How to Get Back Into the Workforce
Whether you’ve been home raising kids, on furlough due to downsizing, or out for family issues, Jennifer Gefsky, a cofounder of Après, a company specializing in career transitions, has smart strategies for coming back strong.
“Hiring managers will Google you before you ever have a chance to shake their hands. Make sure your online persona is ready. For networking sites, have a professional waist-up photo taken: solid-color top, hair out of your face—you should look pulled-together, not glamorous. Then arrange your resume to show your strengths. If you’re concerned about gaps, organize by skill rather than chronology (say, marketing, leadership, organization). If you’ve done volunteer work with significant, quantifiable impact, include it, with metrics.”
“You need to use—and grow!—your networks when job searching. They’re much more likely to lead to employment than responding to listings will be. If you’re feeling shy or insecure, address the challenges. Not sure what to say to old colleagues? Write an elevator pitch so those e-mails are easy to crank out. Nothing to wear? Visit shopping sites that specialize in work wardrobes, like mmlafleur.com, where you can fill out a questionnaire and receive a box of go-together pieces. Feeling disconnected? Find a professional group for women in your field. Nervous about all this interaction? Sign up for an improv class. It’s a low-risk way to practice thinking on your feet—and that pays off when you step into an interview.”
“Sites like Coursera and Ed X offer free classes from schools like Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley—on topics such as search-engine optimization [SEO], social-media marketing, and business analytics. Add a section on professional development to your resume, and include the classes that you take and any other training, like certifications, that you’ve updated. Consider hiring a career coach specific to your industry, even for an hour, to get you up to speed. And be prepared to talk about anything and everything on your resume: Just because something happened 20 years ago doesn’t mean that you won’t be asked about it.”
“Step into interviews with confidence and explain what you’ve been up to: ‘I made the decision five years ago to take care of a family member, and it was time well spent.’ You don’t have to share too many details about your personal life. But think through the possible reservations a company might have about you as a reentering employee—rusty skills, outdated expertise, childcare issues—so you’re ready with brief explanations. Conduct practice interviews with a friend who is working and knows your field—she will probably have some insights into what hiring managers might ask.”
“It can take six months to break back in. Consider temporary or contract work in the meantime. In addition to bringing in income, this can help you secure current references. Keep interviewing—and if a hiring manager asks if you’re truly in a position to commit to full-time work, be decisive: ‘Absolutely. My responsibilities at home are different than they were X years ago. I’m energized and ready to roll up my sleeves.’”