How to Return to Work After a Career Break

Woman meeting interview panel
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Whether your career break was planned or unplanned, returning to the workforce after an extended period away can be challenging. Some recruiters and hiring managers will be understanding about years away from the nine-to-five grind, but others may feel trepidation about hiring you. And, with time away from the workforce, your skills—along with your resume and interview skills—may need an update. It may be hard to feel confident and qualified, too.

Overwhelmed? Nervous? Don’t be: Here’s how to have a successful job search and transition back to employment after a leave.

Tips for Getting Back into the Workforce After a Career Break

Assess Your Job Wants & Needs

Don’t just dive into searching on job posting websites. Instead, take time to consider what you want: What type of job will be fulfilling and gratifying? And, do you want to go back to a role like the one you had before you left the workforce, or do you want to try something a bit different? Consider what you’d like to get out of a job, and why (aside from financial reasons) you’re interested in working again. Keep your needs in mind, too: whether it’s salary requirements, flexible hours, or anything else.

Make a list of the “must-haves” for your next job.

Plus, reflect on your career break. Did you learn a new skill, volunteer, start a side hustle, or take classes? Even if you weren’t actively working, you may have noteworthy accomplishments to mention during interviews or add to your resume.

Re-Learn Your Industry and Network

If it’s been quite a while since you worked, you’ll likely need to refamiliarize yourself with your industry and the job opportunities in it. Some possible steps to take:

  • Research your industry: Spend some time on Glassdoor.com, researching companies and your industry. You may be particularly interested to find out the salary range for roles that are of interest to you. Here’s more information on how to research companies pre-interview.
  • Network: Reach out to former colleagues to let them know you’re returning to the workforce. Not only can you get potential job leads, but these contacts may also be able to update you on the latest industry outlook—the big players, the new jargon, etc. Ask your connections for advice and tips on getting back into the workforce.
  • Attend conferences & informational interviews: Setting up some casual informational interviews can also help you feel up-to-date on your industry. This will help keep your references fresh during job interviews. Conferences can also help you get up to speed, as well as being an opportunity to expand your network. Even participating in a LinkedIn Group related to your industry can help you get back in the groove.

Freshen Your Skills

During your industry research, you may discover that there’s a whole new world of jargon. New programs may essential. Or, maybe the tools are the same, but it’s just been awhile since you used them. Freshen up your skills before you go out on interviews or send out cover letters—this will help you feel more confident as a candidate. Here are a few ideas:

  • Volunteer work: Even if it’s unrelated to your field, volunteering on a regular basis can get you re-accustomed to a structured environment, which employers like to see. Bonus if your volunteering builds or maintains skills that potential employers want to see in candidates.
  • Classes: If there are new products or programs available that aren’t familiar to your, it might make sense to take a class. This could be an in-person course, or an online tutorial. Once you’ve mastered the new skill, you can include it in the skills section on your resume.
  • Newsletters, podcasts, etc.: To some extent, you may not need new skills. Some fields do not change quickly. It may just be that you need to remind yourself of how the industry works, whether that means thumbing through your old textbooks, attending conferences, or starting to read daily industry news, listen to podcasts, subscribe to newsletters, etc.

Practice Job Search Skills

How long has it been since you last applied for a job? If it’s hard to remember, you probably need to update your resume. (And maybe your LinkedIn profile, too!) As you update your resume, consider opting for a functional version, rather than a chronological one—this may help de-emphasize the gap in your employment history.

You’ll also want to practice interviewing too—that means reviewing your answers to common interview questions and assembling an interview outfit. Plus, see these tips for responding to interview questions about being out of work along with how to explain an employment gap on your resume.

Explain Your Career Break—But Keep It Brief

If you’ve had a long break, you’ll likely have to discuss it within your cover letter, as well as during interviews. No matter what your reason for your extended leave from the workforce, keep your explanation brief. A simple sentence will do. Try, “I’ve spent time caring for a sick relative,” or “It was important to me to be home with my child until nursery school,” “I’ve been volunteering at a homelessness charity while taking bookkeeping classes,” or “I’ve spent the past few years traveling throughout the world, working on my language skills.”

Whatever your reason for being away, try to distill it down to something brief—and the return the conversation to the work you did prior to your time away. Your work experience remains relevant, even if some time has passed since you gained that experience.