Torchlight’s Best Tips for Returning to the Workforce

by Susan Mullin

TorchLight’s D.C. marketing recruiters explain how to turn your leave of absence into a selling point

Whether you’ve been caring for small children or an aging parent, relocating frequently with a military spouse or just plain old had “life intervene,” it’s common to have gaps in your employment history.

So when it comes time to return to the workforce, many job seekers worry about whether these gaps will work against them.

The good news is that employment gaps aren’t career-limiting—as long as you know how to address them properly. As you prepare for your first interview after being out of the workforce, here are a few key tips to keep in mind:

Honesty is the best policy

Be truthful about what took you out of the workforce—and then bridge to why employment is important to you now and why you’re a serious candidate.

For example:

  • “It was important to me to be home with my children when they were young, but I always knew I would return to the workforce.”
  • I was grateful to be able to care for my mom during her two-year-long battle with cancer, though I truly loved my career and couldn’t wait to return one day.”

Highlight the positives

You may not have been leading a Fortune 500 corporation but you most certainly cultivated certain skills—and maybe even developed new ones—during your leave of employment. In the interview, point out how these “life” skills translate into the workplace.

For example:

  • “Because my husband’s job with the Navy required us to move every two years, I was constantly thrust into groups of strangers. I’ve become a master at building relationships quickly and bringing people together around a common goal.”
  • “When I cared for my ailing father for two years, I was his ‘voice’ in managing his care and coordinating his medical team. As a result, I honed my management skills and discovered I am a very effective advocate who can get things done—even under very stressful conditions.”

Showcase how you’ve kept your industry skills sharp, even while you were away

Today’s business world turns faster and changes more quickly than ever before. Employers will be looking to see if you’re suffering from “Rip Van Winkle Syndrome” – You remember Washington Irving’s fictional tale of the man who fell asleep for 20 years and when he woke up, the entire world was different? Well, don’t be Rip.

The most successful candidates start laying the groundwork a year or more before returning to the workforce—by taking classes, honing skills, volunteering in leadership roles, identifying gaps in experience and talking to everyone they can think of. Then, in the interview, you can highlight how you’ve kept your professional skills sharp.

For example:

  • “My wife’s job took her to Europe for two years and I was fortunate that my kids and I could join her. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. During that time, I created a blog documenting our family’s experiences and I taught myself everything from WordPress to coding to Google Analytics.”
  • “When my kids’ school needed a new web site built, I volunteered to chair the committee, manage the call for proposals, coordinate the design team, conduct focus groups with families and ultimately launch the new site.”

Be flexible

Have realistic expectations for your first job after returning to the workforce. After all, the employer can’t turn to your most recent work experience as a predictor of how you’ll perform now. Understand that you may need to accept a lower salary or return in a lower-level position than what you were expecting or accustomed to.

Don’t panic—If you excel in this role, it won’t be long before you’re taking on more responsibility and growing your career. But, you have to start somewhere. Be gracious about it.

Consider contract work

Of course, diving into employment head first may not be what you’re after. Perhaps a contract or freelance role is a better fit for you. You’ll enjoy meaningful project work without the commitment of a full-time or permanent role.

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Posted in , Job Search Tips, Professional Development