How to Re-enter the Job Market After a Lengthy Career Lapse

When you spend extended time away from the workforce, it can be challenging to find the right route back in. Whether you have been raising a family, pursuing an education, taking care of an elderly parent, serving in the military, grappling with illness, or something else, getting back to work requires a thoughtful approach. Research has found that 43 percent of women with children leave work voluntarily at some point. But men leave the workforce, too. In November 2017, 11.5 percent of men age 25-54 were not working.

Fortunately for anyone seeking to return to work, opportunities exist. With U.S. unemployment at 4.1 percent, its lowest rate in 10 years, now is an excellent time to get to work – literally. Before you take your next step, review these tips on how to best position yourself to rejoin the workforce.

  1. Gather information. Interview friends about today’s workplace. Take younger friends for coffee and ask them to be honest with you about what you need to know. Don’t forget to question yourself, too. What type of work do you want to do? What skills can you offer, from past experience or developed during your break? What matters most to you – a position with a clear career path, flexible hours, an organization in a specific industry? A career center or site such as CareerOneStop can offer ideas and assessments, and help your clarify your goals.
  2. Update your skills.The job market is changing. Attorneys who once relied on a personal secretary now share an administrator with 10 other lawyers and handle their own correspondence. Marketers who once spent days on the phone now might drive a social media dashboard. Get up to speed with new technology, from group workspaces like Asana or Basecamp to webconferencing. Volunteer, take an online course or investigate internships to fill gaps and reboot your resume.
  3. Bring your resume up to date. Revise your resume to highlight your skills and successes rather than precise dates of each job. If you have been out of school for decades, exclude graduation dates. Don’t be dishonest about gaps in your employment history, though. Instead, prepare to answer questions truthfully with ways your skills are stronger because of the break, not in spite of it.
  4. Get resume feedback. Today, many companies use computerized screeners to sort resumes. Taking the right approach, including keywords that computers might search for, can help your resume pass the first bar. Read about keywords and computer scanners, and ask a few job-savvy friends to honestly assess your resume. You might even hire a professional resume consultant.
  5. Make and use connections. People like to help each other! Create an online profile and connect virtually with family members, friends and former business associates, as well as other professionals you know. Mention your job search often, using a short description of what type of work you’re looking for. Be sure to thank anyone who gives you a lead or suggestion, whether it pays off or not – and pay the favor forward.
  6. Look for on-ramps. If you’ve been laid off, ask about help from an outplacement agency. For executive positions, talk with recruiters for job-hunt assistance. Some large employers offer return-to-work programs – sometimes called “returnships” – specifically to help mid-career workers find their niche. Returning workers can check out companies such as iRelaunch for opportunities, advice and conferences.
  7. Returning moms, take advantage of guidance tailored to you. If you’ve taken time out for your family, whether for a few months or years, you can find a great job again. Sites like iRelaunch (above), Apres or The Mom Project provide focused advice and opportunities – including options from companies specifically looking for the skills women like you can bring back to the workplace.
  8. Prep for interviews.These days, some interviews happen by phone or via video chat. For any interview, prepare appropriately, including dressing professionally. Be ready to emphasize your strengths and skills, and be able to briefly answer questions about your time away.

Above all, stay positive, and stay flexible. As you reenter the working world, you might need to consider project work, contract work or a part-time position. Bear in mind that what looks like a limited opportunity may help you build a bridge to a long-term career that offers exactly what you want and need from work.


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