Life Beyond The Gap: Your How-To Guide For Returning To Work
When you originally leave the workforce, you’re likely to run through a series of probative questions; will anyone want to hire me in the future? What will change in my absence? Will I ever be able to ‘catch up’?
Having worked in recruiting for 20+ years – and as the Co-Founder and CEO of Proven Recruiting – I’ve seen people leave and rejoin the workforce for a variety of reasons. Travel, child-rearing, short-lived retirements, military service – you name it, I’ve worked with them. But despite the diversity of motivations, one thing is constant; whatever your reason for leaving, the return is, without fail, anxiety-provoking.
Banking on my professional experience, a friend recently approached me looking for guidance. She was ready to return to work after having children, now with a 7-year resume gap and a system largely working to undermine her success.
You’ll find, upon your decision to return, that none of your questions have been satisfyingly resolved – and, amazingly, their meaning and weight has only been compounded. But a lifetime in recruiting has taught me three important lessons. The key to returning to work hinges on your ability to:
1. Know yourself.
2. Move past your resume.
3. Leverage your network.
If you can master these three steps, you’ll be well on your way to landing your next job – resume gap or not.
Getting to know the new you.
Question 1: what do you want to do?
I know – your go-to answer is ‘I just want to do anything.’ After being out of the workforce for an extended period, it’s easy to accept the idea that you’ll take any opportunity, so long as it’ll get you back to work.
But that’s not exactly true. After some light coaxing, most people will zero in on something they actually do want to do – be it in their ‘old’ field or something totally different.
It’s important to recognize that your time away from work may have changed your goals and perspective, and the person you are now may want something different than did the person you were previously. Regardless, the new you definitely wants something, and identifying that something is the first step towards making it happen.
Question 2: where do you want to work?
‘Anywhere.’ Again – not entirely true. Each company promotes a different set of values, some of which you’ll share and some of which you won’t. Find the roles that best suit your talents and goals, and pinpoint the companies that can provide the kind of support you want.
Question 3: how realistic is this?
By now, you should have a good sense of what you want. But what can you actually get? You have been out of the job market for x amount of time, and even when you were fully immersed in the labor force, you still wouldn’t have necessarily landed your dream job.
Expectation setting is essential to this process. For example, many people when returning to the market will look for part-time work in order to ease the transition. And to these people I am always fully transparent – part-time work is really hard to come by, especially in professional fields. I advise them to adjust their expectations accordingly.
Being truthful to yourself and others about what you can and cannot achieve will help you to better focus on what is actually attainable.
There’s more to life than your resume.
A lot has been written about concealing resume gaps or reinterpreting unpaid, voluntary activities as work experience. And that can be valuable information, but the key to any resume discussion is this:
No matter how good your post-extended-leave resume is, it won’t be the deciding factor in any decision-making process.
Meaning, it won’t land you the interview, or significantly help your salary negotiations, or clinch the job offer. Really, all you can ask of your resume is that it meet the minimum requirements of being easy to skim, comprehensive, and properly formatted. A thorough read of our Definitive Guide to Resume Writing will make a huge difference.
After that, it’s all up to you.
There’s a whole world outside of your resume, and it starts with LinkedIn. Nowadays, the first thing an employer or recruiter does is search your LinkedIn profile. To get past this initial screen, you’ll want an updated, professional-looking photo and an accurate portrayal of your work history.
Though relatively easy to pass, this initial screen is just as easy to fail. No profile photo? Fail. No content? Fail. Make sure that you are setting yourself up to impress your future employers by following these basic guidelines.
How to find your next job.
Use (and grow) your network.
People re-entering the job market – and, frankly, people in general – tend to put a lot of emphasis on their resumes and cover letters. But these are only small pieces of a much larger puzzle. When 80% of jobs are found through people you already know, your resume becomes somewhat less important.
More crucial to your success is who you know and how you can leverage your connections.
Turns out that that friend who I mentioned earlier holds a prominent position on the board of trustees at her city’s Science Center. That board consists of a group of high-powered decision-makers, each holding the keys to a potential job opportunity. Identifying these networks in your life will make your search that much easier.
Another option? Seek out companies actively engaged in ‘returnships’ – that is, programs to help people rejoin – and reconquer – the workforce. These companies are already making an active effort to support and empower people in their communities, and they will be open to considering your not-so-unique situation.
Join the real world.
The biggest problem posed by a resume gap is that it will often take you out of the running before you’ve had a chance to make your case. If you’re only applying to jobs online, you may be dismissed solely on the basis of your gap. The faster you can make real-life in-person connections, the less of a problem this presents.
My best advice? As soon as you can, take your search offline. Do a quick review of who you know: what boards do you sit on? What university organizations can you join? Where do you volunteer? If you’re a parent, which of your child’s friends have parents working in your desired field?
Once you’ve exhausted those paths, turn to LinkedIn. Find people who are doing what you want to do, and ask them to chat over coffee. Discuss how you can break into their industry, or if they know anyone with whom you can connect. Get to know people in person, and the issue of your resume gap becomes virtually non-existent.
I know this isn’t what you want to hear; applying online is so much less terrifying, right? But networking is the best thing you can do for yourself and your career.
If the prospect of networking gives you anxiety-sweats, don’t panic – our resident networking expert Megan Walker has outlined a comprehensive, step-by-step guide that anyone can follow to improve their networking style and begin seeing results.
Say ‘yes’ to opportunity – even if it’s not ideal.
When breaking back into the job market, temp work can be a great way to get your foot in the door. Many recruiting firms – Proven Recruiting included – establish strong working relationships with local companies in order to identify and onboard talented temporary hires. While not necessarily the ideal type of work, temporary employment can certainly lead to a successful career.
In San Diego specifically, I know from experience that Qualcomm and BD often hire temporary workers before bringing them on full-time. If you can get one of these positions, you’ll be on a solid path to landing a more permanent role.
Do the research and find out which temp agencies are working with your goal companies, and then direct your efforts towards landing these ‘lower hanging’ roles before making a break for the big leagues.
You got the job – now how do you get the salary you deserve?
If you live in California (or any of these 7 states and 7 cities), employers cannot legally ask you about your past salary history. Of course, this doesn’t prohibit them from making judgments based on your resume gap; they may assume you’re desperate and will take a lowball offer, or they may count on your lack of up-to-date industry knowledge when offering below par.
With that in mind, you’ll need to arm yourself with market facts and statistics. Do your research to find out exactly what other people applying for a similar position with comparable experience are paid. If possible, line up multiple interviews at once and compare offers. And always consult our comprehensive guide to salary negotiations before speaking with anyone.
Finally, remember this: that same law that prohibits companies from asking your salary guarantees you the right to request a salary range from them. This is an unchanging, pre-established bracket that is presented to each candidate upon request. So you can at least be confident that you are in the same ballpark as your peers.
It comes down to your priorities – if you really need to get back to work as soon as possible, you may have to compromise on salary. Getting a foot in the door means a lot; once you have this first job, it’ll be much easier to transition into a new role (and again, you won’t have to disclose your salary). So consider your options and priorities, and make the choice that is right for you.
Discuss your options with an expert.
While all of the advice I’ve offered is applicable to anyone looking to re-enter the workforce, a more tailored approach that takes into consideration your specific strengths would definitely serve you better.
Recruiters make it their job not only to identify and support talented professionals, but further to understand local job markets and hiring trends. Recruiters are the people who can tell you, with a great amount of certainty, whether your goals are realistic, what you should be adding to your resume, and which specific companies will be best suited to your needs. They’ll also have insider-knowledge on salary brackets and negotiation strategies for your specific company.
Consulting with a local recruiting agency will drastically improve your odds of breaking into the workforce. If you want to set up a meeting, you can reach me directly at email@example.com to discuss your options.
Have a question for Louis? Ask him in the comments