iRelaunch Top Strategies for Job Seekers to Get Hired After a Career Break
The prolonged job search can be brutal. Sending out 200 resumes with zero results. Multiple rejections, or just as bad….radio silence. In the meantime, discouraging economic news about employers getting more cautious about hiring and a decline in labor demand can be demoralizing. Negative thought loops start to percolate.
Those of us at iRelaunch who returned or are returning after multi-year career breaks get it. We even have a special podcast mini-series on “Managing Through a Prolonged Job Search,” where we get into the weeds with our guests about how they pushed past their lowest points and ultimately got hired. Feel free to access our entire 3,2,1 iRelaunch podcast series featuring career reentry strategies, advice and success stories. We created it with you in mind and are adding to it regularly.
Now is a good time to take a step back and reset. Start with these top strategies to redirect your job search, especially after coming off of extended time out of the workforce. And don’t go it alone. Join a community of fellow jobseekers for support, advice, a sounding board, insights and encouragement.
#1 Level set by filtering out the macro “state of the economy,” and spend less time with people who feed you negative comments about your prospects. Instead, hang out with non-judgmental friends and family who will support you through the toughest moments and give you that pep talk when you need it most. You only need one right opportunity, regardless of the economic outlook. Hearing either “the economy is so bad that no one is getting hired right now” or “unemployment is at record lows- how come everyone else has managed to find a job and you haven’t?” is not relevant to you or your prospects.
#2 Get specific! And figure out exactly what you want to do. This all-important step drives every other part of your relaunch. Don’t skimp on the time required to get specific on exactly what you want to do, even if it means taking an interim “stop gap” job to pay the bills while you are figuring it out.
The career break can be a gift in that it is often the first time we allow ourselves to reflect on whether we were on the right career path to begin with. It is your job to determine where your interests and skills are strongest now; it’s not the employer’s job. One of the great benefits of having lived more life by the time we are on an extended career break is that we know ourselves better; we are more fully formed as people and have a keener sense of where we can add value at an employer.
Herminia Ibarra’s classic, “Working Identity,” encourages a “learn by doing” approach through volunteer opportunities, or by “shadowing” someone in a role that intrigues you. Catchafire – project-based volunteering, and Idealist and VolunteerMatch – role-based volunteering, are platforms that match professionals with volunteer opportunities.
Early in our careers, some of us landed in exactly the right place, and now we want to return to the same role we left. Others loved what we were doing before our career break, but the role is not compatible with our current life stage. And then there are those of us who fell into our original career path by chance or because we were fulfilling someone else’s expectations (our parents?). The post-career break relaunch represents the opportunity to get it right the second time around.
#3 Use ChatGPT in your job search. In 2023, no job search discussion is complete without considering how it can be enhanced by ChatGPT, although note I did not use it to write this article! If you are not using it in your job search, you are at an immediate disadvantage- it’s that good. See this iRelaunch tutorial for up-to-the-minute ideas on optimizing your resume with the right ChatGPT prompts and other strategies. And follow one of our favorite Instagram/TikTok job search experts @jerryjhlee with advice like this one on using ChatGPT to prep for interviews.
#4 Rebuilding subject matter expertise is a key step in the job search and the antidote to ageism. Becoming a subject matter expert all over again means going a level deeper, and yes, it’s hard. It’s also critical. It increases your knowledge, your confidence and your network.
Getting up to speed in your field will give you confidence and provide excellent material for conversations when talking with professional colleagues. When speaking with those knowledgeable in your field, ask what industry publications they read and what experts they follow. Once you research these experts and read these publications, you can contribute insightful comments such as: "did you see the article about x that just came out in professional journal y by expert z? What did you think?" Or "Expert c's new book was certainly controversial in my opinion!" Being an active learner is also an effective way to overcome ageism concerns -- your knowledge and enthusiasm will be what people pay attention to instead of your age.
Look at job descriptions for the roles you are interested in so you can determine if credentialing, certifications or formal coursework is required. For example, one of our relaunchers was a manufacturing engineer who was thinking about her relaunch options after an 11-year career break. She spoke to past colleagues and people in her field through professional organizations, and found out that at the time, there were a lot of manufacturing engineers around, but very few quality engineers. Quality engineers were in high demand. Looking at job descriptions for quality engineers, she discovered that every one of them required Lean or Six-Sigma certification (note Lean and Six-Sigma certification are now often combined). This meant enrolling in a Lean Certification program, including coursework, doing a Lean Mapping Study and passing an exam. It wasn’t cheap either. She had to invest in herself in order to become a viable candidate for the role.
The other benefit to updating skills using formal course work or credentialing is that you signal to a potential employer how serious you are about returning. Online learning opportunities are readily available through resources such as Coursera and edX (and they are usually free!).
#5 Script out and practice your elevator pitch out loud. An elevator pitch is a succinct way of describing your background and what you are interested in doing. There’s no getting around it – feeling confident about your elevator pitch can only happen when you’ve practiced saying it out loud – lots of times!! Practice it with a friend, tape it on your phone, or talk to a mirror.
In the face of the uncertainty that is a reality of the job search, especially after a career break, this elevator pitch and anecdote creation and practice is something totally within your control. Practice your elevator pitch and your anecdotes from prior experiences repeatedly and then you will always have them in your back pocket ready to use whenever needed. And you will feel increasingly more confident! Our Scripts & Dialogues series, where we script out what to say and what to write in a range of common job search situations, may be helpful.
#6 Get out of the house and “go public” with your job search! Whether it's Toastmasters, the organization dedicated to improving public speaking skills, university lectures featuring speakers in your area of expertise, a social event, or a professional association conference, getting out of the house is crucial for a successful relaunch. You cannot conduct your relaunch from behind your computer at home! While it’s true that researching companies and applying online can be part of a larger job search effort, meeting with people in person is essential.
At the same time, expect up front that you will need to have many conversations in order to yield the few that lead to a job opportunity. That way you will have the stamina to keep pushing forward when it feels like many of them are going nowhere.
Ease yourself in by starting with relatively low-key events (e.g. a lecture with an industry expert) where you can simply introduce yourself to the people sitting next to you, and work up to professional events which will be more demanding in terms of interacting. Go with a buddy and brag about each other when you both get introduced to someone (“Erica is just being modest. When we worked together, she was the queen of spreadsheet analysis!”). And don’t forget that the least expected connections and people can end up being the most important contacts for your job search (“the most important person in my job search turned out to be someone my friend met at a church event”). You never know.
Leverage your networks: are you in a sorority, fraternity, civic, social or parents’ organizations? Prioritize engaging with members of these groups to identify those who are relaunching careers and those who are working. Tell everyone you know about your interest in returning to work and be specific about what you are looking for.
Yes, it can feel uncomfortable to “go on record” with your job search, because you are worried about what people will think if it takes “forever” to get hired. This is where filtering out negativity and your non-judgmental friends and family come in. Because going on record is the way more people keep you and your job search top of mind, and how a conversation with your mom’s friend’s cousin can lead to a job opportunity (yep, that happened).
Back to organizations: If appropriate, list these organizations on your resume and LinkedIn profile and search for members on LinkedIn. Join or follow the professional divisions of these groups on LinkedIn and other social media. Utilize the alumni career services offerings of your alma mater, including free or discounted career coaching, assessment tools, and informational interviews with fellow alumni.
Attend your reunions! This may feel counterintuitive because you have “nothing to report” in the career department to answer the inevitable “what do you do?” question, but go anyway and speak with as many former classmates as you can. If you attended an HBCU, the Fall Homecoming Events are the perfect way to re-establish relationships and grow your network. Finally, remember when you are having these conversations, it goes both ways; you can be a resource for others too!
#7 Bringing it all together to rebuild your professional confidence. Professional disconnectedness leading to a lack of confidence is a hallmark of the extended career break and can lead to a diminished sense of self. That's why confidence-building strategies are fundamental to a successful relaunch, even if you remain a “work-in-progress” while managing an active job search.
Remember: specific career goals + subject matter expertise + scripting + practice + getting out of the house = more confidence + yielding more conversations that lead to a job opportunity.
When you connect with people from your past, people with whom you worked or went to school, they remember you as you were. They have a “frozen in time” view of you and don’t know anything about your diminished sense of self. These are the people who will remind you what an asset you are. They are excited to help you reach your goals.
Use LinkedIn to locate and connect with former colleagues. Talk to them about how your field has changed while you have been on career break. Let them know you are in “information-gathering mode.” Ask them what they would recommend you read, the people you should reach out to, the courses that might help you update your resume, etc. This is a great way to re-establish relationships without coming across as “can you help me get a job” opportunistic.
#8 Consider an employer career reentry program… or create your own if none exists. Participating in an employer career reentry program can be a valuable opportunity to get transitional support while moving from career break to full workforce immersion. Minimum career break lengths required to qualify for employer career reentry programs range from 6 months to two years, depending on the employer. Do not self-select out of the application process because you are unsure if occasional or side-income producing activities will disqualify you. Apply and let the employer decide if you are eligible or not.
Most of us relaunch our careers without the support of a career reentry program. If you are interviewing at an employer without a career reentry program, suggest a short-term work arrangement – a special project, a contract role, covering a parental leave - so they can evaluate you based on an actual work sample instead of a series of interviews before making the hiring decision. This lowers any perceived risk they may attach to hiring relaunchers, or if they need a way to convince their colleagues to give you a chance. It can work for small and medium-sized businesses that do not have the infrastructure to run a career reentry program.
Finally, check out our iRelaunch resources which are curated especially for you. From our entire team at iRelaunch, we wish you all the best in your job search. We are rooting for your success.