7 Tips for Women Returning to Work After a Career Gap
Are you one of the many women who temporarily left their job and are now looking to get back to work? Well, you’re not alone. With the exorbitant cost of child care and a widespread lack of decent maternity leave in the U.S., many women drop out of the workforce for a while to care for young children. Other women leave the workplace to care for aging parents. In fact, caring for family members is the number one reason women leave the workplace for a time.
Many of these women may wish to re-enter the workforce later, but that’s not always a straightforward endeavor as a career gap can be a difficult hurdle to overcome in the job-hunting process. However, it doesn’t have to, provided you tackle the issue head on.
Companies Are Recognizing the Need for Re-Entry Programs
The willingness to hire someone despite a career gap might be diminishing as well. As the business world is beginning to recognize that women with career gaps have a lot to offer to an employer but struggle to get back into the workplace, some forward-thinking companies such as IBM are offering “returnships” to help people—especially women—re-enter the workforce. In fact, Return Path found these re-entry programs so successful, the company launched a non-profit program called Path Forward to help companies set up these types of mid-career internships.
Most women who want to get back to work won’t have these options, however. So this month, in celebration of International Women’s Day, we’ve pulled together seven tips to help you prepare ahead of time to get back into the workforce. Use these tips to boost your self-confidence, revamp your resume, and get yourself up-to-speed on any changes in your industry.
Tip 1: Be Honest About the Career Gap
You’re not the only person returning to work after a break, so be honest about it. Many people temporarily leave the workforce for one reason for another, some for voluntarily reasons like taking care of young children or going on a six-month sabbatical, and others for involuntary reasons such as caring for a dying parent or because they are laid off. You don’t have to hide the career gap, and it will only seem odd if you try to. You only need to convey that it’s irrelevant to your seeking a job with this company.
Be prepared to answer questions, and to be open and transparent when asked about the gap (although, do be wary of questions that get too personal should an interviewer cross the line and ask questions that are too probing). At the same time, put everything in a positive light about your career break. For example, if you took time off to be home with young children, convey your gratitude in being able to do so during such a critical time in their young lives. If you got laid off but you took advantage of that time to learn a new skill or volunteer at a local shelter, talk about that. When you show that your time away from work was positive, your potential employer is more likely to see it that way too.
Tip 2: Convey Confidence
Don’t be apologetic. Don’t be embarrassed. And don’t discount the value of your career gap. If you were taking care of young children or aging parents, that is admirable. If you were laid off and went back to school, good for you. And besides, you’re back looking for work now, right? In our society, it can be easy for a woman to think not working means not contributing, but get that thought out of your mind and replace it with self-confidence instead. Self-confidence is so important that one interview coach says it is the most important thing you can bring to a job interview!
Just because you didn’t work straight through doesn’t mean you’re not as fit, qualified and capable as the next job candidate. And, if a potential employer judges you harshly for your career gap, you probably don’t want to work for that company anyway.
Tip 3: Rethink Your Resume
Your confidence should come across in your resume too, so rethink your resume to make sure it conveys your belief in yourself. Also, make sure it uses current industry terminologies and emphasizes any previous skillsets that are still in demand. To do so, take a look at job qualifications on a job-listing site like Glassdoor to learn what employers are looking for today and how that lines up with your past experience. Then, rewrite your resume accordingly.
This also involves rethinking the format. You don’t want to hide your career gap, but you can take the emphasis off of it by choosing a non-chronological format for your resume. Vault lists functional and newsletter are two other ways to present your experience in ways that highlight your credentials without emphasizing the timeline.
In addition, the standard resume has moved away from the plain typed words on a page, and it’s imperative that you find a resume design that really lets you play up your strengths and play down your gap. Go to Pinterest and search for resume designs to see all the options job seekers have today. Admittedly, you can’t choose just any design. The type of resume you can use depends, to a large extent, on your industry. Someone working in digital marketing, for example, can get away with a creative approach while someone working in Big Data will probably want to take a more traditional approach. Still, you can take a slightly different approach in order to play down the time you spent unemployed.
No matter the resume approach you choose, make sure your resume accentuates the strengths you offer as a potential employee. In addition, include accomplishments that happened during your gap. People refer to it as a career gap, but you probably filled in that gap with worthwhile activities that might be worth mentioning. Did you go to school? Volunteer? Earn a certificate? Worked as a freelancer part-time? Make those activities part of your job history.
Tip 4: Prepare for Your Interviews
A lot can change in an industry in just a few months, let alone years. You don’t want to come across as behind the times during your interviews, so do your homework to make sure you’re up to speed on your industry. Look for sample interview questions like this list of 50 questions for SEO analysts and managers. Doing so might give you insight into areas of your field that have changed so you’ll know where to brush up on your knowledge ahead of time. This will also help you to be more confident going to an interview if you’ve done your homework, and that confidence will come across to the interviewer as well.
Tip 5: Reach Out to and Rebuild Your Network
If you were too busy to stay in touch during your career gap, there’s a good chance you haven’t kept up with your professional network—either your in-person one or your online one. Now is the right time to reconnect with those people. Set up some coffee dates and start following what people are doing on LinkedIn. Perhaps join a new LinkedIn group or get re-engaged with an existing one. Start attending association meetings again.
Tip 6: Update Your Wardrobe
Sadly, as much as it’s true that your appearance should not matter, it does. According to research by Fairygodboss, hiring managers are still judging job candidates by race, gender, age and their physical appearance. Make sure you look professional and up-to-date when you show up for your interview. In addition, it shows you’re taking the job interview seriously. Don’t buy a whole new wardrobe, but do invest in an outfit that fits well and shows you’re serious and professional. You’ll also feel more confident and that confidence will come across during—you guessed it—your interview.
Tip 7: Show You’re Serious With a Certification
If you previously worked in a rapidly changing field such as IT or digital marketing, you will probably need to learn new skills before re-entering the workplace. There is also a very good chance that technologies and best practices have changed. Earning a certification can get you up to speed again, as well as demonstrate to a potential employer that you are proactive about staying current with the industry. A certification will possibly give you an advantage over a competing job candidate who doesn’t have a career gap but lacks the credibility and currency of a certification.
If you’ve been out of work for a while, no matter the reason, you might be nervous or even have questions about how to address your career gap as you dust off your resume and start your job search. The good news is, you’re not alone as it’s becoming more commonplace for women to take a break from their careers to attend to family matters. And with these seven tips, you can prepare yourself ahead of time and be better prepared for the actual interview when the right job opening comes along.
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