Whether you took time off from the workforce to raise children, care for a relative or explore new opportunities, re-entering employment can present challenges for even experienced jobseekers. One of the biggest? “The internal doubts people tend to have as they look to return,” says Amy Sanchez, CEO and executive career coach at Swim Against the Current.
Sanchez should know. Not only does she help clients get back to work after long absences, she has also experienced work gaps herself — back when she was a new mom with her first daughter and, more recently, to care for her kids when COVID-19 hit. But there are ways to stand out and land a new job after an employment gap. Here are some tips from the pros.
INCLUDE SKILLS ON YOUR RESUME THAT YOU'VE ACQUIRED ON YOUR BREAK
Your first task is to get the attention of recruiters with a great resume and cover letter. How you write your resume should depend on how much time you’ve taken off, says Ronda Ansted, career consultant and the creator of My Career Design Studio. “If the absence is for less than a year, I wouldn't suggest doing anything special on your resume,” she says.
If you do have a gap longer than a year, that doesn’t mean you haven’t been gaining relevant experience. Ansted encourages clients to emphasize volunteer work (particularly leadership roles), online classes you’ve taken that have expanded your skill set and any freelance work you may have done.
When writing your cover letter, you can acknowledge why you took some time off, but don’t dwell — you still want to keep it focused on your accomplishments and why you’re a good fit for the role. “Always emphasize the value that you will bring to your employer,” Ansted says. “Look at the job skills that are required. Give an example of how you have used those skills in ways that increased productivity, revenue or morale.”
Remember that people you've worked with in the past will be able to vouch for your skills and experience.
MINE YOUR NETWORK
Once you have your resume perfected, send it off and cross your fingers — but remember a stellar resume isn’t the only route to a job offer.
“Many of my clients focus so much on their resume and how they are going to explain their time off that they don't embrace the fact that most people get their jobs through networking,” Ansted says. “Finding a job doesn't have to be so different from finding services or recommendations. Talk to people that you know, be clear about what you want and ask if they know anyone who can help.”
Plus, remember that people you've worked with in the past will be able to vouch for your skills and experience to their contacts, career gap or no.
BE READY TO ADDRESS THE GAP IN THE INTERVIEW
Your interviewer will want to know what you were doing while you weren’t doing paid work.
“Expect that you will be asked about the gap,” Ansted says. “Prepare a one to two sentence non-defensive explanation that underscores why you'll be good at that job.” For example, you might say that you were caring for a family member and list the skills that you gained from doing so. During COVID-19 especially, people are going to be understanding of gaps.
Also be prepared, Sanchez says, to answer questions like why you should be hired over others who don’t have a work gap, and whether you think you’re ready to return. When it’s your turn to ask questions, use the time to assess whether you’d be a good fit. “During the interview, ask them what they’re looking for,” she adds. “What would they consider to be success?”
Above all, be patient during the interview process. “Companies are pulled in many different directions right now while navigating the uncertainty of COVID, so there are many stories of very long interview cycles or companies who start interviewing and then decide not to hire,” Sanchez says.
DON’T GET DISCOURAGED
Searching for a job after a long break from the workforce can be exhausting, especially during a time when so many others are looking, too. Don’t neglect your own well-being.
“There are a ton of resources out there to help you with the executional side of the job search,” Sanchez says. “There are very few resources that highlight the mental side of this journey. Schedule time for self-care, and protect and honor this time — it’s as important as the time you spend applying for jobs.”
Get enough sleep, exercise if you’re able to and connect with your community. “Remember: There has not been a situation like this in over a generation,” Ansted says. “People will remember 2020 as being a difficult year for everyone. You don't need to add stress to the situation by telling yourself that you'll never find another job. You will get through this.”