How to Get Back to Work After a Long Break

Professionals in an office setting, illustrating how to get back to work after a long break

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Amanda Cardoso
Amanda Cardoso
May 21, 2024 at 8:6AM UTC

Getting back to work after a long break can be quite challenging. It may trigger fears of not fitting in anymore, pressure to quickly learn new things, and the constant impression of being behind while everyone else seems to have their life together. These feelings are all normal and valid. But there are ways to make your return to work a bit smoother.

Of course, you can't control a recruiter's decision or make new job opportunities magically appear. But what you can control is how you gear up for the current job market and its hurdles. The more you focus on what you can do, the more prepared you'll be when the right position comes along.

We consulted a career coach to help us create this guide on how to return to work after a long break. Grab your notes app and jot down these expert tips and advice.

How to get back to work after a long break: Step-by-step

Returning to work after a long break requires research, preparation, and planning. Below, you'll find some practical tips and advice from Eloïse Eonnet, Muse career coach and founder of Eloquence.

1. Make a list of things you do well

To restart your career after a break, you need to work on your self-confidence. Eonnet suggests making a list of things you do well. “Include your skills, competencies, personality traits, and values that make you great,” she says. “These traits are the ones that help you make decisions, make you feel accomplished, and create value.”

Take a moment to reflect. Are you a good seller? Do you have strong communication skills, whether written or verbal? Are you proficient in another language? Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? What are your core beliefs?

“Some of these traits were built and refined when you last officially worked. Others were learned during your time off,” Eonnet says. “They all apply, and building the vocabulary to talk about what makes you valuable today is a key foundation to reentering the job market after a break.”

2. Get up to date with your industry

No matter where you used to work, chances are things have changed since then. Technology is advancing rapidly, and it's affecting many industries—for better or worse. Take AI, for example. It has sparked debates about whether it's going to end some jobs like writing and illustration.

Before you start sending out your resume, research your industry and find out what has changed while you've been on a break. Get familiar with any new technologies, jargons, or tools that have emerged. LinkedIn, company websites or blogs, and even social media platforms like X (formerly known as Twitter) can be great resources to know what's going on right now.

3. Research what's new out there

In addition to staying updated on changes within your previous industry, it's important to know what's happening in the overall job market. Expect to find new expectations, salary ranges, and requirements that you might not have encountered before. 

Once again, LinkedIn is your go-to ally. Use the search bar to find hiring companies and carefully review their job descriptions. You may discover that certain titles have completely changed or disappeared altogether, while new ones have emerged and are currently in high-demand. It's also a good idea to check your feed daily to keep yourself updated.

4. Take time to develop new skills

Returning to work after a long career break calls for a willingness to learn and adapt. With the job market evolving and seeking highly skilled professionals, it's crucial to step up your game. Besides that, 6.43 million people are currently unemployed in the U.S, meaning you'll need a good resume to stand out in the bunch. (Here's how to write one well.)

Begin with what you've gathered from your LinkedIn research. What skills and abilities are companies currently demanding for the role you're aiming for? What new trends in the industry are unfamiliar to you? Armed with the answer to these questions, it's time to start studying.

If you're short on time or funds, look for free online courses that offer certifications. Many of these are self-paced, meaning you'll be able to watch classes at your convenience, making them more accessible for parents or anyone with a busy schedule.

5. Be flexible with your expectations

We get the desire to return to the role you left behind. However, after being out of the workforce for a while, some people might need to start fresh at an entry-level position or one a level or two below the one they left— or even switch to a completely different department.

In the course of this process, you may also realize that returning to the same industry isn't what you want. Perhaps things have changed for the worse, or maybe your old job simply doesn't fit your current life circumstances. 

Either way, try to keep your expectations flexible to avoid getting too frustrated. List your must-haves, like salary range, benefits, or weekly work hours, and figure out what you're willing to negotiate with potential employers.

This might help: 15 Things to Say When Negotiating to Get What You Want—Every Time

6. Consider doing volunteer work

Let's say you've been out of the workforce for 10 to 20 years, and that gap is holding you back. One way to tackle this could be through volunteer work. Plenty of entry-level and newly graduated professionals take this path to gain some experience to put on their resume.

Volunteering not only allows you to strengthen your existing skills but also gives you the chance to develop new ones. Plus, it helps you readjust to a regular working schedule and reintegrate into daily interactions with coworkers and managers.

7. Update your resume and LinkedIn profile

If you don't already have a LinkedIn profile, it's time to create one. If you do, make sure to update it with any new skills, certifications, volunteer work, or relevant activities you've been involved in lately. 

Set up notifications to alert you whenever a job vacancy matching your profile is posted, and remember to check out your feed regularly—some companies recruit through a simple post. 

When updating your resume, incorporate keywords related to the role you're seeking. This increases the likelihood of application tracking systems (ATS) selecting your resume. The same goes for your LinkedIn profile—recruiters use keywords like “account manager” or “writer for social media” to find candidates.

8. Reach out to your contacts

You've likely made a few friends and contacts in your industry before taking a break from work. If you've stayed in touch over the years, it's worth giving them a call or inviting them for coffee to let them know you're ready to rejoin the workforce. 

You can also ask them to keep you in mind for any opportunities that might be a good fit for you or even to recommend you if they feel comfortable doing so. People who have worked with you before can also vouch for you if an employer requests a recommendation letter or a personal reference.

9. Consider hiring a career coach

For some job seekers, the challenges of getting back to work after a long break can feel overwhelming. If you're struggling to figure out what to do and how to get started, think about hiring a career coach.

Career coaches can assist you in organizing your thoughts and gaining clarity to decide where you want to go in your professional life. They also provide practical services such as resume writing and review, building your Linkedin profile, and preparing you for interviews.

10. Work on your interview answers

You're likely to be asked about your employment gap in job interviews, so preparing a strong, sincere, and compelling answer is crucial to boost your chances of being hired. For instance, if you're a mom going back to work after 10 years or more, Eonnet suggests finding your answer within your own story and the decisions you've made along the way.

“I always suggest that they really think through their career story: how can each step they have taken sound like a clear, strategic decision they made for themself (motherhood included) in their full career picture?” she says.

In her experience, expressing how every decision you made was carefully considered can leave a positive impression. “The confidence that exudes from including motherhood as a clear and thoughtful decision in a career has a really big impact on how we are perceived by employers and our network,” Eonnet says. “Tell a strong story about the decisions you made for yourself.”  

Reentering the workforce after 50: Is it possible?

Are you 50+ years old and wondering if it's possible to reenter the workforce after a long break? The answer is yes. “I see people do that all the time,” Eonnet says. Just like people of other age groups, 50+ year old professionals will need to focus on self-development and adjusting their expectations.

“To be successful, we need to be clear with ourselves about what we bring to the table and what jobs out there need those skills,” Eonnet says. “We might not land the same job we last had 20 years ago, and we need to be OK with that. We also need to make sure we educate ourselves on the newer technologies and tools that are being used in these jobs so that we aren’t immediately dismissed.” 

Of course, there will be challenges along the way, but new technologies and ways of working (i.e. remote work) open a multitude of new opportunities for people in all age groups. The key is to keep an open mind. “With the right mindset and expectations for what a career can look like after a long break, and with the willingness to learn new skills, it is absolutely possible,” Eonnet says. 

Need some encouragement? Here's a list of jobs for 50-year-olds with no experience, along with tips on how to get one.

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