People drop out of the workforce for a lot of reasons. Maybe you took a break to raise kids, to resolve a family medical issue or just because you were burned out and needed some time off. All the same an extended time out of job marketplace can present obstacles to rejoining the workforce. When employers have dozens of qualified applicants for every open position, they tend to pick people who are currently working. The good news is there are fewer people competing for open positions today and companies have needed to adopt a more realistic attitude toward those who have been out of the job market for a while. In other words, if you’re looking to get back into the workforce after an extended absence, now’s your chance.
The biggest mistake you can make is dust off the resume and start slinging it out there. Don’t do that. Before you start sending your resume around you have some background work to do.
Network In Your Chosen Field
When people say “networking” they tend to think about in person meetings and events. While you should do some of that, it’s easier to start with social media. It’s cheaper and you can cover more ground. Find LinkedIn profiles, Facebook pages, Reddit posts and Twitter feeds from companies and individuals in your career field. What you’re trying to gain is currency in your field. The goal is to build an understanding of the issues companies are dealing with today so when you interview you’re current on the challenges the industry faces.
Buy Some New Clothes
You may have had a great wardrobe five or ten years ago but, just because those clothes still fit, that doesn’t mean you should wear them. A five year old tie is pretty obvious as is the crease on slacks that haven’t been out of the closet in years. Spend some money, get good stuff. If you set an unrealistic budget, like $300, you’re going to blow your whole budget on one shoe.
Tending The Gap
One good way to start filling in gaps in your work history is to engage in volunteer work. One of the great things about LinkedIn job ads is they include charity and social conscience opportunities, most of which are short-term and your kid’s school always needs volunteers. Everyone knows why you’re taking an unpaid job, so you don’t have to pretend. The charities know that as soon as you have a couple successful projects under you belt that you’re going to start looking at gigs that pay. Potential employers know why you started back to work at an unpaid position at a charitable foundation and they will respect that you got back up to speed and updated your work history on your own time.
Don’t Feel Guilty
I realize this is like telling a poor person to be warmed and fed while you cross the street and walk on by. Women in particular are more likely to feel guilty about taking time off to raise kids. Instead of being ashamed of it, hang a lantern on it. Raising your kids right should not be a decision of shame, it’s a sacrifice you made so that your kids would grow up right. Plant a flag on that accomplishment and be proud of it. It’s something you’ll remember and your kids will appreciate for a lifetime. What you don’t do is try to be cute with it by labeling it something like “CEO of my family” or something similar. Be the professional.
Reshaping Your Resume
Employers don’t care if you designed and built the Brooklyn Bridge by yourself and sketched out the original concept on the back of a cocktail napkin. What they do care about is the effect it had on traffic in New York City. See the difference? A piece of automation software I built allowed a department to cut the number of staff required to do a particular job from five full time people to just two. Another allowed a department to triple the number of applications they could process with the same staff. Notice I didn’t say anything about the technology I used or how I did it because employers don’t care. If you coded that application yourself or hired it out to overseas developers, not relevant in today’s marketplace. It’s the results that matter, not how you did it. Focus on the results and your references should be people who can back up your claims, not necessarily former employers.
I realize that when you’ve been out of the workforce for while that it’s hard to approach an interview with confidence. All that means is that you’re not a narcissistic psycho. The truth is that businesses need people like you. Honest, hard-working people who took time off for a good cause are a good find, so don’t undervalue yourself. Be willing to start at the bottom but make sure you’re not stuck there.