So, you’ve been on a career break. How long has it been … three years, five years, more?
Whether you took time off to care for your children or to travel the world, relaunching your career is a major undertaking, especially these days. Just sending out a bunch of resumes won’t do the trick.
Here are some things you can start doing immediately to help you reach your goal of getting back into the workforce.
1. Get Your Story Straight
Prospective employers are going to ask you what you’ve been doing for the last few years. Make sure you have the story down pat and can tell it confidently. Don’t be sheepish. Taking a break from work, whatever the reason (save incarceration), was a choice you made, and you don’t need to apologize for it. Everything you say should be true, of course, but you choose what the takeaway of the story is.
Second, you’re going to need to have a good answer for the question of why you’re getting back into the workforce. Note: I have a mortgage to pay; gambling debts; or momma needs a new pair of shoes are not good responses. You don’t want to seem needy or desperate. To come up with a good answer, think about those things you loved about your job before you took your break. Talk about the passion you had for your career, about your craving for intellectual stimulation, about your ambition.
2. Stay Connected (or Reconnect) to Your Career
When you take your break, you don’t have to turn your back on your career altogether. Look for opportunities to stay connected. This can mean consulting, volunteering or freelancing. It’s a matter of keeping at least one toe in the work realm.
Kelly, for instance, worked as a graphic designer for a major newspaper until she decided to leave the daily grind to care for her young son. To stay connected to her field, Kelly began freelancing every Sunday for her former employer. She also keeps her skills honed by designing a monthly newsletter for her moms club. Through these efforts, Kelly remains close to her profession and continues to build her portfolio even while on a career break.
If you haven’t stayed connected to your career throughout your break, it’s not too late to reconnect. In fact, reconnecting should be a key part of your career relaunch strategy. Immediately start accepting projects – even if it’s free work for friends or nonprofits – it will pay off in the end. Don’t pass up any opportunity.
3. Revise Your Resume and Get It Online
It’s time to dust off your resume. First, fill in the gaps with all that good work-related stuff you’ve been doing during your break. Even if it was a volunteer project, list it just as you would any other work experience (though you don’t necessarily need to use the word “volunteer”).
Do some research to make sure your resume fits the current style. Many experts these days, for example, recommend ditching the “objective” portion at the top of the resume and replacing it with a summary or profile – a blurb, 50 to 100 words, about your skills and experience.
Your resume summary should be packed with keywords – words that will make your resume stand out when prospective employers search for job candidates through job posting websites. To find pertinent keywords, do a little research. Look at online job postings and see the kind of words that employers are using in their posts, then use these words in your resume. Some jobseekers use more keywords in a core competency section below their summary. (It often looks something like this: Sales and Marketing > Budget Planning > Systems Management … etc.) Once your resume is in good shape, upload it to job posting websites.
First, reconnect with your former colleagues and professional friends. Meet for coffee. Talk shop. Let them know you’re looking for work. Don’t be shy about telling family members, friends and acquaintances that you’re looking for new opportunities. Most people get jobs through personal connections.
Then widen your circle. Try to attend a business networking event every week. Much has been written about how people should approach networking, and a little research on the topic may be helpful. In general, remember that your goal for networking isn’t instant gratification. Many experts will tell you not to expect (and never, never, never ask for) a job offer at a networking event. You’re there to meet people and build relationships. Eventually it will pay off.
To find networking opportunities, ask people you already know or search on the Internet. A simple Google search (city + state + “networking opportunities”) should turn up results. Also, try websites like Meetup and Eventbrite.
5. Social Media
It’s not just for kids. More and more, job seekers are using social media websites for networking, and employers are using them to find out about job candidates. Use social media sites, such as LinkedIn (make sure your info on LinkedIn matches your resume), Facebook and Twitter to build your personal brand, make new connections and further your relaunch efforts.
6. Get Involved
Look for opportunities, above and beyond attending networking events, to get involved. Start a blog related to your field. Check out existing blogs and online forums and comment on posts. Share your opinion. Offer advice. Establish yourself as an active member of the community. Host a networking event, or take on a volunteer position within a networking group. Take a class. These things will supercharge your networking efforts.
7. Cast a Wide Net
When looking at job opportunities, think outside of the box. Don’t think of yourself in terms of past work experience alone. Assess your skills, and determine how they can be applied to different jobs. Know what you can do, and be ready to tell prospective employers how your skills can benefit them – even in a position you’ve never held before. Think about what jobs have the best potential for career happiness.
8. Don’t Pass Up Opportunities
Sure, you’re looking for full-time work. But as you relaunch your career, don’t pass up part-time, contract or freelance opportunities (as long as they move your relaunch efforts forward. Part-time at the local mini-mart, for instance, wouldn’t do much good). A contract position could lead to a job offer, and in the meantime you’re gaining new experience, building relationships and adding to your resume.
9. Prepare for the Interview
Eventually, the day will come. A prospective employer will want to meet with you. A job interview can be particularly daunting to someone who’s been on a career break. The best remedy for a case of interview-related nerves is preparation. Think about what questions will be asked, and how you will answer (remember tip No. 1?). Research the company online. Formulate some smart questions to ask in return. Have a friend give you a practice interview. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be.
10. Keep At It
The best advice for relaunching your career: Don’t give up. You didn’t get to where you were before your career break without hard work and perseverance. And it will take those qualities to get back to where you want to be.