Illness, continuing education, travel and raising a family are all common reasons one might need to leave the workforce for an extended period of time. With rapidly changing technology and a highly competitive job market, the challenge of restarting one’s career proves harder than ever. Fortunately, there are a few steps to make the transition easier.
One concern employers have about applicants that have been away from the workforce is lack of familiarity with current industry trends and technology. Continuing education classes, whether taken at a local college or through a professional organization, demonstrate commitment to your career. Check with community colleges and universities in your area to see if they offer continuing education programs. Then, set an appointment with an advisor familiar with your field to discuss which classes would best align with your career goals.
Reach Out to Contacts
If you’ve stayed in contact with former colleagues, you’re a big step ahead. If not, you can still reach out to them with a short email explaining your situation. Simply request that they forward any information along about potential job openings. This strategy takes the pressure off your contact because they can choose if and when to reply. LinkedIn is another good way to stay in the loop career-wise. Create a profile if you haven’t already, and join groups within your industry.
Freelancing, Temping, and Volunteering
Freelance and temp workers provide employers the opportunity to see your work without making the commitment of a permanent hire. An employer for which you temp or freelance might not need a full-time permanent worker, but it still gives you recent experience to put on your resume. Volunteering presents another method for getting back to work. As with temping or freelancing, you might land a permanent position if you can demonstrate considerable value. If not, it’s still work just like any paid position and can be used on your resume. Temping, freelancing and volunteer also give job-seekers the chance to make valuable contacts in your field.
The Dreaded Resume Gap
Perhaps the worst part of being away from the workforce is the gap it leaves on your resume. A significant gap sends up red flags to potential employers, leaving the applicant no chance to even interview. How can you handle the gap? One method is to use a functional resume. Although there are critics of the functional format, it may be a good option for some job seekers. Another option is to always deliver your resume in person (via contacts or a recruiter) and explain your reasons for being away from the workforce. A carefully crafted cover letter or email might also work, but this isn’t the ideal option since the resume is often viewed first.
Workforce re-entry may not be easy but it can be done if you remain focused on updating professional skills and demonstrating those skills to employers. For more job search and resume resources, see our Resources page.