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Episode 7: What Can I Do During My Career Break To Maximize My Relaunch Success? with Arjan Eenkema van Dijk

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk smiles in her headshot

Episode Description

We are on career breaks for a reason - usually child care, eldercare or another reason of equal importance. However, as we prepare to relaunch, taking a course, engaging in volunteer work, or working occasionally on a paid special project can be great resume and conversation material. In this 4th episode of 3,2,1, iRelaunch, Carol Fishman Cohen talks with career coach Arjan Eenkema van Dijk about what you can do during your career break (whenever that timing is good for you) to prepare for your relaunch.

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO, and Co-Founder of iRelaunch, the industry leader in career reentry resources. In each episode of 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch we'll be speaking with guest experts in the career reentry space to help make your transition back to work smooth and successful.

Today our podcast is on "What Can I Do During my Career Break to Maximize my Relaunch Success?" Our guest today is Arjan Eenkema van Dijk. Arjan is a certified executive coach, speaker and facilitator, and an expert in leadership development, personal branding, communication, career transition, and positive intelligence. As Founder and President of Inspire Shift LLC, Arjan works both nationally and internationally with executives, leaders, business owners, and individuals to define and attain their leadership and career objectives, and is a member of the iRelaunch Boot Camp coaching team.

So one of the very frequent inquiries that we get at iRelaunch is that people are asking us what they should be doing either during their career break, or now that they're toward the end of their career break and they're thinking about relaunching more actively, what they can do to put themselves in a better position to get hired.

Should they go back to school? Should they try to get some kind of an internship-like experience? Would they volunteer? So I wanted to really get in deep and talk about that topic and I'm sure you've heard similar questions in your coaching practice.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: Absolutely Carol, and this is such a great question for a relauncher to ask, I'm a strong believer in taking a proactive approach in all areas of your life, but particularly in regard to your career. And how you position and prepare yourself to land that dream job is really an important aspect of the entire job search process. Because ultimately you will speak to the hiring manager, and I see looking for a job as a marketing proposition, and you want to convince this person that you can do the job and look great and will add great value to the company.

Where do you start? If you know the kinds of positions you're interested in, you can look this up online. You can go through either LinkedIn, or other job search platforms. And typically what is so great about a job search is that each job description gives you a list with job requirements.

And so you want to compare your qualifications to the job requirements. And the good news is you can just scroll down the list and determine, A) which skills do I have, B) which skills are missing ,and C) which skills need updating.

So let's start with the skills you have. Here, it's really important not to underestimate yourself. Oftentimes I see people minimize the experience that they have had and even if you weren't in a completely different field or position, many skills are transferable. And many people acquire wonderful skills in volunteer and leadership positions. Thoroughly consider your past work and volunteer experience to determine which skills you have.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Arjan, let me just interrupt for a second. I want to ask you a little bit more in depth about some of the comments that you're making. Because I know this also comes up frequently in our bootcamps because it's such a fundamental part of the career assessment and understanding process. So I love this idea of looking at job descriptions and seeing where your skills match up and then what you might need to do to make yourself viable again. And I just wanted to throw in one example that we had that illustrates this so vividly, we had an engineer who was looking to go back, and the person was a manufacturing engineer, ended up wanting to relaunch in quality engineering, looked at all the job descriptions and saw that every single one of them required either Lean or Six Sigma certification.

She actually had to go back to a formal Lean or Six Sigma, she actually tried both of them and ended up with the Lean certification process before she could even be viable as a candidate to apply. So that's a perfect example of seeing where there's a deficit on the certification or education side, and then having to go back to get some kind of a formal education piece. It doesn't necessarily have to be a new degree in order to update those skills.

So can we actually look at this gap filling in three different categories, first the education piece, and then maybe some kind of volunteer role and then potentially maybe some kind of a paid consulting role, even though those are really hard to get?

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk:Carol, that sounds great. Let me answer that question and let me before I do so make one more point about transferable skills, because I really feel that is such an important component in the job search process. So one of the things that I see is that relaunchers don't necessarily appreciate all the work experience and volunteer experience that they have done. And I think it's so important to understand what kind of transferable skills are embedded in that work experience.

And to do that, you sometimes have to think a little bit creatively. So for example, if you've been a fundraiser for PTSA and you have raised a substantial amount of money, chances are you have pretty good sales skills. And chances are you have really good people skills. So these are the things you want to understand when you look at your past work or volunteer experience. You want to peel away the layers and understand what skills are embedded in those.

[And then, when you start to realize what skills are missing and what skills need updating as she pointed out so well, Carol, where are the deficiencies? That's when you indeed really can say, how can I update those skills and experiences. And volunteering, augmenting your education or interning is a really great way to do that.

And I love the example you gave about the engineer, because it was very clear to her that there was a deficiency and she jumped right in, looked at the different opportunities and enrolled in an education. And what I also like about that particular example is that she could see that there were different opportunities for education and she decided which one is the most important for this particular position.

So I see this all the time with relaunchers.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes. I agree that is an excellent example. And before I ask you a little bit more about your opinion on the different types of educational opportunities a relauncher might want to take advantage of when getting prepared to actively relaunch. I just want to say to our listeners who have been on career break and have not done any volunteer work or pursued anything to advance their education or any of the other avenues that we're going to talk about right now, don't panic and feel that, " Wow ,I was on career break for a reason, for elder care, or childcare or pursuing a personal interest, not so I could then be simultaneously building my resume for returning, and is it too late for me?" I don't want people to worry about that because you can always start now. And you can follow a number of these strategies concurrently.

So for example, we're going to talk about education options in a minute with Arjan , but you could also at the same time be pursuing a volunteer experience side by side, and you can put that on your resume even though you've just started it and you're at the beginning of it. So we'll get into that a little more. But early on, I just wanted to make the comment that people who have not done anything related to their career goals during their career break so far should not panic because there are ways that you can dive in and be effective starting right now.

Arjan, can you just walk through some of the different education alternatives you've seen relaunchers take or you recommend for relaunchers and what they look like?

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: Yeah. So great question, Carol. So I think it's really important that again, you go back to those job positions. And they list a lot of the requirements and that kind of gives you some information about what kind of education you want to pursue when you see there's a gap.

So certain professions actually require updated certifications. For example, if you want to go into the real estate business, you need a real estate license, or if you want to go into banking or insurance, you may need your Series Seven. And that becomes really clear when you look at the job descriptions. In general, you may also require more proficiency in particular computer programs.

So for example, you may not be so familiar with Excel anymore. Or you need to know PowerPoint. And the good news about these programs is that you can find so many online courses or webinars to enroll in these programs and, Carol, you may see this as well. There are so many local schools or community organizations that offer updates in these computer programs.

So I also always feel that going to conferences and seminars in the field that you're interested in provides so much opportunity for learning, familiarizing yourself with the newest trends and networking. I actually think that for example, the iRelaunch big conference in New York is a great opportunity to get yourself ready and educate yourself on certain areas in the job search process.

And then as you well know, Carol, sometimes people really are thinking about, am I going to participate in a degree program? Am I going back to school to get my bachelor's or my MBA or any master's program? And I see that happen more when people do a complete career change, when they may go into the financial field and feel that they need that extra MBA, or they want to go and become an interior designer and feel that they want to have a bachelor's in interior design.

And the great news about that, is that typically when people invest in their education in a field that they really are interested in, they receive a much greater job satisfaction, again, those networking opportunities and often times actually a higher income potential as well.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Let me ask you Arjan, what your opinion is about certificate programs that might last a semester or a year that are usually on a very targeted topic.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: So I think those are fantastic. And I think it's fantastic because you are receiving additional education, but you're also boosting your confidence at the same time. And another aspect of that, Carol, is that when people do these certification programs, oftentimes it's in the area that they're interested in.

So, they are getting excited about jumping back into that field. And that is an additional component that people often underestimate, and you get in touch with other people who have that same interest, which is fantastic for networking opportunities as well.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And I might add for the signaling benefits that it has to a potential employer to put on your resume, that you're taking a certificate program in a very targeted area. It can be on fundraising and development, or landscape architecture. They're so targeted that by putting that on your resume, you are signaling to the employer that you're very interested in this particular subject matter so much so that you're taking a course in it to get completely updated.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: Yes. And I think what that also does is communicate to the employer that you are a proactive person and people like to hire people that can be part of a solution. So you're saying, I see an issue here, I'm jumping in and I'm making sure that I get the skills needed to move forward. So that's an additional benefit by doing that.

Carol Fishman Cohen:Great. Let's move on to strategic volunteering as we call it, taking volunteer roles that are in line with your career. Can you talk about what you've seen in terms of how people have used strategic volunteering or what you recommend in terms of finding strategic volunteering opportunities?

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: Yeah, I think strategic volunteering is so incredibly important I see. And I think discernment in that is a really important component. So many people, when there is a volunteer opportunity may say yes to that. But I think it's important to say, "Is this volunteer opportunity actually positioning me for the career direction that I want to go into?"

And I think the great thing about volunteering is that it is a great opportunity for both the relauncher as well as the company that this relauncher may be volunteering at. It gives the relauncher an opportunity to acquire additional skills, to learn more about an industry or an organization they're interested in, and to get to know the people in the industry that they're interested in.

And it provides the company an opportunity to get to know, or, the organization opportunity to get to know you and to work with you. And I give you that opportunity to show the organization what kind of skills you have and how you can add value to the organization. And so what a lot of people don't necessarily appreciate enough is that there's a whole hidden job market , Carol. And what I mean by that, this is openings in jobs that people may not be aware of that are being filled without these jobs being advertised. So if you volunteer for an organization and there's a job opening, oftentimes you're the one maybe landing that position and that's really a benefit to strategic volunteering.

And other options for you to get to know a company is by interning. consulting on projects or possibly working on a contract basis.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes. And we've seen a progression sometimes where a person starts as a volunteer and then they move to a paid, contract role and then they move to a permanent role. So we've seen that kind of progression that originates with the volunteer experience.

We've seen people take board positions in nonprofits on a volunteer basis and be involved in the leadership of that organization for a number of years, and then ultimately be tapped for the executive director position. We've seen that happened before as well. And we've also seen the situation where people have taken strategic volunteer roles, which belong on the resume because they're unpaid equivalents to the paid role that they're seeking , and completely relevant in the eyes of the employer.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: This is so true. And that's what I was referring to earlier with regards to the transferable skills as well. But so let me give you an example of one of my clients who was really interested in public policy and who combined all the things that you were referring to. So she became the president of the League of Women Voters, and at the same time seemed she cared deeply about education and so she enrolled at the Wagner School of Public Policy, where she met so many people, boosted her confidence, networked, really a great experience. And then ultimately she landed a position as chief of staff in a local government that meets exactly with her interests and values. So she is very happy and passionate about this position.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's a great example. Let me just throw out one other one. I'm remembering. Now this is one of our earliest examples of a relaunch success story we've had. The person was a medical social worker who had taken a very long career break, and like it was something like 17 years, like a really long one. And she started back in as a volunteer in a hospice organization, and she had been there a few months and then was asked to do a job share to a paid role to manage the hospice volunteers.

So that was a stepping stone from volunteer role to part-time job share. But what was so perfect about this position was when she was working in these hospice organizations to coordinate the volunteers, medical social workers were walking in the door every day to work with the patients there. And they were giving her job search intelligence saying where medical social workers were being hired.

So that's another great benefit of being a volunteer and then potentially having it lead to a paid role, is you're in an environment where people will give you job market intelligence.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: That's so true. And I think this is where the entire job search process can also be a very organic process where you really, if you start to get clarity in your values and your interests and you follow that direction, that's where you typically end up in a job where you really want to be. And I think that people underestimate that thinking and acting at the same time is so important, to do your thinking and get to know yourself better. And then you start to act and move in the direction of what your heart tells you to move into.

Does that make sense, Carol?

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes! Arjan, I want to just jump back to one other comment that you were making about contract consulting and do you have any examples or recommendations about how people get those roles? Because they can be pretty elusive sometimes.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: Yeah. Again, I think that I actually have a client who just did this.

And it was actually quite an interesting situation because now I like to start with clients and ask them, what does an ideal job life look like for you? It's the same thing as we do in our iRelaunch Boot Camps, envision your ideal job. And a lot of people say, are you kidding? My ideal job?

Why would I even start that it's never going to happen? And so in this particular situation, this person says, this person was out of the marketplace for about 25 years. So she said to me that same thing, why should I even go there? And then I said no, really let's move there.

And so she said, my ideal job would look like twenty hours in a marketing position, but I've been out of this field for 25 years, I'm not sure if I can do that. And so we started to get clarity about what she was really looking for. She was very interested in market research. She started to simultaneously network and connect with people.

And it's turned out that someone in her community actually was the head of marketing of a rather large well-known company. And this person was short on people and she was a mom with two kids and gave my client that opportunity to start as a contractor. And she worked for twenty hours, and we are now about a year later and she is ready to take on more. And this company is really interested in hiring her permanently. Does that answer your question Carol?

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes, that's a great example. Let me throw out one, while you were talking, it made me think of this one. This one is a lawyer who is in Southern California, I think worked in the public defender's office, had taken a five-year career break and was trying to figure out how she was going to get back in. Wasn't really sure what she was going to do. And her kid was in preschool and she started having conversations with some of the other parents there. And one of them was a law professor at a nearby law school who was teaching a clinical judicial education course, which relied significantly on case studies from actual examples of what was going on in legal cases, in public defender's offices and other active cases or, but not so much textbook related.

So they got in a conversation and this lawyer was actually trying to figure out how to move on to other roles within that law school and wanted to let go of that one piece, that clinical judicial education program and this relauncher, through that series of conversations ended up moving into that role, teaching that one course, and then ultimately over time getting more and more responsibilities there.

That is another situation that came up by having conversations just in the course of your daily life.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: Yeah. And I think that's what people misunderstand as well. I think it's a combination, you don't start out necessarily with complete clarity.

It's actually the conversations that help you get more and more clarity. So it's a bit of an organic process. And I think that's quite frankly the exciting part of the process. So it is about doing the thinking, doing the acting, adjusting the thinking, doing more acting, doing more adjusting, and then you end up where you really want to be as your example. Brilliantly illustrated.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I just want our listeners to focus in on some crucial commentary that Arjan just made about this being an organic process. And you don't have that full clarity about what your career goals are right from the get-go. It's a process, and part of that process is having conversations with people.

And you get their reactions and you test your reaction to their reactions. And that over time helps you get the clarity that ultimately allows you to then have the language to articulate exactly what you want to do. And sometimes there are just these serendipitous elements, like having that conversation with the law professor at preschool drop-off that starts a thought process that ends up in the actual relaunch.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: Yeah. And let me say something to that, Carol. So I hear often people say, especially the people that do iRelaunch Boot Camps, I was so lucky because I met this particular person. And the reality is I always think that has a lot to do with them being more aware of what they are looking for.

When you do the boot camps, it increases your mindfulness about the whole job search process, and it allows you to get more clarity, so that in a way you create your own luck. Because when you start to speak to people, you start to make connections, which if you did not invest in the thinking around that you actually would miss that opportunity. So people are actually very good at creating their own luck, if that makes sense.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Excellent point, and underlying that is a key strategy that we talk about a lot at our iRelaunch, which is get out of the house. You cannot conduct your job search by simply researching companies online and submitting resumes. That's rarely successful for the relauncher and we know so many people who come to us and say, I've submitted a hundred resumes online and nothing's happened and they're so discouraged by it. But the reality is, what makes things happen is when you get out of the house. So if you're getting out of the house to do volunteer work or take a course, or have these conversations that we're talking about, that's what ultimately allows you to get that clarity and to meet people who will then ultimately open doors for you.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: That's exactly right. Very well put, yeah, couldn't agree more.

Carol Fishman Cohen: We're going to be wrapping up in a few minutes, but I just want to touch on a few more topics just to get your opinion, Arjan . One of them is the course or the program that includes a field study or some sort of a hands-on experience as part of it.

Do you have any opinions about that one way or the other?

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: Carol, I'm a big believer in these programs because all these different options that we're discussing, give you the opportunity to engage in your area of interest, to meet people that are working in that area of interest, it boosts your confidence, you're increasing your skills and you start to also understand, is this exactly what I like to do when I'm relaunching?

So, these kinds of problems give you a lot of different benefits. So I'm a big believer in that.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Great. I am too. I've just seen so many interesting conversations result from a person saying, "I'm taking this course, but the most interesting part is the field study section. And here's the problem that we're trying to solve that we've been learning about in class, but now we're working on a real world application of it. And here's what happened." And that kind of conversation is so much more compelling to someone who's in the field or ultimately in the interview than the fact that you're coming off of a six year career break. You're enrolled in this course, which is great to talk about what you're learning, but that extra piece about how you're applying i t can be powerful, so just wanted to point that out.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: It can be powerful for two reasons, because even hearing you speak about it ,people are excited about something they have done, they showed us in an interview and the interviewer can then see that this person is really engaged. What it also does, it allows you to speak about accomplishments and results that you have attained in these kinds of opportunities. And that shows the hiring manager this person knows what they're talking about, they are complex, they are a go-getter. And all these different kinds of aspects give you a much better way of positioning yourself for hiring managers.

Carol Fishman Cohen: We totally agree. When you were talking about people coming up with their ideal job, there was one other thing I was thinking about that I wanted to run by you. So sometimes we tell people, "Who out there has the job that you would love to have, and not necessarily right now, but ultimately what your dream job is?"

And then, if you can identify that person and you can then, even if you don't know them, if you could look at their LinkedIn profile and look at what their career path looked like, it's sometimes helpful to see that they didn't just jump into that role. They had a number of steps along the way, and maybe it makes people understand, not just feel like, but understand that there are steps that you need to take where you can ultimately get there.

And sometimes looking at people's actual career histories is instructive in terms of figuring out what you need to do now to get there in the future.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: Yeah, and let me add to that, Carol, so you could hear an example of someone that is unknown to this person. But even if you go in your own sphere of influence, there may be people that have that ideal career job.

And so this is where I think informational interviews become so important because you can talk to this person, say, let's call this person Petra and say, Petra. "I was wondering if you have a half hour for me to have coffee, because I'm so interested in the field you're in, and I'm at the point of relaunching my career and I'm exploring different options. And I would love to hear a little bit more about the field, but also what I could do, what kind of extra experience I need to be able to position myself?"

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes. I totally agree and love that. Or even if you're concerned that you're going to take too much time by meeting with them in person, suggest they speak to you over the phone for 15 or 20 minutes.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: That's right. That's right.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And then the final thing I wanted to ask you before we get to our ending question that we love to ask our guests is, the idea of seeking out opportunities at small and medium-sized companies, in addition to, potentially looking at the big companies, and what you think about that kind of strategy.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk:You know, I think that is a fantastic strategy. And the reason why I'm saying that, Carol, is that a lot of times smaller companies actually really benefit from bringing in extra people who can take on additional projects, and they may not have the funds to hire someone at that time, full time. And so this is again another opportunity where you can really contribute to a company while at the same time learning tremendous skills for yourself.

So I'm a big believer in that. And smaller companies tend to be quite open to that, which is also exciting.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you. Let me just ask you one last question and it is what your favorite piece of relaunch advice is. Even if it repeats something that we already talked about in this podcast.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk: So I'm a really big believer in taking a proactive approach and that can quite frankly be anything, as you said earlier, there's people who say, "Gee, I've been out of the job search, I've been out of a job for so long. Where do I start?" And they don't know where to start and the process can sometimes be overwhelming. So for example, even signing up for an iRelaunch Boot Camp is a great start and a great proactive approach. Because Boot Camps provide a clear structure of how to work through the process.

And you will work alongside other people or in a similar position, which can be very invigorating. So I feel that when you go to a job search process, being proactive, taking those actions, getting out there, meeting people, starting to explore is just a really important component.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wonderful. Thank you Arjan for joining us today. If you're listening today, we hope you'll make sure to visit us in order to get the most important tools and resources for returning to work. And for more information about Arjan or Inspire Shift, go to, all one word,

And for more information about the iRelaunch Boot Camps, be sure to visit that's Thanks so much Arjan.

Arjan Eenkema van Dijk:Thank you, Carol.

Carol Fishman Cohen: If you have any comments or questions, please email us . And be sure to visit our

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