Landing a new job is rarely an easy skate, but re-entering the workforce after you’ve stepped away for a year or more can be especially tricky.
Whether you’ve taken time out to raise your children, care for an aging parent, or other personal reasons, gaps in your resumé, along with out-of-date skills, can be indisputable stumbling blocks, even if you were a superstar in your last job.
The truth is that you can’t just expect to pick up where you left off. For one thing, technology is always changing and chances are the job you had morphed as well while you were out.
One of the best ways to segue back into paid employment is to partake in an internship or a returnship–for returning professionals to get them up to speed with the prospect to come on board full-time at the end. And the good news is that these kinds of offerings are on the rise.
It’s a win-win situation. An employer gets to see how you’d do as an employee, and you get to investigate whether you’d really like to work there longer-term. Returnships can be paid or unpaid and most last for at least three months.
General Motors’ Take 2 re-entry internship program, for example, is aimed at women engineers who are interested in returning to the workforce after a two or more year career break. The 12-week internship is geared for women with technical backgrounds in vehicle engineering, manufacturing engineering, or manufacturing operations. As part of this program, interns receive training, professional development, and the opportunity to network with other technical leaders at the automaker.
Other firms who offer or will soon launch these kinds of returnships include Booz Allen Hamilton, Caterpillar, Cummins, IBM, Intel and Johnson Controls.
Interns, for example, accepted to Booz Allen's nine-week program, which starts in June, will work in management consulting, systems engineering, software development/engineering and electrical engineering.
Intrigued, but not seeing a company that appeals to you? I recommend you tap into iRelaunch, a company that helps connect individuals who want to return to work after career breaks with employers interested in hiring them. As of this writing, the site features 135 career reentry programs worldwide.
Then too, if you sense a hiring manager is interested in giving you a job but wavering because you’ve been out of work, or are making a career shift, consider asking whether you could create an internship, or an apprenticeship, so the employer can evaluate you after several weeks.
Another avenue is to seek out fellowships. OnRamp Fellowship, for instance, is a program whose goal is to restock the talent pipeline in law firms, legal departments and financial services firms with experienced women. The law firm and legal department Fellowship positions are for one year and the financial services Fellowships last six months. Currently, 28 organizations are participating in the Fellowship, including 25 law firms, as well as the legal departments at HP Enterprise and Amazon.
If you’re looking for a career with a social purpose, for example, consider applying for an Encore fellowship at Encore.org/fellowships. These are one-year paid fellowships at nonprofits, typically in a professional capacity, to help mature workers re-enter the job market.
While none of these programs are high-paying prospects initially, the opportunity to get your foot in the door with a potential employer, ramp up your resumé and boost your confidence again is invaluable.
Here are some of other steps I recommend to help you get back into the workforce.
Give yourself credit. Don’t overlook your time away from the workforce. They are years that were chock-full with skill building. Start by evaluating your skills. If you were a caregiver, for instance, drill down to the business side of it. No doubt you were a project manager and you managed a team of other caregivers, from nurses to doctors and physical therapists. You did research and did fact-finding to help track down the best doctors and medical care, insurance, and so on. Translate these tasks into strong action verbs: directed, enabled, facilitated, hired, supervised, controlled, coordinated, executed, organized, planned, implemented, spearheaded.
And you were a problem solver. You navigated, negotiated, secured, and resolved eldercare issues. Then too, you probably had to deal with all kinds of medical bills and insurance forms. So you had to analyze, assess, calculate, track, and itemize.
Prepare your resume by using these skills and action words to promote yourself. Experience doesn’t get you a job. Skills do. That’s what you need to sell hard and shamelessly.
Your resume should tell a compelling story about the skills you’ve been using during your years out of the workplace. Think of a problem, how you solved it, and show the result and how it translates to the job you’re applying for. For example, maybe you found a way to save 25 percent on medical bills.
Employers don’t care that you did an incredible project 15 years ago. They want to know that your skills are current and you can step in and solve their problem today, no hand-holding necessary.
Do an inventory of your soft skills. These are personal characteristics. Employers want to be sure that you’ll work easily and competently with your coworkers, your supervisor and perhaps the organization’s customers or clients. They also want to see that you have the ability to think on your feet and are a smart decision maker.
Meantime, communication (oral and written) skills are always in demand. Effective communication skills are at the top of the skills list for employers, according to a new survey of 4,347 job seekers, as well as 129 human resource (HR) professionals by Future Workplace, a research firm and Beyond, The Career Network.
After communication skills, employers look for employees with the ability to adapt to change, being results driven and goal-oriented as their most desired skills, according to the report.
Meantime, playing up your creativity, patience and a positive attitude, are always in your favor.
Keep your resume simple and under two pages. The average resume gets read in less than ten seconds.
Rev up your networking. Networking isn’t going to result in a job tomorrow; it’s a process of gradually developing contacts.
But it works. According the Future Workplace and Beyond survey, a noteworthy 71% of HR professionals surveyed, said employee referrals are the best resource for finding candidates.
When I’m at a networking event, I spend twice as much time listening as talking, with a goal of meeting at least three new people and getting their contact information.
Start your own business (or freelance) to get back up to speed.
Add skills and certificates. To skill up, take classes and add the necessary certifications. If you worry about the time obligation or cost, take one class at a time.
Look for free retraining. Your local American Job Center, often referred to as Career OneStop can help with upgrading skills. There are around 2,500 nationwide.
Sign up for a free, or nearly-free, MOOC. That’s the acronym for Massively Open Online Courses like Coursera, Udacity, EdX and Lynda. Often offered by leading universities, MOOCs provide economical ways to learn new skills from some of the nation’s best instructors anytime, anywhere. Your local library might also offer classes.
Dive into the social media pool. That means you need to get cozy with, and use LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Employers expect it.
While you’re at it, spend time searching online to learn more about places where you want to work, then visit their websites. Find people you know who work there, who might be willing to lend a hand to get you an interview, or vouch for you. LinkedIn is a great place to find connections who work at companies your eyeing.
It’s important, however, to find a volunteer assignment that supports your professional goals. It will help you plug the gaps in your resumé, meet helpful contacts and give you recent experience. It also gets you out of your head and into the world and away from blindly applying for jobs online.
Search for prospects through sites like AARP’s Giving Back, Create the Good, HandsOnNetwork and VolunteerMatch.org.
If you’re good with numbers, look into the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, where volunteers help lower-income seniors do their taxes. It’s a great way to improve your tech skills, since the tax prep is done on a computer.
You can also seek out nonprofits that need your particular professional expertise through the Executive Service Corps and Taproot Foundation. Also, Idealist has a searchable database of both volunteer and paid positions.