Return From A Career Break With Confidence
Taking a pause in our career is no longer as taboo as it once was. Breaks are becoming more common and hiring departments are realizing there is a talent pool waiting to come back to the workforce after choosing to leave for a wide range of reasons. That said, it can be still difficult to navigate the dynamics of returning to work after an extended break.
Regardless of why we chose to put our career on pause, there can still be concerns over if we’re ready to return. Life is often markedly different than when we’re in the midst of the hustle and bustle of our careers. Whether we’ve been away for months or years, it’s normal to experience fear and self-doubt when we begin to consider returning to work.
In many fields, industry practices and required skill sets can change dramatically in even short periods of time. And even if those specific items haven’t changed, our ability to execute them may be a little rusty after a long period of disuse.
Training can help bring us up to speed in these areas, but worry over being capable of returning to a workplace routine, or fear that we simply won’t be able to perform at the same level we once did are trickier to dispel.
If we don’t face these fears and worries, they can lead to significant delays or miscalculations in attempting to reenter the workforce. At worst, they can feel too overwhelming and convince us to not return at all.
The good news is most of these concerns can be handled with a strategic approach. By adopting a series of positive actions, we can gradually acclimatize to the upcoming change, ensuring our career restart is successful.
How to prepare for a career restart
Remember past success
Throughout our career, we’ve likely had successful encounters both big and small. Praise from a superior, a compliment from a co-worker. Perhaps we won an award, got an unexpected pay raise, or successfully achieved a promotion. These are all reminders that our work had a tangible effect and value.
But when we are out of the workplace for a sustained period, these markers of success can become forgotten. That award for highest sales can feel superfluous when faced with the endless chores of managing a household, recovering our physical health, or even contributing to communities across the globe.
But celebrating past success is vital to retraining our brain to embrace a new mindset that involves a career. We need to sit down and document these moments from our work life. No matter how large or small, make note of as many as we can remember. Anytime we contributed to projects, created value within our team, and received praise.
Next, write down the same wins from our time away from work. It may seem counterintuitive, but we still learned skills in our downtime that we can apply to our work. Not to mention, these lists will remind us of all the ways we have contributed, are still contributing, and can continue to contribute.
It also reinforces the feel-good chemicals in our brain, helping alleviate stress and anxiety levels. Most importantly, writing down this list acts as a reminder of all the things we’re good at. We’ll be more likely to remember these points when talking to future managers or HR departments, and will boost our confidence.
Reach out to our network
Even if we haven’t done the best at maintaining old career networks, there is absolutely no shame in reaching out to people we have previously worked with. We may even be surprised at how many people are happy to hear from us, making it easier to talk about work and opportunities. They might also be a relatively safe avenue for getting out the word that we are available for work.
We tend to undervalue our impact, especially after some time has passed, so hearing from people who remember our contributions can be an incredible morale booster. And their help can come in multiple forms. Perhaps they aren’t in the same industry, maybe they can help you transition in new, exciting, and unexpected ways yourself. Or they might be able to get you in contact with new resources, expanding your network reach. Don’t reach out expecting to be put through the head of HR immediately, but cultivate your network as practice for reentering the workforce at large.
Do the research
Knowledge is power, and accumulating as much information about any new situation is always a good thing. Not only does it better prepare us for the situation, but it helps alleviate anxiety by signaling the brain that action is being taken in the desired direction.
First and foremost, we need to understand what has changed while we were gone. Is there any additional training or certifications required for our old position? Have there been technical updates to equipment or process upgrades that we need to understand before interviewing? It’s also a good idea to make sure our position hasn’t been merged with another, requiring new skills.
We can get most of this information through industry forums or publications. We can also use our old in-person network or create an account with online networks to begin learning about any potential changes. And don’t forget to read first-person accounts of individuals who have successfully restarted their careers after similar breaks. They may have useful advice that we never thought about or considered.
This is also an opportunity to assess whether we would like to keep doing what we were doing before the break or branch out in a different direction. A career break can be a blessing in the sense that it gives us an opportunity to pause and regroup our knowledge and resources.
No matter what we choose to do, it is always important to have a strong and up-to-date knowledge base, so that we can move confidently forward.
Get into the groove
Our brain runs on habit, and the lifestyle we lead at the moment determines what kind of habits we have. The difference between an at-home or travel life versus working full-time can be vastly different. Changing lifestyles can feel jarring and uncomfortable, especially if we jump headlong into it. And that could impact our performance.
When we are considering a career restart, therefore, it can be helpful to start with small and gradual steps. Things like volunteering at a non-profit or participating in community events that can strengthen our skill sets. If working full-time feels overwhelming, we can start with a part-time or freelance position to boost not just our skills and confidence.
Challenging our fears
No matter how confident we may be overall, we all have weaknesses or areas that we don’t feel entirely proficient in. When we feel this way, it’s natural that we avoid engaging in them. But getting out of our comfort zone can be a true game-changer. It helps us become more confident, learn to innovate and solve problems better and acquire new skills that we may not have even known we possess.
Challenging our fears can be a good exercise when we prepare for a career restart. Have a fear of public speaking? Start by giving a speech at a family wedding. Go bungee jumping or rock climbing. Start learning a new and unfamiliar language. Even if the action is not related to our body of work, the simple act of overcoming our fear can help immensely in alleviating the self-doubt and anxiety that inevitably comes with a career restart.
Career breaks can come with a lot of stigmas, and some companies still link it with unemployability. These negative aspects can make a career restart a fraught and anxious project. But it’s worth remembering that a career break also provides us with a clean slate, giving us time to hone our skills and regroup our resources for a better future work life. The key, as always, is preparing ourselves for the upcoming changes.