Recruiters take note: career breaks enhance employability

10 Mar 2020

Cathy Searle comes from a large family; whilst her parents – a soldier and a nurse – left school by 16, they were determined that their five children be educated to degree level.  They succeeded.  As did their children.  Here’s Cathy’s take on flexibility – and determination.

My twin brother and I were the first in the family to graduate.  After studying law at Oxford and a few adventures of the travelling kind, I trained in London at what is now the global firm CMS, then Cameron Markby.  I qualified as a planning lawyer, but after seven years in the City and with two young sons whom I hardly saw, I resigned and moved to the country intending to take a short career break.  

Eleven years, a third son and a long stint volunteering with Citizen’s Advice later, my thoughts turned to getting back to work.  However, recruitment consultants told me I was unplaceable, and declined to take me on.  

Undeterred, I identified firms in Guildford (the nearest business centre to home) without a planning lawyer on their staff, and wrote a few speculative applications.  Luckily my CV hit the desk of Charles Pfister at AWB Partnership, who was struggling with the effects that Special Protection Areas for ground nesting birds were having on residential development in the south east.  I blagged the interview, pretending I knew what an SPA was (something to do with health and relaxation maybe?), and started work a few weeks later.  

The world had changed since I’d left the City - so much was done by email, and documents were ten times longer.  In the 15 years since, I have learnt new skills, developed an expertise in property development on the back of my original planning specialism, and AWB merged with DMH Stallard.  

My story is unusual because of the extended career break I took, and I hope that it shows that firms should not be put off recruiting women returning from such a break: we more than repay the investment in training and development.  And the soft skills acquired during those eleven years have been invaluable – property developers and children have many common characteristics!

As my children have grown up the need for a residential taxi service has diminished, I have taken up ultra-running and raised thousands of pounds for Ovarian Cancer Action and other charities.  In April 2020 a friend and I are heading off to the Sahara for the “big one”: the Marathon Des Sables, which is actually six marathons in as many days, carrying all my food and kit in 45 degree heat.  I hope to raise £8,000 for ovarian and bowel cancer charities. 

I fit in the average 50 miles a week training around work and family.  When asked why (frequently!), my honest answer is - at least partly - to show that a middle-aged female solicitor from Guildford can.

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