Going back to work after taking a career break is different than a typical job search because you have a gap in your work history. I know, this shouldn’t be a disqualifier for getting a job. And it isn’t. Let me say that again, it’s important. Taking time off from work does not mean you can’t go back. But it does require you as a job seeker to have a thoughtful way to talk about what you’ve been doing while you were out of the paid workforce.
Did you know that Women Account for 46.9% of the Total Labor Force in the US? according to Catalyst. We need to welcome women back to the workforce after taking career breaks. For starters, what’s more important than raising a family or caring for family members who are ill? I can’t think of anything more important. Also, it makes sense for the economy. Catalyst reports that if women’s participation in the global economy were equal to men, the global annual GDP would be $28 Trillion, yes trillion, dollars higher in 2025.
Women ask me a lot if they should just take any job or wait for the right one. So I hear this a lot and it’s a question that I asked myself often as I looked for a job after being out of the full-time workforce for many years.
Here’s the easy answer: It depends.
Really though, the answer to this question depends entirely on what is motivating you to go back to work, so step 1 in deciding what job to take is to examine your motivation. Motivation is important here. If you need to start earning income for you or your families’ survival now, then you should take the best job you can find quickly. By “best” I mean highest paying. Life is expensive, kids are expensive and it takes money to survive. Pure and simple.
Divorce often forces women back into the workforce, or your spouse might have been laid off. Whatever the situation, if quickly earning income has become your primary motivation, then find a job and bloom where you’ve been planted. You don’t have to stay there forever but my personal rule of thumb is that you do have to do your best while you’re there. If you sense that you’re just passing through, work diligently so that when you leave you’ll have a great recommendation and can feel good about the work you did.
While the need for money motivates many women to return to work quickly, others find that their timing isn’t quite so urgent. To you folks, I say – lucky you! You have the luxury of waiting for a job that will check more of the boxes for you. You can do the 3 steps of Reflect, Research and Activate that I think are so important to a successful job search. The Reflection step is of critical importance in a job search because this is the step where you think deeply about your skills, your past experiences, and your current interests and add them all up to set a course for your future.
I want a career break to become a very normal part of a person’s career (both women and men) and for employers to view these not as breaks from real work, but as opportunities to develop more deeply as people, as parents, or as caregivers of aging parents. Your ability to reflect on what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown during your career break is a key part of finding direction for your job search.
If you are motivated to return to work by a desire to re-engage your professional self, to grow as a person in a professional capacity, to put your valuable skills to work and to earn a good income while doing so, then you have the luxury to look until you (a) find the right job or (b) find a job that offers a trade-off that you are comfortable taking. Every decision we make is a trade-off between things that are important to us.
Step 2 in deciding what job to take is being really clear about the trade-off involved. As much as I’d like to think there is a perfect job out there, well, let’s be real! I really think everything is a trade-off. So consider all the implications of the jobs you are considering.
Compensation, commute, opportunities for advancement, leadership, benefits, how’s the team… If you’re weighing multiple opportunities – lucky you! – then map these things out to see how they compare.
The third step in deciding what job you should take is to consider the possibilities of the job in front of you.
Especially if you’re returning to work after a career break, If your job search is starting to feel like it’s taking a long time, and you’re considering taking the next job that comes along, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Will this job keep me moving forward? (In other words, will I learn here? meet people that will grow my professional network? feel good about the work I’m doing?)
- Can I think of this job as a stepping stone to get me closer to where I’d like to be professionally?
If you can answer “yes” to any of those questions, then you may have found the right job for you. Honestly, sometimes after a long absence from the workforce, we just need a “starter job” or a job that gets us back into the working world and gets current experience on your resume. You can build from there. Just get yourself to that starting line.
Here’s a related but important question I get a lot from women returning to work: “Do I have to take a job making less money or with a lower title than I held before I took a career break?” My guidance is that I want you to aim high, but you must understand that the burden of proving your value to an employer rests with you and only you. How can you prove that you’re worthy of your previous salary and title?
- By demonstrating that you’ve spent your career break learning and keeping your skills fresh
- By taking courses to refresh your job skills
- By becoming active in a professional association relevant to your field
- By maintaining a network of influential people in your field
And let me add, that I think you totally deserve to not take a salary cut just because you’ve made the decision to focus on other things in life besides your career for a period of time. But you have to believe that you’re worth it too. You’ll have to brush up on your negotiation skills if you’re going to go for it with respect to salary. If you don’t ask for more at the time of your offer, you’ve given up a great opportunity. You can’t go back and ask after you accept the job. You have the leverage when they make the offer. That’s the time to show your future employer that you’re well worth a bump in compensation because you know how to negotiate. Sometimes people worry that the job offer will be rescinded if they try to negotiate it. That almost never happens. Now, there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach a negotiation, so enter into this conversation looking for a win-win outcome and you will not lose your offer.
One final thought: When I was job searching, I realized early on that my next job was going to come from someone who knew me personally and not from a resume that I blindly sent out over the Internet. And this belief changed my job search activities from sitting behind my computer sending out resumes to instead viewing every opportunity to talk someone as a chance to get one step closer to finding the right job. And, guess what? It worked. Every job I’ve ever had has come as a result of tapping my network or reaching out personally to people. Every. Single.one.
Time for me to throw another statistic about working women at you. The average time spent per day in unpaid work in the US: women 4 hrs 3 minutes; men 2 hours, 30 minutes. That’s a difference of 1 hour and 33 minutes. Any of you ladies out there want an extra hour and a half in your day? I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining – if unpaid work includes hanging with my kids to make sure they feel loved and valued and grow up to be happy and productive humans, I love that stuff. But if you’re talking about folding the laundry or emptying the dishwasher, you can have that stuff. I. Can’t. Even. I hate that stuff.
If you took time off from your career and now you’re looking for a job to return to your career, you may be wondering how to decide what job to take or if you should just take any old job that comes your way versus waiting for the right one.
Let’s review how you can answer that question:
First, examine your motivation for returning to work. If you need money to support your family, take the highest paying job you can get. If your motivation is more about finding fulfilling work, keep looking until you find work that will feed your soul.
Step 2 in deciding what job to take is being really clear about the trade-off involved. Know what’s really important to you and what you consider non-negotiable and hold out for it if it’s reasonable. Check-in with people you respect in your network to make sure that your non-negotiables are realistic.
And the third step in deciding what job you should take is to consider the possibilities of the job in front of you. This means that you may be considering a job that isn’t really all that, but it may be a job that will lead you to something more fulfilling. So when I say consider the possibilities, I want you to think 2 or 3 steps ahead of the job your considering and think about whether or not this job will take you down a path that you want to go.
Finally, don’t settle – negotiate! You’re totally worth it! You know you are. I know you are. Don’t let anything stop you. If you don’t ask, you don’t get it.
There are lots of things to consider if you’re returning to work after a career break and deciding if you should take any old job or if you should wait for the right one. This is a really personal decision, but now you have 3 steps to walk through as you decide.