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2024 Virtual Return to Work Conference, May 14-16

Episode 4: How Can I Regain My Confidence after My Career Break? with Valerie Cherneski

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Episode Description

If you're feeling intimidated about getting out there and talking to potential employers, you're not alone. It is quite common for relaunchers to feel a lack of confidence. iRelaunch Chair and Co-Founder Carol Fishman Cohen interviews executive coach Valerie Cherneski about how to regain and project confidence while in the job search. Regain that fearless professional image!

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:00:00] Welcome to 3, 2, 1, iRelaunch! I'm Carol Fishman Cohen CEO, and co-founder of iRelaunch, the industry leader in career reentry resources. In each episode of 3, 2, 1, iRelaunch we'll be speaking with guest experts in the career reentry space to help make your transition back to work smooth and successful.

[00:00:26] I'm excited to be here today with our podcast can I build up my confidence? I'm out of practice, an issue that is near and dear to the hearts of all relaunchers. Our guest today is Valerie Cherneski of Cherneski Coaching. Valerie is a certified executive coach and a former practicing attorney. Valerie's background is in law and psychology. And this background is perfect for advising professionals who are returning to work after taking a career break, as well as professionals in transition generally. Valerie is also an iRelaunch coach. So we're thrilled to have Valerie here with us today. Hi, Valerie. Thanks for being here.

[00:01:14] Valerie Cherneski: [00:01:14] Hi, Carol. Thank you for having me. It's great to be here today.

[00:01:18] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:01:18] Yes. And I'm really happy to be talking to you about this confidence topic, because I know from my own experience relaunching, that the more professionally disconnected you feel, then the more of a hit to your confidence may happen.

[00:01:36] And the longer you've been on career break, the worse it gets. And we feel that, you know, with the thousands of relaunchers that we've been in touch with over the years, this is a pretty universal situation. So any comments, especially from your psychology background on why you think this happens?

[00:01:58] Valerie Cherneski: [00:01:58] Yeah, sure.

[00:01:59] No, I, completely agree with you that it is true that confidence can be at its lowest when one is attempting to relaunch. I actually think that it ends up being one of the main obstacles to individuals relaunching, and there are many reasons for low confidence at this particular stage. First of all, people are out of practice with the daily practice of work.

[00:02:21]Many people relaunching have not worked within their current reality. So as an example, they now have a family to manage and work around and they aren't sure how it will all fall into place. They're worried about being out of date when it comes to technology or industry knowledge. They haven't put themselves out there in many years, they haven't networked, interviewed or completed their resumes. And finally, one of the key factors that can affect confidence is not knowing what you want to do. So knowing that you want to work, but not knowing what that will look like or where to even begin, can truly affect confidence.

[00:02:59] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:02:59] I so agree with this. And I'm just picturing myself and relaunchers that we know in the social situations that we inevitably fall into, where you're seeing other people, especially people you haven't seen for a while, and they ask you what you're doing.

[00:03:16] And you know, if you're on a career break to care for a sick or elderly relative, and, you're not in the work world, you don't have that elevator pitch that you can say that has to do with your work identity and for a lot of people not having that work identity to even reference in those kinds of social situations are at the core of this of this confidence issue.

[00:03:45] Valerie Cherneski: [00:03:45] Yeah. It's so true. And it's one thing, I think when you're first taking that career break and you've decided that that's what you're going to be doing for the next little while or however many years. But then when you start to think about relaunching, it's almost like when do I decide to actually speak it? Or when do I decide to tell somebody in that social setting that this is what I'm doing. And really it's that confidence piece that takes you over the line. And I do want to say upfront, you know, for any of your listeners who are feeling uneasy or insecure...that they're really not alone...that's so normal at this juncture, and that the best news is that confidence can be learned and built. You don't have to feel like it's something that is entirely innate. It is absolutely a skill that can be built.

[00:04:41] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:04:41] Okay. So Valerie, before we get into the actual steps, can you talk about why this matters, why it's so important to have your confidence built up as you're embarking on your relaunch?

[00:04:54] Valerie Cherneski: [00:04:54] Absolutely. So just to start with...what is the definition of confidence? So confidence is being the best you can be and believing you can succeed. And working on your confidence as one of the first steps you take in the relaunch process is very important. And this is because confidence is required for action.

[00:05:18] And that means that it is confidence that will have you take your first steps to relaunching your career. So confidence will have you ask for the informational interview, it will have you apply for the position. It will convince you that you're ready and qualified and deserving of having a seat at the table.

[00:05:37] And even beyond that confidence is also required for success when you're back and you've relaunched your career. So confidence has been shown to be more important than actually capability in terms of defining success and measuring success. And that's an important piece for relaunchers to understand that confidence correlates with success more than capability.

[00:06:03] So it's really about putting yourself out there and being comfortable putting yourself out there. And that's really what people look for and buy into to help you succeed.

[00:06:16] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:06:16] That is such an interesting link and it's reminding me of the book, The Confidence Code by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay....we should mention that book as a great resource as a part of this podcast. Thank you for clarifying that...that's so important. So I guess with that in mind, you're talking about, that you can actually learn to build your confidence by taking specific steps. Is there a starting point?

[00:06:46] I know you said to start to take baby steps, but are there a few concrete actions that people can take when they're at the beginning of building back their career?

[00:06:56] Valerie Cherneski: [00:06:56] Yes. Okay, so I believe that keeping the strategy simple to remember will make it easier to succeed. So I’ve broken it down into two steps.

[00:07:08] The first is to start managing the inner critic and the second is to take action. So one is managing the inner critic. Number two, take action.

[00:07:21] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:07:21] Okay. So can you take us through those two? Okay, great.

[00:07:26] Valerie Cherneski: [00:07:26] So the inner critic...we all have these voices inside of us. And sometimes we can think of it as the angel on the shoulder and the devil on the shoulder.

[00:07:35] And the little devil who sits on our shoulder is called the inner critic. And the little devil will often be sending us very unhelpful messages and this is particularly the case when we are going for something grand in life. So a good way to remember this is that the inner critic's job is to show up when you were going for something grand in life. And relaunching your career, reclaiming your career identity is a very grand gesture in life.

[00:08:12] And so you are to expect that the inner critic is going to be there and fully present at all times. And it's good to just acknowledge that and to know that upfront, because then you can expect, you can expect it to happen and start managing the inner critic right away. And, you know, some of the maybe familiar or common messages that we're going to hear from the inner critic when you're, when you're wanting to relaunch, is that you're not skilled enough. You're not young enough. You're not good enough. You're not experienced enough. You know, I'm sure Carol you've heard these from many relaunchers, maybe even from all of them. The inner critic can really be overly active and also very inaccurate during relaunch. And so that's all interesting to know, but then the question is what, well, what do you do about those voices?

[00:09:04] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:09:04] Right.

[00:09:06] Valerie Cherneski: [00:09:06] And the first thing to do is to is actually just start listening for them and to start recognizing when it's happening. And then you want to start writing the messages down that you hear. It's really important to get clear on what your messages are because everybody's inner critic is slightly different depending on their experiences and, and who they are.

[00:09:28] And so to actually get clear on writing down what the messages are that you're hearing regularly. And then the second thing to do is to just start talking back. So acknowledge the fears that you feel because the inner critic, there's always some truth to what the little voices are that those fears are legitimate and there's nothing wrong with having them.

[00:09:56] So you acknowledge the fears that you feel, and then for each message that you're receiving come up with three arguments to the contrary. For example, if you have an inner critic that tells you that you're not young enough or you're too senior in your years to relaunch, and I use that as an example because that's, that's one of the messages that I hear from a lot of relaunchers in the iRelaunch boot camps.

[00:10:22] Then a great argument back to that is it simply just may not be true depending on how you want to relaunch...that age is only one piece of the large pie that employers are looking at. And so you want to just make as many arguments as you can back to that inner critic so that you have them handy. So you can start sort of reeling them through your mind on a regular basis.

[00:10:50]Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:10:50] You know, I just, I have to interject here by saying, you know what you said initially...reclaiming your career identity is a grand gesture in life. That's such a great quote and it's such a great theme and it just provides the perfect backdrop for the advice that you're giving right now.

[00:11:12] Valerie Cherneski: [00:11:12] Okay, great, great. And, you know, I wanted to mention about this idea of writing down the messages. Writing down our thoughts is very important because it's our thoughts....writing them down is the first step to turning our thoughts into actions. And so starting to write down what we're feeling regularly during this relaunch process is, is actually an important step to be taking, and it's a safe, small step that one can start taking right off the bat.

[00:11:45]Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:11:45] Great.

[00:11:46] Valerie Cherneski: [00:11:46] Carol, I don't know if you're familiar with Dr. Brene Brown's work?

[00:11:49] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:11:49] Oh yes. I love her. I love her TED talk on vulnerability.

[00:11:55] Valerie Cherneski: [00:11:55] Yes. She's a fellow TED talker like yourself and she has a fantastic quote, which is that "shame can't survive the light." Dr. Brown's work is mostly on shame and like you said, vulnerability, but that's the point of writing down the inner critic messages, is that these negative messages can't survive the light. And so once we write them down and we acknowledge them, they eventually get tired and they eventually ease up our little inner critic voices.

[00:12:26] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:12:26] Hmm. That's really, that's great to know. Thank you. Are there other tips in this, in terms of actions to take, before we move on? There are a couple of other topics that I wanted to ask you about, or is this a good time? Go ahead.

[00:12:43] Valerie Cherneski: [00:12:43] Well, what I was going to say is that always remember that managing the inner critic is all about attitude. And so this is where we talk about faking it until you make it. You get to choose whether you are affected by the inner critic, and sometimes the best way to make the good choice or the positive choice is to get out there and fake it until you make it. And I just want to say that for some people that sounds wrong or uncomfortable, and it's not about deceiving others, it's really about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

[00:13:18] And if you don't do that, nothing's going to happen, right? It goes back to what we were saying earlier. It's the chicken and egg scenario. You have to start doing something so that you can build momentum with your confidence.

[00:13:33] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:13:33] Right. And sometimes those first steps feel very scary, but you got to take 'em. You have to force yourself to leave the house. We always say you cannot conduct your relaunch from your house. So, you know, it's actually pretty easy to do research online and submit a whole bunch of applications online. The hard part is when you get out of the house and you put yourself out there to have conversations with other people when they're going to then put you in the position of saying, so what are you doing? Or, you know, are you working? And then you have to say...well, I'm on career break right now, but I'm very actively working to get back in the workforce, and this is what I'm interested in doing. I mean having those conversations, that's hard. But the more you do it, then the better you get at it and I'm guessing you're saying it kind of feeds on itself over time, and that's the process of confidence building?

[00:14:25] Valerie Cherneski: [00:14:25]'s that compound effect that we get as you start small and you build up and you practice more and more at it and it becomes more comfortable and then you can take even more uncomfortable steps. And that's what leads to a relaunch. And your point about getting out behind the computer, which is so important because people pretend or they do a good job of convincing themselves that they're relaunching if they're just spending time Googling, you know, or like you said, applying online...and it's good to keep in mind that the vast majority of jobs are found through networking, not through random online applications. And so for a relauncher that statistic is going to be even higher because people need to get their stories out that they can't necessarily get out through an online application.

[00:15:24] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:15:24] So, how do you build your confidence in that regard? Because if you're going to get out of the house, you're going to have to have these conversations, and how do you have them and feel confident or gradually more confident in putting yourself out there and speaking?

[00:15:40] Valerie Cherneski: [00:15:40] Okay, well, let's move then to the second step, of the two step strategy for building your confidence.

[00:15:48] And the second step is to take action. So keep in mind that confident people make decisions. They take risks and they follow through quickly without looking back. And one thing that I think is a really great challenge for relaunches is to set the intention each day, to take a risk and to start seeing the compound effect it will have on your confidence.

[00:16:16] So let's go through some examples of taking action to your point. One thing is to start small. So like a toddler learning to walk, baby steps really work at building confidence. So you can tell your friends you're going back to work and that you're no longer just thinking about it. You can ask a friend to help brainstorm career paths. Sign up for a course to refresh specific computer skills.

[00:16:43] Carol, I saw with iRelaunch, you're now offering technology skills for Wall St. relaunchers, right?,

[00:16:52] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:16:52] Right, excel for relaunchers, that's right.

[00:16:55] Valerie Cherneski: [00:16:55] And that is such a great, safe way to build your confidence, to push yourself a little bit out of your comfort zone, but it's still a small safe step to take. You know that when you sign up for a course like that, you're showing up with a group of people who are, also relaunching, right? They have similar stories, which makes it a natural, great place to start.

[00:17:23]Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:17:23] Valerie, let me just ask you about the exercise of simply practicing articulating what you're interested in doing and a little bit about your background and having opportunities to essentially rehearse that conversation with people you feel safe with over and over until you sound better and can have it with people who you don't know as well.

[00:17:48] Valerie Cherneski: [00:17:48] Yes.

[00:17:49] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:17:49] Can you talk about that piece of it as a confidence builder?

[00:17:54] Valerie Cherneski: [00:17:54] Sure. And so that is another great way to start building your confidence is just to start practicing, like you said, your quote, speech or elevator speech or whatever you might want to call it on your story. And always just keep it very simple.

[00:18:14] When we talk about an elevator pitch, it's just a sentence about who you are, a sentence about what skills you bring to the table, or what you might want to offer, some results you might've had in the past, and then asking a question of the person you're speaking to. But it's so true what you said about practicing this. And so there are different ways to do that. You can practice by simply talking to yourself in the mirror. Don't underestimate the value of that. You can practice by talking to your spouse. You can practice by talking to your children, regardless of their ages. You can do this around the dinner table. You can talk to your close friends. You start safe and you build from there.

[00:18:58] Another good suggestion that I make is to practice speaking using your phone recorder...your audio recorder on your phone, recording yourself and playing it back. And do that over and over and over again. And eventually it's going to become like second nature.

[00:19:15] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:19:15] That's a good idea. I like that and you know, this whole concept of speaking with your partner, or speaking with other family members or close friends, and then having this give and take with them where maybe they'll make a comment that helps you improve how you're talking about yourself and also this emphasis on keeping it short. Too many of us have the tendency to over explain and practicing keeping it short and brief, is a great tip. And also recognizing that sometimes when you are talking about or saying these few sentences, they actually might come out in the course of an exchange, like it might not be a monologue from start to finish and maybe you say one sentence and the person reacts, and then you say the other piece and sometimes it comes out during the course of a conversation.

[00:20:11] Valerie Cherneski: [00:20:11] Yes. And it's, it's interesting. I was just speaking with a relauncher who is at that stage where they're just wanting to speak about the fact that they've decided to relaunch, you know, the very initial stages and he is going on vacation with his family, but back home to where the relatives are.

[00:20:35]And so his plan for the holiday was to catch up with some people he hasn't seen for a long time. And to simply say, I'm going back to work. So it's not, I'm thinking about relaunching or I'm still at home on my career break, it's so what are you up to? Actually, I'm going back to work in the fall.

[00:20:54] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:20:54] That is great.

[00:20:55] Valerie Cherneski: [00:20:55] Yeah. And just letting that sit with people. And everybody, you know, you say that to anybody and they're going to say, Oh wow, that's great. What do you want to do? Or what are you going to do? And then to just take it from there and to keep it simple. And if you don't know what you want to do, to say that...I don't know what I want to do, but I do know that I'd like it to be in this industry. Or I'd like to work for a large company. Or I'm best suited for a tech position. Or just to give one sentence about your background. I'm not exactly sure what I want to do yet, but I practiced law for 10 years, or I'm an engineer by trade and I'm looking to combine my engineering skills with perhaps managerial skills.

[00:21:38] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:21:38] I really like that. First of all, the proclamation of putting it out on the table that...I'm going back to work in the fall...and making yourself accountable...that's really scary to say that and put it out there for you know, to people that you haven't talked to in a kind of makes it official.

[00:21:57] And I also liked the idea of that single sentence. If you don't have the rest of the story ready yet, it will start a conversation. And you can be honest if you still are looking for that clarity or maybe you've achieved it, but either way you still have the opportunity to have the conversation, even if you're not all the way through the process yet of figuring out what you want to do. So that is terrific. Thank you.

[00:22:25] Valerie Cherneski: [00:22:25] And there's, there's one thing about that. I know some people fear that they don't want to waste the opportunity to speak with an important person. So somebody who might be a good contact, but because they don't know what they want to do, they don't necessarily want to potentially ruin the contact by staying that. What I've recommended is to say, I don't actually know what I want to do, but will it be okay if I give you a call in a month, you know, once the fall hits and I can take you for coffee and perhaps, you know, we can discuss this once I have more ideas.

[00:23:02] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:23:02] Yes, exactly...or even if you think the person has very little time...could we have a 15 or 20 minute phone call? Because I know at that point I'm going to have a more definitive idea of what I want to do.

[00:23:16] Valerie Cherneski: [00:23:16] Yes. And, and that's a good point is to always state upfront....I know you're very busy. Would you mind having a 15 minute phone call? When you give the timeframe to the person it's much harder for them to say no. And they're much happier to say yes, because they're not worried that you're going to expect, you know, a two hour lunch for this call. And so people are happy to give their time when they, when they understand what that means.

[00:23:43] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:23:43] Right. And also sometimes setting the parameters about what the conversation will include, so you're not essentially putting people on the spot saying...I want to have this conversation so you will help me get a job. But it could be around, you know, I'm in information gathering mode...I want to make sure I'm really up to speed, in the know, I'd like to maybe talk to you about the publications you think are the most valuable, or the experts who you follow in the field, or, you know, what your career path has been like over the last 10 years. Ways that you can have conversations with people that do not feel overly opportunistic, and legitimately, give you information that will help advance your job search.

[00:24:30] Valerie Cherneski: [00:24:30] Right? And if we take this back to the confidence building piece, when you employ those strategies that you're suggesting, then it helps to make the conversation a success, it increases the risk that the person will say yes to even having the conversation. And those are the kinds of opportunities you're looking for to build your confidence.

[00:24:52] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:24:52] Excellent point. Yes.

[00:24:55] Valerie Cherneski: [00:24:55] If you make it open-ended, if you make it difficult for the person to help you, then they say no, and then you feel like you're going back to zero again, in terms of your confidence.

[00:25:04] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:25:04] Yes. Valerie, can you talk a bit about getting back in touch with people from the past and the role that that might have in confidence building?

[00:25:13] Valerie Cherneski: [00:25:13] Yes. It's interesting that so many people don't realize that other people's image of you is frozen in time. So if you worked with somebody 10 years ago, and then you took your career break and you haven't had any interaction with that person since, which is usually the case for most people, they remember you the last time that they worked with you, they don't know you now as somebody with children or somebody who's just spent 10 years caring for their parents.

[00:25:45] The point is, there are two things there. One is that they're going to remember you as the working professional. But secondly, that also helps you to keep in mind that your circumstances have changed, but you haven't changed.

[00:26:00] You're still the same smart, intelligent, hardworking, driven person that you were 10 years ago. It's just that in those 10 years, you've done something different with your life...but that's really all that it is. And so this actually reminds me of a story of a relauncher that stands out in my mind on this topic of confidence and also reaching out to two of her past colleagues. When she first decided to relaunch, it took her some time to do anything, except talk about wanting to relaunch, which is very normal.

[00:26:27] And when I asked her what she was feeling about the process. She said that she was just paralyzed, like she couldn't move or do anything. And it stands out for me because the image is so profound and we can certainly all empathize with how difficult it is to take any action when you feel this way.

[00:26:43] And so I encouraged her to choose one step to take. So just one step over the course of a week. And she promised to call her former manager from several years earlier, just to let him know that she was heading back to work. She did it. And she said that it just changed everything...he was happy to speak with her, he agreed to set up a time to meet. And she said it was the singular confidence boost that she needed to just break free from the paralysis.

[00:27:13] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:27:13] I love that story...this whole frozen in time concept and getting back in touch with people from the past, that's such a hallmark of what we consider the iRelaunch approach to returning and to hear that story where there was that defining moment, based on connecting with someone from the past and oftentimes relaunches are worried...maybe they won't remember me, or they'll think it's some kind of an hear the illustration of that and have it be such an important moment, that's that's so powerful. Thank you for sharing that.

[00:27:49] Valerie Cherneski: [00:27:49] Yeah and if you're worried that somebody is not going to going to remember you, then that's where you use email or that's where you use LinkedIn and you send them an introductory note to say...hi, I don't know if you remember me, but we work together here and I'm looking for my next steps in my career, so you give them a chance to remember you before you make that phone call, or before you set up that phone call, which again, helps with the confidence. To see small steps to build it up. And the other thing is not to sound negative, but if you do reach out and somebody doesn't help you, or doesn't respond, you're no worse off than you were five minutes earlier.

[00:28:32] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:28:32] Yes exactly. The worst thing that can happen is the person doesn't remember you or somehow says no, and then you move on, right? But if you don't do it, then you'll never know, and you might have, and you are likely to have the opposite experience.

[00:28:49] Valerie Cherneski: [00:28:49] And that is why managing the inner critic is so crucial in this process of building confidence...because when the person says no, or just doesn't respond, which is more likely the case, that inner critic is going to jump to all of those...oh, that's because you're not good enough or they're not interested or this is, this is hopeless. And you're going to be ready to fight against that, it's none of those things. You have no idea why that person doesn't respond, but it doesn't make you worse off in the process, that's for sure.

[00:29:23] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:29:23] Well, Valerie, this has been such a valuable time. Thank you so much for all your advice about confidence and confidence building. I just want to ask you one final question....we ask this at the end of our podcasts and the question is, what is your favorite piece of relaunch advice, even if it repeats something that you already said during this podcast.?

[00:29:52] Valerie Cherneski: [00:29:52] Okay. If you'll let me indulge you, I'll give you two pieces of advice.

[00:29:56] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:29:56] Okay, great.

[00:29:57] Valerie Cherneski: [00:29:57] One one is...keep the process simple. Talk back to the inner voice and take action each day. If you get overwhelmed, come back to the simple strategies and find one thing you can do today to keep moving forward.

[00:30:12] And secondly, if there is no wind, row. So this is a Latin proverb. There are no persistent, show up and do not give up.

[00:30:24] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:30:24] Excellent. Thank you. I love ending on that note. Thank you Valerie for joining us today.

[00:30:31] Valerie Cherneski: [00:30:31] Thank you so much, Carol. It was my pleasure.

[00:30:33] Carol Fishman Cohen: [00:30:33] And we hope our listeners will visit us at in order to get the most important tools and resources for returning to work for more information about Valerie Cherneski Coaching, contact us at and be sure to visit to learn about coaching opportunities and also tools and resources for your relaunch. Thank you.

[00:31:07] If you have any comments or questions, please email us at, and be sure to visit our website

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