Skip to main content

Seven Key Steps to Successfully Return to Work after a Career Break

Seven Key Steps to Successfully Return to Work after a Career Break

By Team iRelaunch

Returning to work after a career break can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t know how or where to start. Here are seven key steps you can take to get started and empower yourself to conquer the unique challenges of the career reentry job market.

1. Figure out exactly what you want to do!

This is the hardest and most important step in the process because it takes the most time, thought and reflection. However, it drives every other step in your job search – what skills you are updating, which people you are speaking with, which organizations you are joining, and most importantly, which jobs you are applying for- so invest the time upfront to do it right. 

You need to determine whether your interests and skills have changed or not changed while you were on a career break. The length and nature of your career break (Childcare? Eldercare? A health issue? Expat experience? Unretiring?) can be important factors in this process. A big plus of taking a career break is that you have the opportunity to reimagine and “reset” your professional goals; something you may not have been able to take the time to do while you were working.

2. Become a Subject Matter Expert all over again

Once you figure out whether you are returning to the field you left or pivoting to something new, you need to immerse or re-immerse yourself in your chosen field to update your knowledge and become fluent in the language of that field. This means reading publications, following experts, understanding the latest developments, the controversies, the new products and services, why the old ones aren’t being used anymore, identifying the leading organizations and their leaders in the field, and learning all the new acronyms.

This is no easy feat, but by doing it, you impact three key factors in your job search; knowledge, confidence and contacts, meaning that while you are updating your skills and knowledge, you are gaining confidence because of what you are learning, and you interact with professionals in the field along the way.

3. Go Public with your Job Search

A successful job search relies on having many conversations with lots of people about their work and in turn, your job search, in order to yield the few that lead to an actual job opportunity. If you go in with this expectation, you will be spared the angst and desperation that often accompany a prolonged job search.

Telling everyone you know about your interest in returning to work includes connecting with “people from the past,” people with whom you worked and went to school. The good news is those people from the past have a ‘frozen in time” view of you; even if your sense of self has diminished over time, which happens to many of us as we become more professionally disconnected. People from the past don’t know anything about that. They remember you as you were and are likely to be excited about your job search and cheer you on.

A great way to reconnect with a former colleague is to let them know you are in “information-gathering mode” as you work to become a subject matter expert all over again, and get their recommendations on who the experts are in the field, the most important things to read and other ways to update yourself. This is an easy question for them to answer and is a much better alternative to the opportunistic “can you help me find a job?” request.

You need to separate yourself as much as possible from others with negative input, not to mention shielding yourself from your own “negative self-talk.” Try to channel your energy into the steps above, and remember that discouraging and negative messaging is not relevant to you and your specific job search.

Carol Fishman Cohen
line graphic

4. Apply to “relauncher-friendly” employers such as Bank of America that understand the attributes and benefits of hiring returning professionals

Career paths that include a career break are closer to being normalized today than ever before. Leading employers that recognize the attributes of relaunchers: educated, great work experience, mature perspective, understand work deadlines and working in teams, know themselves better and where they can add value, and energy and excitement about working, among others, are actively seeking to hire them through career reentry roles and programs.  When applying to roles at these employers, make sure you highlight you took a career break on your resume so they know you are eligible.

5. Find a community so you are not going at it alone

The relaunchers in our vast iRelaunch community swear by the camaraderie, peer advice, resource sharing, cheerleading and commiserating that a dedicated group of like-minded individuals going through the relauncher job search process together can provide. Whether you join a designated relauncher group, find a relaunch buddy, or form a small circle of relaunchers, your accountability and momentum generation will be vastly improved when working together with others rather than proceeding on your own.

6. Practice often and out loud

One aspect of the job search process you have absolute control over is your command of your “story” and anecdotes from your past that are relevant to your career aspirations. Script these out in a succinct way and memorize them so you have them in your back pocket whenever you need them, whether in an impromptu conversation with a friend of a friend you did not know worked in your field, or a formal interview. Memorizing requires saying it out loud and lots of repetition. It also means the more you practice the more natural it will sound and the more confident you will feel. Here are some “scripts” that might be helpful.

7. Filter out the macro (and other) “noise”

Whether you are hearing from “friends” and family that the economy is terrible and no one is hiring in your field, or the economy is great and everyone seems to be getting hired except for you, the “macro picture” needs to be filtered out. It’s hard, because it’s all around you. You need to separate yourself as much as possible from others with negative input, not to mention shielding yourself from your own “negative self-talk.” Try to channel your energy into the steps above, and remember that discouraging and negative messaging is not relevant to you and your specific job search.

Perseverance, Determination, Resilience, and the Power of Positive Thinking are the hallmarks of the successful relauncher, especially during a prolonged job search. One of the iRelaunch resources our relaunchers most appreciate is our 3,2,1 iRelaunch podcast. We have released almost 300 episodes featuring interviews with relaunchers who successfully returned to work in all different ways, fields, and after varying lengths of time and reasons for their career breaks. We also interview employers and experts.

We have a special mini-series on the “prolonged job search” that has been especially meaningful to our community. Check it out!

Our whole team at iRelaunch wishes you only the best in your job search and relaunch and hope these steps will provide a foundation for your success. We are rooting for you!

iRelaunch is the pioneering leader in the career reentry field, bringing thousands of mid-career professionals, “relaunchers,” back into the workforce after extended leave together with employers interested in hiring them since 2007. Bank of America recognizes the value of relaunchers and partners with iRelaunch as a sponsor of their flagship event, the iRelaunch Return to Work Conference. The Conference is held twice a year and is the largest and longest running career reentry event in the United States.

Don't relaunch alone!

Join our growing relauncher communities on Facebook and LinkedIn. For more great guidance on your relaunch and updates on when return to work programs are accepting applications, events for relaunchers and more, be sure to sign up for our Return to Work Report and follow us on social media to stay informed!

Icon community