Without Back-to-Work Targets
Coming back to the workforce after you’ve had a career break can feel scary. I should know, it took me two years to work up the courage for an interview.
Employers might feel like you are an unknown quantity. Everyone around you seems better, faster, smarter and you’ll miss the soft skin of your children’s cheeks too much. You might miss other precious moments from your current routine.. You might start to remember all the hard bits of the work grind. Then it’s tempting to self-select yourself out of going back.
Turning the Corner
It took me a while but I did manage to spin those feelings. My break gave me greater clarity and new energy to take on professional challenges after being MD of the household.
But Ugh! Where to start? Doesn’t it just feel so huge and insurmountable, especially when you have your hands completely full, doing what you do now. Break it down into bite-size chunks as follows:
1) Showcase How Productively You’ve Used Your Break
By learning new skills, freelancing or consulting, or even serving via community or volunteer roles. Listen to Sarah Bearpark on the value of volunteering when she interviewed.
2) Give your CV a lot of love
Your CV needs to be a quantifiable factsheet with a great, creative short summary at the top that frames how you want to be seen. As Forbes magazine says, try and avoid “Corporate Zombie Speak”.
In a summary, highlight your top skills that will also feature (commercially relevant) abilities that you have picked up in your break. I really like the CV Queen’s advice and there is so much on the web that will be specific to your industry.
Add your gap as a footnote, relevant work experience needs to take up the real estate on your CV first.
3) Reclaim Your Renaissance
If you studied, wrote a book or completed a degree, move your education section high up to show off this achievement and downplay your employment gap.
4) Learning is Never Over
It’s also not too late to take classes or certifications that might freshen your skills and bolster your resume whilst looking for work. In the UK, have a look at Open University… you could do a lot worse than this course.
Linkedin offer a free month of courses as do Microsoft and Apple offers many in-store classes. You could do a blogging course to start to become a thought leader in your field. Just so you know, thought leaders are people who put thoughts in the public domain! End of!
5) Tackle Your Career Gap on Your CV
Be straight up about it in a covering letter or email but don’t let it detract from relevant experience. Have a listen to this podcast with engineer and returner Sarah Bearpark for how she put together her CV.
6) Prepare Talking Points that Showcase Relevant Experience
Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder of career re-entry firm iRelaunch says “This means you’ll need to practice the interview and have several anecdotes ready from prior jobs or from experiences you had during your time off so that can bring them into the conversation easily.”
Then, pivot from these straight into why the experience is useful to this prospective employer e.g. ‘Whilst on time off, I have been a parent governor at my child’s primary school. This gave me wonderful insight into handling the competing priorities of diverse stakeholders’.
Your cover letter should be treated much the same. In one of your later paragraphs, make a mention that you are returning from a career break and explain why.
7) Go Tribal
It is critical that you find people within a company who can help push your resume to the top of the pile or make a personal recommendation. This can offset some of the biases existing about career breaks.
Job boards are fairly thankless; by all means try a few but ultimately it is people who get you the job. I did it in the hope I could meet some recruiters who would “broker” a job for me but in and of themselves job boards shouldn’t feature too highly especially if you have a gap.
You need to bring your brand to life in person or by referral. Take advantage of the one-month free Premium trial on Linkedin to search and connect with all sorts of people from your past.
8) Be Pitch Perfect
Contact everyone you know, ask for a coffee and their advice. No strings attached, make it clear you are just in fact-finding mode. What is their experience like? What trends do they see? What does this acronym mean you’ve been reading about? Who are the experts? The events? The networks you should join?
Friends, past classmates, former clients, any professional-association buddies, and old colleagues—both the senior- and junior-level ones. One of my interviews was via a guy I had hired who was now a senior manager in a search firm. Maybe I taught him all I knew and he went on to be great! See my training video on the elevator pitch.
9) Events/Industry Meetings
Have a look on Eventbrite to see what relevant talks are on. I got my best market intel from listening to a market commentator at one of these events. He gave me all the new language and got me excited, then I was ready for interview. Linkedin has great networks, trade associations, advice on mums going back to work, private Facebook communities are WONDERFUL. You are so so not alone. Challenge yourself to chat to a few people and ask if you can “Link in” with the speaker.
Also, pub, Sunday lunch, BBQs, school gate. Someone’s partner might work in your industry. School gates are absolute hives of information and not just about how much Poundland is charging for lunchboxes.
10) Seek a ‘Returnship’
Another option is hiring programs that are geared to people just like you: coming back from a break. Oh my goodness have you seen the website Women Returners? That website is gold. They have a Facebook group that advertises returner programmes. These can introduce you back into the field, retrain you on necessary skills, connect you directly with hiring managers and powerfully top up your resume to help lessen the blow of the gap. Another brilliant place is Internwise where you can gain experience AT ANY AGE (just today I know for a fact they have a 62 year old interviewing for a cyber role).
iRelaunch has a database on its site that lists over 100 active return-to-work programs. In the UK, WeAreTheCity, Ten2Two, Capability Jane have these. Google “returners” and you will see a host of similar incentives.
Enjoy the Process.
Learn as you go along. Before you know it, you will be in the swing of a new routine and it is kind of fun to be out there.
Remember, if you can handle all that Peppa Pig, nose wiping, teething and frankly taking the brave decision to leave work in the first place, you have totally got this. Or if you didn’t go to be a Mum, remember some high points in your Achieve-ometer from before or during your break.
If you’ve done it before, you will do it again.
You are going to do this! Think of it as your bit for the sisterhood.