Returning to work after maternity leave or an extended career break is hard – even more so when you know you’re overqualified for your new role.

It’s true, demotions happen for a number of reasons – from poor performance to an alternative to redundancy. But for many women returning to work after an extended career break, demotions are something they have come to expect.

According to a survey by Women Returners, 36% of women said they would anticipate returning to a more junior position. The reason for this is that women coming back into the workplace often sell themselves short at interviews and lack the confidence to negotiate.

This, explains Women Returners’ MD Julianne Miles, is part of the reason why there is a lack of diversity in senior management alongside a gender pay gap.

The survey, which questioned nearly 200 women on a career break, revealed that flexibility is a key factor for women returning to the workplace. 87% of respondents said they wanted an employer that could offer this.

They study also showed that flexible working does not necessarily mean part-time work. Just 17% of those questioned saw part-time work as essential, with 44% looking for a full-time role. For these women, it’s less about the number of hours worked per week, and more about doing hours that suit them – working from home or taking time off during school holidays, for example.

Miles advises that if there is no mention of flexible working in the job listing, women should wait until they have been offered the role before asking the question.

According to the survey, women are choosing to return to work because they want to – not because they need the money. More than 60% of respondents wanted to work again because they craved a sense of fulfilment, satisfaction or identity.

If you’ve taken an extended career break and want to secure a flexible role, here are some tips to help you get the best deal.

1 Do some digging

Job ads don’t always include information about flexibility so it’s worth calling HR before applying. Don’t accept a vague answer, instead ask how many employees currently work flexible hours within that department and/or role. This will give you an indication of what you can expect as an employee.

2 Never sell yourself short

If you’ve previously worked in a senior role, have a wealth of experience, or have skills that are in demand you’re in a good position. In today’s candidate-led market, certain skills are extremely sought-after. Be sure to demonstrate what you can bring to a business.

3 Leave the ‘F’ word till last

Don’t go into an interview demanding information about flexible working straight away. You want the interviewer to understand you’ve applied because you want the job, have the skills and want to work for the company.

If you are returning to work and would like support in your job search, Jefferson Group can help. Get in touch and let us help you find your next career-defining role.