Tips for returning to the job market after an absence

If you are planning to re-enter the job market after any significant absence, the task may feel rather daunting. The following are some suggestions to help make your return to the job market a bit smoother.

Keep your skills current:
If you plan on returning to the same field from which you had taken your leave, do your best to keep your industry specific skills (or “knowledge skills”) intact. Depending on your industry, this is not always the easiest thing to do, but think of creative ways to exercise your industry-specific muscles. If you were a sales person, for example, try to stay current on the latest innovations to the products or services you sold by researching the products on the web, or requesting merchandise catalogs from vendors. If your profession requires specialized equipment or tools to which you do not have access while you are on leave, perhaps you can request spec sheets or instruction manuals that will help you stay on top of any changes that may have impacted these specialized tools. Faculty at local technical colleges or universities may also be willing to give you a brief tutorial or refresher on using certain pieces of equipment or specialized software, especially if you are an alum or former student of the institution.

Whether you plan to return to your previous field or to change fields, make sure your transferable skills are strong. Transferable skills would include problem solving, critical thinking, organizing, planning, communicating – the skills you develop or hone in one setting but can transfer to another setting. Different than your knowledge skills, which are typically industry specific (even job specific), transferable skills can benefit you in any and all work (and non-work) environments. An excellent feature of transferable skills is that you don’t necessarily have to be working to keep these skills strong. Here are a few examples:

  • If you are a parent of a school age child, volunteering to coordinate parent involvement at your child’s school will give you the chance to maintain your organizing, planning, and communication skills.
  • Want to use your problem solving and critical thinking skills? Consider getting involved in a leadership position within your community.
  • If you have special interests, such as music, fitness, environmental issues, or animal rights, look for ways to improve your skills while pursuing your interests.
  • If possible, try to come up with creative ways to bolster your skill set while also supporting your local or professional communities – begin writing a blog about the field, become a member of a committee at your church, coach a local sports team, update a small business’ website. If it is an organization or project for which you are passionate, you’ll likely enjoy the experience much more, and as a result, the service you provide will be of a higher quality. (I don’t recommend volunteering or performing service projects just for the sake of padding your resume.)

Make time for networking:
Networking is important in every type of job market, but it is especially vital in the current one. If you are re-entering your previous industry, do your best to start reconnecting with your industry contacts several months before you begin your job search. Alumni groups coordinated by your school can be useful resources. If you’re involved in any social networking sites like LinkedIn or Facebook, be sure to “connect” or “friend” your network. Join groups related to your field on these sites and then become an active contributor to the groups by leaving comments, asking questions, and letting people know what type of employment you will be looking for. While you may be looking to re-enter the job market, don’t forget that you also have knowledge, experience and skills that may be useful to fellow job seekers/changers. Be open to helping others by sharing your contacts, giving informational interviews, or offering advise about the field. 

If you will be changing career fields, aside from the suggestions above, look into memberships in professional associations (try International Directory for Professional Associations or Weddles Association Directory) for your new field. Contact the president of your local chapter for an information interview. Individuals who hold officer positions in professional associations are typically very enthusiastic about the field and are often interested in helping new professionals establish their careers. Conduct additional information interviews with several industry professionals, remembering to ask for 1-2 more contacts in the process.

Again, remember that networking is a two-way street. Think of ways you can give back to your professional community and always be prepared to lend a hand to others seeking entry into the field.

Stay organized:
Keep a notebook where you write down all of your skills and accomplishments. Keep information such as the name of the project or the title of your position, and name of organization. Also note specific tasks you completed, quantifying or qualifying your statements whenever possible. List the results of your efforts. Here are a couple of examples:

Volunteer Coordinator – Main St. Elementary (2008): coordinated 32 parent volunteers for 5 field trips and 1 bake sale. Prepared sign-up sheets for parents. Wrote email reminders for each event. Coordinated with teachers. Helped raise over $300 from bake sale to purchase new gym equipment.

President of Finance Council – Trinity Church (2006-2008): lead 6-member council for two years. Identified church’s financial needs, examined spending practices, allocated funds, reviewed vendors, participated in voting on large-expenditure decisions. During my tenure as president, church came in under budget for the first time in 17 years.

If you think the above examples seem reminiscent of resume statements, you’re right. Your notebook will act as a storehouse of information that may eventually make its way into your resume. At the very least, the contents of your notebook will help you remember the activities in which you were involved and the skills you developed so that you can better articulate these in future interviews.

Keep your contacts organized. Whether you store your contacts on your phone, PDA or online, or you collect business cards and write your contacts down in a book, make sure you are tracking and dating the interactions you make. Include a summary of the interaction and any actions that need to be taken. For example, if Anne Williams suggests that you send her a resume, record it down as an action item. Also note the date when you’ve completed the action. Make sure you follow up with your contacts with a thank you note if they have provided you with some information, their time, new contacts or job leads. Remember to note down if you’ve given a resume or any other materials to a contact. If you update your resume in the future, it will be helpful for you to know to whom specific documents have been sent.

2 comments on “Tips for returning to the job market after an absence”

  1. Sweet Reply

    Vol Mom, great suggestions! I’ve checked out the VolunteerSpot page, too, and it looks really interesting. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Vol Mom Reply

    I love your suggestion of turning volunteer work into a resume’ builder. I think it’s important that returning-to-work parents also come up to speed with new technology to be competitive. The parent @ Main Street using the signup sheet and sending reminder emails could have used VolutneerSpot to automate the busy-work part of the volunteer commitment. (automated signups, confirmations, reminder messages). Experiment with blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Evite, VolunteerSpot, and good old Excel in updating your experiences to get resume’ ready.

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