Mind the Gap! Returning to work after a career break

Trading nappies for networking is hard enough when your children are little but that move from babies to business becomes even more difficult as time passes. The reality is that you can’t ‘get back’ to your previous job; but what you can do is ‘re-launch’. 

Re-launching your career after a period at home caring for children or relatives or perhaps after an illness is tough – but it is possible.  It will be different as you are different and it is likely the job and industry you were in previously is different.   This 8-Step Re-launch Plan will help you focus and be determined to find the right job for the new you.

Step 1: First face your internal saboteurs

You’re not alone having some major emotional hurdles to deal with.  Maybe it’s guilt or perhaps you’re overwhelmed by the whole idea due to lack of confidence.  Whatever your personal saboteurs are, write them down and find actions and support from friends, family and professionals to address them.  They won’t go away unless you face them as the true barriers you have to overcome. Don’t let them sabotage you and perhaps stop you even getting to...

Step 2: Determining what you want

Reassess where you are and what you want to do; think about what you’ve done before, what you liked and disliked and why.  It’s easier to return to an area you know about (i.e. similar function or business sector) but don’t worry about how your likes and dislikes manifest themselves in work yet - just mentally keep hold of the positive work related elements which you enjoyed and make sure these are reflected in your CV and conversations.

But do be realistic. Consider the three key areas of money, time and responsibility (or job function or fulfilment).  It is unlikely that you’re going to (initially) get a high paid job working part-time having been out of the work force for a few years.  Be ready to compromise on one of these areas in your re-launch; see your ‘first’ job as a stepping stone just as you did when you first started working. 

Being clear about what you want will keep your activity focused.  Go back to your list when you feel your motivation dipping.

Step 3: Reconnect with ‘work time’

You’ve made the decision to return to work and your ‘work’ is now getting a job.  You need to create ‘work time’ in your day to give you time to take action.

Get support: Connect with others in your situation to provide emotional support and networking.  If you’re returning after child caring make sure you have your childcare plans in place or arrange child care swops with people in similar situations.  Make sure you share domestic tasks with your partner.

Build a plan: Give yourself weekly objectives in different areas e.g. reviewing or developing skills, researching organisations or people. And make sure to give yourself credit for completing them!

Step 4: Update your CV and refresh your skills

Reflect on your previous experience and remember that the work, even from a number of years ago provides you with relevant knowledge.  Refresh your mind about what was good so you can talk confidently about it. Look at activity you’ve done during your career break and shape its inclusion in a work relevant way.  For example ‘Doubled school fundraising income within two years’, or ‘Established community communications for local charity’.  In addition, schedule time into your plan to refresh your skills; research training courses, conferences and webinars - there are many free on-line resources to support you. 

Step 5: Rewire your Network

Think on-line dating looks tame compared to ‘putting yourself out there’ again in the job market?  Go back to Step 1 – don’t let your internal saboteur hold you back.

Kick start and expand: Write up a list of all the people you know and research networking groups and companies which may be relevant to you.  Spend some time understanding how to get the most out of LinkedIn. www.camclustermap.com is a great tool to show how you can be connected to different people in Cambridge organisations using LinkedIn.

Set yourself networking objectives e.g. ‘each week I will attend one network meeting and contact three people from my list.’  Cambridge is awash with networking groups and I guarantee you’ll find people in a similar situation as yourself who will be able to put you in contact with other people and groups.

Pitch: prepare a 30 second ‘pitch’ of what you are looking for and what qualifies you to be looking for that role.  Remember, you’re not asking people for a job – just if they know someone who could help. Treat every new contact as a potential recruiter; sound and look the part. Review each contact and adjust your approach.

Step 6: Think differently

Do consider part time, interim or freelance work. It adds to your recent experience, your skill development and contact base.  If you’re not volunteering then start, and get at least three different organisations on your CV.  This will extend your network and refresh your softer skills of managing people and tasks – as well as building your confidence.

Step 7: Prepare for Interview

Research organisations and prepare your answers for questions.  Use your network of contacts to practise your answers.

Specifically address how you’re going to handle your ‘career gap’.  It wasn’t an unreasonable choice and you don’t need to defend it.  Acknowledge it … ‘during (dates) I chose to stay at home to care for my children…’ and then move on … ‘and now I’m returning to work …’, and explain why you are the person they should be employing.  Focus on the job in hand.

Step 8: Stay on the road

You’ll be successful but only if you commit to your plan, put the time in and be both persistent and patient.  Be confidently persuasive – with yourself.  Keep your 8-Step re-launch notes and refer back to them to make sure you keep on track. 

Good luck. And do contact me if you think I can help.


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Written by

David Culley

David joined Pure in 2003 and has since played a key role in our growth. He has a great reputation among our charity and public sector customer base and is responsible for delivering executive recruitment solutions. David became Managing Director in April 2022 and now oversees all our business operations, while also staying close to his customers and being part of the Cambridge business community.

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