People leave the work force for many reasons, such as having children, performing military service, taking care of ill relatives, or to return to school on a full-time basis. Whatever the reason, when someone decides to return to the work force after an extended period – often measured in years – he or she will encounter additional obstacles unique to those with gaps in their work history [8 Job Search Strategies for Returning to Work After An Extended Gap].
If you were a Director four years ago, you may believe you should automatically return to the same level, or higher, and under certain circumstances, like earning an advanced degree, that may be an achievable goal. In other cases, however, it’s important to prepare for the possibility a return will be at a lower level and/or lower compensation.
Selling yourself and your value as a return presents its own set of challenges. For better or worse, it’s important for job seekers to understand the insider perspective of recruiters and hiring managers.
There’s the perception that you are “out of the loop”, and recruiters/hiring managers will ask, “Is this person’s skill set aligned with current standards and practices?”
It’s essential to consider the reality of the situation. Time off the job can translate into missed skills, and since the starting point is the perception that you are “behind” other candidates, employers will likely focus more on your current skill set and less on your past work experience and accomplishments. For example, if every job is “Salesforce experience preferred” and you don’t have any experience in that software, no amount of impressive metrics on your resume will lift you over that hurdle. Your resume probably won’t make it past the Applicant Tracking System.
And make no mistake – as the returner, your leverage can be weaker than someone who is and has been gainfully employed. After all, an employer may not feel compelled to shower a candidate with money to attract them if their alternative is continued unemployment. Candidates who have been laid off face this same challenge, and some companies may exploit that to their advantage.
As you develop a strategy to return to the workforce, how can you cancel out negative perceptions and rise to the top of a company’s list of candidates? Here are some important factors to consider.
How long have you been out of the work force? If it’s been several years, rapid changes may have occurred. Laws change. Regulations change. Technologies change. Do the research. Study the job postings. Become an expert again.
Where are your technical skills today? You’ve done your research and mapped the current landscape. Now it’s a simple game of compare and contrast. Determine if, and in what areas, you have skill gaps and develop a plan to resolve them.
Ego. Your ego. Letting go of your past life, or salary, may not be easy, but your number one priority should be to position yourself to get back in the work force. By no means should you work for free, but understand that returning where you were or ahead of where you were when you left the job market may or may not be a feasible option. Focus on the future.
As you tackle the search as a returner, consider the following:
Remember that you have value. It is easy to fall into the trap of self-depreciation, and it will be on your face and in your voice during the interview process. Keep in mind that you would not even be in the game if you didn’t have desirable professional and personal qualities. Be your biggest fan!
Understand where you can realistically re-enter the work force. Self-assessments are an essential tool and effective weapon. Do your homework! If you have clarity on this point, you will be more effective targeting the jobs you want the most. Also, you should note that one of your best tools is Paysa.com, a compensation site that can help you understand the salary ranges for the roles you’re looking at.
Always be training. This mantra is critical to both the unemployed and employed alike. Continuing your professional development – whether working or not – is one of the best ways to bolster a lateral, or even upward, move back into the work force.
Demonstrate positivity. Show your best and most professional self. Positivity is a “soft skill” that can make instant inroads with employers who believe you will be a good co-worker and collaborative team member.
Your next job may not be your last. End up in a lousy job that underpays you? Consider it a springboard to a better opportunity. It’s not going to take long for you to rebuild your toolbox and enhance your marketability. When the time is right, move on to a company that will pay you what you’re worth.
Philip Roufail contributed to this article.
Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services. You can email Scott Singer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.