Restarting your career after taking time out of the workforce can be daunting. Sure, maybe you’ve earned your master’s degree or learned how to wrangle two toddlers with one hand tied behind your back, but applying for jobs again after a break in your career can be surprisingly nerve-wracking.
The good news is that career breaks are more common than you might think. Today, there are ample resources available for job seekers reentering the market after time off. We’ll dive into the many legitimate reasons for taking a career break and share our expert tips for getting back into the workforce after a hiatus.
How common are career breaks?
Career breaks are becoming more common, especially in the wake of the ‘Great Resignation’ of 2020 and 2021. According to a LinkedIn survey of more than 20,000 workers around the world, 62% of people have taken time off from their professional career at some point.
To help accommodate the growing number of people taking career breaks and to push for normalization of the practice, LinkedIn recently introduced a new ‘Career Breaks’ category. Members can use the tool to officially denote gaps in traditional work and explain what they did during that time.
Since it’s becoming more commonplace for people to take time out of the workforce, employers’ attitudes toward career gaps are also shifting. At a time when hiring is historically challenging, hiring managers and recruiters have started to recognize people reentering the workforce as a valuable talent pool.
Half of hiring managers around the world say career breaks are becoming more common, while about 40% of the Fortune 50 have in-house career reentry programs that cater toward individuals returning to the workforce.
Why do people take career breaks?
A career break can last anywhere from a few months to several years, and there are countless reasons people choose to step away from their jobs.
Workers take career breaks to:
- Start a family
- Care for a relative
- Go back to school
- Recover from an illness
- Focus on mental health
- Take a sabbatical
- Re-evaluate their career path
- Pursue a passion project
All of these are perfectly legitimate reasons for taking a career break and can be positioned in a positive light if you’re looking to go back to work.
How to successfully return to your career
1. Strategize your explanation
While the stigma around career breaks has subsided, you’ll still need to explain to prospective employers that you weren’t just sitting on the couch binging Netflix for a year. Before you begin job searching, consider how you’ll position the break to employers. It’s best to be honest, but you also want to cast your decision in a positive light.
The second piece of your explanation is helping hiring managers feel confident that you’re not going to be leaving the workforce again any time soon. This is fairly simple; you just need to show them that whatever motivated the career break in the first place has either ended or is no longer a factor.
For example, if you took time off to raise small children, you might give an explanation during your job interview like, “now that our family is complete and my kids are in school, I’m excited to devote my energy to a new challenge.”
Don’t be apologetic about taking a career break. Instead, it’s best to speak about your break matter-of-factly and with confidence.
2. Update your resume
As career breaks become more common, so does calling them out directly on job seeker materials. Depending on what you were doing during that time, you may choose to give the activities their own entry on your resume.
Let’s say you took time off to care for an elderly parent. You might list your role as ‘caregiver’ and list duties like ‘provided full-time care for parent’ and ‘managed all medical, personal and social needs.’
Explain how the break strengthened you professionally, whether by learning new skills or acquiring valuable experiences. Write about your experience in a way that’s relevant to the jobs you’re applying for. Traveling the world, for example, could make you a prime candidate for a position that requires communicating across different cultures. Raising young children cements organization and time-management skills.
3. Polish your online presence
If you’ve been busy focusing on life commitments outside of work, it’s probably been a while since you Googled yourself. Before you submit any applications, type your name into the search engine and see what comes up. This is a routine step for potential employers, so it’s important to know what they’ll be looking at.
Optimize your LinkedIn profile and consider incorporating the a career break section we mentioned earlier. If you have a website attached to your name, make sure it’s professional and current. Give your social media profiles a once-over to make sure they’re fit for discerning eyes or consider setting them to private for the duration of your job search.
4. Tap into your network
Your personal and professional connections are some of the strongest sources for leads when you’re reentering the workforce, so let the people in your life know you’re job searching.
To avoid getting spammed with irrelevant job posts from well-meaning relatives, it’s a good idea to offer some context on what you’re looking for when you tell people about your search. You can also update the headline in your LinkedIn profile–that’s the blurb of text that appears just below your name–with an objective-style statement that summarizes your qualifications and conveys that you’re open to opportunities.
Reach out to mentors, old bosses with whom you had a good relationship, and other well-connected colleagues. If there’s a company you loved working for in the past, it’s worthwhile to reach out to their internal recruiters to share your resume and learn about any open positions that might be a good fit.
5. Build your skill set
If you’ve only been out of the game for a few months, you might be able to move back into your old career fairly seamlessly. If you’ve been away for several years, though, you might need to brush up on your skills to make sure you’re a competitive candidate. This is particularly true if you’re in a field where things change rapidly from year to year, like social media.
If your skills are lacking in certain areas, consider taking an online course or pursuing a certification that will bring you up to speed.
6. Brush up on your industry
Just as the most in-demand skills in your field may have changed, so might the field itself. The pandemic has turned many industries on their head, with companies folding and merging and business models shifting dramatically.
Read industry publications and follow blogs to make sure you’re in the loop about the latest developments in your field. Browse LinkedIn to see if your connections have changed companies and roles. Consider attending a conference, which is a great way to quickly immerse yourself back into the hustle and bustle of your field.
7. Seek out career reentry programs
Reentry programs sometimes called ‘returnships,’ are structured programs offered by companies to recruit and develop people looking to rejoin the workforce after being away. They’re offered by the likes of Amazon, Wells Fargo, Netflix and more.
If a company has such a program, it’s a strong signal that they’re welcoming of applicants with career breaks on their resumes. Check out iRelaunch and PathForward for lists of hundreds of companies that offer reentry programs.
8. Prepare for interviews
It’s amazing how fast your interviewing skills can get rusty. Before you come face to face with a hiring manager, practice with a mentor or other trusted colleague.
Think like a hiring manager: what questions are they likely to ask? Specifically, what will they want to know about your career break, and what’s the ideal way to address the topic?
Spending some time thinking through common interview questions and the best way to answer them will help you feel cool and collected going into your first interview after your time off.
9. Consider alternative options
Returning to the workforce doesn’t have to mean diving head first into full-time employment. You can also make the transition by freelancing, consulting, or negotiating nontraditional hours, all of which are becoming more common.
Congratulations on your decision to return to your career! By keeping your skills at the forefront and explaining your break in a positive manner, you can confidently reenter the workforce whether you’ve been away for months or years.