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Hit The Ground Running

6 Steps To Rejoining The Workforce After A Long-Term Leave

You've been out of the workforce for years, and now you're ready to come back. Here's how to make a smooth transition.

[Photo: Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock]

From time to time, many people need to take an extended break from the workforce. Whether you left for caretaking responsibilities, a long-term illness, or other reasons, breaking back in can seem overwhelming. It can be tough to figure out an entry point, let alone how to attract the attention of a prospective employer, get the job, and hit the ground running.

Fortunately, a number of websites and programs have cropped up to help you find your way back. There are also a number of things you can do to prepare for the job hunt and ensure you’re ready to knock your new employer’s socks off once you land your new gig, says Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of iRelaunch, a career-reentry consulting firm, and coauthor of Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work.

1. Study What Has Changed

Read trade journals and websites, and check out industry groups on social media. Getting clear on what’s changed and what’s happening now is the first step, Cohen says. She had left her full-time finance job for 11 years before she decided it was time to return to work. So when she was ready to revive her career, the first thing she did was engage in some "self-directed study," she says.

Cohen renewed her subscription to the Wall Street Journal and read the paper cover to cover to learn about the new players in her sector. She even went back to some of her old business-school textbooks to refresh her memory.

2. Reconnect With Your Network

If you haven’t kept in contact with all of those people you met throughout your career, now is a good time to get back in touch. Update your resume and LinkedIn profile, then work on setting up some informational interviews to get the new lay of the land from former colleagues. When she was reentering the workforce, Cohen asked former colleagues for meet-ups to help her get up to speed on some of the newer financial instruments, and many were happy to do so, she says.

"When you get back in touch, these people have a ‘frozen-in-time’ view of you, and their enthusiasm about your interest in returning to work will be a confidence boost," she says.

3. Check And Update Your Skills

As you start to get back in touch with former colleagues, ask questions about the important skills that the people they work with need, suggests human resources consultant Charina L. Flores, vice president of human resources for the Barbelo Group and adjunct human resources professor at Bellevue College. This will help you get a sense of where you might need to shore up your abilities—perhaps by taking an online class or attending some training. And don’t ignore transferrable skills. If you’ve been doing volunteer work or organizing events, for example, you have been building skills that can transfer into the workplace, she says.

4. Do Some "Warm-Up" Work

If there is a gap in your resume, look for ways to build new experience, says Pennell Locey, vice president of Keystone Associates, a human resources consulting and outplacement firm. Look for some freelance work in your field. In addition, the Small Business Administration, local high tech or biotech incubators, or startup business forums may give you opportunities to volunteer or network productively, she says. "Some people reentering the workforce end up finding positions at the companies they assist," Locey says.

5. Get Your Home Life Organized

If you’ve been out of work for a while, responsibility for many household chores likely fell on your shoulders. Caring for children or family members, running a home, or otherwise overseeing day-to-day personal tasks can be demanding. Cohen says you need to create a plan for how these responsibilities will be handled so you can focus on your new job. Look for caretakers and build a schedule that will let you balance full-time work with your personal life to try to eliminate distractions.

6. Take Advantage Of On-The-Job Learning

Some companies have formal training programs where a cohort of people will start training the same day, or they may have programs for new hires. Either way, if your new company offers onboarding training, take advantage of it. And if you feel like a fish out of water? Embrace it, Cohen says.

"Expect that you are going to now be in a workforce with people of all different ages, and they're going to look at you as someone who doesn't really fit into any particular category, because you're kind of a hybrid. You're not a lateral hire, and you're not an intern. You're something in between, so be open with people and have a sense of humor. Really work to have meaningful relationships with people of all different age groups, and all different seniority levels. That’s another way to help ensure your success," she says.

There are many resources available to help those returning to the workforce after an extended leave. By preparing, networking, and jumping in with both feet, you can rejoin the workforce and make an impact in your new role.

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