Maybe your firstborn child came into the world. Perhaps you had to care for an aging parent.
Or, quite possibly, you just packed it all up one day and decided to travel the world.
Whatever the case, people leave the workforce every day for extended periods of time. Some never come back, but others decide they want to return or quite simply, financially-speaking, they need to return.
When someone hasn’t held down a full-time job for a number of years and then decides to come back to work, doing so is not always easy. Things change over time.
Skills might be outdated. Technology has changed. Best practices 10 — or even five — years ago are long gone.
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Where do you start?
Integrating back into the workforce can be challenging, but it is doable if you are properly prepared. Where do you start?
Sharon Schweitzer, founder and CEO of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, left a good job as an employment attorney and took a two-year sabbatical in the Czech Republic to research her genealogy and learn the language. When she was ready to re-enter the workforce, she realized bridging the cultural divide was much more fulfilling for her than litigating it in the courtroom.
Schweitzer began educating herself with formal intercultural training, and today she advises Fortune 50 companies on intercultural and international etiquette. She says even though re-entering the workforce might feel like you’re starting over, you can leverage your past employment while focusing on the new opportunity you’re after.
Sharon’s seven strategies to make a smooth transition back to the workforce:
1. Analyze your decision to return
Ask yourself some very important questions: How enthusiastic are you about returning to employment right now? Intuitively, do you feel ready to return? What are your child care or parent/family responsibilities? Do you have back-up support from your significant other, family, and friends?
2. Easily explain gaps in employment
When it comes to the past “chapter” of your life, many job candidates worry about the gap in employment. It can simply be stated as, “head of household,” “travel blogger,” etc. When you go in for the interview, you can explain in more detail the reason for the break and what you learned from it.
3. Brush up your skills
Consider taking a course or doing a certificate program to update your skills, or 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.
4. Dress the part
Confidence starts from within. Make sure the person staring back at you in the mirror is beaming with pride, confidence, and is ready to conquer the world. Assess your hair, wardrobe, and all that impacts a first impression.
5. Have your pitch down pat
Confidence is more than just appearance. It’s a huge boost to draft and practice an updated career pitch and “elevator speech” with nonjudgmental friends and family. Know how you’re going to respond when someone asks you, “What do you do?
6. Focus on relationships
If you’re having trouble re-entering the workforce, sometimes it really is about who you know, so start networking. While many people turn to online networking or social media these days, nothing beats good old-fashioned in-person networking.
Schedule breakfast, coffee, and lunch to meet face-to-face with your network of personal and professional contacts, and share the news that you’re looking for a new position.
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 and eagerness to attack a new opportunity with vigor makes you stand out.
7. Don’t settle
What if the dream job you finally get doesn’t turn out to be so dreamy after all? Like most things in life, it’s best to love what you do. If you find that the new job leaves you empty or dissatisfied — or it isn’t a good fit or not what you were hoping for — sometimes it’s better to move on.
Not only are you going to be unhappy if you stay, but your lack of enthusiasm and negativity will impact others around you and show up in other areas of your life. Keep looking and find your way to a rewarding career in corporate America, another industry, or running your own business.
When it’s time to get back into the workforce after a break, start preparing a few months ahead of time. Not only could it take you some time to find a good position, it’s also going to take you awhile to get your A-game back. But don’t be disheartened. Once you reclaim that forgotten knowledge and get back into the groove, it will feel like you never left.
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