Get back to work! Top tips for making a career comeback.

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This morning I was looking for some interesting local stories for our Twitter Feed and I was delighted to read that we might soon have a brand new Woolworths in Burton on Trent. I have such fond memories of Woolworths, and of all the retail giants that didn’t survive the recession, I suspect it’s the one whose demise was lamented the most, not least by its 27,000 staff who lost their jobs.

Us Brits really love a good comeback, don’t we? Woolworths, Take That, Bananarama (hmm), East 17 (eurgh)… Anyway, around the time that Woolworths disappeared from our high street, I was attempting a sort of career comeback myself, having taken a couple of years out of recruitment, which at the time I had dismissed as something I didn’t want to do ever again. A couple of years of trying different things demonstrated to me that recruitment was not such a bad career after all. But having taken two years out, it was quite difficult to get taken seriously, and to justify the decision I’d made two years ago to future employers, who probably thought I would run screaming from the office as soon as things got difficult again. Of course, I knew I wouldn’t, and more than 6 years later I’m still working for the business that took a chance on me, but explaining this to prospective employers was a tough sell.

Lots of factors beyond our control can cause us to stray off our career path for a little while, or a long time. Starting a family. Caring for our loved ones. Following a dream to travel, or start a business, or pursue academia.

An IT professional's workstation - laptop, notebook, coffee.Getting back to work

Anyone can make a career comeback, though. There are hurdles, of course, but if you have the right approach, you will be successful ultimately. Here are my top ten tips on making a successful career comeback:

1.      Explain the career break on your CV. Not explaining a substantial gap in employment is off-putting for employers, concealing it is even worse. But honesty will go far – if you’ve had a break for maternity or caring for a relative, it’s fine to say so. It’s very common and might even invoke some empathy from the person who is hiring – we’ve all got families, after all.

2.      List the positives. Have you had any positive experiences during your break that you ought to mention? Have you done any accreditations/volunteer work/freelance work/interesting travel/taught yourself a new skill? Mention it. Interesting stories can be a tremendous icebreaker at interviews… I’ll come back to this at the end.

3.      Skill up. If you’ve had a few years off, there’s a good chance your skills and knowledge of the marketplace won’t be up to date, which will put you at a disadvantage against candidates that have been working. Be prepared to put in some self-learning time. And with this in mind…

4.      Manage your expectations. It’s unlikely you will march back in on a higher salary you were on before your break, but if you are flexible (and consequently less expensive than other candidates) there is a good chance you’ll get your foot in the door, and it won’t be long until you’re earning the same as before, or more.

5.      Volunteer or temp if the offers don’t start coming as soon as you’ve made the decision to go back to work. And mention it on your CV as well, it shows that you are committed to working and proactively getting yourself back into the working world.

6.      Get references. Contact your former employers to make them aware of your situation, and if you are using them as referees, let them know. A good reference goes a long way if you’ve been out of the loop for a while. And while you’re at it…

7.      Pick their brain. They might be interested in re-hiring you, or may know someone that can help. At least they can give you an idea of what the market is like. And on that note…

8.      Use your network. I saw a post a few months ago on LinkedIn by a gentleman in my network highlighting that he was looking to get back to work after a career break. In the thread, I noticed that several recruiters in his local area had offered to give them a call, and several dialogues had started - hopefully this had a positive outcome for him.

9.      Be pro-active. You might have a disadvantage against other applicants, so be prepared to fight your corner! Make sure your job applications are strong, and follow them up with a polite call.

10.  Be patient. It’s frustrating having to wait once you’ve made the decision to go back to work, but patience, tenacity and a positive attitude will pay off. I’m sure you won’t have to wait as long as Woolworths.

And finally, I wanted to come back to point 2. You see, I learned quickly during my two-year break from recruitment that I needed to talk about the break in a more positive way, and so when I was put on the spot in an interview, I hesitantly mentioned that I had attempted to write a novel (which is true, by the way.) The interviewer was intrigued, and couldn’t wait to find out more. What was it about? Had it been published? It hadn’t, of course; it was dreadful, and I had abandoned it on realising that it was, well, crap. I immediately wished I hadn’t mentioned it. But when I began to talk about it, even though I admitted it hadn’t been a roaring success, I was able to recount to the interviewer that I had been sufficiently self-disciplined to churn out over 100,000 words in a matter of weeks, to plan my own workload, and that on realising that my novel was crap, rather than despair I had channelled my enjoyment of writing and started doing freelance articles for a handful of clients that I’d tracked down myself. Suddenly, my crap novel didn’t sound so bad, and the ice was broken!

I didn’t get that job. But I did get the next one.