This post originally appeared on LinkedIn at this link.
Are you thinking about returning to work after taking a career break, whether you have been attending to children, parents, or yourself? This fall I have been inspired by several relaunchers, whom I met at a workshop I conducted on returning to work for Baruch College Alumni, as well as at the iRelaunch Return-to-Work conference in New York City. During both events, I heard from individuals who had left their careers for some time and successfully re-entered, as well as from those who were in the midst of attempting to get back into the workforce. If you are beginning your relaunch journey, read about six steps you can take to prepare yourself for a smooth re-entry and job search. The steps follow a natural order, although you may find yourself returning to an earlier phase every now and then.
1. Prepare Emotionally and Mentally
After being out of the workforce for a while, it is common for your self-confidence to have taken a hit, especially in terms of work. You want to build this back up, particularly before you begin to network, apply for openings, and interview. Some studies have shown that women are already prone to lower self-esteem than men, as featured in The Atlantic’s May 2014 cover story, The Confidence Gap. Don’t sell yourself short; build your confidence so that you can get what you want and what you are worth. Keep in mind that your self-assurance will also naturally build as you go through the process of getting ready to return.
2. Reassess Yourself
Returning to work after a break is a great time to take stock of where you are in life and consider how your values, skills, and interests have shifted since you last were in the workplace. What do you need at this time in both life and work? What would be interesting and exciting to you? Allow yourself to dream first; later on you can bring in the reality check. If we skip this step of self-reflection and contemplation, we run the risk of choosing a path that will not be satisfying in the long run. One way to start this reflection phase is by completing career exercises focused on values, skills, interests, and personality traits (see my website for a few you can download) or even more formal, standardized career instruments, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Strong Interest Inventory, SkillScan, and/or StrengthsFinder. Many career counselors and coaches offer these tools.
3. Consider Various Schedules
What would be the right type of work arrangement for you? Full-time, part-time, flexible hours, flexible locations, temporary, seasonal, or summers off? Would you prefer to be an employee, an independent contractor, or a business owner? Or a combination? Often individuals who have taken a break for caregiving responsibilities desire some type of work flexibility when they return. Think about your ideal schedule as well as what type of arrangement would best work for you as well as others in your life.
4. Refresh Your Skills
Once you have figured out what you would like to do (e.g., career field and role) and what type of arrangement would be best (e.g., part-time, full-time, flexible), it is time to focus on refreshing your skills. If you do not have recent work, volunteer, or educational experiences to add to your resume related to your target career area, consider seeking this out now before launching your job search. Having this “new” experience will help wonders, as it alleviates employers’ concerns that your skills are rusty and outdated. You can refresh your skills through strategic volunteering opportunities, temporary work, project or pro-bono work, internships, or even re-entry programs. You can also further enhance your skills by taking classes, completing a certificate program, earning a new degree, engaging in self-study, joining professional associations and industry groups, reading professional journals, and/or getting involved in professional LinkedIn groups.
5. Update Your Job Search and Networking Tools
The last step to take before embarking on your job hunt is updating and tailoring your self-marketing and networking tools. First, spend time figuring out what your personal brand is or how you want to portray yourself. What are your strongest skills? How do you want to be seen by employers? Incorporate this information strategically into your resume, cover letter, and online profiles, such as on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
Be sure to also add any recent work, volunteer, and educational experiences that showcase your updated skills. Highlight these experiences prominently in your documents, especially if they are related to your field of interest. If you are concerned about gaps on your materials, take steps to minimize them, such as dividing diverse experience into categories on your resume (e.g., Marketing Experience, Finance Experience, Non-profit Experience) and using only years for your dates instead of month and year. Prepare for networking by creating and practicing an elevator speech or pitch, and design professional business cards that include your basic contact information.
6. Launch Your Job Search
Now that you have your skills, marketing materials, and networking tools up-to-date, it is time to officially launch your job search. The name of the game these days is who-you-know and who knows you. Concentrate most of your search efforts on making new connections, which has proven to be the best method for landing jobs and tapping into the hidden job market.
To expand your network, try conducting informational interviews, attending networking events and gatherings, and tapping into online networking. It is also important to strategically keep in touch with the connections you already have. Furthermore, you can mix up your search methods by applying to online job postings, talking with recruiters, and attending career fairs. However, keep in mind that a small percentage of jobs (approximately 10-30%) are secured through these methods.
Finally, if you are focusing on finding a flexible job, see my blog post The Elusive Search: How To Find Flexible Work.
Follow the six steps above to successfully relaunch your career, and be sure to seek assistance if you get stuck in one or more areas. It is a process to return to work after a break, but many have done it and so can you!
Have you already begun your re-entry job search? If yes, what advice would you share with those just starting out?