How to Get Back to Work After a Career Break
6 Tips to Get Hired After a Hiatus
In my mid-20s I developed a brain tumor that needed to be surgically removed (7 years tumor free today, woo hoo!). After recovering from brain surgery and realizing that the job I had may have been a contributor to my stress, I took a hiatus from working to concentrate on finding myself.
After discovering what really made me happy (making bagels from scratch) and what made me not so happy (how I felt after eating a ton of bagels from scratch), and my savings started to dwindle, I decided I needed to figure out how to get back to work after my career break.
You may have taken a respite to take care of a loved one, be a stay-at-home parent or, like me, take a mental health breather. Whatever the reason, it can feel overwhelming to get back in the swing of things — I've been there. But it doesn't have to be a grueling process. Here are some tips that can take you from being unemployed to signing an offer letter.
How to Get Back to Work After a Career Break in 6 Steps
Get clear on what you want to do. While you may think you need to "take what you can get," you likely have many more options than you think. Don't just think about the job you want today — think about the job you want 3 years from now. Are the positions you are thinking about applying to on the trajectory to get you to the next level in your career? If not, you may need to concentrate on another role.
If you are unclear, before considering applying to a position, ask yourself: How much do I want to make? Is this a workload I think I can manage? Do I already have some or all of the skills required?
Take stock of your skills. Even without trying, you may have developed some new skills during your time away that would make you an excellent asset to a company. If you volunteered, did you get a chance to lead projects? While taking care of your sick grandmother did you help Nana's friends at the senior center learn Facebook? Maybe during your children's nap-time, you took some free courses on Lynda. Write it all down. If any of these skills are in line with the type of job you are looking for, make sure you get them on your resume.
Also, keep in mind that companies want to make sure that you have been staying on top of your skills while you were away. Research what has been going on in your industry and spend some time on the skills/programs that the position you are looking for requires. If there are skills needed for the jobs you want that you don't have, I would encourage you to take an online course. When you get called for an interview, this will help you demonstrate that you've kept your skills current..
Write a killer resume. The gap between your last job and today may make you feel nervous, but don't let this get to you. For some companies, a gap is not a big deal so long as you have kept up with your skills. Let the job description be your guide in fine-tuning your resume. Keep in mind that most resumes go through an Application Tracking System (ATS), which is a bot that looks for keywords and sends resumes that captures those words to the hiring manager and disregards the ones that don't. So look out for words that are used throughout the job description. For example, if you see the words "cross-functional" used frequently in a job description, you are going to want to harp on your experience with collaborating with other departments and make sure to use the actual words "cross-functional" at least once.
For formatting your resume, stay away from a chronological resume if you have been out of work for over a year and go with a functional or hybrid resume to best highlight your applicable skills.
Work your network. Your network is still the most efficient way to get your foot in the door, especially after a break. Once your resume is on point, be sure to tap into your network and let them know that you are looking. You can do this both in-person and online.
Update your LinkedIn to let people know you are looking. Write an engaging headline and spend time actively engaging on the platform by speaking on topics in your related field to re-establish yourself as a subject matter expert. If a former colleague that you like moved to another company, you can ask if they can put some feelers out for you.
Taking the time now to nurture those relationships will help you long after you find a new position.
Be prepared to talk about your gap during an interview. You do not need to get into the weeds of why you took time off. This is personal to you and in an interview, less is more when it comes to your personal life. You can share that you took a break to deal with a personal matter that is now handled, and mention the skills you were fine-tuning during your time away. This helps the conversation get moving and keeps you in control of the discussion.
Get your mindset right. The decision to go back to work is not made lightly and can often be emotional. Remember that your pause in employment did not take away from your value. You were self-aware enough to take care of what you needed to instead of trying to do it all and get burned out, and that is a great trait. Do not undersell yourself just because you have been off the market: you are still just as brilliant and capable, but now with just a little extra resilience sprinkled in.