How do you restart a career in financial services after nearly 15 years out of the workforce? © Getty/iStock

I am an experienced finance professional. I gave up my career when my first child was born 14 years ago. While I did pursue some entrepreneurial ventures and consulting assignments, and completed an advanced postgraduate diploma from Oxford university, I am struggling to get any interviews to restart my career. What is the best way to return to the workforce? Female, 40s

You want to return to the workforce for a range of reasons that probably include the intellectual challenge of developing your professional skills and networks, and earning your own salary. You are not alone: the current pandemic is exacerbating the gender gap, with women reporting they are shouldering much of the home support work.

When faced with a lack of success, it is worth considering the people passing judgment, in your case not shortlisting you for a role. If you were them, faced with dozens or more applications, why would you consider your application? It’s likely that other candidates have more experience, might be better qualified, and have more relevant skills. This review can be a useful, if emotionally challenging, exercise but it would give you an insight on possible actions to take to improve your chances.

Overall, however, your chance of securing a role where you left off might be low, but consider the skills you have developed over the past 14 years. You have changed and grown, developing new transferable skills including (as any parent will confirm) negotiation, scheduling, conflict resolution, project management, planning, budgeting, multi-tasking, catering and leadership.

Review what you have enjoyed and what your CV looks like: you have finance and entrepreneurial experience, a diploma and consulting skills. You might find your skills in demand as a school bursar, or as a finance officer in a college or university.

Your background could also look very interesting for a start-up. There is increasing encouragement in universities and science parks around the country for entrepreneurs to build new businesses and social enterprises. Usually led by enthusiastic scientists or artists, they can lack the solid financial and strategic planning structures that you could bring.

Perhaps you could work part-time with two or three of these until one takes off.

Your best way to return to the paid, external, workforce will be to change your focus. Spend some time learning more about those start-up ventures — set up some information interviews with incubators, accelerators and the businesses they support, to learn about their needs and whether you need any additional skills or qualifications. You might even consider setting up as a consultant, offering services to new businesses.

Readers’ advice

While job hunting, seek out volunteering roles where you can use your finance experience. Add these contacts to your network.

Charities’ board of trustees can have trustees who are in senior management roles and/or tap into their network to help you. Yer ‘avin a larf

I returned to the workforce full time at 44 in professional services/ finance having left at 29. It took six months of constant applications to get a job but four years later I have doubled my pay and twice moved up to better jobs . . . Just keep trying . . . try to move into a related area that is “less popular”. We’re all doomed

Use your network, pick up the phone, make the most of every opportunity. I want my hormone beef

Jonathan Black is director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight he answers your questions on personal and career development, and working life. Do you have a question for him? Email

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