Wednesday 24 July 2019

Simple steps to make the return to work after a career break a little less daunting

How best to deal with the challenges a return to work may bring (stock photo)
How best to deal with the challenges a return to work may bring (stock photo)

Karin Lanigan

Returning to work following a career break, no matter how long or short, can be a daunting process.

Through the work I have done over the last 12 years in my role as Manager of the Career Development Service with Chartered Accountants Ireland, I have gained real and valuable insights into the challenges that can be faced and indeed how best to deal with them.


1) Start with the end in mind

Identify your priorities early on and be clear on what you want and what will work for you based on your personal situation. Consider what you hope to achieve from your return to work and what role, location, hours, salary etc. will suit.

Research the market to see what roles are available and to determine the skills and experience currently required by employers. The easiest way to do this is to review recruitment websites and to speak to as many people as you can to help you to obtain the market insights that you need. You can then make an informed decision about how your skills, knowledge and experience rate in the current job market and what opportunities are open to you.


2) Training/Upskilling

Now that you have a better sense of the skills in demand you can compare these to what you have to offer, establish any gaps that may exist and then determine how best to upskill.

The challenge that many returners face is not determining employer’s skills requirements, but rather it is identifying and valuing the skills and experience they themselves have to offer. Confidence is frequently eroded during a career-break and all too often I see situations where returners don’t place nearly enough value on the experience they gained before their career break or indeed during the career break itself such as voluntary work in schools, charities or sports clubs.  An essential starting point for a successful return to the workplace is to bolster your confidence by identifying, recognising and valuing the skillset you have gained throughout your entire lifetime.  It absolutely has a value including the skills that you developed and used outside of the workplace. Write out a list of your personal and career achievements and then consider the skills you had to possess to achieve what you did. This will help you to clarify your core skills and what you can bring to your next role.

Once you have identified any skills gaps you can specifically select the courses that will help you to bridge the gap. There are a wide range of courses available in the market including those specifically tailored to returners.


3) Explore your options

Now is the ideal opportunity to try something new and to step outside of your comfort zone. Keep an open mind and consider how you can use the skills, knowledge and experience you have in a new way. Similarly consider what opportunities there are to acquire and use new skills. Don’t automatically go with the more comfortable option of doing what you did before. There are new roles and opportunities arising all the time so now is the time to explore. Ask yourself if there is an area that you have always been really passionate about that you would like to try? If so go for it!

Contract roles are a good way to break back into the market or indeed to try a new role whilst you are also building on your experience and bridging gaps on your CV.  You will also demonstrate to employers that you have the initiative to take on a contract role and that you are versatile and can adapt. The other aspect of course is that you never know where this initial contract may take you and if you perform well it could even lead to a more long term role.


4) Preparation and Positivity

Preparation is essential when returning to the workplace, especially when it comes to your CV and being interview ready. You only get one opportunity to make a first impression! You need to stand out from the competition and demonstrate the added value you can bring to an organisation both in your CV and during the interview process. Sell yourself and the experience you bring to a role. Don’t be afraid to blow your own trumpet!

To differentiate your application, tailor your CV to suit each role that you apply for. Highlight the most relevant aspects of your experience and be sure to include all roles (voluntary or otherwise) that you undertook during your career break.

When preparing for an interview have solid examples ready to explain how you demonstrated your skills in the past and how they benefited your employer.

A positive mental attitude will help you to stay motivated. Employers like to recruit employees with a positive outlook so if you can demonstrate this attribute in interview it will certainly give you the edge. If it becomes a challenge to remain positive remind yourself of your successes and skills and be sure to surround yourself by upbeat people. 

Go easy on yourself and don’t talk yourself down. Beware of your inner critic and what it is saying to you. Try to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. 


5) Sustainable Success

Returning to the workplace can be stressful. Putting a strong support structure in place will certainly help you with the transition. Ask for help and be sure to seek the support of others. If you have care arrangements to make, do so as early as possible.

The workplace will provide you with a new social outlet and from the outset connect with your colleagues as they will provide an additional support network for you. You will also enjoy work more when you feel connected.

Your life is sure to be busy so allocate time to unwind and relax as the stress associated with returning to work should not be underestimated. Stay in touch with the positivity that got you back into the workforce again. If it starts to wain remind yourself of your achievements and successes.

Make sure to spend time doing things that you enjoy outside of work. It will provide you with a chance to de-stress, unwind and recharge your batteries. Ultimately this will help you to perform better in your new role and to reap the rewards.


Karin Lanigan, Manager of the Career Development Service with Chartered Accountants Ireland

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