- Talk to someone in the field. If you’ve been away from the work world for more than a year, things have probably changed. It’s smart to talk to an industry insider before you officially kick off your job search. See if you can have coffee with a former colleague who has remained in your field. Or get in touch with your alumni association or an industry group and see if they can connect you with someone who can give you the inside edge. Ask them what are the key issues facing people in your industry. Are they using new software? Have any regulations changed? This information will help you prepare for your job search and eliminate surprises along the way.
- Upgrade your technical skills. Many skills needed to succeed on the job do not change: if you left your career as an excellent communicator, creative thinker and relationship manager, you still have those skills. Technical skills are more subject to change and depending on the type of job you are seeking, you may need to retrain. The time to upgrade your skills is before you apply for a job. If you can show that you’ve kept pace with changes to your industry, a prospective company is much more likely to consider you for the role.
- Update your resume and online profile. Things may have changed since you last updated your CV so do some research into current resume writing techniques. Ask a recruiter friend if she will review your resume over coffee or ask a search firm that recruits in your field for help (it’s to their advantage for your resume to look great so they can present you as a candidate in the future.) Make sure that you have a good profile on LinkedIn and ensure you look professional on social media. Consider setting up a Twitter profile and start to follow key influencers in your industry. Pick a professional sounding email address (firstname.lastname@example.org might not be the best choice unless you are interviewing in a very specific field.) Recruiters routinely research candidates online, so you want to have a presence other than an active “I heart Grumpy Cat” Pinterest page.
- Strut your strengths. Repeat after me: “I do not need to apologize for the gap in my resume.” Unless you have spent your last decade as part of the Real Housewives franchise, you will have developed some transferable skills during your time away from your career. Perhaps you did the books for a family business and deepened your knowledge of finance, accounting, and taxes. Perhaps you ran a committee at school or served on a not-for-profit board and fine-tuned your strategic planning and people management skills. Perhaps you advocated for your special needs child or stick-handled your divorce and learned invaluable research and negotiation skills. No matter what you did, it’s up to you — not the recruiter — to make the connection between the skills you developed and the skills they need. Talk about the transferable skills and don’t downplay them simply because you donated your time.
- Emphasize your maturity. You are no longer 20 years old. That’s a huge advantage. At work and in your life you’ve seen a thing or two and that experience is invaluable to a future employer. Unless you are applying to be a Hollywood ingénue, don’t hide your age or the fact that you’ve raised a family. Your understanding of people, your ability to motivate others, and your ability to communicate will be superior to some young whippersnapper out of school. As long as you have up-to-date technical skills, you will have a distinct advantage over younger candidates competing for the role. You put in those years: own them.
- Refuse to be penalized for leaving the workforce. There are unscrupulous companies out there who will tell you that you must take a giant career step back simply because you’ve been out of the workforce for a couple of years. Unless you are completely changing careers, you should be looking at jobs that are at a similar level to the one you held when you left your career (this in itself can be frustrating since if you return to the same company, you might be reporting to someone you once trained!) Some companies will tell you that you should take something more junior and promise to promote you quickly once you show them what you can do. The reality it, it’s almost always easier to negotiate title and salary before you accept a job. Think of job hunting like dating: if a company isn’t generous in the courtship phase, they aren’t going to be more generous in the marriage.
Returning to work can feel intimidating but it doesn’t have to be. Do your homework, be prepared, sell your strengths, and stop apologizing. They need you — skilled, wise people — as much as you need them. Now go get that job!