When I was working in public relations and human resources for the federal government in the Washington D.C. area, I would advise women, who planned on returning back to work full-time after a leave of absence, to try and keep their expertise current with their desired profession. Whether it was volunteering, mentoring in their child’s school, or expanding their skills set with educational courses, it was important for them to have a current and viable resume when returning to their careers (or possible new jobs). I have used the same work principle of continued training and learning in my life now as a work at home mother and small business owner.
Maybe you had children and left the workforce. Maybe you took some time off to care for an elderly parent. Maybe you decided to take a trip around the world. Or maybe, you went back to school to pursue a new career. Whatever the case, if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, business etiquette expert Sharon Schweitzer, founder and CEO of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, and a former employment attorney who enjoyed a two-year sabbatical before returning to the workforce, offers these eight tips to get back in the game:
1) Analyze your decision to return. This may seem like an overwhelming and disorienting thought process if you have been home with young children, or caring for a parent or family member. Approach it gradually. First, how enthusiastic are you about returning to employment right now? Intuitively, do you feel ready to return? Second, what are your child care or parent/family responsibilities? Do you have back-up support from your significant other, family and friends?
2) Update your resume. After a sabbatical or extended time off to care for children or a parent, consider modifying your resume to include your transferable skills. When switching careers, it is often beneficial to use a functional resume layout, rather than the traditional chronological resume layout. The functional style highlights specific skills, and is not a historical progression of your career. A chronological resume includes a historical listing of your employment history listing the most recent on top. In both versions, previous experience is included, just with a twist! Reframe your resume to emphasize your new career ambition and goals. The crucial point here is to highlight for potential employers the position you seek — not the position you used to hold.
3) Build confidence. If and when you make the decision to re-enter, build your confidence. Many of us who take a sabbatical, care for an aging parent or become a stay-at-home parent, lose faith in our ability to appear professional. So, yes, make an effort to assess your hair, wardrobe and all that impacts a first impression. However, this is about more than appearance. It is also a confidence boost to draft and practice an updated career pitch and elevator speech with our nonjudgmental friends and family.
4) Assess your career options. Analyze carefully here. The longer you’re away from work, the more you need to determine whether your interests and skills have changed. If you were unhappy in your career before taking a break, or leave, this is imperative. Many of us go down a different path to a new, more fulfilling career.
5) Catch-up courses. Consider taking a course or doing a certificate program to update your skills. If you are planning to work in an office, and need to learn or improve your Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or Excel skills, take a class. Check with your local community college or YWCA/YMCA for affordable courses. Research industry trends, leading employers and key players. Join professional associations, review websites and read trade journals. Be able to speak knowledgeably about what’s happening and who’s hiring.
6) Get off the net and network. Schedule breakfast, coffee and lunch to meet face-to-face with your network of personal and professional contacts. Share the news that you’re looking for a new position, the field you’re interested in, and why you’re making the leap! If this is a new career direction, consider hosting an “expert” party to welcome others who can mentor and help you. The most crucial message to deliver when you’re re-entering the workforce is how you are chomping at the bit to return to work. Your high level of enthusiasm will set you aside from everyone else in the networking crowd. Yes, you’ve taken a break from work, but it has made you all the more eager to attack a new opportunity with vigor.
7) Share the news! Share your thoughts and ideas on job search and ambitions with your family, including your kids. Your little tots should not be surprised when you accept a job offer. Tell them early on that your decision to go back to work is not a rejection of them in any way. Let them know that you’re excited about making the most of a part of yourself that you put on hold.
8) Find fulfillment. Lastly, if that first job makes you unhappy, leave it. Even if you’re working out of financial necessity, don’t settle for something you can’t stand. Keep looking and find your way to a rewarding career in corporate America, another industry, or running your own business.