A long period of unemployment can happen for a multitude of reasons, and it’s much more common than you’d think.
- Caring for an elderly relative.
- An adventure.
- Bringing up children.
- A business side venture.
- Being stranded with George Clooney on a deserted island.
Whatever the reason, many professionals are nervous about returning to the workforce and concerned that their large career gap will hold them back.
There’s often an assumption that a large career gap counts as a black mark, and in a competitive hiring market many professionals lack confidence and clarity on how best to approach their job search.
The first thing to do is to work on your confidence.
1. Reframe Your Career Gap.
There seems to be a lot of insecurity around having a long career gap, as if it’s something to be ashamed of.
This lack of confidence can be self-limiting, leading you to undervalue your skills and experience to such an extent that you don’t apply for jobs you’d be well-suited to, don’t craft a resume that does you justice, and don’t sell yourself effectively at interview.
A career break can be a big advantage, not a disadvantage.
You’ve likely honed skills and gained experiences that are directly relevant to professional employment, and you have a diversity of experience that others lack. That diversity lends you a different perspective, which in turn enables creative innovation: a laudable aim for any company.
The backbone of your job search is the confidence to view your career gap in a positive light, whether you’ve been rearing children or backpacking through South East Asia.
2. Craft Standout Personal Branding Documents.
Your personal branding documents – your cover letter, LinkedIn profile and resume – are the window to your soul, professionally speaking.
Critical for every job seeker, they’re particularly so if you’re returning to work after a long career gap.
Your personal branding documents should tell your story and clearly demonstrate how, where and why you add value. Their job is to position you competitively – and your career gap is a part of that story, not something to be glossed over.
Use your documents to highlight the diversity of experience that you’ve gained during your break, and to show how those experiences contribute to your overall professional profile.
For example, if you’ve spent two years pursuing a personal passion to run a restaurant, you bring a breadth of exposure to business operations that other professionals at your level might not have.
Even if your experiences aren’t so obviously professionally valuable – if you’ve been away fighting illness, for example – a standout set of personal branding documents is critical to demonstrating your value proposition in order to secure your next career move.
3. Keep Your Finger on the Pulse.
One of the concerns potential employers are likely to have is that your career gap means you’re out of touch.
Ensuring, and demonstrating, that you’re not are important for securing a job.
Industry events and conferences are great ways to stay in the loop, allowing you to network with other professionals in your space and discuss current trends.
Make time to read industry publications for the same reason – knowing you’re up to date will give you invaluable confidence, and will ensure you perform to your best at interview.
4. Use Your Time Productively.
According to Seek, 75% of job-seeking Australians have been looking for a new job for up to 6 months.
Job search can take time. Instead of becoming disillusioned or frustrated, use that time to give yourself a competitive edge.
You could take the opportunity to upskill, for example. You could take a course on leadership, on public speaking, on negotiation. You could volunteer. You could take on part-time work.
Identify any opportunity to build your professional profile, whether that means diversifying your experience or strengthening your weaknesses.
For bonus points, invest some time in creating content. Publishing industry relevant articles does several things – it shows potential employers that you’re up-to-date, it builds your credibility in field and it builds your reputation as a thought leader.
All of those, obviously, give you a real edge during job search.
5. Prepare To Nail The Interview.
Interviews can be intimidating at the best of times, but more so if you’re returning to work after a long career gap.
You need to be able to address your break with confidence, and clearly explain the transferable skills and experiences you’ve had that make you a relevant candidate for the role.
Key to this are confidence and preparation. Prepare a compelling statement that addresses your career gap head-on, and frames it in a positive way.
Think critically about the concerns employers could have about your career gap and aim to address these.
In particular, it’s going to be important to demonstrate commitment, loyalty and longevity: make sure you can elucidate clearly why you’re returning to work.
If an employer gets any sense of uncertainty from you they’ll likely be wary, lest you decide a return to corporate Australia isn’t for you after all.
It’s worth going above and beyond with your interview preparation to avoid situations like these. A career gap isn’t often what holds people back – it’s their inability to explain it well.
6. Network Your Butt Off.
All professionals should be committed to networking, but it’s an especially important step for those with a long career gap.
Building, nurturing and leveraging your network can give you access to career opportunities that aren’t publically available, which is invaluable in a competitive talent market.
In addition, leveraging the power of your network gives you a warm introduction, helping you overcome any initial hurdles thrown up by your career gap.
It goes almost without saying that the stronger the relationships you’ve built previously, the more beneficial your network will be to you now. As HBR write, “the best time to build your network is before you need something”.
7. Don’t Settle.
Returning to work is a rare opportunity to reassess your professional needs.
It’s important not to jump back into the corporate world without being evaluative, or you risk winding up in the wrong role.
Analyse your decision to go back to work. Why now? What’s driving you? What do you really need from a new role?
Your interests, values and passions might have changed since you’ve been out of work, so assessing this honestly is an important step in deciding which roles to align yourself with.
If you’re returning to work after having children, perhaps a company which supports flexible working is most suitable. Maybe you’re no longer the sole caregiver for an elderly relative, but you do need an easier commute so you have evenings free to help.
If you’ve been looking for a role for a while, it’s normal to feel pressure to accept any offers you get, but that could be a big mistake.
Be realistic about your needs from the outset because if they’re not met, you’re unlikely to be happy – and if you’re unhappy, you’ll be unlikely to perform at your best. Ideally you want to avoid having to look for another job with a career gap and a short stint on top.
Irene McConnell is the founder of Arielle Careers, Australia’s sole digital agency dedicated to branding executives and their leadership teams. Arielle specialises in resume writing, LinkedIn profile writing and online influence management.
Offering a portfolio of products born from our deep understanding of the global talent market overlaid with forward-thinking and reinvented digital marketing capabilities, a passion for words and their ability to capture attention, Arielle processes are tailored to work within executives’ busy schedules, delivering bespoke, painless and professional service, and individualised products that garner results, quickly. Arielle strive to produce engaging and impactful human experiences.