Reentering the workforce can be a challenge no matter how good your excuse is: time spent volunteering, working or studying abroad, caring for a sick relative or coping with your own illness, or investing in your future by completing a graduate degree.
Your search can be made more difficult by the poor economy and a bias against people who have large gaps in their work history. Your return to work can even be hampered by your own fears or your subtle (or not so subtle) wish that you didn't actually have to buck up and get a job.
But don't worry, you can do it! With these tips, re-entering the work world will be a breeze.
Begin updating your skills before you start to look for a job. If you can, start padding your résumé a few months before you want to start looking for a job. Begin volunteering, take an online course, investigate internships -- do anything that can help fill gaps and reboot your life and your résumé.
Create a résumé that is functional rather than chronological. Focus on your skills and successes rather than the precise dates of your employment. Create headings like "marketing experience," "sales successes," or "benchmarks met" and then list your achievements accordingly.
Be bold. A killer résumé may not be enough. To land a great interview, you may have to take the phone into your own hands. Consider making polite and focused calls to companies you are interested in or HR departments. Inquire about jobs you saw posted, express your interest, and ask for an interview. Making a good personal connection might help your résumé get moved to the top of the pile.
Seek advice and take it humbly. Now is the time to listen to your wise friends who are gainfully employed. Have your cronies eyeball your résumé, read your cover letter, give you tips on networking, and help you practice your interview skills. If you feel like you're in need of a self-esteem boost, take a trusted friend shopping to help you pick out an interview outfit that will make you feel sophisticated and professional.
Be an interview superstar. When you land an interview, arrive ready to outshine the competition. If asked about it, discuss your time away briefly. Don't get bogged down in the details of your year in Belize or become emotional about a loved one's illness. Emphasize your skills and work ethic rather than your time away. Sell yourself as a "blank slate" ready to jump in and work hard in a new work environment. If it makes sense, draw concrete conclusions between the job you're interviewing for and the things you learned while coping with real-life situations (travel, illness, graduate school) that the competition may not have had to deal with.
Be open to new experiences. The reality of re-entering the work world is that you might have to make some compromises. Be open to taking a part-time job, or working on a project or contract basis. These short-term jobs often provide great experience and contacts that can help you land a job that is a perfect fit for you and all of the experiences you bring to the table.