A woman I know who's trying to return to the workforce after taking a break was recently asking for advice. "I’ve been out of work for a long time and think I’m ready to go back," she said. "I know that the employment gap on my resume will not work in my favor. Do you have any advice about how I can re-enter the workforce and not get overwhelmed or discouraged?" she wanted to know.
If I'm being honest, re-entering the workforce can be very daunting. You know what you’re up against and you know how employers think. While thinking about the competition can be discouraging and even paralyzing, you must remember that you can only control what you can control. So keep your focus on yourself and what you can take charge of. Know that it may be a long road and will probably feel like a steep climb. But also know that your commitment and determination will get you to where you need to be.
Here are 10 tips to help you on your way:
1. Have a good reason why. Have a reason why you want to re-enter that is not tied to just making money. It’s important that employers sense that you have a real desire to do the work itself and that your end goal is not simply to earn an income. An income is a given motivator; we all need to make money. But what you choose to do is something else entirely.
2. Keep your job search focused. Frustration can cause you to throw darts at a wall to see where they land, but the more targeted and specific you can be in your search, the better your outcome will be. You’ll also be more specific when talking to people in your network about what you’re looking for and you’ll be more likely to have a positive outcome as a result.
3. Leverage your network. You may not realize how big your professional network has gotten while you’ve been out of the work force, especially if you have school age kids. The parents at your child’s school are a great resource. Your alumni association can be very useful as well in times like these. Previous bosses are also within bounds! After all, who knows the quality of your work better than they do?
4. Brush up on your skills. Enrolling in a continuing ed class is a great way to be sure your skills are up to date. Even if you don’t feel you’re out of the loop, getting educated is a great way to network with others currently working in the field. In addition, professors are usually working professionals, so they may be able to serve as a resource.
5. Start consulting. Do you have friends with small businesses? Is there a way you can add value at your child’s school? These avenues can be helpful in gaining current references. They will also allow you the opportunity to add current work you can share in your portfolio, whether it’s a marketing presentation, sales stats from a fundraiser you managed, events that were successfully project managed or a new logo design.
6. Be honest about the gap. The worst thing you can do is try to cover up a big gap on your resume. But that doesn’t mean you need to telegraph it or let it be the first thing seen on your resume. Try combining functional and chronological resume formats so that you’re able to highlight key skills and achievements for the top half of the resume and then show the chronology below.
7. Look for a re-entry program. There are organizations that help professionals re-enter the workforce, such as irelaunch. Some large companies - including PepsiCo and Fitch Ratings - have also started re-entry programs, often known as "returnships" or "return to work programs," that you can apply to. And, as inspired by the movie, The Intern, some companies have started Enternship programs and offer skills training.
8. Practice interviewing. With so much of your energy and focus dedicated to the job search itself, when you finally land an interview you may already feel like celebrating. But hang in there and prepare as much as possible. If you’ve been out of the interview loop for several years, things have certainly changed. You’ll want to be sure you’re thoroughly prepped and have practiced talking about your skills and previous work history.
Practice will also make it easier to recall what you actually did! We all forget specifics and details about our jobs and sometimes, and if we’re not careful, we’ll actually forget some successes as well. Don’t forget to practice. It would be a shame to land the interview and blow it because you weren’t prepared!
9. Shift out of the gap. In the interview, you’ll naturally acknowledge your gap, but there is absolutely no need to apologize for it or dwell on it. Instead, shift out of the acknowledgement to why this job caught your attention and sparked your passion for what you do. “Yes, I took two years off to stay home with my kids, but I always knew it would be a temporary thing," you might say. "I couldn’t believe the timing of things. When I decided it was time to get back to what I do, your job posting seemed to fit me like a glove. It’s exactly what I used to do, and I believe I can bring a lot of value having worked for a competitor.”
10. Consider temp work. It may sound unglamorous, but everyone needs to start somewhere. You’ll get to exercise your skills, get back into the work force, and connect with various people in different organizations. Not only that, but some companies end up hiring temps for full time roles. Consider it an investment in your encore-career. Hopefully, the temp work will put you in a better place a year from now than not working will!
Michele Mavi has nearly 15 years of experience as a recruiter, interview coach, and resume writer. She is Atrium Staffing’s resident career expert, as well as director of internal recruiting and content development. She also founded Angel Films, a division of Atrium Staffing focused on the creation of recruiting and training videos.
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