If you are one of the many professionals reentering the workforce after an extended break, you know how anxiety-filled and stressful restarting a career can be. People often worry that employment gaps will limit their opportunities and derail their goals — however, there is good news! The Career Services team at Trilogy Education Services, a 2U Inc. brand, recently hosted the webinar Real Talk: Addressing Employment Gaps in Your Experience, providing actionable tips and steps you can take to restart your career with confidence.
There are many reasons that professionals take extended breaks in their careers, including:
- Medical issues
- Changing industries (e.g., healthcare to pharmaceuticals)
- Caregiving (e.g., caring for a family member, becoming a parent)
- Educational pursuits
- Involuntary termination
- Pandemic-related issues
In fact, according to research by the National Women’s Law Center, roughly 1.79 million women and 1.75 million men have left the labor force entirely since February 2020 alone. Many of these professionals left to care for ill family members, facilitate their children’s at-home education during lockdowns, or provide caregiving to loved ones when other support systems became unavailable. Keep in mind, these figures don’t include those on an extended career break before the pandemic, so it’s important to know that you’re not alone — in fact, it’s more common than you may realize.
In order to achieve your goals and reenter the workforce in a way that’s fulfilling for you, it’s important to think about your break as part of your professional journey, not just a bump in the road. Specifically, think about the reason for the break, how you spent your time during the break, and how that experience factors into the person you are today. This is important to your job search because prospective employers will be interested in not only the reason for your break, but also how it impacted your professional and personal growth, as well as how you spent your time and what you learned.
Here are some actions to take in developing your story and making it a positive in your job search:
1. Compile the necessary components of your story
When talking about your break, be brief, honest, and positive (if possible) about your experience or where you are today.
Follow this employment break story framework:
- Time: My break was between “XXXX” and “XXXX” (use years only)
- Reason: I had a break in my career because …
- How you spent your time: During my break, I … (e.g., I took a digital marketing course)
- Current goals: I’m now focused on my goal of … (e.g., leveraging my experience in a new industry)
Once you’ve completed your career break story, it’s time to determine what sets you apart from other potential candidates in your job search.
2. Identify three to five professional assets
Understand the unique attributes you bring to the workplace that are most valuable for the positions you’re seeking. Get started with the tips below.
Go beyond your hard skills.
- Soft skills: People, organizational, or leadership skills
- Track record: Completing objectives on time and on budget
- Skills learned during your gap (e.g., upskilling course, volunteer work, freelance projects)
3. Organize your professional materials
Frame your experience in a way that highlights your identified professional assets. Here are some tips to help you structure your materials.
Keep the most relevant information at the top through the use of a professional summary — recruiters spend roughly seven second scanning each resume. Your professional summary should include relevant skills, your career break story, and highlight relevant education.
- — The summary example below is for a professional returning to work after a five-year gap while caring for a loved one:
- “Motivated Project Manager bringing creative experiences to their team. Highly skilled in budgeting, negotiation, collaboration, and risk management. Spent five years caring for a loved one and, during that time, upskilled in cybersecurity through online courses. Education also includes a BA in communication.”
Choose a resume format that highlights your skills and not your employment break.
- — Functional resumes focus on skills, not the chronological order of employment
- — List non-traditional work examples that demonstrate a skill you’ve learned
- • Volunteer experience example:
- • Travel experience example:
Tailor your resume content to your current skills and job search goals.
- — Keep it simple
- • Keep your resume to one page, if possible
- • Use years (rather than month/year) to minimize the appearance of gaps, unless referring to non-traditional work experiences
- • List roles held over the past 10 years
- • Don’t include roles that are irrelevant or were held for 6 months or less
- — Add a “Projects” section to your resume (below your summary) if you’ve completed project or freelance work during your break.
4. Update your LinkedIn profile
- — Research the culture of the industry/organization(s) you are interested in to determine what you should wear in your photo (e.g., corporate casual, business attire)
- — Get inspiration from the profiles of people who currently work at the companies you’re interested in
- — Take a photo from the shoulders up in a professional context, with either an uncluttered, professional background or a blurred background
- — Only include bullets for roles that represent your current interests; for all others, simply indicate the company name, location, and years employed
- — Only include roles in the past 10 years, unless relevant to your current goals
- — Dates are not necessary when listing university or college education
- — You may wish to include dates when referencing recent bootcamps or certifications
5. Research companies and programs
You may be surprised at the number of organizations actively searching for non-traditional employee backgrounds to fill open roles.
Conduct a regular search using such keywords as:
- — Return-to-work program
- — Returnships
- — Apprenticeship
- — Working parents
- — Veteran training programs
- — Neurodiversity program
- — Workforce development
- — Diversity recruitment programs
- — Employee resource groups
Explore sample programs and organizations:
- — Path Forward: A nonprofit organization on a mission to empower people to restart their careers after time spent focused on caregiving
- — LEAP Microsoft: An immersive, 16-week diversity program that provides participants with a real-world development experience
- — iRelaunch: A guidebook, community, and sense of renewed purpose for relaunchers
- — reacHire: An organization that partners with companies to develop return-to-work programs to update business skills
- — Après: An organization that provides the tools to navigate a career and motherhood with return-to-work/flexible work solutions
- — ReBoot Accel: An organization that helps professionals return to work with confidence in part-time and full-time jobs
6. Network, network, network
- Use Twitter and LinkedIn to follow companies you’re interested in, leaders in your field, as well as colleagues from former roles; commenting and liking posts often.
- Join Facebook groups related to your field, as well as groups for professionals returning to the workplace.
- Attend networking events (virtual and in person) in your chosen field, but don’t just stick to your current industry — remember skills are transferable.
- Attend community and corporately sponsored charity events for the public.
- Let your personal network know that you’re looking for opportunities (e.g., friends, family, small group members).
Through careful consideration of your goals and preparing yourself to put your best foot forward in the job search, rejoining the workforce successfully after a career break is very possible. In fact, you may find that your renewed focus, professional assets, and life experience lead you to the best role you’ve ever had.
Want to tap into more industry insights? This event is just one of many that our Career Engagement Network offers enrolled students to help them reach their professional goals. Visit our Career Services page or speak with admissions to learn more about the career services available through UT Austin Boot Camps.