Back to the Workforce After a Career Break?

woman with coffee

If you’re looking to jump back into the job search after a career break, it’s likely that you are dealing with some jitters. You may have taken a break for a variety of reasons, or even a combination of a few. Perhaps you decided to start a family, had to address personal health concerns, or were caring for a family member.

Regardless, if it’s time for your first interview after a longer break, you’re going to need to spend some extra time brushing up and getting current on the field and on yourself.

The good news is, the interviewer has already seen the gap on your resume, so no need to beat around the bush. Instead, find time in your preparation process to focus on how you will address that career gap during your interview so you don’t miss a beat should the question come up.

Preparing for the interview

Make a list. You may not have been on a payroll during your break, but chances are your days were still full. List any courses you took, volunteer projects you participated in, and skills you may have utilized during this particular period.

Highlight skills and tactics you developed to track personal and family commitments, deal with stress, juggle coursework, and manage your time. Next, consider how to include this information during your interview without overstating the importance of things like housework or homework.

Whatever you come up with, rehearse your story in advance of your interview to be sure that you can present it succinctly and naturally.

Do your research. It’s critical that you do your due diligence. Set aside enough time prior to your interview to learn whatever you can from the organization’s website, past newsletters, press releases, news mentions, and social media presence.

Strive to have an understanding of what may be expected of you in this new role by carefully reviewing the job description. If travel is required, make sure you’re up for it. Same thing with working occasional nights and weekends. The routine of being back at work will look very different from your current routine, and may not offer the same flexibility, so make sure the job is one you actually want.

While you won’t be able to anticipate every question an interviewer will ask, you can certainly prepare for some! Try coming up with eight questions that may be asked during the interview. Not only will this help you to prepare for the interview, it can also aid you in refining your thinking about the organization and may even bring up new and interesting questions you have about their work (that can be asked at the end of your interview).

Pro Tip: Even before you start applying to jobs, be sure to find out what’s been going on in the field you’re hoping to return to by signing up for newsletters and email alerts to get an overview of current trends or research.

Build your confidence

Work with your jitters. The biggest hurdle when jumping back into the interview game may be figuring out how to boost your confidence right before the interview. If you’re worried that your skills are a little rusty or that things have changed a bit too much since you were last in an interview, you’ll want to address those feelings head on.

What makes you feel great? One way to manage anxiety is to think about what you do when you need a boost. Spend a little time before the interview getting grounded. What works for you?

  • Go for a run
  • Take a long walk
  • Get quiet and centered
  • Strike your power pose
  • Take five minutes to chat with your biggest supporter

Ace the Interview

Be prepared. Don’t waste your mental energy rushing around right before you head out the door to your interview. Plan your outfit and find your keys the night before. Fill a bag with a pen and a notebook, and your resume. Throw in a portfolio if you have one. Make sure you know how you plan to get to the interview and take an extra minute to find a nearby coffee shop in case you arrive too early and need to kill some time.

Be yourself. You’ve been invited to interview because the employer sees potential in what you have to offer. Remember that the work you did before your break is still relevant. Tell them why you are ready to come back to work and stay focused on where you are today and what you can contribute to this organization.

Be ready to ask questions. Prepare questions that challenge the employer to dig a bit deeper. Skip “What is your timeline for letting candidates know about next steps?” and opt for some of these questions instead:

  • How has this organization changed in the last five years?
  • What does a typical day look like for someone in this position?
  • What does success look like for this position?

The best part of any interview is when you walk out of the room knowing you did your best. Remember that each opportunity you have to sit in front of interviewer gives you a chance to refine your story and personal brand, so it’s always worthwhile.

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Are you preparing for interviews? Were you hired after a lengthy career break? Share your experiences and your questions in the comments!

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For nearly two decades, Jeannette has been working for nonprofits and helping people identify their strengths. She has experience as an advocate for women and girls in crisis, a volunteer coordinator for adult literacy, and a family literacy instructor.
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