In today’s transitioning job market, it’s becoming increasingly more common for people to take a break from full-time work. The reasons could be vast and varied: the need to care for family members, support their partners’ careers, pursue travel, follow personal passions like volunteering, or focus on their “side hustles.” According to a study by ManpowerGroup, 84% of global millennials expect to take at least one “significant break” at some point in their careers.
But when you’re ready to come back, reentering the workforce can feel like an intimidating challenge. “Industries have been transforming at an accelerated pace and change is the only constant,” says David Nebinski, founder of the Portfolio Career Podcast, which is designed to help people navigate career challenges. “For instance, some tasks are becoming more and more digital, so the job you left may not exist in the same form anymore.”
Whether you’re looking to get back to work after taking a few years off or experiencing temporary job loss due to COVID-19, job seekers can set themselves up for success in securing a new role by following these steps:
1. Update your skillset
Before you start applying for jobs, it’s important to prepare yourself for the role you want—in the form it takes today. That may require upskilling yourself, that is, learning new and more advanced skills through additional education and training.
For example, consider doing research on what you’re interested in and reviewing job descriptions to find out what kinds of tools or solutions are being used in the work environments you want to be a part of. If you have little or no experience with those tools, try using free versions of the software or watching webinars to train yourself. Nebinski recommends “participating in an online workshop for learning and connection.” It’s important to keep your skills and digital presence up to date. Putting in the effort makes you more prepared and confident when you start applying.
From there, when you see something you like, just go after it. “If a new role is posted or shared online, try to apply as soon as possible,” says Nebinski. “Even if you don’t think you meet all of the job application requirements mentioned.” It’s a tall order for someone to meet every single requirement, and you may just have the right mix of key attributes.
2. Showcase your talents and accomplishments
A key aspect of applying for a new job is crafting your resume. Start by revisiting the structure: Is your existing resume in chronological format? If so, you may want to refresh it in a way that draws more attention to your skills and achievements than to the months or years you’ve been in (or away from) the workforce.
Making your resume more functional, rather than chronological, will focus attention on your credentials, capabilities, and accomplishments as opposed to simply listing out your past jobs and dates of employment. Consider putting an “About Me” or “Profile” section at the top of your resume to talk through who you are and what you bring to the table with a prospective employer.
3. Practice pro networking
Using your updated, functional resume to apply for jobs you find via online job sites— such as LinkedIn and Indeed—is important. But experts say that 70%-80% of open jobs are not advertised publicly and get filled through networking and personal connections. “Do your trusted friends and professional colleagues know that you’re looking to reenter the workforce?” asks Nebinski. “Have you shared with them what kind of job you’re seeking? Are you using social media to signal that you are seeking new opportunities and the value you could bring?”
Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to experts in your network for advice on resumes and cover letters. In fact, conduct as much virtual networking as you can. “All these efforts can help you be top-of-mind for new opportunities,” says Nebinski.
Consider using LinkedIn and Twitter to see which of your contacts have connections at companies you’re interested in working for. Asking the people you know to make an introduction can help you get you noticed. “Try also to get an internal referral for a role,” says Nebinski. “It’s generally a win-win for all!”
And even if you lack those coveted internal referrals, don’t be afraid to proactively reach out to the HR leaders or department heads of your top companies. Even if you’re reticent about sending unsolicited emails, doing so can help you be considered for roles that have yet to be advertised online. Sending a polite, focused introduction and asking for a meeting shows your interest and can reflect well on you as a candidate.
4. Emphasize the positive in interviews
Once your efforts in networking and applying start to spark interview opportunities, it’s important to craft a strategy for how you present yourself in both in-person and virtual meetings. Just like your resume, that strategy should emphasize your skills and work ethic rather than your specific career timeline.
When discussing your experience, don’t get bogged down in the details of why you were out of the workforce. One way to discuss it is to draw concrete connections between the job you’re interviewing for and what new skills or lessons you learned during your time off. Making those connections shows your continuing growth outside the traditional career path.
5. Be patient but persistent
Even if you can make strong networking connections, it may take some time for your interviews to transform into a new role. That’s why it benefits you to not only be patient but also be open to opportunities you may not have considered before you left the workforce. For some, that may include considering part-time or project-/contract-based “gig” work.
“Employers are reevaluating what they want from people in certain roles, and sometimes they are looking to part-time gig workers to fill those gaps,” says Nebinski. For example, 52% of financial services firms surveyed by PwC said they plan to expand their on-demand talent—that is, their part-time or contract-based gig workers—in the next three to five years. “You may find that you need to shift your expectations away from full-time in order to get a foothold back in the workforce,” notes Nebinski.
Make good habits going forward
Ultimately, reentering the workforce involves different challenges for every individual. But it can be an achievable goal. There’s also this lesser followed tip for job seekers—team up with others. “Try to find a few people to job-search together,” says Nebinski. This can offer up additional opportunities and leads.
Finding a daily routine is also critical. Making the right efforts part of your daily job search can help you find a new position faster. Lastly, and most important, “you can do it!” says Nebinski. “It may seem hard at first, but you will eventually give yourself gratitude for your growth and journey.”