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Re-entering the job market after a period of unemployment can be a daunting ordeal, as well as attempting to switch jobs or revitalize a stagnating career. Employers are often reluctant to take a chance on workers without relevant experience in a particular skill-set or with a gap in their employment history. Even enthusiasm may not be enough to achieve the professional success you desire, but with preparation you can present yourself in a way that maximizes the chances for staging a career comeback.
"You left the workforce awhile ago perhaps to raise a family, travel the world or earn another degree and now you're ready to return. You're excited to begin exploring new employment opportunities but also realize that landing a job may not be easy," Robert Half International notes. "With no recent work experience, you wonder if you'll even receive responses from employers, let alone an offer that appeals to you."
Given these circumstances, succeeding in the job market (or even getting your foot in the door) can be fraught with challenges. While having a professional résumé is always an important asset, staging a career comeback requires considerably more effort. A gap in your work history can be particularly troubling, making it crucial for a job candidate to represent the gap as a productive period.
"Get off the Internet and get out of the house. When you have a gap in your resume, scouring job boards and relying on posting your résumé online will not help," ABC News advises. "You have to be in the room with the recruiter to turn that missing time into something interesting and positive. It's your personality and passion that can help overcome the gap, and that can only be accomplished in person."
Searching for job postings online and via classified ads should only be a part of the process. Attempting a career comeback often means overcoming negative perceptions about employment gaps or a lack of relevant experience. Consequently, relying on people who already know you can be a helpful way to hear about open jobs and establish connections with employers. Reach out to family, friends and former colleagues or classmates to get a lead on new opportunities.
Another useful option is to identify your unique attributes or strengths, and broadcast these features as widely as possible. The process of "self-marketing" may draw recruiters or hiring managers toward you, boosting your chances of making a good impression by highlighting your best traits.
"You need to figure out what you can do that no one else (or at least very few people) can do within your profession. Ask yourself, 'How can I use my unique talents and gifts within my profession to help the world, potential employers, clients?' Potential employers or clients are more interested in how you can help them, rather than in hearing about how great you are," Lisa Johnson Mandell, author of Career Comeback: Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want, told NWjobs' Career Center Blog. "Once you have your unique value to others established, you brand yourself. You can do this via your own blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook."
Once you've committed to making a career comeback, it's important to stay determined in the face of adversity and take a methodical approach to achieving your goal. U.S. News and World Report's On Careers blog offers the following tips to help with the process:
- Be ready to offer explanations. Potential employers will want to know why you stepped away from your last job or why your career was sidetracked. Be forthright, try to frame any employment or skill gaps in a positive light and move on to the next subject. Also remember that every experience has helped you grow as a professional, regardless of how relevant it may seem at first glance.
- Stay connected. If you're on a break from your career, try to consult, freelance or volunteer in your industry so that you remain up-to-date on what's happening in your profession. If you're trying to switch to a new career, find trade associations, reading material and networking events to get yourself involved in the field.
- Update your résumé. It probably goes without saying, but if you haven't applied to any jobs in a while, it's important to draft a new résumé that meets today's best practices. Remember to include any activities you undertook outside your career.
- Tap your network. Your old colleagues can be a vital resource for finding work in your chosen career. If you're moving into a completely new field, look for opportunities to meet new people and expand your professional network.
- Broaden your scope. Don't focus solely on obtaining a position similar to one you held in the past. Determine how your skills and talents could apply in a broader range of jobs or industries. Go after some of these new opportunities if they seem appealing now is the time to take chances.
- Don't pass up a good thing. Stay open-minded when staging your comeback. For example, even if you're aiming for a full-time position, don't reject a part-time or freelance job that's in line with your career trajectory. Temporary jobs can lead to full-time work, so they may pay off in the long run.
Throughout your search, it's important to continue developing yourself professionally and honing your abilities, especially if you're planning to move into a new career or were laid off from your previous job.
"Employers are looking for candidates who keep their job skills current and can remain competitive in the global marketplace," employment research firm CareerCast.com explains. "If you're looking to make a career comeback after getting laid off, you can't just rely on what you already know. Today a successful job search includes time spent learning a new skill-set, as well as devising new approaches that will help you become a stronger employee."
Five Tips for Making a Career Comeback
Robert Half International (via CareerBuilder.com), July 7, 2008
Been Away? How to Make a Career Comeback
by Tory Johnson
ABC News, May 9, 2007
How to Stage a Career Comeback
by Michelle Goodman
Career Center Blog (NWjobs), March 21, 2010
6 Tips for a Successful Career Comeback
by Luke Roney
On Careers (U.S. News and World Report), Dec. 28, 2011
The Career Comeback: What General Petraeus Can Teach Job Seekers
by Peter Weddle