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Getting back to work after a career break

Can your career survive a gap? How to re-enter the workforce? Given the events of the past two years, career breaks have become commonplace. While the pandemic put a temporary brake on work across all demographics, it has primarily been women who paused their careers. According to a recent LinkedIn survey, most women (64%) have experienced a career break, with the top reasons for the gap before returning to work being parental leave and sick leave.

Getting back to work after a career break

In the past, a gap in one’s resume was frowned upon or avoided altogether. Today, that is less and less the case. Many recruiters understand that taking a career break can be an exciting opportunity to expand your skills, renew your energy, and explore new career options.

Research from LinkedIn has shown that 51% of recruiters are more likely to interview a candidate if they provide context for their career sabbatical. This has prompted the platform to take a stand on the issue by giving its members the option to add a “career break” to their profile. In this way, employers can connect the skills and experience needed for open positions with those acquired by the job seeker during a career break.

Creating a vision for your future career

Now that career breaks have become mainstream (thanks to LinkedIn), there’s never been a better time to re-enter the workforce after a career break. Restarting your career can be challenging if you’ve been on an extended break. But if you consider what you want and plan carefully, incredible opportunities can open up. View it as an opportunity to rethink your future rather than jumping right back into the sector or role you feel most comfortable in.

What are the most important factors you are looking for in a new position? For example, do you value flexibility or teamwork? Make a list of your top priorities and refer to it often, as it will help you navigate the process. The more self-aware you are, the easier it is to be clear about your next steps.

What can you learn from your past work experiences? Look back at previous jobs and determine what you liked and did not like about them. What patterns can you identify? Did you like structured or flexible roles better? Do you prefer narrow or broad positions? Have you always wanted to be the boss? Use your past experiences to help inform the types of positions you want to pursue in the future.

It’s also important to figure out what you enjoy and are good at. Many different career opportunities can intersect with these things. You have a significant opportunity to apply your skills in a new area, so don’t waste it by sticking with a career that leaves you feeling unfulfilled. Seize the opportunity to do what you love and go for it!

Spin your career break into a sabbatical

In response to the Great Resignation, companies increasingly offer sabbaticals as a retention tool. Harvard Business Review reports that employers and employees benefit from introducing mid-career sabbaticals. 

There’s data to back this up in academia, where sabbaticals have always been a career advantage. One study showed that college professors who returned to work after a career break experienced less stress and felt better about themselves. Employers benefited in several ways, including better collaboration, planning, and execution from their returning personnel.

Whether you took a career break to spend time with your children, care for a relative, or were simply unemployed for an extended period, there are similar positives you can take advantage of. This finance whiz took a sabbatical to follow his partner to Costa Rica; it wasn’t the online Master’s classes he took during his career break that landed him the job he wanted when he returned to work. 

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In job interviews, he explained that his time abroad was an international enrichment experience and shared that he learned a lot of Spanish.

Make your way back to bigger and better things

Kelley Biskupiak and Susan Rietano Davey, founders of Prepare to Launch U, experts in work-life transitions, have put together a free course on LinkedIn for job seekers aimed at helping them return to work after a resume hiatus.

In addition to practical steps like writing your resume, networking your way back in, and learning how to interview with confidence, the course also focuses on overcoming obstacles to career development. The number one culprit? The Imposter Syndrome.

They say a job seeker with a gap can feel like an imposter because of shame and fear of being vulnerable. “This fear is fueled by the negative voices in their head and can be their biggest obstacle in the return-to-work journey,” they say.

The voices cause you to doubt your worth and enable your procrastination, by avoiding applying for a new job after a career gap. Spending weeks tweaking your resume will not pay off as much as reaching out to recruiters and making new contacts.

They recommend fighting back against those negative thoughts by challenging them. Maybe two percent of the truth is in your thinking. For example, if you apply for jobs after a long break but don’t get invited for interviews and think it’s because you’re returning to the workforce at 50, two percent of the negative thinking may be true. Employers may discriminate against age, but that also works in your favor. Millennials are labeled as lazy and demanding, after all. Are your skills still relevant? If so, there’s nothing to worry about. If not, use this “truth” as impetus to update your skills.

Final thoughts

Returning to work after a career break is a vulnerable experience, no matter how long you’ve been out of the workforce. You can expect to be judged and criticized at times. Whether you use this to move forward or hold yourself back in your job search, it’s up to you.

People getting back to a career after a break have a variety of ways to present their stories to potential employers. There is no “right way,” so you should always do what’s most comfortable. In one instance, it may be more beneficial to emphasize the continuity between different stages of your career. You may want to go in a new direction at other times, so your story will revolve around change. 

Either way, it depends on what makes the most sense to you and how you want others to interpret your career experiences to date when you explain the gap in your resume. <link to how to explain your job gap in an interview>.

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