Returning to the workforce

Going back to work after a break for whatever reason can be as exciting as it can be nerve-wracking and downright daunting.

For some, re-entering the paid workforce can be as simple as going back to your old job after, for instance, maternity leave or a sabbatical. For others who have spent years raising a family, or been sick, injured or unemployed for any number of reasons, it’s possibly a case of gathering all your confidence and pouring it into the job application and interview process.

Here are some tips if you’re heading back to work after time away.

Where to start?

  • Update your CV. This is a great place to start. Try to see your absence from the workforce as a positive by considering the life skills that you’ve gained. What parent can’t claim to be an expert at multi-tasking, planning, forward-thinking, adapting and flexible thinking? Receiving treatment for an injury, handling a sickness or living with extended unemployment may have honed your communication skills, innovative and creative thinking and determination.
  • Find a mentor to help and encourage you. This could be through an official channel, such as a career consultant, or just someone you know who has been in a similar situation to yours.
  • Set goals. Include not only your own long and short-term career aspirations, but also goals that reflect your own situation such as balancing work with family or combining work with rehabilitation after an injury.
  • Decide what you can manage in your circumstances, what values you hold (such as family and childcare) and how work fits into the overall picture.
  • Establish, or re-establish, your networks. Attend professional gatherings, conferences, meetings and other opportunities to remind other people of who you are, and also to immerse yourself into the work environment.

Life changes vs work

If you’ve been off work due to a major life event, like parental leave or as the result of injury or sickness, then it’s likely that your personal circumstances are quite different to what they were before. Being realistic and catering to these is key to successfully juggling life with work.

Some options are:

  • Go part-time. If full-time work is too much, make it a priority to find a role with less hours. This could mean turning your old role into a job-share situation or applying for a different job altogether that offers part-time hours.
  • Flexibility. Supported by technology, working from home or doing flexible hours, so you’re not tied to the traditional 9-5, is an increasingly available option to employees. Talk to your potential employer about how you could make this work.
  • Change company or even career. The job you once did, or the values of the company you worked for before taking leave, may not suit your life anymore. Making these sweeping changes could take some time and effort but is worthwhile if it means finding a job that you can sustain in the long term.
  • Consider a gradual re-entry to the workplace. For example casual shifts, short-term contracts or minimal weekly hours to discover what works best around your other commitments such as children, rehabilitation or other treatment, or just to get used to it all again.
  • Ask for a trial period. That way, if the job doesn’t gel with your circumstances, you can leave without needing to break a contract.

Get with the times
Since you went away things have probably changed, and you may need to do a bit of updating of knowledge and skills. Don’t panic, you don’t have to run back to uni. Instead, get up-to-speed online by:

  • reading and watching online lectures, seminars and speeches
  • catching up on all the news and developments in your industry by reading articles and papers
  • doing an online course
  • asking someone in your industry to mentor you, let you shadow them, or to give you a heads-up on what’s been going on over a coffee or two
  • researching current skill requirements and then upskilling, such as doing a computer course to ensure you’re up with the latest software in your field
  • starting with a volunteer role to gain confidence and up-to-date skills. This has the advantage of not tying you to a role if you can’t handle it.

Embarking on the search
Having established what you can and can’t do as an employee, it’s time to reel in your next job.

In addition to searching and applying for jobs online, you may also want to:

  • create a comprehensive digital profile so employers can find you – start by creating a Job Profile
  • network, both in person and online including professional forums and social media platforms
  • email contacts or past employers and explain that you’re ready to re-enter the workforce
  • sign up to recruitment agencies – they can also offer handy advice and guidance.