Ultimate Guide To Returning To Work After A Career Break
Let’s Get Back To Work
Returning to work after a career break can be a really exciting new chapter in your life. It can also mean that you are entering into a job search that might be challening. If you’re looking for that first job after being out of the workforce for a period of time, you are not a typical job-seeker. Therefore, you should not be conducting a typical job search process that relies mostly on applying to jobs.
As an outside-the-box hire, you’ll need to focus primarily on connecting with people where you’ll have the chance to explain your unique value proposition. Your resume may not tell your whole story, so you’ll need to get out from behind your computer and make personal connections.
This is an exciting transition in your future. It may seem like a daunting task, both the personal aspects of shifting from being a stay-at-home mom and the fact that your family will also have to adjust to the new order at home. Read on, but also be sure to check out my blog on how to get your job search started.
Let’s walk through the process of restarting your career together.
Find Your Focus As You Return To Work After A Career Break
You’ll want to invest some time before you dive into a job search to find your focus. For some of you with highly specialized skills and a shorter career break, this step might be easy. If your career break has been longer than a few years, you don’t want to return to your previous field, or you simply aren’t sure yet, this is important. It will be critical to take an inventory of your skillset, your interests, and your motivation for returning to work to help you determine your focus.
Start by listing your most job-relevant skills
Don’t limit yourself to skills you have been paid for using. If you’re the volunteer who has raised tons of money for organizations, then fund-raising is a skill you possess, even if you weren’t being paid to do that.
List soft skills such as leadership, people management, communication and collaboration. Don’t overlook the importance of soft skills in the hiring process, but do be sure you have an example that proves you possess each skill you are listing.
Include your hard skills such as any technical or job-specific skills you have. Don’t edit yourself during this stage, just get all of your skills into a list without worrying about your competency level just yet.
What Interests You?
Next, come up a list of your interests. What do you enjoy doing? Are there things you can completely lose track of time while you’re doing because you enjoy them so much? Consider previous jobs you’ve held – what were the parts of those jobs that really lit you up?
What Motivates You?
Think about why you are returning to work after your career break and get that down on paper. Do you need to earn income to support yourself or your family? Are you excited by the idea of contributing to a company with a mission you believe in? Do you yearn to put your education and experience to work again and miss the feeling of accomplishment that comes from full-time work? We’ll want to capture your motivation because this might help you decide between jobs down the line.
Every transition or new job involves making trade-offs and you’ll be in a better position to determine if the trade-offs you’re making are ones you can live with if you’re clear on your motivation. For example, if you’re returning to work after a career break for financial reasons, it might make sense for you to pursue higher-paying jobs even if that means you are working longer hours than you’d ideally like.
Add It All Up
Take a good look at your lists of interests, skills, and motivations. What does it tell you? The magic in finding your focus lies in determining where there’s an intersection of your skills and interests with a need in the job market. Start reading your local business press or industry publications/blogs for jobs you are considering. You’ll want to understand where the need in the market is greatest.
Make A List Of Your Career Break Activities
This can help give you some clues about what you really enjoy doing. It may also provide insight into the skills you’ve developed or sharpened since leaving the paid workforce. I’ve got a whole blog on developing your list of career break activities here.
Focus Doesn’t Mean Just 1
While having direction for your job search is important, at this stage I will encourage you to have multiple paths in mind. Having more than one idea about where you can effectively plug back into the workforce can help you stay flexible. If you’ve determined that your skillset could be applied in a few different contexts in the workforce, then map out these parallel paths for yourself rather than discarding one. Keep in mind, 5 parallel paths may be too many, but 3 could be just the right number.
Prototype Your Job
This next step is fun! Once you’ve found a direction (or two or three), come up with some ways you can prototype this new career for yourself. You’ll want to learn all about it and even try it on if you can. Here are some ways you can do that:
- Find people doing that job or working in your field and talk to them about it
- Check YouTube for videos that give you the inside scoop on the job by searching “a day in the life of a (insert profession here)”
- Read job descriptions for your ideal job to understand the expectations and the requirements
- Search for the job titles you’re considering on LinkedIn and read through the career paths of people who are doing that job now to notice how they got there and what their key skills are; connect with them and ask them if they’d speak with you so you could learn more
- Find LinkedIn groups, MeetUps or professional associations for people in the job you’re considering and join them – sometimes these groups have mentoring opportunities
Prepare Your Family For Your Return To Work
Let’s take a time-out from your job search activities here to think through preparing your family for the changes that will occur when you return to work. It’s never too early to give your crew a heads-up that things are going to be changing around here!
Start shifting responsibility for some of the tasks that you’ve taken on to others in your household. Nobody can do it all, and trying to is a recipe for burnout. If you’ve got kids still at home, remember that they will benefit from the responsibility of being contributing members of the household. Chores are beneficial for kids.
Preparing early for your transition back to work gives you time to conduct that Saturday morning session on how to use the washing machine or how to empty the dishwasher. Be sure to enlist the support of your spouse as well – marriage is a partnership and yours can withstand the redistribution of responsibilities that comes with a spouse returning to work after a career break.
Make a Target Company List
You probably thought the next step was going to be applying to jobs. But I’d rather orient your job search around specific companies where you’d like to work and the people who work there, rather than just let you loose to flood the internet with blind job applications that you’ll never get a response from.
Brainstorm a list of companies that you’re interested in. Then build on your list by searching LinkedIn for them and noticing which companies pop up in the right sidebar labeled “People Also Viewed”. These are companies that are similar to the company you searched on and you may not have heard of them – wonderful! You are broadening your horizons! For additional ideas, be sure to check those famous lists such as Fortune’s Best Places to Work list.
Find People To Talk To As You Return To Work After a Career Break
Now that you’ve got a list of companies you’re interested in, the next step is to research them and find people who work there. Tap your own network and ask people if they know anyone at your target companies they can introduce you to. Getting a warm introduction to someone is much better than doing cold outreach, so lean heavily on your network in this stage. Remember, you are in information-gathering mode, so you’re hoping to speak with people who can share their experience with the company and provide insight into where they might be hiring.
If you’re coming up empty, go back to LinkedIn and search on the company using the People filter. Find people who work in the department you’re interested in joining. Or find people in Talent Acquisition and send them a connection request with a very brief personalized note noting your interest in the company and asking if they’d be willing to spend 15 minutes speaking with you about their experience. Then follow this guide to conducting informational interviews to get the most out of your meeting.
This step is tricky, because to be completely honest, you are not going to get a lot of people who are willing to chat with a total stranger. Don’t take silence or rejection personally, just keep plowing ahead. These conversations and connections can be so valuable for a job-seeker that it’s worth making the ask even if only a very small percentage of your requests receive favorable responses.
OK, Now Apply!
You’ve gotten clear on your direction(s) for your job search, put together a company list and talked to people in your field. I know you have learned a lot and made some good connections, and now it’s time to apply to jobs.
Set up job alerts in LinkedIn and Indeed and make sure your profile is built out completely on both of these sites. Let’s make it as easy as possible for recruiters to find you! Be sure you’ve set up alerts for multiple variations of the job title you’re interested in to increase your chances of getting sent the right jobs.
Write a cover letter that speaks to your interest in the job and is personal. Nobody likes getting a form letter, so use your research to make sure your cover letter is targeted for the job at hand. Customize your resume also – it should mirror the language of the job description you are applying to in order to increase your chances of being noticed. Pro tip: ChatGPT writes a good cover letter in just a few seconds!
Get That Referral
If you’ve got a contact at the company you are applying to, reach out to them before you apply to let them know you’re applying. In the event that the company has a referral system, your contact might be able to give you a special link to use when applying to the job. If you’ve already applied, however, a referral link is unlikely to be valid. Lots of companies pay their employees a bonus for referring candidates who get hired, so if you’re asking for a referral you might be doing both of you a favor!
Now Find An Insider
For those job you applied to through a referral link, you can skip this step. But let’s say you’ve applied to a job and you don’t know anyone at the company but you’d really like to get your application noticed. Head back over to LinkedIn, find someone who works there in the department you’re applying to and send them a connection request with a message. Your message should say: “I am applying to the Project Manager role in your department and I’m really excited about it because (tell them why you’re going to be able to make a big impact there). I hope to have the opportunity to speak with your team about my interest in this role.”
Note that you’re not asking for anything, just hoping that your expression of interest will help shine a light on your application. This is a step most job-seekers don’t take, which means it’s a real opportunity for you to stand out among the pool of candidates.
Now Do It Again
One of the most frustrating things about applying for jobs is that you simply won’t get any response to many of the applications you put out. Recruiting is a broken system in many organizations, which I think is completely avoidable given our ability to automate tasks. Still, the take-away is that you can’t just apply and then wait around, because you might be waiting forever.
After you apply and you send your follow-ups via LinkedIn, find more people, more companies and more jobs and repeat the process. I’m not a big fan of applying to a million jobs and thinking that it’s just a numbers game. But the truth is that you have to put yourself out there many times in order to be successful with a job search. This is hard, but it’s going to be worth it when you land that job. And everything worth doing is hard. I know you’re up to the task, though.
Nothing Is Wasted
In job search, nothing is wasted because everything that happens is an opportunity to learn. Not hearing anything back from your applications? Revisit your resume and the types of jobs you’re applying to and give them a critical look to see what you need to adjust. Having lots of interviews but no offers? Get some coaching on your interview skills and prepare your answers to commonly asked interview questions.
Winging it during interviews is not a set up for success. Ask yourself what you can learn from every step in the job search process, and be flexible enough to pivot when the market is telling you that you need to make adjustments.
Own Your Break
As a non-traditional job-seeker, your difference is your strength. Don’t be afraid to own your career break and talk about what you learned during that time out of the paid workforce that will make you a better employee. Proactively position your career break as a positive thing and control the conversation around it – if you don’t respect your career break, potential employers won’t either. For tips on how to talk about your career break, download my Own Your Career Break Talking Points here.
You Can Return to Work After a Career Break
You aren’t alone as a woman restarting her career. Find a friend who is also returning to work and commit to meeting for coffee once a week to encourage and support each other. Support like that will really keep you going when things get tough and the job search starts to feel long. Just remember that you can totally do this – and I am here rooting for you every step of the way!
Look Behind You
Once you get that job, don’t forget to look behind you and notice the other women who are trying to make this same transition back to work. We need to help each other out and advocate for each other.
Until taking a career break is regarded as a normal part of a long and successful career, we’re going to have to encourage our employers to consider candidates who have non-traditional resumes. Let’s do this together!
Networking 101 For Women Restarting Careers
Networking is an activity that few people love, but the benefits can be so huge that I want you to give it a try. For women restarting their careers, networking can be one of the most important components of your job search. So whether you love it or you hate it, let’s give it a try! I’ll show you how. Doing more networking (aka talking to people) is one of the big lessons learned from successful career restarters.
“Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver, the other gold”
If I remember correctly, that was a song we learned in Girl Scouts way back when. I’m sure at the time I didn’t realize what great advice this really is! Many people think about networking as meeting new people, and it definitely is that. But it can also be keeping in touch with the people you already know.
Nurture Your Current Network
When was the last time you touched base with the people you consider part of your network? Conventional job search advice will tell you to be constantly expanding your network – and I don’t disagree with this – but if it’s that valuable to be developing new connections, how much more valuable might it be to nurture the ones you already have?
Think about it: The people who already know you are going to be the most likely to think of you when they hear of a job opening, provide an enthusiastic referral for a job at their company, or make an introduction for you to someone they know.
Strengthen Your Network by Deepening Existing Relationships
Instead of growing your network this week, take some time to deepen your connections with people you already know. These can be your friends, neighbors, extended family, or previous colleagues. Have you told them that you’re looking for a job? If not, today is a great day to give them a call or drop them a friendly email to catch up on their lives and fill them in on yours.
This is Valuable For Women Restarting Careers Because…
I see a few distinct advantages to focusing your networking efforts on people you already know:
- Networking with friendly faces that you already know can be a real confidence booster. Once you send a few emails or have a few phone calls with friends/family/former colleagues, you’ll feel ready to grow your efforts and reach out to people you may not know as well.
- You’re going to get a good response rate if you send 5 emails to people you know inviting them to a coffee or phone call. This will energize your job search efforts! You are unlikely to experience as high a response rate when reaching out to people you don’t know, so enjoy this and channel that positive energy into doing some of the more difficult work of job search.
- People who know you well may be able to give you some good ideas about companies or positions that will be a good fit for your skill set. Your job search is going to benefit from creative ideas and new ways to approach things, so tap into this network of close friends to generate some fresh thinking.
Get Started Now On Your Networking Plan
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that your week is going to be well-spent by re-activating your current network.
Here’s how to get started:
- Make a list of 5 people you already know that you’d like to speak with.
- Send an email / text / or make a phone call to invite them to coffee or just to chat over the phone or Zoom to catch up.
- Approach each conversation with a clear goal in mind: Maybe one friend works at a company you’re interested in and you’d like to learn more about their hiring process, while another former colleague made a career pivot and you’re interested to find out how she pulled that off. If you know what you’re hoping to get out of each conversation, you’re more likely to be productive.
My last 3 pieces of advice for networking your way back to work:
- Don’t forget to ask your friends if there’s anything you can do for them. Remember, this is a give-and-take, so don’t forget to be a giver!
- And finally, send a thank you note after your call. People will do anything for someone who is appreciative of their time and effort!
- Check out the Back to Business Ultimate Guide To Returning To Work After a Career Break for more tips
Moms, Learn from These Lessons In Restarting Your Career
Today I want to share 4 big lessons in restarting a career that I’ve learned over the past 8 years from my own personal experience of returning to work after a career break and that of the hundreds of women I’ve talked to and coached through this transition. The job market of 2023 is challenging, so let’s learn all we can from people who have restarted their careers before us.
Restarting your career can be done, but it often takes longer than you think it should
The big take-away here is “it can be done.” I promise, it can. There are lots of women out there who have taken career breaks and then resumed their careers. And while we both know that you’re amazing and highly qualified for that awesome job, job search is called a “process” for a reason. It can move slowly, and it often involves trial-and-error that can lead to changing directions. Be flexible and be prepared for a long process. Keep a journal along the way so you can capture all that you’re learning about yourself and the companies and people you encounter. There is nothing wasted in this process, you can use almost every experience to get better. Even the frustrating ones!
You control much of the process as you restart your career
Keep this in mind, especially on the days when if feels like you’re not making progress. You control how much time you put in on your job search, what your resume looks like, how prepared you are for an interview, the types of jobs you apply for, how good your cover letter is and how you present yourself to potential employers, among other things.
You do not control a hiring manager’s decisions. Importantly, you also control your reaction after you receive bad news (or no news, as is often the case) while you are job-searching. Focus on what you can control and do your very best with those things. Invest in yourself. Take a class to keep your credentials fresh. Re-activate your network by reaching out to former colleagues. Scary? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely!
You don’t pick up where you left off when you restart your career
I’ve heard the following from so many women: “I took a job making a lot less than I used to but it was worth it just to get my foot in the door.” Ladies, all you need is a place to start, or re-start. When it presents itself, take it and run with it.
Just yesterday I received this email:
“ I attended your first Back to Business Conference and it gave me hope I could return to the corporate world after taking 16 yrs off to raise 4 children.
Thanks to networking, I was able to relaunch my career nearly 3.5 years ago. There were definitely challenges returning… I basically started back at entry level working with recent college grads and accepted a salary significantly less than I made in 2000! But now, the sky is the limit because I have recent work experience at the top of my resume again.”
I love this! My favorite part is: “the sky is the limit because I have recent work experience at the top of my resume again.” It’s almost magic how recent work experience practically erases the impact of a career break on your resume. As they say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Take that step.
Get out from behind your computer to make it happen
Let me guess: You’ve been applying for jobs online, diligently attaching your resume and cover letter to job applications. Stop doing that! Your time is much better spent connecting personally with people who do what you want to do or who work at companies you’d like to work for.
You shouldn’t stop applying altogether, but restarting your career requires a balanced job search plan that includes as much person-to-person talking and meeting as you can schedule.
The online job application is often a black hole, while meeting in person with another human is not. Tell the people you meet with exactly what you’re looking for so they know how to help you.
To wrap up, remember to be patient and stay positive when returning to work takes longer than you expected, focus on what you can control, take a long-term view and don’t worry about returning to work at a lower level or salary than you previously had. And finally, focus your job-search efforts on making personal connections. Here’s a blog on networking as you restart your career.
You’ve got this – I believe in you!
Job Search Tips for Moms Returning to Work
Calling all Moms doing a job search to return to work after a career break! This is an exciting life change for you and Back to Business is here to guide you through it.
Here is a quick list of our job search tips for Moms returning to work:
Looking for a job is your job now. Schedule time to do this work and stick to the schedule.
Spend some time up front thinking about what you want to do. You don’t have to narrow it down to one option – recognize that there are multiple possibilities that could work for you and be flexible enough to change course as you learn more about yourself and the job market throughout your job search. My favorite book on this subject: Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.
Invest in yourself. A few things worth spending money on as you restart your career are a killer resume, a course to update your skills, and professional coaching to ensure you know how to conduct a job search in 2023.
Set goals for yourself and write them down: Reach out to 3 new people each day, schedule 3 informational interviews each week, find 3 interesting new companies per day. Reward yourself with a healthy treat for meeting your goals.
Realize that this can take longer than you’d like. Persevere. Learn from your mistakes – because you will make some. Pick yourself up and keep going, even when it gets frustrating.
Set up informational interviews. You will learn a lot and grow your network by doing informational interviews. (And you thought these were just for kids!) Buying someone a cup of coffee and learning from them is a highly productive way to spend job-searching time. I’ve got a guide to mastering this process.
Have a supportive network as you transition back to the paid workforce. Looking for a job is hard work and it can be frustrating. You will need a tribe to help you get through it. Plan to meet regularly with them – coffee every Friday morning, for example. Keep each other accountable and encourage each other.
Get out from behind your computer! You will not find a job from the comfort of your home – this I promise you. You must get out and talk to people if you want a job. This can be uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier and you may even enjoy it as you get better at it.
Your job will come from your network, not from a job posting you saw on the internet. Start building your network today and you will reap the benefits of being a connected person for the rest of your career.
Networking is all about building relationships with people – it is a give and take. You may not realize it, but you’ve been networking your whole life and you already know how to do it. Be interesting and interested in other people and always ask what you can do for them. Here’s how.
Don’t let the “what if’s” keep you from pursuing a job you want. When Mom returns to work, the entire family has to adjust – and they will. “What if I can’t pick up at school every day?” and “What if I can’t make dinner every night?” are valid concerns, but don’t hold back on getting a job you’d like because there’s a chance that others in your house will be inconvenienced. You can outsource almost anything and planning ahead will solve a lot of these dilemmas.
Consider a Returnship. Returnships are jobs specifically created to welcome people back to the workforce after taking a career break. Check out my blog on Returnships to learn more.
Get Back to Business! Back to Business holds Meet-ups and workshops in the Raleigh, NC area and offers useful information and resources in blogs and through ebooks in order to help women returning to work. Visit us at www.backtobusinessconference.com.
Finding a Job In a Tough Job Market
Let’s be honest: this is a tough job market! If you pay attention to the news and the economic data that keeps coming out, it’s downright confusing about where the economy is headed and how long it might take until it turns around.
If you’re a job seeker, you probably don’t need me to tell you that it’s not easy out there. I work with job seekers every day and I can tell you that what you’re feeling is real – it is taking folks longer to find jobs than it did a year ago.
The good news: it’s not you!
If you’ve been applying to jobs and not hearing anything back, your first instinct might be to rethink your resume or tweak your LinkedIn profile. And while those are ideas that can ensure you’ve got the best job search assets you can, please don’t spend all of your time reworking these if you’re fairly confident that they represent you well. Because, like I said – it’s not you.
There are simply fewer jobs being created now than there were a year ago. Here’s a chart from CNBC with monthly new job creation, which shows 236K jobs created in March 2023, versus 414K from March 2022 (a decline of 43%).
But before we get too discouraged, let’s look at a breakdown of job creation by sector, because this view shows that there is growth in some areas:
So what’s a job seeker to do with this information?
- Use it to further refine your job search, so that you are looking for a job in an industry that is growing. Are you a Human Resources professional? Focus your search on HR roles in leisure, hospitality, and healthcare companies, for example.
- Even in difficult job markets, there are companies and industries that are growing. Find that niche and pursue it – don’t keep throwing applications into the wind!
- Plan for a marathon, not a sprint with your job search. Having realistic expectations about how long it might take you to land a role will reduce the frustration you feel along the way.
- Use your time well: a slow job market is an ideal time to build your skills through online courses, a community college class, or a technology bootcamp.
- A slow job market can also be a good time to get coaching on your job search or help with your resume. If you’re looking for job search coaching, email me and let’s talk about how I can help you navigate your job search.
- And, finally, your network can really come through for you if you are actively engaging with people during your job search so they can help you. Relying on your network means both talking to the people you already know and actively working to grow the pool of people who might be able to help you.
On that note, I challenge you to find an in-person networking opportunity or MeetUp to add to your calendar this month.
You’ve got this!
Need help with your career restart? Here are 5 ways I can help:
- Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk about 1:1 coaching
- Sharpen our focus with my new digital course on Charting Your Course Back to Work: How To Find Direction As You Return To Work.
- Buy the digital course on Building Your Return-To-Work Resume
- Get my free LinkedIn Mini-Course
Should I discount myself?
I recently got this question from a woman I was working with in my group coaching course. She was thinking about what she would name as her compensation requirements in an interview. She knew what her (quite impressive) skills and experience were worth on the job market, but as a woman restarting her career after a break to raise kids, she thought “Should I discount myself”?
Common question – let’s break it down:
Doing compensation research is critical to getting paid fairly. Here’s how to do that:
- Find 4-5 sources that provide compensation information for the role you are considering. I like salary.com, payscale.com, comparably, the Robert Half Salary Report, and also Glassdoor for company-specific data.
- Calibrate these for your geographic area and/or the region where this company is based if it’s a remote role. If it’s a big company operating in multiple geographic regions, then do a Google search to find out if they vary their compensation based on geographic region or if they are location-agnostic with their offers.
You’ll want 5 data points so you can make sure you aren’t relying on one outlier statistic. You might notice that one of these sources gives you a number that is much higher or lower than the others – that’s your outlier.
3. Put your 5 numbers in a table and then come up with a range that hits the high middle of the numbers.
- For example, you might consult 5 sources and collect the following numbers for the same job: $75,000, $65,000, $80,000, $50,000 and $75,000
- Let’s assume $50K is an outlier, since the others are all close to each other.
- Based on these data points, a reasonable range for this role might be: $70-$80K
4. Aim high! Adjust your range slightly higher and ask for $75-$85K. This is the compensation range you will name when asked “When are your compensation requirements or expectations?”
5. Next step: Don’t apply a discount to yourself! In fact, we just worked out a range for the role, and then adjusted it slightly higher!
6. Now practice this. You’ll need to get comfortable asking for that compensation range. Say out loud, multiple times:
“Based on my research of the job market, my expectation is for a salary in the range of $75-$85,000.”
Talking about money (especially asking for it) can feel hard, so the practicing out loud step is really important.
- Don’t lower your voice when you say it and take the “ums” out of your speech. Only practicing out loud will help you do that.
7. The Last Step – Don’t Skip This! Tell them what your expectations are and then stop talking. Don’t apologize for asking for what you are worth and what the job market is paying. Simply stop talking!
Someone I know recently answered the compensation question before consulting me (can you imagine that?!). When asked about her compensation expectations during a phone screen, she said: “I believe $75-$80K would be reasonable for this role…But I know you’re a start-up and might not have the budget for that, so I could also do a lower salary, like $60K.”
Yikes! She just bargained herself down about $15,000 because she couldn’t stop talking. Please don’t do that to yourself! This is why it’s so important to do your research, state your expectations and then stop talking.
You Can Ask About Salary
If the question doesn’t come up during your interview and you’re curious what the compensation range is for a role, you can ask a question like “Can you share the compensation range for this position, so we can make sure that we’re aligned on our expectations?”
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