Reclaim your career after a long absence

“You have the potential to make healthy choices and balance your priorities no matter where you are on your life journey.” 

― Michael Thomas Sunnarborg, Balancing Work, Relationships & Life in Three Simple Steps

With a nod to International Women’s Day 2019 and this year’s theme – #balanceforbetter – we want to address some challenges faced by women looking to re-enter the workforce after a long absence. Returning to paid work after an extended period away can be a difficult process for anyone, but it can be particularly challenging for women who often have to contend with unconscious biases (and even conscious!) or doubts about their professional competence or commitment, particularly if they’ve opted out of their career to care for others.

Staying home during the early years of child rearing, looking after a sick parent or relative, recovering from an illness or being laid off – there are multiple reasons women can find themselves taking a long break from paid work. But situations change, and there may come a time when you find yourself ready to re-enter the workforce. Once you define your professional goals, here are some strategies to help you reclaim your career.

Self-belief: Develop the right attitude & mindset

Overcoming many of the psychological barriers is a fundamental starting point. Self-doubt, self-consciousness, guilt, regret, anger, fear, excitement – these are some of the emotions you’ll likely face as you embark on this journey. It’s important to remind yourself, however, that while you may not be the same person as when you left the world of paid employment, that doesn’t mean you’re no longer “good enough” for the job ahead of you. For stay-at-home mothers in particular, having a “mommy brain” doesn’t exclude you from being a highly competent professional. The key is to be genuinely motivated and open to this new experience, and to allow your own positive self-belief to overrule any negative thinking.

Upgrade your skills

While your technical skills may have dwindled during your leave, think of this as a temporary situation. Identify the gaps in your skills, particularly technology ones and make a concerted effort to train up. The lower the technology threshold for your job, the easier it will be to re-enter.

Certain professional organizations provide information and resources on job retraining or recertification. Alternatively, look into continuing education programmes offered by universities or colleges to upgrade your skills, training and education. And depending on your financial resources, consider utilizing a private human resources or job placement agency that can assist you with a range of professional services and advice. Alternatively, there are numerous government-sponsored programmes that can assist returning or second-career job-seekers.

Another option is to look into “bridging” positions, or temporary contract jobs that can help you transition into your chosen field. Depending on your circumstances, consider taking up a job even though the pay is relatively limited IF the potential benefits, like valuable experience and networking opportunities, are likely to outweigh the low salary. 

Skill sets change but your fundamental aptitude – that is, natural ability or skill – should be evident to prospective employers regardless of your situation.

Update your resume; Focus your cover letter

The same rules apply to any job-seeker. Your LinkedIn profile, resume and cover letter should be up-to-date and emphasize your selling points. But for those with gaps in their work history, focus on quality as opposed to quantity. Your resume should highlight details on past professional achievements and successes.

You should also include any volunteer work or outline activities that highlight any meaningful experience outside of the workforce. Have you been heavily involved with school organizations, a charity or non-profit, for instance? Also include any continuing education and contract or freelance work. Leverage this experience to highlight your organizational, networking and practical skills and how they relate to the position you’re applying for.

Explain the gap

It’s important that you don’t hide your career gap. In terms of your resume, however, it may make sense to organize the information by work experience and related skills instead of including a chronological listing of your work history. In a phone or in-person interview, explain the extended leave truthfully and in a matter-of-fact way, avoiding an emotionally charged account. This straightforward explanation should instead reflect your resilience, solid life experience and enduring commitment.

For example, “After the birth of my child, I made the decision to stay home. I'm the type of person who puts one-hundred percent into everything I do. At that point, I felt that those efforts were best focused on my family. Now that my children are older, I'm at a point where I'm once again able to commit one-hundred percent to an employer.”

Network

Leverage your network – former colleagues, managers, friends and acquaintances. Certainly, people are busy and focused on their own careers and issues, but many people recognize the challenges of being out of the workforce for an extended period. These more enlightened contacts may be willing to hear you out and offer some form of guidance, advice or just shared experience. And making it known that you’re available for any existing or upcoming opportunities may generate additional opportunities to network.

Opting out of the paid workforce can have a profound and long-lasting impact in terms of your financial, vocational and emotional outlook. But in the spirit of International Women’s Day, remember that “balance drives a better working world”.

Whatever your life stage, contact your Richardson GMP Advisor to discuss financial planning and related matters. 


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