Getting back into the workforce after a period of not working – whether due to having a baby, going back to school or raising kids – is a challenge for the best of us. After all, the industry you worked in months or years ago is moving at the speed of light, and you may feel technology has left you behind.
With a little effort, you can compete with any other job seeker, no matter how much time you’ve taken off.
1. Assess where you are. If you’ve been out of the job market just a few months, brushing the dust off of your résumé shouldn’t be a big deal. Just be ready to explain the gap in your work history. You may want to check to see if there are any skills you could catch up on so potential employers don’t even notice that gap.
If, on the other hand, it’s been years since you stepped foot in an office, you’ll have more work to do to catch up on the tools and trends that people in your field are currently using. Be honest with your abilities (and lack thereof) so you can build a game plan that will give you an edge.
2. See what’s out there. The best indicator of how well-qualified you are for a job these days is what employers are hiring for, says Fabiola Guzman, a single mother who used online learning to improve certain job skills. “Reading job requirements in your field is a great way to see what employers are looking for in new candidates,” she says.
Start with job descriptions for the role you last held, and see if they’re still in line with your abilities. If the job has changed drastically since you last worked, consider taking a step backward in the jobs you apply for.
3. Get to know the players. While maybe at one point you knew everyone in your industry, that might not be the case now. Visit LinkedIn, browse through your contacts from the past and see if any are still working in the same company or field. If so, reach out and let them know you’re planning to jump back in. Try to schedule coffee meetups or lunches to just talk about what’s happening in the industry and maybe pick up a few useful hints about how you can be more appealing as a job candidate today. While it’s fine to ask if your old contacts know of any open positions, don’t make them feel awkward by soliciting them to hire you.
If you don’t know anyone in the industry, find local meetings (try Meetup.com) for professionals in your field. While you don’t want to flat-out promote the fact that you’re looking for a job, you do want to pay close attention to what you learn there, as well as the people you meet. Connect with new contacts on social media, and begin to build that relationship online and off.
4. Bone up on new skills. Going back to college isn’t your only option for updating your job skills. Online learning tools like Udemy (udemy.com) can quickly teach you skills, such as using new software programs, leveraging Internet marketing or creating budgets – all skills that will help you qualify for the jobs you’re interested in.
Penny Owings, a mother of two daughters who are now of college age, used online learning to supplement her associate degree and create her own blog, study web design and learn Photoshop. “Being educated and up-to-date in your job area is very empowering when sitting in an interview,” she says. “It looks good on your résumé, too!”
5. Consider a change. Before you dive back into what you used to do, consider whether that’s really what you want. Maybe you quit your job, because you hated what you did. There’s no sense in being in that situation again if you can change it now. Owings says: “Re-entering the workforce is also a great time to change careers. Online learning is a perfect place to try on something new for a career to see if you like it or not!” If your heart tells you that you want to do something new, find out what skills you need, and be willing to start at an entry-level position to get where you want to be.
6. Take feedback to heart. When you interview for a job and don’t get selected, ask the hiring manager if there were areas in your job history or experience he or she found lacking that perhaps you could work on. Receive her response openly, and use this as a starting point for the next part of your journey to professional development. And keep that relationship open – that hiring manager might like to hear back from you after you polish your experience and skills.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs, a niche job board for public relations, communications and social media jobs. Hoojobs was voted as a Top Career website by Forbes. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues and is chief editor of the HooHireWire – The Hoojobs Guide to Hiring & Getting Hired.