Career breaks are becoming more common for a myriad of reasons. However, whether you put your career on hold for family, health or other personal reasons, preparing to return to the workforce can be both daunting and exciting. For some, it is a well-planned, positive proposition, whilst for others, life’s curve balls can necessitate an immediate return to the workforce under more pressured circumstances such as relationship breakdown, financial stress or illness of partner. Many of my clients feel daunted, often falling into the trap of not only undervaluing their prior work credentials and life experience but overlooking the skills they have acquired during their time away from the paid workforce. Does this sound like you? If so, here are some tips that might help.
Tip #1 – Start with self-analysis
If your circumstances allow, don’t rush headlong into job searching. Time taken to evaluate your values, skills and life stage/responsibilities, can pay dividends. A few questions to get you started:
- Are you able to/do you wish to return to your previous occupation?
- What do you value most from work?
- Are your qualifications or certifications current or do they need upgrading? Is further study needed or, indeed, possible now?
- How urgently do you need to return to work? Are you returning for, predominantly, financial reasons?
- If relevant, do you have practical supports in place to assist you and your family with your transition back to work?
- Do you need a position with flexible part-time options and to what extent (if any) are you willing to compromise salary/seniority for this?
- How do you envisage your work week to look? Is starting your own business a viable option?
- What current and emerging occupations/industries are best aligned with your skills and values?
- Are your job expectations realistic and supported by information about the current state of your industry? (More on this below.)
- Are you looking to transition to another career, albeit with retraining if needed?
Career breaks can be a catalyst for change. Assess your options and goals. You might prefer to launch straight back to full-time work in your occupation, or take on some temporary, contract or voluntary work to ease back in and/or explore other sectors or professions.
Tip #2 – Know your industry
Knowledge inspires confidence. Know current trends and labour market information. The websites of professional industry bodies are a great resource, along with reports like Australian Jobs 2018. Examine job advertisements and follow specialist recruiters and their industry updates. Where are the opportunities? What are employers and recruiters asking for? What has changed or is evolving in your field of work or related fields, and how can you best position yourself to capitalise on this?
Tip #3 – Skills audit
Know your strengths. There are plenty of good online resources to help you identify your skills and assess them against those highly sought after in your industry. Do you need to update your registration or certifications, undertake further training, or upgrade your computer skills with a refresher course? Keep a look out for free or low-cost training in your local neighbourhood or online.
A word of warning: glossy course websites promising outcomes abound. Be prudent and assess what you really need now for your job search and what can wait. Shop around for courses, compare prices, check course accreditations and see if you are entitled to any government assistance.
Remember, most skills are highly transferable to multiple sectors. If, on your career break, you have managed a busy lunchtime canteen or coached U14 footy, you can most likely problem solve, train and manage staff, manage risk, communicate effectively, organise, negotiate, handle money and plenty more.
Tip #4 – Who is in your village? Make networking connections matter
It is estimated around 60-70% of jobs are not advertised, so it makes sense to enlist the help of people – your best careers resource. Make a list of everyone you know in different facets of your life. Where do they work? Who might they know? In my experience, most people will help you or introduce you to others if you ask appropriately and respect their time. Why not reconnect with some former work colleagues, managers or clients, especially if they are currently working in the industry you wish to return to. Do you or any of your friends know someone who has recently returned to work after a similar absence? Friends and connections can also help you spread the word that you are work ready. Don’t be reluctant to ask for help. Think of what you have done to support others in various ways.
Tip #5 – Unpaid work IS relevant – make it work for you
I know people who have not only cared for children or elderly family members on their career break but been heavily involved in the community as volunteers. As a parent, former committee volunteer, employee and now business owner, arguably the most challenging and skill building ‘work’ I have undertaken over the last 20 years has been unpaid. A client on her ‘career break’ had been on call 24/7 for a cat rescue shelter, was treasurer of a local prominent sporting club and helped a local charity manage their fundraising events. Being unpaid, she didn’t think it relevant to include on her CV, yet it deepened her credentials, displayed a community minded approach and enhanced her employability. It is easy to say, I just did this or only did that, and I am guilty of this too. Banish these words, acknowledge your contributions and own them.
Tip #6 – Write a CV that sells
Make sure your contact details are correct and your referees are briefed about your upcoming job search. Ensure there are no unexplained gaps in your work history. Your resume should be achievement focused and easy to read, with plenty of white space, and simple formatting compliant with applicant tracking software being used by many recruiters and employers. It should tell your story succinctly. Explain your career break appropriately, but don’t apologise for it. Focus on the positives and your accomplishments. An achievement does not need to be extraordinary. Think about your most recent few positions (paid or unpaid) and what you have done during your career break. Where did you add value? Did you mentor or train staff, or receive commendations from customers on your efficient, friendly service? Perhaps you volunteered on a school committee, introduced cost savings or procedural change at work, successfully acted in a senior role, or created a popular window display to attract sales. Think action verbs and evidence.
Tip #7 – Update your job search strategy – fish where the fish are
Investigate online job boards including specialist employment sites aimed at flexible work arrangements. Contact specialist recruiters and don’t be afraid to approach organisations directly. Some organisations have well-structured return to work programs for eligible candidates who have had two years or more away from the industry.
Tip #8 – Consider joining a relevant industry association
There are multiple potential benefits. One of my clients looking to return to work in his sector attended an industry global conference in Melbourne last year. Through a connection made, he was employed within ten weeks.
Tip #9 – Brand YOU – social media
Google yourself. Are you comfortable with your prospective employer seeing the posts/photos/tweets on your social media accounts? For many occupations, professional networking sites are becoming increasingly important for job searching, growing your professional connections and being found by recruiters. If you have a LinkedIn profile or similar on other professional networking platforms, update your profile and photo, compare your profile to others and read up on LinkedIn tips (from the likes of prominent recruiters). Be positive about what you have to offer, review the many jobs posted and avoid writing ‘looking for opportunities’ in your title. A few strong professional recommendations will strengthen your LinkedIn profile. If you are new to LinkedIn, enrolling in a basic introductory course is a great move. This need not delay your job search.
Tip #10 – Manage expectations
It can take time to re-enter the employment market, especially if you are seeking to immediately return to a comparable position at the same level to that at which you left. Much depends on your qualifications and expertise, industry, length of absence, networks, what additional skills you acquired on your career break and to what extent your knowledge is current. As an applicant, ask for feedback and reassess the situation if need be.
Look after yourself. Seek professional support if you need it and be open to opportunities. Good luck!
Written by Helen Green, careers practitioner and Director of Career Confident in Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs. Helen is a professional member of the Career Development Association of Australia. Originally published at Career Confident.