Returning To Career After Time Away

Like many of you, I’ve been in the nerve-wracking position of trying to return to my career after taking some time off. Whether you or someone you know has taken time away to care for an elderly parent, raise young children, or to overcome a health condition, transitioning back into the workforce after time away is one of the most scary and exciting decisions faced by many adults. This life-changing move is typically met with countless questions, apprehensions and nervous anticipation by the person deciding to get back into their career. Wondering if you still have what it takes and where to begin is common. Your career re-entry journey does not have to be intimidating. In fact, it can be enjoyable.

Throughout my career, I have interviewed countless candidates trying to re-enter the work world after time away to take care of family or personal matters. Thinking back, there are candidates who stand out in my mind because they were fantastic, and there are candidates who stand out in my mind because they sold themselves short. Below are some practical recommendations to help you enter into the next chapter of your career. Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who has sat on both sides of the desk; as a seasoned interviewer and as a candidate who once returned to my career after some time away.

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Even one year away from work can cause you to worry about losing your skills or professional edge. Perhaps you’ve traded weekly staff meetings for weekly play dates with your children during your time away. There is no reason to fear. The ‘working you’ is still inside and it’s just a matter of getting back in touch. Reach out to your former colleagues or bosses. Invite them to lunch and catch up. Dig up old appraisal forms or projects you’ve worked on. Reconnect with the ‘working you’ and the people who valued your professional expertise.

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Take some time to research recent trends or changes in your industry. Look into taking a refresher course at an area college to get up to speed on recent developments in your profession. Buy a new suit and update your resume. In many cases when I am helping my individual career development clients, I see resume’s that haven’t been updated since before they landed their most recent job. Take the time to look at your old resume with fresh eyes and make sure it includes all of your work experience. If you participated in volunteer activities with tangible results during your time away, be sure to include them.

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Tell everyone you know that you’re planning to get back into your career. Explain what kind of job you are hoping to find. If you attended college in the past, use your alma mater’s career or alumni office as a resource. Look into finding a list of professional organizations in your region and attend a meeting. Reach out to organizations where your skills and experience are relevant and ask for an informational interview. If you don’t have a LinkedIn page, create one. LinkedIn is a professional networking site with millions of members. Once you’ve built your professional profile, you can begin building a network of professionals; reconnecting with colleagues or classmates; learning about companies, and discovering new employment opportunities. When I returned to my career after time away, I found the right career opportunity through networking as opposed to traditional job searching methods. Believe me, it works.

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Maybe you were the head of a department earning big bucks before you took some time away. That was then and this is now. By no means am I suggesting you sell yourself short or adopt a ‘take what you can get’ mentality. What I am suggesting however, is to get in touch with what you want this time around. Sure, you may have seemed to have it all in your past career life, but at what price? Were you traveling frequently or putting in 60 hour workweeks? Before you can find the right opportunity for this next chapter in your career, you need to know what you want. Is it a job in the same industry or a position in a whole new field? Do you prefer a full or part-time schedule? Is flexibility important? Whatever you decide, understand that your new position may outwardly appear to be a step down, but the job may actually be better for you because it’s ‘a better fit’ personally. It is also important not to underestimate the value of getting your foot in the door at a great company. There may be a time when you have to take a step backward to ultimately advance. Look at the big picture.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla SPHR, SHRM-SCP is a leadership communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 20 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, aerospace, e-commerce, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at changeagentsee@gmail.com.


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