career

8 Job Search Strategies for Returning to Work After An Extended Gap

iStockphoto.com |  Dilen_ua

iStockphoto.com | Dilen_ua

Life happens. And this often means taking several years out of the workforce at the prime of our career to have and raise children, care for infirm relatives, or take care of other personal matters. Returning to work after a gap in employment is difficult, and there are hurdles to overcome. These include unfortunate perceptions by employers that your skills may be rusty or out-of-date.

The good news is that many professionals – including those who have been out of the work force for a significant period of time – rejoin the professional working world every day. While you can’t just walk into your old office, flip the light switch on, and pick up where you left off, by anticipating the most common obstacles and objections you can facilitate your way back into the workforce.

Tip #1: Don’t make excuses for the time spent outside the work force. Perhaps you were the stay-at-home parent and were responsible for home schooling the kids. Or your parents needed to move in with you and you needed some time to get them settled. Own the situation, and don’t make apologies. In an interview, explain briefly how you spent your time, then move on to how you can help an employer achieve their best.

Tip #2: Perform a clear assessment of what you want to do and where you want to go. The transition will likely be smoother if you intend to go back into the same line of work as you were performing before. Making a career switch to a new discipline is, in itself, tricky and risky, and doing so after being out of the work force can be even more so and may involve finding an entry-level role to do so.

Tip #3: Update Your Resume, and Fill the Gap. If you left your profession to be a full-time parent, account for your time with the job title of “Full Time Parent” – no need to elaborate further. Also, you may be surprised how many activities you’ve been performing that are considered work, and you should detail these on your resume. Examples include volunteering on your child’s PTA, holding a board-level role with a nonprofit, an officer role on your homeowner’s association, service as coaching for your kid’s team, or running a side business to generate extra income. These all demonstrate professional and leadership skills.

Tip #4: Modernize Your Resume. Styles change with time, and resumes are no exception. Modernizing your resume can mean everything from the font to formatting, structure, and tone. In the recruitment world, the most recent trend is toward punch, bold accomplishments-driven resumes that feature your accomplishments in short, easy-to-scan bullet points. You’ll want to ensure that your resume meets the current expectations of recruiters and hiring managers. Do your research, and make sure that it’s as “Applicant Tracking System” friendly as possible – learn more here.

Tip #5: Modernize your Skill Set. There are many low-cost resources that can help you get up to speed on the current technical skills and software of your trade. Take advantage of free or cheap online resources such as LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, edX. And don’t forget about your alma mater – many colleges offer low-cost or free courses to their alumni. It also never hurts to modernize your skills in Microsoft Office – Word, Excel, and PowerPoint; it’s still a global standard.

Tip #6: Research, Network, Repeat. How do you learn what is in demand in the current job market, or what new skills will help you make the leap back in the workforce? Job postings use a secret language that, when deciphered, reveal the type of individuals and skill sets employers desire most. Spend time browsing the job boards to see what tools and skills are sought by employers. Call on people in your professional network to get their perspective about new trends in your field, or to learn about potential job openings or other professional career opportunities. For the most part, people are happy to help.

Tip #7: Calibrate your Salary Expectations. When are interviewing, it’s important to know the current average compensation range for your geographic area in your chosen discipline – salary site Paysa.com is an outstanding tool for this. Prepare yourself for employers who may ask you to take a step back in your career relative to where you were before you left the workforce. When assessing offers, only you can decide what is right for you.

Tip #8: Invest in a modern wardrobe. Although that suit from 2004 may still fit, it’s recommended that you get professional attire in line with current trends. It’ll subtly reinforce to employers that you’re current with today’s business environment. And don’t forget a new pair of “interview only” shoes.

Bonus Tip: Many companies embrace the idea of seeking those who have been absent from the workforce in the form of “Returnships.” A relatively new concept, these are structured like a traditional internship, in which you relearn the business while working toward a full-time role. A recent search on job board Indeed turned up more than 100 Returnship job listings.

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, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.

How Do I Choose Between Two Job Offers?

iStockphoto.com |  SIphotography

iStockphoto.com | SIphotography

You’ve slogged through a competitive interview process at multiple companies and you’re ready for the job offers to start rolling in. Even better, you’ve been told you’re a finalist with two employers. Company A (we’ll call them Beam Me Up, Inc.) is a start-up developing the first teleportation machine, while Company B (We Make Flying Cars, Inc.) makes the most popular flying cars in the world. Great choices, right? It’s a great situation to have – how should you handle the multiple companies vying for your talents, and how do you decide which is the right for you? 

Consider the following scenarios: 

Scenario 1 – You receive an offer from the Beam Me Up, Inc., which is clearly your first choice. Many people use a situation like this to see if they can wrangle a better deal by pitting the two offers against each other. Think carefully before engaging this approach – the outcome of such negotiations can be unpredictable and might even work against you if it feeds a perception that you’re trying to incite a bidding war. If the offer comes up short of your expectations, you’re certainly well within your rights to try to sweeten the deal, and taking a collaborative approach with the person who extended the offer (something like, “I’d love to see if we can get to yes, I’d love to work with you!”) can help. If, on the other hand, the offer fell squarely within your expectations, it could very well be in your best interest to accept the offer outright and end your interviews with We Make Flying Cars, Inc. Start off on a positive note.

Scenario 2 – You receive an offer from We Make Flying Cars, Inc. (your second choice). But you really, REALLY want an offer from Beam Me Up, Inc. (your clear first choice). This is a delicate dance. You don’t want to settle too early on a company that, while perhaps great in its own right, is still your runner-up. Here are some steps you can take to move the process along.

Step 1: Align your expectations with We Make Flying Cars, Inc. who extended the job offer, to see if you can buy some additional time. You need to this in as collaborative and professional a manner as possible; keep it simple, thankful, and reasonable. Reach out to Human Resources and say, “Thank you very much for your offer. I do have some other factors to consider. May I have a little extra time to talk to my family and make a decision?” Then gauge the situation carefully. They may or may not be willing to extend your deadline, so proceed accordingly. Missing a hard deadline could result in a withdrawn offer.

Step 2: Reach out to the Human Resources department of Beam Me Up, Inc. to see if you can give the process a nudge. Be direct and honest. For example, “I just wanted to let you know that I received an offer from another company, but Beam Me Up is still my first choice. I believe the work you’re doing is more challenging and rewarding, and that I am an ideal cultural fit. Were the company to make an offer in the range we discussed, I would happily accept it. I look forward to hearing from you, and thank you!” The wheels of corporate bureaucracy move slowly, but a call like this can provide the essential momentum.

 

3. You receive simultaneous job offers from both companies and you have no clear preference. Make no mistake, receiving two competing offers puts you in an advantageous bargaining position and certainly provides a nice ego boost. You are indeed in a prime position to lure the two employers into a bidding war.

That said, rather than risk your good fortune and potentially jeopardize your relationship with each employer by trying to sweeten the pot, it may be better to compare each offer on its own merit and make a decision accordingly. Consider the following factors:

 

  • The Work Itself. Which role will be the most rewarding, and will help you achieve your long-term career goals? Don’t just look at the job title, since these may mean different things at different companies. Focus on the specifics of the job description, and the specific work experience and skills you will gain. We devote most of our waking hours to work – maximize the ROI on your precious time with a fulfilling career.

  • Total Compensation. The salary figure presented by an employer is almost always the primary consideration, but compensation is much, much more than just salary. Total compensation can include medical insurance, paid time off, bonuses, 401k matches, employee discounts, car allowances, and other benefits. Run the numbers – a job that pays a high base salary but makes you pay for the bulk of your medical expenses out-of-pocket or gives you minimal vacation time may be a bad deal in disguise.

  • Company Culture. Where are you going to going to feel good heading to work every day? Which employer shares your professional values? Even if all other factors of their offers are equal, company cultures and work environments – even in the same industry – can dramatically different. And don’t forget to factor in work/life balance. Get as much information as possible.

 

Once you’ve worked through the details and compared the offers, proceed carefully. Beam Me Up, Inc. and We Make Flying Cars, Inc. both believe you are lucky to get an offer from them. If you try to negotiate with the companies and come across as demanding, unreasonable, or ungrateful, or if you appear to be fostering a competition, an employer may believe their offer was a mistake and consider withdrawing it – especially if they feel like they are being played off against each other. Have your salary market data ready (pay a visit to compensation site paysa.com), do your homework, and be reasonable in your request. If you’re already being offered a compensation package above the market average, requests for more may not be well received; the converse is also true, where if you do your homework and discover you’re being offered below market average, you may have room to negotiate and improve your standing. But it’s still a precarious situation.

If Beam Me Up offers you $5,000 less than We Make Flying Cars, and you ask Beam Me Up to match their offer, you must be prepared to accept the revised offer if they meet your request. A back-and-forth between yourself and both companies will only engender ill will and may result in no offers to choose from. Keep in mind that how you handle the negotiation will be a reflection of your integrity.

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, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.

Do I Need to Go Back to College to Change Careers?

iStockphoto.com |  monkeybusinessimages

iStockphoto.com | monkeybusinessimages

You are well into your career. You’ve made all the right moves, you have a track record of success, salary increases, and promotions behind you, and yet you’re feeling bored and unfulfilled. What can you do to spread your wings and pivot into a new career path?

The most traditional historically has been to return to college to earn an advanced degree, or to study another discipline. In the economy of the past, this was a no-brainer, but is it the best approach today? Going back to college to earn a graduate degree or some other diploma can be an expensive, time intensive endeavor, and your return on your investment is far from guaranteed – even if your next diploma is from an elite and prestigious college or university. It’s important to weigh your options carefully. Here are some factors to consider:

Does the new field you are choosing require a specialized type of education?

Some jobs require specific advanced training and education. For example, you can’t just apply for a job as a nurse without a nursing degree, or as a lawyer without a law degree. But for those who have the time, resources, and aptitude to pursue such a specialized education, it’s entirely attainable to make such a change.

 

Do you want to jump start your career?

Presuming you like your line of work, if you want to jump start your current career, going back to college to elevate your position in your chosen field may be the best option. An advanced degree may open your world to new opportunities that would not otherwise be available, regardless of your talents and accomplishments. For example, many Fortune 500 companies have management training programs that are open only to newly-minted MBAs from top programs. Many careers have built in career progression ladders and at some employers your distance to the top may depend on your level of formal education, with the advanced degree serving as a gateway to promotion. And don’t underestimate the positive momentum an alumni network at a highly-ranked university can provide your career.

 

Do you need to reset your career?

If you’re not satisfied with your chosen profession, career advancement isn’t going to satisfy you. It’ll make you simultaneously wealthier and more miserable. Many individuals take a break from the workforce to find a new passion. For example, I’ve seen professionals of all disciplines (nursing, government, finance, you name it) go back to get an MBA and land new careers as brand marketers, management consultants, investment bankers, and other fields. That kind of “hard reset” can help you shift gears into a totally new career path with no penalty and, often a jump in pay. Which brings us to…

 

Can you afford to take the time and expense to go back to school?

If money is no obstacle and you can pay for higher education without taking out loans or making other major sacrifices, then your decision-making process will focus largely on the advantages another degree may bring to your career. But few people have such a luxury.

And yet, sometimes the risk and expense may be worth it. We are well acquainted with an individual who, in his early 40s, newly married, and with a baby on the way, was impacted by the Great Recession. He had a bachelor’s degree, and he suddenly found himself unemployed and competing unsuccessfully with applicants for jobs that didn’t require any sort of college diploma. After much deliberation, he and his wife agreed that he would return to college to get a masters degree while serving as the stay-at-home parent. He selected and was accepted to a local, elite university considered to be one of the best in the world for his discipline, but its marquee value would not come cheap. After three years of aggressive cost management, he earned his master’s degree and parlayed his new credentials into a full-time job with far more responsibility and compensation than he had ever had in his past. That said, he still has $40,000 in outstanding student loans to this day, and he needs at least one more promotion or a position with a higher salary to manage those financial obligations.

 

Are there good alternatives that won’t empty your wallet or consume years of your life?

Taking on continuing education that can positively impact your career doesn’t necessarily require returning to college. There may be well-regarded training or certification programs that will help you get where you want to go. You can become a computer programmer – fast – by signing up for programmer boot camps, Launch Code, or other programmers. Individuals with a passion for project management or business analysis can boost their qualifications with a certification from the

Project Management Institute (PMI). And functional subject matter experts in ERP systems such as JD Edwards, or customer relationship management (CRM) systems like Salesforce, can earn advanced certifications that can help transition into customer support or systems management roles. Certifications are often much more expedient and considerably less expensive than returning to college.

 

Are there development opportunities within your existing company?

Lastly, there may be new opportunities right in front of you. Many companies believe that investing in their employees improves their long-term success, and may offer internal training, continuing education, and outside certifications that will help reposition you for various roles within the organization – often in areas or disciplines you hadn’t considered. And work with your manager to see if there are opportunities to evolve your current job to include new responsibilities or participation strategic projects. These, quite often, open new doors while providing enrichment without the pain of having to change employers.

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, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.