If you’re trying to re-enter the workforce after a long absence, it can feel as if you’re dead last in a foot race. Everyone else who’s also looking for a job has at least been a part of the work world, familiar with current technology and protocol, so no matter how hard you try, you’re starting out behind. But there are ways to close the gap.
A long absence from the workplace can happen to anyone for any number of reasons—raising children, following a partner who is relocating, caring for an ill family member, losing a job, taking a sabbatical, experiencing personal illness, prison, homelessness, etc. No matter the reason, it’s important to be able to provide a clear and concise explanation for being out of work. You don’t need to go into details, but you do need to be able to explain it to an interviewer.
While you’re seeking to re-enter the workforce, make good use of your time. Employers love people who take action. I once had a colleague who lost his high-paying job in the recession. Rather than sitting around and waiting on the next job, he worked two
part-time jobs while searching and interviewing for other opportunities. He went from a position in the mortgage industry to roles as a retail customer service manager and a fast-food restaurant manager. It had to be a huge blow to his ego, but in the end, he was more marketable because he took action.
It doesn’t matter whether you take on a small job during the gap, act as a consultant or even volunteer. Whenever possible, do something that you can include on a resume that shows you were still actively perfecting your skills.
Reach out to your network. Recently a client asked me whether people would look down on her for reaching out even though she hadn’t been in touch in a year or two. Keep in mind that everyone else is just as busy as you; former colleagues have let opportunities to catch up slip away as well. For every person who might be offended that you didn’t reach out sooner, there will be dozens who are happy to hear from you and get an update. You never know where those connections might lead.
Know what you want. The most common response I get to “What do you want to be doing now?” is “I don’t know.” If you’re calling on someone in your network and you can’t answer that question, you’ve wasted their time and yours. Know what you’re looking for as you re-enter the workforce and be able to express it clearly and effectively.
Don’t get discouraged. You will likely have to connect with more people and send out more resumes than someone who’s been actively employed. Accept this as fact. Finding a job is a full-time job; when you’ve been out of work for a while, it might even be a full-time job with some overtime. Keep at it.
Be realistic. The position or type of work you did before may or may not be available anymore (especially in IT-related fields), or it may have changed dramatically. This may mean going back to school for more training or taking a lateral (at best) position from where you were before. Leaping to the top when you’ve been out of the game for a while is unlikely. You may need to get back on the playing field first, then look for a way to score something better.
Seeking some career counseling and help with your resume is a wise idea if you’re trying to re-enter the workforce. Standards for resume presentation are always changing; you’ll want to make sure yours looks current and represents the gap in your employment history in the best light possible. At Merrfeld, we also can help you practice and perfect your perhaps rusty interviewing skills.
Joining the workplace after a long break may be more of a marathon than a sprint, but with the right steps and expectations, you can eventually end up at the front of the pack.