How to Re-Enter the Workforce After a Pause

Millions of people who have left - or been forced to leave - the workforce in recent months are ready to climb back in. But where to begin and how? Modern Mentor shares her tips on how to successfully re-enter the workforce after a pause.

Rachel Cooke
5-minute read
Episode #659
The Quick And Dirty

Modern Mentor's 5 key steps for returning back to work:

  1. Assess your needs
  2. Revise history
  3. Craft your hero story
  4. Set action goals
  5. Work your plan

Throughout the course of 2020, millions of people left – or were forced to leave – the workforce. Corporate layoffs, ailing relatives, and the need to homeschool children combined to drive unemployment to record highs. 

And now, millions are ready to find their way back to work. But jumping back in – finding and landing just the right job – can be challenging after a pause. Uncertainty, anxiety, and overwhelm are present for many.

But if you’ve decided your moment for re-entry is now, then here are some tips to support you on your journey:

Tip #1: Assess your needs 

Don’t assume that jumping back in exactly where you left off is the right move for you. Time has passed and things have changed. You may have changed. And what you need or want (or what you are ready for) may have evolved.

When you’re in the flow of work, autopilot often takes over, leaving us going through the motions without really pausing to reflect on the experience.

Now that you’ve had a break, you have this beautiful opportunity do be reflective. So don’t squander it – be thoughtful about the last role you held and consider how much you want your next role to be similar or different.  

Ask yourself a few questions about your last job:

  • Do I want to return to the content of that job – was it engaging, challenging, and meaningful to me?
  • How well had I defined and protected my boundaries – was that job working with my lifestyle?
  • What have I learned about the culture of a company I want to work for?
  • What do I miss most and least about my previous job?

Let your responses guide you in selecting possible next roles or career paths.

How to Craft a Job You Love

Tip #2: Revise history

Now it’s time to begin updating your resume, your LinkedIn profile, or whatever assets you’ll be sharing with prospective employers. Honesty is, of course, non-negotiable. But a story can be told a million different ways, all of them versions of the truth.

Your goal here is to define what from your past you want to highlight in order to position you for your ideal future. In looking at your resume, are the right accomplishments featured at the top? Have you focused on the skills, metrics, and experiences you want to call a new employer’s attention to?

You are absolutely entitled to tell a different but equally authentic story about yourself.

How to Explain a Gap in Your Résumé

Perhaps your last role was an analytic one, and your current resume highlights budgets you managed or campaigns you advised on. But in your reflection, you’ve decided you’d like to move into leadership – and so your new resume should focus on group projects you led, or clients whose decisions you persuaded using your analytic capability.

They’re all facts. You’re just choosing to bring specific ones to the forefront, designed to position you as the person – the expert – you’d like prospective employers to be excited about.

Maybe you were a detail-oriented and insightful data analyst before the pandemic. And now you’ve spent the past many months homeschooling your children.

Tip #3: Craft your hero story

It’s time now to tell a story. And you are the protagonist. This is the story of you – before, during, and after the pause. It’s the story from which you’ll pull examples and conversation points as you begin reaching out to your network and prospective employers.

It’s your opportunity to control your own narrative – to demonstrate all the skills and experiences you collected before the pause, combined with your resilience, perseverance, and insightful reflection gained during.

Maybe you were that detail-oriented and insightful data analyst before the pandemic. And now you’ve spent the past many months homeschooling your children. I bet that took tremendous planning, self-education, and creativity on your part.

So weave these pieces into a narrative that speaks of attention to detail, an ability to draw insight from data, and now the capacity to learn new things quickly, to change and plan a course of action, and to communicate simply and plainly so that even a child could understand you.

You have the opportunity here to craft a unique and compelling narrative of who you are and how your next employer will benefit from all of your experiences. This story elevates you from a data analyst who’s been unemployed for a while into a whole, crafty, never-stopped-for-a-minute candidate. Position yourself like you mean it.

You have the opportunity here to craft a unique and compelling narrative of who you are and how your next employer will benefit from all of your experiences.

Tip #4: Set action goals

Now you’re armed and ready. It’s time to get moving. You’ll need to start researching companies, reaching out to your network, scheduling coffee chats and all the fun things that are involved in job searching. The truth is, you may get lucky and land something in a week. But for many the process will take months. And it can be discouraging if you let it.

The best way to keep momentum high and disappointment at bay is to focus on what you can control versus what you can’t. You can control whether you do research, how many emails or inquiries you send out, how often you put yourself out there. You can not control the results.

Therefore, setting goals like “I will land five interviews per week” or “I will find a new job within two months” is unproductive. Instead set goals whose outcomes you can control, like:

  • I will research 100 companies over the next six weeks.
  • I will send five new LinkedIn requests each day for a month.
  • I will start a blog and post one article per week to showcase my expertise.
  • I will take one online class every two weeks on a relevant topic.

Action goals provide – and allow you to celebrate – momentum. And momentum is the fuel that will carry you to success.

Tip #5: Work your plan

Your action goals offer you a roadmap. Turn them into a plan – start adding that research time, those calls, that blog-writing time into your calendar. And then honor your commitments.

Find support where you need it. Treat yourself to rewards when you do the thing you said you’d do. Trust that enough action will ultimately lead to a positive outcome. And give yourself some grace. This past year hasn’t been smooth sailing for anyone. Just remember you’re the only one who can keep you in the hero role in your own story. So keep on keeping on. 

About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.

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