8 Steps for Re-Entering the Workforce After a Long Absence

Updated March 10, 2023

Many people choose an absence during their career for any number of reasons. You may take a career break to care for a loved one, become a stay-at-home parent, travel or fulfill your desire to be an entrepreneur. Whatever the reason, returning to work after your career break can be daunting, but with some preparation, positivity and patience, you can be successful in your next venture.

In this article, we explain what an absence from work is, discuss why it's important to prepare for a return to work, provide steps for reentering the workforce and share actionable tips you can use when returning to work after a long absence.

What is an absence from work?

An absence from work is any period when you are not working. There are many reasons an employee may take an absence from work, including a personal injury or illness, the need to care for a family member or the desire to explore volunteering for a year. Even during an absence, individuals can gain new skills and build current ones, stay connected with their network and take on projects that will enhance their employability later on.

Why is it important to prepare before returning to work?

Taking the plunge to go on the job hunt and return to work full time after a long absence can be a challenging transition. However, if you prepare for properly for the change, you can step back into a professional networking role with confidence and show up with a winning disposition at your job interviews.

Related: How To Write a Return to Work Letter

How to reenter the workforce after a long absence

The job hunt can be a daunting process even without a hiatus, but if you streamline your moves into the following steps, you should be able to focus on your goal of landing a new job.

1. Start your job search with a focus

One of the first steps in returning to work is to assess your situation and focus on your needs. Review your education and experience, but also think about your skills, interests, strengths and what you value most in a new position and in an employer. Ask yourself which work activities you enjoy most so you can concentrate on applying for positions that will support them and provide a work environment you'll enjoy.

Keep in mind that your skills and interests could have changed since you last had a job, so it's important to perform this step in evaluating what positions will fit you best in this time of your life. Focusing on what you want out of a new position and narrowing your job search to fit should minimize the chances that you'll job hop and increase your chances that you'll be happy in your new role.

2. Refresh your resume

It may also be necessary for you to update your resume to include additional skills you've gained during your absence or to address your absence so the hiring manager can learn more about your gap in employment. You can go more in-depth within your cover letter to explain how your long absence, and anything you've done during it, relates back to the position you're applying for and makes you a viable candidate for the opportunity.

3. Build your professional network

Identify opportunities to expand your network through joining professional associations, attending networking events and going to industry-specific conferences where you can learn something new or meet others with similar interests. Building your network can expose you to individuals who may have insight on job opportunities or are hiring managers themselves who are looking for a new employee. These individuals can also serve as references or mentors in your job search.

4. Inform your network

Even if you've been out of work for a significant amount of time, you probably still have a network of people who you can inform about your decision to reenter the workforce. Think about the previous coworkers you've had, family members, friends, neighbors and people you've met while volunteering. The more people you share this information with, the more likely one of them will inform you of opportunities they see or offer to be a reference for you and speak to your professional abilities or personal attributes.

5. Consider part-time or contract work

Transitioning from not working a standard schedule to getting back into traditional work can be a very different experience for many people. Although you may look forward to returning to work, consider how such an update to your routine may make you feel. If you think it may be a lot to process, consider looking for part-time positions or accepting contract work so you can ease back into a regular full-time work schedule.

You may be most interested in contract positions that are temporary-to-hire, so you can work as a nontraditional employee and then accept a job offer at the end of your contract period if you feel the company is a good fit for you.

Related: Contract To Hire: Definition, Pros and Cons

6. Develop your elevator pitch

An elevator pitch is a brief speech you can give to anyone you're speaking to about your work experience and desire to get back into the workforce, including hiring managers and members of your network. An elevator pitch should include a short synopsis of your work experience, skills and attributes that make you a unique candidate and will help another person envision you in a position.

Practice your elevator speech until it feels natural to you and will project as confident and conversational to someone else. Consider practicing with a trusted friend who will give you constructive feedback and help you improve.

Related: How To Give an Elevator Pitch (With Examples)

7. Get help from a career coach

Especially if you feel lost on your job search, a career coach can help guide you in applying for positions that you're interested in. A career coach can also assist you with developing your focus, teach you how to network and give you advice on how to utilize job searches to find the type of positions you're most interested in.

You may also consider career returner programs that focus specifically on helping you reenter the workforce after some time away. These programs can pair you with a mentor and may offer workshops on topics related to employment.

8. Prepare for your interview

One way to secure a return to work is to give a great interview. To do this, it's important to prepare for your interview by practicing answering questions about your absence. When developing your answer, remember to share what you did during your career break and consider explaining why you made that choice. Project confidence in your answers so the hiring manager can also feel confident about you as a viable candidate for the role.

Related: How To Explain Employment Gaps in an Interview

Tips for returning to work after a long absence

If you have the ability to ease back into the work force, you could make some moves to streamline your return while bolstering your background in the process. To increase your chances of a successful return to work, consider these tips:

  • Start with volunteering. Volunteer work can provide a couple of benefits, including helping you stay updated on the skills you need for a new position and increasing your network to include those you work with in your volunteer position.

  • Complete freelance work. You may be able to secure freelance opportunities so you can continue to add to your work portfolio and have less of a gap between positions on your resume.

  • Ask others about their experience. If there are other people you know who transitioned back into the workplace after a long break from employment, ask how they were successful. You may find you can use their same strategies.

  • Take refresher courses. If you feel your skills are outdated, consider a refresher course so you can feel more confident in your abilities and can speak about your knowledge on your resume and during an interview.

  • Get a certificate. A certificate in a course related to the positions you're applying for will let a hiring manager know that you're serious about the role and are open to learning new things.

  • Focus on your soft skills. A major differentiator between candidates are the unique attributes and soft skills they offer to any workplace, so focus on soft skills like adaptability, communication, time-management and creativity. Explain to the hiring manager how your particular soft skills make you an ideal fit for the position.

  • Work an entry-level position while you job search. While you're working on getting a position in your ideal career post-absence, consider getting a more entry-level job to support yourself. You may realize the added benefit of expanding your network and getting to know others who would be happy to serve as a reference for you.

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