Re-Entering the Job Market

There's no doubt about it: If you've been out of the work force for an extended period of time, you will face some troubling issues upon your re-entry. You may feel anxious, wondering whether you've still got what it takes to make it out there, and it's not uncommon for employers to feel the same way.

The first thing you should do before trying to re-enter the work force is to make sure all your skills, technical and otherwise, are up-to-date. Read some articles about the industry and make sure the techniques, computer programs, and issues described are familiar to you. If you think your own skills could use a little tweaking, consider retraining either by taking courses or by learning a new program.

The main things you will want to focus on during your interview are jobs you've had previously and the skills they called for, the ways you've kept up your learning during your absence (e.g., reading trade journals, doing freelance work, attending seminars, networking with industry professionals), and the skills you've learned at home that can be transferred to the workplace.

Q: Your resume indicates that you have not worked for several years. Would you mind explaining this absence?

YES: I have spent the last five years raising my son, Liam, who's now in kindergarten. Leaving the workplace was a very difficult decision for me, but as this was our first child, I didn't think I would be able to commit to my career 100 percent, knowing the responsibilities I had at home. Since I didn't think it would be fair to my employer to give any less than 100 percent, I believe it was the right decision for me at the time. Now that my son is old enough to be in school, I feel refreshed and am completely ready to devote myself to a full-time career.

NO: Yes, I would mind explaining this, as it really is none of your business.

Whatever the reason for your hiatus, be honest. The interviewer has the right to know why you have not worked in so long, as it could relate to the job you are being considered for. Discuss the decisions behind your absence, whether they were to stay at home and raise a family or recuperate from a debilitating injury. Be sure to emphasize the reasons why you want to return to work and why you think you are ready. Most importantly, stress your eagerness to resume your career.

Q: What made you decide that you were now ready to pursue full-time employment again?

YES: I took a leave of absence to care for my elderly father. This was prior to our family making arrangements for his transfer to an adult home. It took some time to find the appropriate residence and get him settled in comfortably, but now I am confident he is getting good care and that I can focus on work and not be distracted by personal issues.

NO: The reason I took off has since righted itself and I'm free again to focus on my career.

While you don't have to defend your absence, your response should make good sense to the interviewer, so that you can dispel any fear of an inability to commit to the job at hand. Sometimes, candidates are uncomfortable giving up too much information about their personal lives, but providing a few sentences on this absence justifies the time frame and offers a “that was then, this is now” validation.

Q: Have you kept current with what is going on in the field?

YES: Absolutely. Even though I have been out of the industry for several years, I continue to read all the trade journals and subscribe to current Internet newsletters on emerging trends and new case studies. I'm very active on LinkedIn and participate in a number of groups related to this field. I'm very eager to put some of these ideas into practice now and can see how they would be very applicable to your company's growth mission. I've also maintained my membership status in the professional association for my skill area, so I still have networking access as well.

NO: Pretty much. I try to read the journals and stay in touch with former colleagues to get a sense of what's happening. I think I could ramp up fairly quickly if you brought me on board. I was always good at my job in the past.

Employers want to know you have something to contribute from day one. A returnee who needs time to get up to speed will not appear as desirable as one who has done her homework. Additionally, if your time off has been of a significant length, you need to project flexibility. Nothing scares an employer more than thinking you might be stuck in old ways of doing things or have difficulty adapting to new processes.

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