How to re-enter the workforce after a long absence

Useful Advice for those re-entering the workforce after a long absence

Returning to the world of work after a long absence can be a very daunting prospect. Like any major life change it is surrounded by uncertainty, excitement, and often, a number of concerns. It can be hard to know where to start or what to do, here’s our advice:

Package up your skills and experience

Being out of the workforce for a while can damage your confidence and make you doubt that you have anything to contribute. It can be really useful to remind yourself of all the things you can offer by brainstorming your knowledge, skills and experience. Some of these will be from your previous workplace experience, but there will be other transferrable skills that you have acquired whilst out of the workforce. For example, parents who have taken time out to look after young children often develop greater empathy and better negotiation skills. Those who have been unwell may have enhanced their patience and sense of perspective.

A useful way of conducting this exercise is to get a number of job descriptions/person specifications or job adverts that appeal to you, and think about how your experience meets the requirements of the role. Think creatively and broadly here, and don’t under-sell the things that you find easy – others may well find them very difficult!

Take time to learn what’s changed

Inevitably, whilst you have been out of the workforce things will have changed to some extent – whether that is new discoveries, different technologies, or changes in legislation – they all have an impact on what happens at work. It is important to get yourself up to speed, and many employers will welcome proactive employees who can demonstrate that they have taken the time to update the skills.

The best way to learn what’s changed and is now considered current or best practice is to talk to others who are currently employed in a similar field to the one you hope to enter. Ask them about their work and what the current ‘hot topics’ or controversies are. Ask them what they would recommend you read, watch or do.

It may be that you need to take some kind of formal training to update your knowledge or skills, and this is often a worthwhile investment. Check out online resources like www.coursera.com or www.edx.com to access world-standard education from your own home.

Practice, practice, practice

If it has been a while since you were last in the job market, then you might be out of shape. As with any important skill practicing can really enhance your performance. Consider rehearsing interview answers, or even asking someone to give you a mock interview and feedback can be really valuable. Make sure that you are comfortable talking about your time out of the workforce, why you took this time out, and what experiences you had whilst you were not in work that have helped you develop as a person. Other common questions you might encounter are things like:

  • What do you think are likely to be the biggest challenges in returning to the workplace?
  • Why have you decided to look for a job now?
  • What have you done to prepare for this interview?

Many jobs now include psychometric or ability tests as part of their recruitment and selection process. If you have never completed one in the past, or you haven’t done one recently, it can be useful to refresh your skills. This page contain a wealth of useful information and practice questions that can really improve your performance.

Build your relationships

Your relationships with others can be critical in identifying, securing and succeeding in a new role. Friends and acquaintances can suggest opportunities, introduce you to others, and help you manage the transition into work. This means that it is really important to have a strong supportive network around you. You may also want to proactively increase your network: attending networking events or learning to use LinkedIn can be useful ways of doing so. Always remember the golden rule of networking: add value before asking for anything.

Once in a new role you are likely to need some extra support for a period of time. Establishing strong relationships with your manager and peers will help with this. Practice listening carefully to what others tell you, being respectful towards those who are currently in role (even if they are young and inexperienced) and saying if you don’t understand something.

Go easy on yourself

Returning to the workplace after a long absence can be stressful and scary. It can also be exciting and exhilarating. Go easy on yourself and give yourself time to adjust; you’re going through a big change. It can be helpful to try not to take on any big changes in your personal life at the same time so that you can focus on successfully returning to work. Get lots of rest and ensure that you’re refueling yourself properly and managing your energy.

Sometimes it can be helpful to stagger your return to work to help you manage the change. Perhaps consider getting a part-time job to start with, or having a phased introduction to the workplace. Many organisations are very supportive of this kind of arrangement and there’s no harm in asking. A good way of getting yourself ready for work is to do some volunteering. This will give you practice at being in a working environment, working with others and following instructions – all key workplace skills but in an environment with lower stakes.

Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to find the right opportunity; this is just as common an experience for people currently in work. Hang on in there, trust in yourself, and persevere. Eventually the right opening will present itself.


Author Bio: Ed Mellett is an entrepreneur, careers professional and founder of practicereasoningtests.com. He is known for co-founding and launching the leading student and graduate careers website wikijob.co.uk. Now in its 11th year, wikijob attracts over 400,000 unique users per month and is a must-visit resource for students considering their careers post-university. In 2011 he founded wikifestivals.com, a wiki resource and global community for festival fanatics. Ed’s other interests include AI, neuroscience and psychology.

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