These days career progression isn’t necessarily a march in a straight line through to world domination. Sometimes it can be more of a snakes and ladders type journey, and plotting how to return to work after a career break can seem beyond daunting.
Getting back into the swing of things can feel insurmountable, but you need to make the break you took work to your advantage. Study could have given you an extra string to your bow as far as being an asset in the workplace. A mid-career gap year cured your wanderlust, now you’re ready to commit to the nitty-gritty that a great career entails. Unemployment may not have been your choice, but you could argue the time off allowed you to reassess and consider where you’d really like your career path to head. Or your kids are all at school, and it’s time to reignite the corporate fire.
Is there anything you did which kept you in the loop while you were on your break?
If you kept your hand in the pot with part-time work or contracting, kept up subscriptions to industry bodies and organizations, or stayed in touch with former colleagues, good for you. Make a big song and dance about it. Sell it as a big tick in your column, showing commitment to your industry even when you weren’t active within it. If you didn’t – and not everyone can – it’s not a deal-breaker. It’s called a break for a reason.
When I left full-time journalism for full-time babies eleven years ago smartphones were in their infancy, apps weren’t in mainstream use and it sounds so long ago we were probably writing on cave walls. That media organization doesn’t even exist anymore. The point is that the technology and structure of a company can change vastly in a few years. Restructures, redundancies, the way workers are employed or engaged by organizations pays to keep abreast of these changes.
Ditto updates with operating software and technology. You don’t have to be an expert, but you don’t want to be the lumbering old dinosaur attempting to run with a pack of cheetahs.
LinkedIn is your friend and ally here.
It’s a great place to start plotting your return to work. You can gain industry insights and get connected with those former colleagues from the comfort of your laptop.
When considering a new job there are a few things to ask yourself. Do you want to return to exactly what you had, and if so, what would it take to get there? Are you keen on less (or more) responsibility? Different hours? Is the money your number one concern?
First impressions count.
When returning to work after a career break first impressions count, and it’s naïve to think they don’t. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on new clothes for a job interview, but go in looking sharp, polished, and professional. Make sure you’re wearing smart shoes (yes, people notice!), make sure you’ve showered, and bring a breath mint. Use it. The number of times we hear the first thing an interviewer noticed about a potential candidate was their bad breath or body odor is much more frequent than you’d think.
Appearance goes a long way towards building confidence, and if you can walk the walk, it can give you the boost you need to focus on talking the talk. The same goes for your CV. It’s also a form of first impression.
Dust off that CV.
After a while out of the game, reapplying for jobs can be nerve-wracking, so dust off that CV and give it a fresh new update. It’s a key tool in selling yourself when you haven’t got face-to-face contact, and with a finite amount of time to make yourself memorable via the page every word counts. A good CV:
- Can be made timely and relevant to the position you’re applying for;
- Will showcase your accomplishments; and
- Needs to be proofread! Nobody expects you to be an English professor, but correct spelling and grammar show attention to detail on such an important weapon in your job-seeking arsenal. If reading and re-reading your own CV is sending you a bit of cuckoo, get a friend or family member to cast an eye over it.
Fairly or unfairly, some employers can look unfavorably at a lengthy gap in a CV. Your gap’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does need explaining should people ask about details of your career hiatus.
If you were fired or made redundant it’s important, to be honest about why. Whether you share all the gory details is up to you, but New Zealand is a small pond, and untruths are very easily exposed. Would you rather hire someone who left a company due to a less than ideal situation, or someone who did the same, then lied about it?
A common career break is one taken to raise a family. When we had our first daughter my own husband warned me about staying home full-time with her for too long, saying it could be detrimental to my career prospects. (That’s life with recruiters. Thanks, honey.)
But fret not. Dealing with children day in, day out, has refined a unique set of skills that are more than applicable to the world of work. An insightful employer will recognize that.
Placating one kid who’s yelling for snacks while trying to cook dinner as another one needs help on the potty? Multi-tasking for demanding clients. Getting the kids (and yourself) out the door on time for school in a state fit for public consumption? There’s your time management. Refereeing whose turn it is to open the courier package/choose the TV show/be in charge of the game? That’s negotiation day in, day out.
Regardless of why you were out of the workforce, your experience doesn’t expire, so back yourself and have confidence in what you’ve already achieved career-wise. Most importantly, try not to rush the comeback process. A plan of attack could be a great asset when the whole idea of jumping back into work can seem too overwhelming.
You can fake it ‘til you make it as far as confidence goes.
You can fake it ‘til you make it as far as confidence goes, but you can’t feign real enthusiasm. Recruiters and hiring managers can tell from a mile off if you’re not genuinely keen on an opportunity – you need to commit boots and all, and be full of enthusiasm for returning to the world of work.
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