If you are worried about how your absence from the workforce might look to a potential employer, statistically you have less to worry about than you might fear. Based on results from a national survey completed earlier this year, CareerBuilder found that 85 percent of employers said they were more understanding of post-recession work gaps. Their benevolence only increased when they were asked if they would think less of a worker who took a job lower than their skill level during the recession. About 94 percent said they would not.
When returning to the workforce, the key element is not to be defensive about taking a break, says return-to-work expert Vivian Steir Rabin, co-founder of irelaunch.com and co-author of Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-At-Home Moms Who Want To Return To Work. “There’s nothing wrong with staying home to be with your kids,” Rabin says. Of the more than 10 million women between 25 and 54 who are not currently working and who have children, about 2 million have a college education. Studies have found that 73 percent to 90 percent of them do want to return to work at some point, she adds.
Alexandra Levit, author of Blind Spots: 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success
Getting started begins with a little introspection. “It’s critical to figure out what you want to do, and be very specific,” Rabin says. “Some people just assume they should go back to what they did before.” That’s not necessarily a good idea, she says, namely because your field may have contracted substantially, or you may have developed new interests and skills during the break. Once you identify your passion, she says, “pursue what you want relentlessly.”
“Make sure you get your finger on the pulse of what’s going on [in your industry] because it is very easy to lose touch with it, even if you’ve only been gone a year or two,” says Alexandra Levit, author of Blind Spots: 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. Perusing the Internet, reading trade publications and attending industry conferences are all great places to get started.
Linking up with former clients, colleagues, even folks you might have met at a conference years ago, could also prove fruitful, Levit says. “You should be calling them, seeing what they’re doing and finding out a little bit about what they—and the profession—are up to,” she says.
The worst scenario is to call someone you haven’t talked to in three years and ask for help finding a job, she adds. “Nobody is going to be too responsive to that, and that immediately puts the person on the defensive.” Asking for advice about how best to learn how things have changed in your absence will likely prove a better opener. “You gradually build back up the relationship where maybe you can ask them for a [job] lead later on.”
When asked about employment gaps during an interview, focus on your current contributions, advises Cali Yost, CEO and Founder of Flex Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit, Inc. and author of Work+Life: Finding the Fit that is Right for You. Perhaps you developed project management skills through volunteering or have stayed connected with your industry. “If you are thoughtful and strategic about your break, you will have an answer for that question,” she says.
Janine Moon, a master certified career coach and author of Career Ownership: Creating ‘Job Security’ in Any Economy, says, “The job market is so different today that to try to go it alone can be very discouraging and very difficult. For someone coming back into the workplace, I’d encourage them to get some assistance.” Moon urges people to network through professional associations.
“It’s very easy to [become overwhelmed] by the whole process,” says Levit, who urges job seekers to volunteer in a business setting before re-entering the job market, which can help curb insecurity about the path ahead. “When you haven’t done something for a while, it grows in your mind, becoming bigger than it really is.”
Kimberly Johnson is a freelance writer specializing in national and defense issues. She has written for a variety of magazines and websites, including US News & World Report, USA Today, Newsweek.com and National Geographic News, along with several military publications.
In this issue