How to bounce back to work after a career break

A career break doesn’t mean a growth break.  Whether it was self-imposed for health, wellness, or family reasons– or from an external factor like a layoff, there’s a way to position that life experience to make you a stronger candidate in your job search.  Reentering the workforce after taking a career break can be challenging

A career break doesn’t mean a growth break. 

Whether it was self-imposed for health, wellness, or family reasons– or from an external factor like a layoff, there’s a way to position that life experience to make you a stronger candidate in your job search. 

Reentering the workforce after taking a career break can be challenging for countless reasons. You might feel out of touch with your professional colleagues or overwhelmed by the ever-changing corporate environment. In addition to self-doubts, there are the attitudes of employers to consider. Some view candidates who have taken a break as a high-risk proposition.

All of which leads to that all-important question: Can I really relaunch my career?

I want to reassure you that you most certainly can. I know because I did it myself. I’ve taken three different career breaks, the longest of which was to raise my son. Each time I reentered the workforce, I had to figure out what I needed in regards to salary, visa stability, title, and company reputation. Meanwhile, considering which one will provide me with the best place to grow while still being able to manage my family with new work. Following my most recent job search, I joined Intuit as a full-time employee and I haven’t looked back since.

You’re not alone

According to a poll of 3,000 working parents conducted by LinkedIn and Censuswide, 49% of women take an extended maternity break. Among working women who didn’t take a break, three in four wanted to, but their financial situation prevented it. 

The pandemic brought additional stress, leading nearly 2 million women to drop out of the workforce. And 61% of women say that it was challenging to reenter the workforce. So how do you face those challenges?

A lot of the difficulties people face when trying to get back into the workforce have to do with their state of mind. There’s a tendency to get stuck in your own head, which can lead to inertia. If you’ve taken a break from work, you’re not alone. You may also be surprised by the number of people who have taken a break and successfully reentered the workforce.

Here are 7 action steps you can take to get back in the saddle after a career break.

  1. Focus on yourself.

I know it’s easier said than done, but take some time to figure out what you really want to do. What matters to you at this stage of your life and career? Are you ready to return to work full-time or do you require flexibility in your work schedule? What are your strengths, interests, and skills? Be sure to list any new skills you gained during your break too. A useful way to reassess your skills is to take an inventory of them before versus after your break. 

You can even reach out to your network of former managers and coworkers to ask them what you were good at. They’re familiar with your skill sets and know what you can do, sometimes even better than you do. Ask those in your professional network to provide their recommendations on LinkedIn. It’ll remind you of your achievements and contributions.  

These questions will shed light on what you’re good at today and what skills you’ve developed while you were on a career break. Remember, don’t overlook or trivialize valuable skills you learned during your career break. Maybe it was unpaid work as a caregiver or community volunteer. Or maybe you were a professional resource for your family or friend while doing a home renovation or editing a group newsletter. They all contribute to skills like multitasking, leadership, mentoring, or project management. 

  1. Define or document why now is the ideal time to return

By finding the intention behind your reason to return, you add clarity to your story. Is it money, social connections, or your passion for your chosen field? What do you love to do, what are you good at, and how are you different– this is your value proposition. Use that to own and tell your story in applications and interviews. 

This can also be used to create an effective elevator pitch for yourself. Update your resume, but understand that it’s only one tool in your arsenal. Take time to build your LinkedIn profile with a strategy on how you will brand yourself.

  1. Network to build your confidence

Broadcast your job search. When reentering the workforce, anyone can be a potential lead. It helps to expand your network virtually and, if comfortable, through in-person events.

I recommend you also look for a mentor who can guide you. They will hopefully connect you with a broader network and debunk any bad advice you may have heard, such as trying to hide your career gap, sticking to only what you did before, refusing to pivot, etc. Find someone who’ll be your true critic and provide feedback in support of your journey. This can be a spouse, friend, or former coworker. 

In my own career journey, I have turned to volunteering to build confidence and experience. You can find relevant volunteer opportunities to strengthen your brand and your network. It also keeps you involved, relevant, and can help you stand out to recruiters. 

  1. Refresh your skills

Listen to podcasts, subscribe to tech publications, and participate in different social forums to lift your confidence in your skills and knowledge. Take advantage of free resources to uplevel both soft and technical skills.  There are several web-based learning outlets like bootcamps, certifications, and even college courses. 

At Intuit, prospective employees can enroll in our Talent Community to receive exclusive news, job updates, and content to aid in their development and job search. 

  1. Apply widely and be prepared to enter a new world

If you are going the direct hire route, apply to full-time, temp, and contractor positions. Even if you don’t have 100% of the qualifications, apply! Recruiters are looking for personnel fits as much as skill fits.

Your next step to reenter the workforce could land you in a very different sphere than you previously worked in. Be ready for the change and embrace it. The world around you may be different, but so are you. Utilize your new skills and drive to reenter the workforce as motivation. 

  1. Set realistic expectations

Don’t assume that you will return to the same job title or job level where you left off. While the title may be different, this is a major opportunity to pursue a job you really want. Figure out what industries, fields, or careers you are interested in or curious about today.   

You may even need to start with an internship or consider returnship programs. Returnship programs can offer a gradual onramp (4-6 months) for people looking to return to work.

The Intuit Again returnship program is a supportive pathway back into the technology workforce after a break. You’ll work on a team to refresh and then apply your newly learned skills in a supportive, structured 16-week program. The program is supported by a dedicated program team composed of leaders, program managers, and fellow returnees.

  1. Prepare for interviews

For general interviews, research the organization and learn where it’s headed.  When you find a company you are drawn to, consider using their own blog to understand more about their culture and objectives to see if it aligns with your goals. You can even look to social media platforms like LinkedIn and TikTok for career advice preparation.  

In the interview itself, make a human connection with the people you are talking to. Be authentic, and try to create a back-and-forth dialogue. If you need time to think about your response, ask for it. Hiring managers appreciate thoughtful responses. 

Also, take time to draft questions that you’ll ask the interviewer. It shows that you care and can provide valuable insight when comparing companies. My standard list of questions are: What technology are they using in the company? What is the work culture? What kind of sprint they follow? How many people report to one manager? 

While it may feel a bit bold, I’d encourage anyone to ask the hiring manager what would stop them from being hired.  In most cases, you’ll never receive the direct, actionable feedback you need to really get better. This is an excellent but often overlooked opportunity to improve in the interview process.

Time to execute the plan!

Now that you know what you want and you have a plan, it’s time to go forth and execute it. You might have to let go of some things, but make sure that you’re selective and strategic, so that you can move towards your goals. 

Try your best to find a role that is satisfying and gives you the chance to showcase your skills, while continuing to grow, even if that means accepting a lower-level job or an internship. Have faith in yourself and your ability to make meaningful contributions to any company.

Finally, remember that it’s OK to take a break, whether by personal choice or necessity. You will be able to bounce back and resume your career. You are beyond defeat!