How to Prepare Yourself to Re-enter the Workforce after an Extended Break
Returning to the workforce after having taken an extended stretch of time away can be daunting. There is a lot of work that goes into finding and applying for a job, especially if your CV and interview skills are out of date. While it may seem overwhelming, breaking these tasks down into smaller, manageable steps can make re-entering the workforce so much easier.
Examine Your CV
The first step is to pull out your CV and carefully review it. Make sure your education and employment information are up to date. It is also a good idea to review the way you have described each of your previous jobs. In some cases, you can rephrase these descriptions to include skills that are more universal or transferable to other positions.
Depending on how long you have been out of the workforce, you may want to retype your CV in a more modern format. For example, nowadays, many CVs are sent electronically, instead of by post. Thus, it is best to use a font that is easier to read on a screen, such as Calibri or Arial, rather than Times New Roman or other fonts that are best when printed out.
Finally, think about what skills you have acquired since you last updated your CV. For example, there may have been tasks you were responsible for at jobs you have not yet included on your CV.
You should also think about any skills that you may have picked up while being off work. Were you home taking care of sick parents and found yourself suddenly responsible for finances? If so, mention your newfound accounting skills!
While you were off, did you find yourself volunteering or co-ordinating others? Mention these leadership skills! Remember that, just because you may not have been paid for those skills or tasks, it doesn’t mean they didn’t give you valuable experience.
Improve Outdated Skills
While you are reviewing your skills, spend some time realistically thinking about whether they are suitable for the modern workplace. Depending on how long you have been away, you may want to take a few career upgrade courses.
In particular, being proficient with programs such as Microsoft Word, Outlook and the G Suite series of products are all skills that are required in many of today’s jobs. If you get nervous at the thought of opening a spreadsheet or creating a Word document, you may want to look into classes at a college. Alternatively, you can always take online courses in your own time and at your own pace.
In addition to the above skills, you should also think critically about your specific career-related skills. A lot may have changed in your field, while you have been away, and if you did not spend time keeping up with those changes, you may find yourself quickly falling behind your colleagues.
The best way to determine which, if any, skills you need to improve is to read the latest industry news. If there are things you do not understand or are not familiar with, you know where to start your re-education. You may also want to take a former colleague out for lunch to find out more about changes in your industry if you have any questions.
Network, Network, Network
Never underestimate the value of a good network. Some experts say that 70% of people got their current position thanks to networking, while others say it is more like 80% or even 85%.
Spending time developing your network clearly pays off. Even if you don’t directly know anyone at your dream job, there is a good chance that someone you know is friends, colleagues or neighbours with an individual who can help you advance your career.
Building up a network can seem incredibly daunting, especially if you have recently relocated or have been out of the workforce for a while. Thankfully, the digital age has made this a much easier task than it ever was before. You can even start from your living room by joining Facebook groups and communities filled with other professionals, either in your industry or in your area.
There is a group for almost every niche as well, including young professionals, working mums and even older adults who are interested in changing careers.
Obviously, you cannot count on joining groups alone to help build your network — you also have to attend events. Consider starting small, with ones that have limited guests or take place in small coffee shops or pubs. If you have a friend in your field, ask them to join you for moral support. You may also feel more comfortable attending events if you have already established a digital relationship with the organisers in advance through Facebook.
Explaining Your Absence
For those who have been out of the workforce a while, landing a coveted job interview can feel unbelievably stressful. The biggest reason why people feel anxious about this is due to the fear of explaining the gap in their work history.
This is a topic that is inevitably going to come up at some point during the interview process. Many people panic at the thought of explaining any type of gap in their working life, as they worry that the interviewer is going to be judgmental.
In reality, most people who conduct interviews do not care about lengthy gaps in work history, as long as you have made some effort to stay current and keep your skills relevant. When you are asked about your employment gap, don’t lie. However, you are under no obligation to provide the whole truth, and, in most situations, your employer cannot legally ask the reason for the gap.
Depending on the situation, you can simply say something like, ‘I took time off to help my aging parents, but made sure to keep my skills up to date by taking correspondence courses’.
Entering the workforce after an extended break does not need to be daunting, no matter why you needed the time off. By making sure that your CV, skills and industry knowledge are up to date, you are well on your way to re-entering the workforce with ease.