Returning to work after a multi-year career break, or “relaunching” as we call it, is not easy. It is a challenging process that requires strategic planning and determination.
A few days ago, Ana Patricia Ferrey of Inc.com released a brief article entitled: “Women: Re-entering Workforce Easy - A survey finds most women have no trouble returning to work after a leave of absence.” NYTimes.com also picked it up. It gives the impression that relaunching a career after a career break is a breeze, no problem at all.
Part of the problem is how you define “leave of absence.” If you read Ferrey's article, you learn that “respondents said the longer they were away, the harder it was to restart their careers. Most said six months was a good limit, the survey found.” So this survey was really focusing on short-term leaves, such as maternity leaves or leaves to take care of a loved one, of six months or less – not the longer, multi-year career breaks.
Returning to work after a multi-year career break, or “relaunching” as we call it, is not easy. It is a challenging process that requires strategic planning and determination. It is often helpful to find a “Relaunch Buddy” or form a Relaunch group with others going through the process at the same time so you can give each other support during the tougher times and cheer each other on during the high points, in addition to providing a sounding board and second set of eyes for resumes, cover letters, interview practice and participating in formal (and informal) networking events. One of the toughest parts of the process is not losing momentum and working with others helps you do this.
The “7 Steps to Relaunch Success” is the strategy we recommend for relaunching successfully in our book Back on the Career Track. Here’s a summary of the “7 Steps”:
1. RElaunch or Not: You Decide. Determining readiness is the first step.
2. Learn Confidence. Get back in touch with classmates and colleagues. TALK. The more informal conversations you have with non-judgmental contacts, the better you will get telling your story and the more confident you will feel and sound.
3. Assess Your Career Options. Break down your old job(s) or volunteer experiences into their component parts and focus on those you both enjoy the most and are best at. Then brainstorm about new opportunities that build on those skills and interests.
4. Update your Professional and Job Search Skills. Read relevant journals, take continuing education classes and attend industry events. Develop an elevator story (a two minute talk answering “what do you want to do?”) summarizing your expertise and the kind of opportunity you seek in a few key sentences.
5. Network and Market Yourself. Get a business card! After speaking to non-judgmental people informally (Step 2), branch out to those you know less well and engage them in a conversation about their work. These informal conversations function as interview rehearsals and sometimes lead to job opportunities.
6. Channel Family Support. Expect to have conversations early and often about your interest in returning to work with your spouse or partner, if you have one. Emphasize that there are ways you can manage the relaunch transition creatively and gradually. The older your children are, the sooner you should tell them as well.
7. Handle the Job or Find Another One. Ask for early and frequent reviews because neither you nor your employer will be able to predict the rate of your ramp-up once back at work. Help your colleagues whenever possible, so they’ll reciprocate when you need them. And, remember, this is your first foray back to the professional marketplace. Be patient with yourself and keep an open dialog with your employer as you transition back. Ultimately, if it turns out not to be the right match, you can always make a change.