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5 Tips for reentering the workforce

October 31, 2022 - 12 min read

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Common challenges when reentering the workforce

5 tips for your reentry to the workforce

Don’t be afraid — be bold

Everyone’s life is full of moving parts. Between your job, babysitting or raising a child, and supporting your partner, balancing everything may feel impossible. And as soon as you feel like everything is under control, something throws it all off balance. Sometimes it’s a fractured bone or a bad day that requires rest. And other times, a global pandemic forces a shift in your priorities. 

In these moments, it’s normal to take some time off work to focus on other things. That’s exactly what 3,200 full-time American workers did in 2021, all of whom took a leave of absence to recover from an illness or injury. 

Other factors can also take you away from work. You may choose to be a stay-at-home parent until your child is independent, travel the world before settling down in your community, or care for an aging family member. Whatever your reason, your time away is valid.

Regardless of why or how long you’re away, you may eventually want to return to work. But this experience can be nerve-wracking. Will you be able to make friends with your former colleagues or new co-workers? Will you perform at the same level as before? Can you balance your other priorities in life while working your dream job?

It’s a lot to think about. Before you become overwhelmed, here’s everything you need to know about reentering the workforce.

 

Common challenges when reentering the workforce

Whether you’re reentering the workforce after COVID, stress leave, or parental leave, returning to work after a long absence is daunting. But if you’re mindful of the challenges and prepare accordingly, you can transition smoothly back into employment.

Here are some of the common hurdles for people returning to work:

  1. Evolving industries. Your industry didn’t stop growing, changing, or innovating while you were away. After some time off, you may have to play catch-up if your skills are out of date.
  2. Age discrimination. To get back up to speed in your industry, you may choose to settle for an entry-level job or a paid internship. But many of these positions are quietly reserved for young workers and recent graduates. Yes, age discrimination is illegal — but an employer’s unconscious bias can still work against you, even if you aren’t aware of it.
  3. Self-doubt. You can’t control your industry or the behavior of potential employers, but you can change your perception of the situation. Your biggest challenge in this regard will be to overcome your self-doubt. You were once a fantastic worker, and you can be again. It’s just a matter of time.
  4. Employment gap on your resume. A long leave of absence on your resume can raise red flags to potential employers. They may not immediately dismiss you as a candidate, but they’ll look for some kind of explanation.

You’re more than capable of overcoming these challenges. If you’re willing to put in the work, you can quickly catch up to your industry. This will help ease your self-doubt, giving you the confidence needed to quell concerns about your age and employment gaps.

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5 tips for your reentry to the workforce

The challenges to reentering the workforce are daunting but not insurmountable. Here are some practical tips for your transition.

1. Focus your job search

It’s tempting to apply to every job under the sun, especially if you’re worried about financial wellness after taking time off. While casting a wide net is good, you can increase your chances of success by narrowing your search.

Think about your needs, interests, and goals. Ask yourself which responsibilities you enjoyed most at your last job, what industry you’d like to be in, and what jobs would align with your skill set. 

Then you can save your energy for open roles that align with these elements. Not only can this help you land a job interview, but pursuing roles you actually want will make the job hunt more enjoyable.

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2. Update your work history

When was the last time you applied for a job? Chances are your CV needs a refresh. Spend some time overhauling your resume to make it stand out. You can use a template to guide your design or create your own. 

Now is a good time to add new skills you picked up since you last opened this document. Think back to your last role and highlight skills you learned while you were there. And, if you took a class or gained skills during your leave, these could be worthy additions to your CV.

You can then easily tweak your resume for each job application. Move your work experience and skills around so your recruiter can easily find the ones most relevant to the job listing. Read the posting closely to better understand what they’re looking for.

3. Cater your cover letter

Not all jobs require a cover letter, but most do. When you write yours, craft a story that highlights your skills and why you’re the best choice for the role. Your letter should explain why you want the job, why you’re a great fit, and how this role will help you achieve your goals. You should also highlight specific accomplishments from your previous role.

Woman-working-from-home-using-laptop-computer-reentering-the-workforce

This is also a chance for you to quickly address your career break. You don’t need to write your life story —  a single sentence will do. This can help ease a hiring manager’s skepticism about your extended leave. 

It’s also worth highlighting any skills you’ve learned since leaving your previous role. This makes your extended absence less of a hindrance and more of an asset.

For example, “Despite excelling in my previous position, I spent the last year as a stay-at-home mom because of the price of childcare. When my kids were at school, I used my spare time to earn a degree in business management.”

4. Leverage your professional network

Do your LinkedIn connections know you’re reentering the workforce? If not, it might be time to make an announcement. When you share your job availability on the platform, your stronger connections can share it with their extended network, exposing you to more potential employers and increasing your chances of finding a job.

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One-on-one meetings with your connections can also give you the scoop on how your industry has changed since you left. They can give you valuable career advice, such as what to highlight in your CV, how to frame your cover letter, and what skills to bring up in a job interview. This kind of information will be invaluable during your job search.

5. Start slowly with part-time, freelance, or volunteer work

You don’t have to jump straight back into full-time work. Instead, try freelancing or contracting as a part-time job for reentering the workforce. This can help you find your footing until you’re ready to commit to a more permanent position.

This is a great option for those reentering the workforce after retirement. After a long and successful career, your extensive resume will make you a valuable consultant to your clients. And you can take on as much or as little work as you want, which allows you to protect your energy levels and still enjoy your hard-earned retirement.

Gig work also allows you to focus on your current skills while learning about what you need to catch up on. For example, if you were a public relations expert, you could help clients develop messaging for their outreach projects. But you may not be as familiar with current trends in social media.

As a part-time freelancer, you can use your free time to pursue professional development opportunities, take online courses, and earn new certifications. 

As a third option, nonprofits are always looking for volunteers in the short and long term. This could help you re-adjust to being in the community and have a lengthy to-do list each day. Then once you’re ready, you can hit the job boards and start networking again.

Woman-sitting-on-a-desk-using-a-laptop-computer-while-working-from-home-reentering-the-workforce

Don’t be afraid — be bold

Reentering the workforce after an extended leave is stressful. When you’ve been out of the game, you might wonder if you’ll remember how to play. But you’re the same person you were before you took your leave. If anything, you’re just a bit older and wiser now. That’s a good thing.

You still have all of your transferable skills from before, which will translate nicely to any career. And you can adapt your older technical skills to a new work environment, even if they’re not as relevant as they once were. This may require extra effort from you, but it’s possible. 

The right employer will understand your reasons for your employment gap and may even commend you for it. It shows that you’re professional, self-aware, and capable of making decisions based on a thorough evaluation of your situation. These characteristics are hard to come by and will certainly make you an asset to any team.

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Published October 31, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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