to keep it to two sides, and if necessary summarise early career history in a few lines.



I’m self-employed, working in a fast-paced industry for a clutch of very demanding clients. I’m the co-breadwinner in our household so have to make a certain amount of money each month. My work bleeds into every other aspect of my life, annoying my children, husband and friends (although the latter have given up inviting me to things as I work most evenings). I check my email the moment I wake up and just before I go to bed. I know it’s bad but I don’t know how to change my habits. Help me. Anon

Helen says: I feel your pain but you will feel better for making some changes! Set very clear guidelines to follow and if you promise not to look at emails or answer calls at a certain time, stick to it. Former Dragons Den investor Sarah Willingham, who has four children, says: ‘When I work I work. When I’m with my kids I’m with my kids’. And I think that’s a great rule to try and live by. I sometimes have a digital detox, and lock my phone in a drawer for the day – and believe me I feel a lot better for it!



I’ve recently returned to work, but spending my whole career to date as a full time staffer I’m now a part-time freelance home-worker so I can fit it in around my family. I’m finding it a huge culture shock working in this way – having to be self-motivated, not having colleagues or an office etc. Any tips?  Anon.

Helen says: Working from home is not everyone’s cup of tea. Personally I love it – I find I can get lots more done than in an office environment but some people miss the camaraderie of an office, and even the simple act of leaving home in order to go to work. You could always consider renting space in a shared office or co-working space – it’s not as expensive as it sounds and you get colleagues of sorts without the office politics. Oxford Centre for Innovation and Witney’s Business & Innovation Centre are two near where I live – ask around in your local area, as there are more and more popping up now outside of London. A cheaper option might be to search out some networking groups to join, find others in a similar situation, and get your fix at regular breakfasts or lunches. As for motivation I sometimes write myself a table of weekly goals, with a treat at the end for completing them, whether that’s a bottle of bubbly that’s been chilling in the fridge all week, a cheeky manicure or a family day out.



I launched my new business when I was heavily pregnant, and am now juggling it with a newborn baby. How do I get balance? @dotdashactivewear

Helen says: Wow, I am impressed, I’m not sure I was able to juggle anything with a newborn baby! I remember speaking to Oxfordshire-based mindfulness expert Kirsten Hanlon about how to juggle family life and work, and she said how important it is to take a bit of time for you – even just 10 minutes each day to have a quiet cup of tea. She runs courses dedicated to the health and well-being of mothers which might be worth looking at.



I’ve worked in my industry for 25 years and have a senior role but I’m desperate to jack it all in and sell quilts on Etsy! (It’s my beloved hobby). Am I mad/ having a midlife crisis? Can I do both somehow (my daughter used the phrase ‘side hustle’)? Thanks! Anon, Oxford

Helen says: The average age of an entrepreneur in the UK is 47 (according to research from Sandler Training) and, given their life experience, these businesses are more likely to succeed! In fact I have a friend who is having a similar midlife crisis – she is desperate to bake and sell brownies; she has started “side hustling” at local farmers markets but she knows there will come a time when she has to make a choice… I can recommend a business course in Oxford that might help you make your mind up, it takes just a few hours every Monday evening for 12 weeks and will certainly give you some food for thought.

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