Your Guide To Heading Back To The Workforce After Years Of Absence

Raising children, caring for a parent or downsized during a downturn—career breaks are becoming increasingly common. No matter the cause for your employment gap, there are steps you can take to smooth your re-entry. The keys are research, retooling and reaching out.


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It’s often been said that the best time to find a job is when you already have one. There are also advantages to conducting a search when you’re not working full-time. The biggest is having more time to do it right. Here’s how.

Begin The Search

This step seems obvious. What’s not so obvious is putting it at the start. If you’ve been out of the job market for a year or more, things have changed, sometimes dramatically.

Start scanning postings from local companies or for out-of-town firms in your field. Read classified ads and job search boards. This will indicate what businesses are looking for right now. It will help you figure out how to pitch yourself and how to structure your resume.

Dust Off Your Resume

These days, this involves more than updating and reformatting. You’ll also need to incorporate the right keywords.

Go back to the ads and postings you reviewed. You’ll notice trends. Certain terms will appear frequently under qualifications and responsibilities. Those are your keywords.

This will be an on-going process. Optimize your resume for each application, working keywords from each company’s posting into your application to help it pass that crucial first-stage electronic scan.

Also consider a functional, rather than a chronological, resume. This approach focuses on skills and experience, highlighting what you can do rather than accentuating that you haven’t done it for a while.

Clean Up Your Social Media

That picture where you appear inebriated at the tailgate party can come back to haunt you. So can that intemperate political screed. Get rid of them, or at the least limit their reach. There are social media cleanup services that will handle this if you lack time or patience.

Once you’ve purged the negative, accentuate the positive.

Make sure your LinkedIn profile shines. Begin the update with a professional photo. Also solicit recommendations. Finally, pare endorsements that aren’t relevant to jobs you’re seeking.

Make sure you stay active once you’ve renovated. Look for articles related to your field to post, adding commentary and insight. This will demonstrate that, while you might not be in the workforce, you’re still engaged.

Spread The Word

There are two levels, depending on your time crunch. There’s the casual “work it into cocktail party chatter” stage that’s fine if you’re not under pressure to find work. There’s also the “blitz the contact list” phase if you need a job, fast.

No matter your situation, the key is to keep it personal. Don’t CC everyone you know in a single email. Instead, reach out individually and hone in on what insight or assistance each person might be able to offer. At social gatherings, mention that you’re looking for work and ask for referrals – but don’t turn your cousin’s wedding into a networking event.

For some, approaching others is not intuitive. The good news is, you can practice. Create an elevator pitch and deliver it to friends until you can effortlessly reel it off. You can use the pitch during interviews, too.

Brush Up Skills

Go back to job postings and look for skills you don’t have. Then, work to fill those gaps. Sometimes it’s as easy as finding tutorials online. In other situations, you’ll need formal instruction. Even if your training program isn’t completed before you interview, you’ll be able to say, “I realize this skill is valued, and I’m working on it.”

Remember, too, that you might already know more than you think you do. If you’ve mastered Quicken in order to handle family finances, that skill easily scales to a small business that uses QuickBooks.

Don’t Forget Volunteer Work

Hard-driving professionals often have trouble downshifting. Think back over your activities in recent years and see if you can reframe them.

It’s all about the pitch. “PTA secretary”? Meh. “Communications officer for a 400-member organization, responsible for creating eBlasts and newsletters, as well as for coordinating social media”? Suddenly, volunteering at your kid’s school is relevant.

There are hurdles to re-entering the workforce after an absence—erosion of skills, changes in the job market and even self-doubt. The key to a successful comeback lies in organization, research and reaching out to professional and social contacts.

Some interviewers will still want to fixate on the chronological gap. Your job is redirect them to the positives and demonstrate what you can do for their company.

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