Returning to work after a career break for any reason can be frustrating and overwhelming.
In life’s journey of twists and turns we may find ourselves straying off the well-worn path to discover new worlds, pursue personal development, or care for significant others away from the workplace. The choice to step away from your profession was necessary, whether you did it to pursue a passion project, explore the world, or help a loved one.
You may wonder how to rapidly reintegrate and return to the professional world.
In this post, CDI spoke with top job search experts to design a roadmap of best practices, insightful advice, and inspiring tactics to help you transition from your sabbatical to your job and give you the confidence and drive you need to start this new chapter.
We asked those pros:
What is one piece of advice you would provide to someone returning to work after a 10-year career break?
We received fabulous advice from 18 career pros. With the nature of the question, even though each answer was insightful, there was too much overlap to include them all here.
While we deeply value each contributor, we’re only highlighting a select few below to avoid repetition.
“Create a “job” on your resume to explain your activities during the timeframe. I recently worked with a client who spent the last seven years caring for his father. We crafted a job entitled “Personal Business Manager & Caregiver.” His bullet points covered handling his aging parent’s legal, financial, and business interests, coordinating medical care, and negotiating with insurers. ”
– Carol Adams, Ideal Resumes LLC
“Returning to work after a 10-year break can be a daunting process, but it’s essential to remember that your experience and skills don’t have an expiration date. Here are some valuable tips that can help:
- Leverage Your Break, Don’t Hide It: Instead of feeling the need to apologize or hide the career break, own it. Your time away from formal employment likely equipped you with new skills or perspectives. Whether you were raising children, caring for a loved one, traveling, or pursuing a personal project, these experiences have shaped you and can potentially add value to your work.
- Please Don’t Settle for Entry-Level: Often, returning professionals assume they’ll have to start from the bottom rung. Contrarily, remember that your previous professional experiences, transferable skills, and life experiences can also make you suitable for mid-level roles.
• Network With Purpose: It’s often advised to network extensively when re-entering the job market. While networking is undoubtedly beneficial, prioritize quality connections over quantity. Engage with people who value your experiences and see the potential in your unique career path.
- Update and Upskill Wisely: While updating your skills is crucial, you don’t need to learn every latest tool or technology. Identify the core skills relevant to your target role. Focus on those to avoid feeling overwhelmed and remain efficient in your preparation.
- Consider Career Coaching: Though many might see this as a luxury or unnecessary cost, investing in a career coach after a long break can be beneficial. They can provide personalized strategies, help identify transferable skills, and boost your confidence to re-enter the job market.
Entering the workforce after a long break can present challenges, but it also offers exciting opportunities for growth and rediscovery. Embrace your unique path and trust in your capabilities.”
– Yuvika Iyer, Careerlinko
“First, consider what you’ve learned during your work hiatus. Take an inventory of your skills and contributions. If you’ve volunteered for an organization, consider how you contributed value. For example, I worked with a client who had built a 12-year “career” as a volunteer while she was the principal caregiver for her children. She started as an admin and rose to president of this large organization. In her resume, we noted her leadership initiatives, the challenges, her specific roles, and their impact. I recall her landing a “paid” management role with a nonprofit.”
– Doug Morrison, Career Power Resume
“Updating your skills and knowledge is essential when returning to work after a 10-year break. Take the opportunity to evaluate the latest trends and advancements in your industry. Consider enrolling in courses, attending workshops, or obtaining certifications to bring your skills up to date and stay current. Additionally, network and reconnect with professionals in your field. Reach out to former colleagues and industry contacts, join online communities, and rebuild connections. It may take time to regain your professional momentum and establish yourself, but it will happen.”
– Karine Touloumjian, Distinct Resume
“Don’t be embarrassed or fearful about having a career break. I highlight breaks on resumes to show the new skills my clients gained during that time, particularly if those skills are relevant to the job they are applying for. If your break is irrelevant to the job you are applying for or you didn’t gain relevant skills, then a simple “Career Break” with the dates listed is sufficient. If you don’t add the career break-in, you are allowing recruiters and hiring managers to make up stories about you, and if you want to stand out for the right reasons, it’s not this. It is always best to address objections in your job applications, including a career break, so you don’t confuse the reader about what was meant to be there. Giving them a complete picture is good enough for them to move on to the stuff that will help them move their organization forward with you in it!”
– Athena Ali, The Get Noticed Coach
“No matter the reason for taking your hiatus, you most likely completed activities reflecting your core competencies. It would be helpful to talk to someone to determine how to craft aspects of your life over the past ten years that show growth in knowledge and/or experience that highlight your competencies and make you attractive to a hiring manager. If you have taken classes or independent study during that time, that is great to highlight on your resume, but it’s better to show how you put that course material into practice, even if it wasn’t in a workplace setting.”
– Troy Heiner, TFH Transformations LLC
“It’s essential to approach this transition with patience and persistence, as landing a job after a career break may take some time. Stay positive, find opportunities or training to modernize your skills, and leverage your existing network. With the right mindset, preparation, and a focus on self-improvement, you can successfully reintegrate into the workforce and thrive in your new professional endeavors.”
– Marie Lane, AspirationsResume.com
“I advise professionals to invest in a career coach who can help them deep-dive, review, and analyze what they have done (and the skills they have used/acquired) during that time. This strategy will bring up valuable and usable points for inclusion in their resume.”
– Anne Galloway, power-to-change – your path to career success
“I would suggest they go to onetonline.org to search for employment opportunities with their newly determined career target name.”
– Anita Radosevich, Career Ladders Inc.
“Focus on updating skills relevant to the roles you are now targeting. You can do this through formal courses, certifications, and qualifications, networking with others in the sector you plan to enter, attending industry events and training, gaining insight into recent industry changes, and elevating your skills for your targeted roles. After a ten-year career break, it will be important to highlight your relevant and up-to-date skills for the roles you are applying for. Perhaps you have done a lot of voluntary work during this time, so don’t forget to include any relevant experience, skills, and achievements you might have built through this work, too, in your applications.”
– Miriam O’Connor, Successful Resumes NZ
“When addressing gaps, make some crucial adjustments on your resume to let you cover the gap and have it be perceived professionally. Your employment experience section can be changed to professional experience, experience or relevant experience to cover unpaid/non-jobs. (I even use this with no grads so we can include hands-on projects completed as students in the experience section).
Then, be sure to cross the bridge from what you were doing to how it will remove red flags and resonate best with prospective employers. For instance, a stay-at-home parent wouldn’t cover that time period with the title, Stay at Home Parent. Instead, they would look for anything they did in that time that might be a better focus even if the majority was being a stay at home parent.
Did you self-study in your industry extensively or take courses/earn certifications? Even if this was done just before going back to work it could become the focus. The title might become Self-Study Sabbatical.
Did you travel extensively and learn much of other cultures? Cultural Immersion Sabbatical.
Were you so deeply emmeshed with childcare or parent care that at the time of writing your resume you have nothing else to add? Then make it Home Care to Family Member and include the dates and no details.
Did you fundraise for your child’s school? Lead a volunteer committee?
You get the idea! Create a title that signifies the most relevant, value-added element for your current career path and use it.
If there is nothing of relevance, then don’t list details but ofte, with digging, you can find relevant content.
For instance, a former pharmaceutical sales person may have ended up performing fundraising for the child’s school. There could be all kinds of relevant details about identifying corporate sponosrships, speaking with key decision makers, influencing and creating marketing, top recruitment levels, etc. Just be sure to cross the bridge with language so that, “Performed fundraising for school district” can be made as relevant as possible:
“Leveraged extensive sales expertise to create a marketing plan that identified corporate decision makers and funding sources. Successfully brought in 50 new donors and exceeded prior fundraising efforts by 300% during the 3-year drive.”
Always, always, always keep the prospective employer in mind and how you can reduce red flags and make it relevant to them.”
– Laura DeCarlo, President @ Career Directors International
What this means for you in overcoming a career break:
As you consider your options for returning to the workforce after a career break, remember that your path is a monument to your fortitude, adaptability, and the distinctive value you offer. The road ahead offers great opportunities for development, education, and fresh beginnings.
Your sabbatical has given you a multitude of experiences that distinguish you, including the abilities you’ve developed, the viewpoints you’ve acquired, and the newfound vigor you now exude. Accept this new chapter with optimism, bravery, and the unshakeable conviction that you are already on the path to obtaining your dream career.
Need help taking this important step?
CDI is a global professional association of the industry’s top resume writers, career coaches and other career professionals. Our robust directory will let you search for the perfect practitioner to make your successful transition. Each of the participating professionals featured in this post can be reached via their links or by searching the directory.
Special thanks to Special thanks to Bridget Batson of Houston Outplacement for curating these tips.