Returning to the Job Market

Out of choice or necessity, many people in midlife find themselves re-entering the job market after a lengthy absence. Their return to the work force may come about because of a change in life circumstances, including:

  • “Empty Nest Syndrome”

  • Divorce

  • Death of a spouse

  • Spouse's retirement / job loss

Regardless of one's reasons for returning to the job market, this can be a difficult endeavor, particularly if one is a mature worker. If you are reentering the work force at any age, you must prove that you have kept up with changes in the field in which you want to work. You must show that your skills are up-to-date and that you are knowledgeable about the field.

If you are a mature job candidate who is returning to work, you will have a hard time making the argument that you have work experience that your younger competitors lack. You may in fact have work experience, but since there is a break in your work history, this may not count in your favor.

Make Your Non-Work Experience Count

Since you have spent a significant amount of time away from work, you will have to count on your non-work experience to help you prove you have the skills and other qualifications a potential employer desires. If you've been involved in volunteer work during your hiatus from work, you will definitely have an easier time doing this.

Begin by making a list of any volunteer work you've done since you've stopped working. Leadership positions you've held in various clubs and organizations should be at the top of your list. Also include any projects you've participated in, even if they were a one-time deal. For example, were you on the planning committee for a fundraiser or did you help organize a special luncheon? Don't forget to list committees you've sat on. Think about the skills you used in each of these situations. Were they skills you had from your previous jobs or were they new skills? Determine if a potential employer will find these skills valuable.

If you let your network die during your absence from the work force, you'll be at a disadvantage once you get started up again. It's best to begin to revive it as soon as you make the decision to return to work. Get in touch with some of your old contacts and begin to make new ones. For more information on networking, see Chapter 3.

Writing Your Resume

Since your work experience probably ranges from a few to many years old, depending on how long you've been away from the work force, you should not use a chronological resume if you are returning to work. A chronological resume focuses on your work history. The last thing you want to do is draw attention to the fact that you were last employed some time ago. You should instead use a functional resume. It will allow you to focus on your skills rather than on your work experience. When you write a functional resume, you list the skills that are relevant to the job for which you are applying. Beneath each skill, you then list accomplishments that are related to that skill. Since you don't have recent work experience, you can draw upon your unpaid or volunteer experience when you list your accomplishments.

Make sure you let your prospective employer know if you took any classes during your hiatus from work. This can show that you kept your mind active and your skills sharp.

Going on a Job Interview

When you're on a job interview, don't be surprised if a lot of the questions the interviewer asks you are about your lack of recent work experience. It is your goal to make him see that a lack of “paid experience” doesn't mean a lack of experience in general. Get the interviewer to think about the fact that you were productive during your time out of the work force. You improved your skills and gained new ones. As you did on your resume, focus on your unpaid or volunteer work. Discuss any classes you took. Make sure to do a lot of reading about your industry and profession so you can sound knowledgeable during the interview.

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