You took time off to travel the world, raise a child, care for an aging parent or fight an illness, and now, you are ready to reenter the workforce. You are excited for new challenges! Nervous about the gap in your resume? Here are some ideas to help you make the transition after a long gap easier.
Be prepared to answer difficult questions
Just address the "elephant in the room" so to speak. Make a list of all the questions an employer might ask you about a gap. What questions would you ask if you were in their shoes? Here are a few to get you started.
- You have a large gap in your work history, can you tell me more about that?
- How have you stayed current on the trends in the industry?
- What have you done to keep your skills sharp?
Practice your answer to these and any others you come up with. Practice them with other humans. It is important you get feedback. As you practice, get feedback to make sure;
- there is no apologetic tone to what you are saying. You made a life decision. You don't need to apologize to anyone for it.
- you don't overexplain the gap. Answer their question and move on. The more you try to explain it the more questions will come up and it indicates a lack of confidence in your answer. Trust me, less is more.
- your voice, tone and pace doesn't change. When people get nervous speech can change (higher pitch, faster, softer, etc.). Unfortunately, this is a tell that you aren't confident with your answer. A lack of confidence will raise additional questions. Stand strong but not defensive in your truth.
Consider doing volunteer work using the skills you are trying to market
There are thousands of non-profit and community organizations out there with limited resources. They need people with skills to help them accomplish their mission and are usually more than happy to find ways for you to use your skills to help. Make sure you are doing the kind of work you would like to get paid to do. If you are a graphic designer, do graphic design work. If you are an engineer, make sure you are doing engineering work.
Volunteering will accomplish many goals.
- Allows you to flex that work muscle again.
- Reminds you what you are capable of and that breads confidence.
- Gives you some recent accomplishments for your resume.
- Grounds you during the job search (which can sometimes be frustrating) and provides meaningful work in the interim.
Evaluate part-time, contracting or freelancing work as a possible stepping stone
Similar to volunteering, doing part-time work allows you to flex a specific muscle and get your confidence up if it needs a bit of a boost. This approach offers something that volunteer work usually doesn't; access to hiring managers who hire people who do the work you want to do.
If you take this approach, don't forget to get to know as many people you can while you are there. I have seen clients successfully do this and transition into full-time roles within those same companies.
This is always true, but especially if you are coming back after a break. Reach out to former colleagues, friends, family and let them know you are heading back into the work force. Ask them if they know of anyone in the industry you want to work in, and then, ask for an introduction to these people.
Pause here for those who are starting to sweat at the prospect of NETWORKING!!!! Ahhhhhhgggggg. Be calm. Let me finish (and stay tuned for my post on how to network for people who hate networking).
You are not going to ask them for a job. You are not going to beg for help. You are not going to tell them your life story and hope they extend a bit of pity. You are going to talk to a colleague about the trends they are seeing in the industry while you have been away. That is it.
Rather than call it "networking", we are going to call it an "info gathering session."
When a friend, colleague or family member makes an introduction, you are going to say this, "I have been out of the workforce for a few years, I am ready to get back in. I am wondering how the industry might have changed while I have been away. Would you be willing to spend 20 minutes talking about what your experiences have been? People love to share what they know, thoughts and ideas.
Questions might include;
- What trends have you seen in the (fill in your industry here) in the last (fill in how many years your have been away) years?
- Are there new technologies people are talking about?
- What do you think are the biggest challenge now facing (fill in your industry here) industry?
Come up with a list of 10 questions. You may not answer them all, it doesn't matter. These informational interviews serve 3 purposes;
- You are meeting people in the industry you want to work.
- You are gathering the information you need so when you interview you are up-to-date on current issues.
- You are practicing a type of interview that will help you when the tables are turned and you will be the one being interviewed.
When you are done with that 20 minute conversation, thank them, and then ask, "is there anyone else you know that might have additional insight on ". Be as specific as you can. If during the course of your conversation they said something that sparked your interest, ask them if they know someone who can give them more information on that particular topic.
When you return home, look them up on LinkedIn, send them a thank you note, and add them as a connection.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Remember, if you were employable before your break, you are employable now. You still have skills, but like exercising, the muscles just may not be as strong/flexible as they once were.
Work skills, like riding a bike, come back as you begin to use them every day.
Practice with friends and coaches. If an interview didn't go especially well, debrief with someone and try again to answer the questions in a new way. This will prepare you for the next time those questions come up.
Consider interviews that didn't go as well as you wanted them to as practice too. The more you interview, the better you will get at it.
Know your value
If you are going into the workforce after a long break, don't sell yourself short. Know the current value for your skills in the marketplace. Do some research. There are tons of sites out there like Salary.com that can help you with that.
In today's marketplace. Most employers don't see a gap in employment as the "scarlet letter" they once did, but you still have to be prepared and know how to navigate it.
Let me know how I can help