8 Smart Tips for Re-entering the Workforce After a Career Gap

An estimated 5.4 million women have exited the workforce since the start of the pandemic (with some already referring to this professional exodus as the first-ever "she-cession"). Many female professionals didn't have a choice to remain at their jobs since closed schools and daycares limited childcare options for families. Though this has been the case across industries and ethnicities, women of color have been most significantly impacted since they're overrepresented in the retail, childcare and leisure industries—some of the industries hit hardest by COVID-19, says Cate Luzio, the founder and CEO of Luminary, a career advancement platform.

In fact, Luzio shares a startling statistic: Women's participation in the labor force is at its lowest level since 1988. "In less than one year, women have lost labor force gains that took three decades to build," she continues. "If we don't get women back to work faster, and appropriately, all of these factors will cause long-term impacts on the gender progress we've made and a slower economic recovery."

If you had to make the impossible choice to exit your career to care for your kiddos or if your job was eliminated thanks to the pandemic, remember, you can (and should!) push forward. The "gap in resume" stigma has never been less relevant, and as the world recovers, more career opportunities will bubble up. Here, experts shed light on how to re-enter the workforce—and land the role you deserve—with hope, career savvy, and confidence.

Take time to create your job search strategy.

Before setting up career site alerts, editing your resume, and giving yourself the full-time job of applying, take a beat to develop a strategy and action plan. Not sure what you're seeking? You'll likely prolong the process and potentially confuse your valuable network, warns Carol Camerino, a career advisor at the University of Phoenix Career Services. "This pause period may have impacted your interests, passions, and plans. Spend time researching roles and organizations to gain clarity around what it is you want to do and the kinds of organizations you want to be a part of," she says.

Build your confidence.

For many, finding a job feels a lot like heading into battle since you must defeat the competition for an offer. It's normal to feel uncertain, especially if you're worried about having lost some of your prowess while out of work. However, much like you'd tell your child or your best friend, it's vital to remind yourself of your gifts and capabilities, says confidence coach Holly Caplan. "Experiencing the loss of a job can set off fear, anxiety and limiting beliefs," she explains. "It's essential to find that confidence again to show yourself that you're special and talented."

To do this, Caplan recommends making a list of your top five accomplishments, from promotions and awards to raises and positive social interactions that made you stand out. "When you see the list in black and white, you'll remind yourself what makes you special and help rebuild confidence."

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Tap your network.

One of the most meaningful ways to snag a new gig is by reaching out to people you know, those you admire, and professionals at your dream companies. When you reach out, explain the type of opportunity you're in the market for, along with your resume—and always a sincere "thank you" for keeping you in mind. Also, it's worth reaching out to people in your network who are currently working, and those who aren't, since they could stumble upon something perfect for you, says Camerino.

"When someone in your network gets to hire a great candidate or lands a wonderful new role because of you, it's magic," she continues. "The positivity of these actions infuse new energy into your networking and search." She recommends creating a list of people you've not been in contact with over the last year (or more) and begin to reach out to a few at a time.

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Seek employers who are vocal about supporting working families.

For working mothers looking to return to their professional roles, it can be beneficial to investigate employers who support and are vocal about their support for working families, says Joy Altimare, the chief marketing officer at EHE Health. Some options include Spotify, Colgate-Palmolive and The Huffington Post, all of which have individual policies that support both parents and offer fantastic benefits like competitive maternity/paternity leave and on-site childcare.

To understand what matters the most to you, Altimare suggests outlining your non-negotiables as you begin interviewing. "As we've learned from the pandemic, many of us can be productive while working from home," she says. "Therefore, the stigma of flexible hours or working from home two days of week, no longer exists across corporate America. Make sure you're asking those questions around corporate culture so that you make the best decision for yourself and your family. You want to make sure that you—and your new company—set you up for success."

Fight the urge to be shy.

Say during your job search you come across an open position where you meet most—but not all—of the requirements. Do you throw your hat into the ring or ex out of that tab? Sadly, while men typically tend to give it a shot, women are less likely to shoot higher since they doubt themselves and their skills. It's a huge missed opportunity for women everywhere. Most skills are completely transferable—they just need to be framed to fit the specific job at hand, says Christine Cruzvergara, the chief education strategy officer at Handshake.

"Think broadly about decision-making skills, critical thinking skills, presentation skills, and so on. And keep the confidence gap in mind: Don't count yourself out too early or be overly hard on what you perceive to be your own shortcomings before reaching out to a potential employer," she says.

Bottom line? Don't be shy. Apply for gigs that pique your interest, even if it's not a 100 percent match to your career history. The worst case scenario? They go with someone else, and you get some great interview practice out of it.

Don't sweat the gap.

As Camerino puts it: Not one of us has ever been through a global pandemic before, and we've each been impacted differently. And if ever there was a call to normalize employment gaps, now is that time. While she says you should be prepared to talk about your time away, you can also use it as a chance to highlight any learning or upskilling you might have undertaken.

"Perhaps you helped schedule people for vaccine appointments, contributed to local food banks, checked in on neighbors, or tried to support local businesses," she says. "If your time was spent holding things together for your family or protecting your own health and well-being, that's equally important too."

Luzio urges you not to hide the gap. Honor it on your resume by adding a section that says 'Career Break.' In fact, a study by TopResume found that hiring managers don't consider career gaps as large of a red flag as they might have pre-COVID. Eighty-seven percent of recruiters said they were "unfazed by an inconsistent work history," and understand that resume gaps aren't always indicative of work ethic or reliability. Luzia says that by acknowledging the situation yourself, you can handle questions early on and before judgment is made.

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Reevaluate your goals and update your brand.

As we come out of the pandemic and take stock of every aspect of our life, it's important to remember that we're not who we were in January 2020. Not only is that OK, but it's worth exploring and using to our advantage. You might have enjoyed your previous cubicle gig, but now you might be inspired to look for a fresh office dynamic. With this in mind, you may need to update your brand. When you decide to look for work, you automatically become a self-marketer, says Amanda Augustine, a career expert for TopResume.

"Take a closer look at your personal branding materials and update them with your current job goals in mind," she continues. "Think of your resume as a marketing tool, rather than a transcript of your employment history and education. Emphasize and elaborate on the experiences and skills that are most relevant to your job search, and dedicate less space to the less important roles." If you have a personal website and LinkedIn profile? Give them a welcome refresh to suit your current aspirations and professional headspace.

Negotiate for what you deserve.

Last but definitely not least: Now is not the time to settle for less than you deserve. After being out of the workforce for a year, you may be tempted to accept whatever offer is sent your way. However, being forced out of your career due to a global pandemic isn't a good reason to take a salary cut, reminds entrepreneur Elise Armitage. "If you're at the point where you're receiving a job offer, and the company wants you and is excited about you, so don't be shy about asking for a higher salary," she explains. "Often, a company's first offer is slightly lower than what they can truly afford to pay for a role. If you want to re-enter, go forth boldly!"

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