Tips For Returning to Work After a Career Break

4 minute read

People take career breaks for many different reasons. It might be parental leave for a new child, a sabbatical to spend more time with your family or recover from burnout, or perhaps you were made redundant and have been looking for work. You might have had an extended work break to care for a sick relative or to prioritise your own health and wellbeing. Or maybe you just needed some time to reconsider your career goals and progress in a new direction.

Career breaks have become a lot more common in the last couple of years and no longer have the stigma they used to have. But whatever your reason, the idea of going back into employment can be daunting. Here are our tips on returning to work after a career break.

Work out what you need

The first thing to do when considering returning to work after a career break is to decide what you need from your new work life. Hopefully the break will have given you the chance to re-evaluate your career goals, but if not then now’s the time to refocus. And don’t forget that the world of work itself has changed a lot over the last few years, so the culture that you were used to may have evolved while you were away.

Take a moment to list your values and priorities and what you now need to be happy and fulfilled at work. Do you need part-time hours or flexible working? Would a remote role suit your lifestyle better? Do you have any skill gaps or need any further support?

Or perhaps you want to do something more meaningful? Returning to work after a career break can also be a great time to take the leap into a new career. We have loads of advice for moving into the charity sector that you might find useful.

Now is also the time to use your network and get back in touch with your contacts. Ask if they know of any opportunities or anyone who might be open to mentoring you to help you get back into the swing of things. If you’re returning to the same role and want to take it more gently, then consider if a phased return would be best for you.

Woman sat at table writing in notebook

Do some research

Next, you need to do your homework. What’s changed since you left your last job? If you’re returning to the same role then do some research into how your team, and the organisation, has evolved during your absence. Have priorities changed? Do your skills still match what’s required for the role?

Looking for a new job, or even a career change? Do some research into your current employability in your sector and specialism—have a look at the requirements of job descriptions for the roles you’re targeting and see how your skills match up.

Freshen up your skills

It will help you get ahead, as well as give you a huge confidence boost, to get up to date with your industry before returning to work after a career break. You can do this by signing up for industry newsletters or subscribing to blogs. If you want to learn more about the charity sector you can try Charity Times or Civil Society. You can also join CharityConnect to get advice from others in the sector.

You might also want to consider taking a short training course or two to help upskill yourself and prove to potential employers that you’re committed to your development.

If you’re returning to work after a long career break, or are changing career, then you might want to do some volunteering before looking for paid employment to help you get up to speed.
Find a career with meaning

Update your CV and cover letter

Even if you’re returning to the same role, now is still a good time to revise your CV and make sure it’s up to date. Don’t forget to add any skills and experience you gained from your time away and any new career goals.

You can use your cover letter to explain your career break further, or if you’d rather keep the details private than you can say it was for ‘personal reasons,’ but the important thing is to be clear that that period is over and you’re now committed to returning to work and progressing your career.

Woman sat on sofa with crossed legs and laptop on lap

Practice your interview skills

Interviews are often the most daunting prospect of returning to work after a career break, especially if it’s been a long time since you’ve had one. Polishing your interview skills will help you feel more sure of yourself. Ask a friend or colleague to give you a practice interview as part of your preparation. Then you can rehearse your answers and feel confident talking about your break.

There’s no need to apologise for it, just briefly explain your reasons then bring the focus back to how it’s benefited you, the skills you’ve gained and your renewed focus and energy for your career.

Have faith

If you don’t get a job immediately, or you don’t feel instantly at home returning to your old one, then be patient and have faith. The jobs market has changed a lot over the last few years and even people who have been working the whole time are still finding their feet in some areas. Focus on your goals and the experience you can bring to your role and the rest will fall into place.

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Karen Harlow

Karen Harlow is Senior Content Manager at CharityJob.

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