Coming Back from a Career Break

Dec 11, 2023 | Career Advice, Professional Development, Student and Alumni Resources

Returning to the workforce can be just as exciting as it is daunting. You might be eager to get back into a former career field or break into a new one but still might face challenges in a rapidly changing job market, age discrimination, self-doubt, and employment/skills gaps on resumes that future employers will ask about. Upskilling old skills, gaining new ones and/or building a new professional network might be necessary in building back a resume that will land career opportunities. 

Overcoming the Gap: Highlighting Transferable Skills & Gaining New Ones

Career breaks are sometimes necessary. There are a range of reasons as to why someone might have to take time away from their professional lives: taking care of a loved one, raising a family, taking a mental health break, or fulfilling other personal responsibilities. Whatever the reason, there are paths back to the workforce that can make the challenge of returning a bit easier. By overcoming the skills gap, formatting resumes functionally, addressing absences, and building a professional community beyond the resume are all vital ways of creating a successful professional identity after time away.
As someone willing to enter the workforce after a career break, they need to be confident in the knowledge and skills that they have, and the courage to figure out what they are lacking for the current job market. Any type of career break teaches something and there are often transferable skills that can be relevant enough to put onto a resume; “Transferable skills are often called “portable skills” because you can bring what you’ve learned from one job to another. You can apply these general skills to various fields, working environments, and industries,” as noted by The Forage. A few examples of transferable soft skills that could have been developed during a career break include:

  • Communication
  • Organization
  • Time management
  • Leadership/Collaboration skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Interpersonal Skills

For those who have had thriving professional careers before taking a career break, another set of transferable skills can be hard skill sets that are related to specific industries and job responsibilities. These could be coding skills, marketing strategies, analytical skills, professional writing and other specialized skills. However, if a long term career break has occurred, these hard skills might be due for some upskilling to meet the current and future demands of the current digital job economy. A way to overcome these challenges is to locate educational opportunities that can aid in improving skills that need revamping or discovering new skills that are necessary for the job. Those who don’t necessarily have the time or means to pursue a traditional education like a college degree, might find success in the affordability and efficiency of an online certificate program. Read more about what a certificate program is and how it differs from traditional educational routes: Certificate Programs vs. College Degrees.

Being able to identify what transferable soft and hard skills are already strong and which ones need to be strengthened can make all the difference when it comes to getting back into professional opportunities after a career break. Consider creating a career development plan that can be used to create a career roadmap. LinkedIn’s Career Guides have a detailed guide on how to create one: 5 Steps to Create a Career Development Plan for Yourself.

career break

Building a Resume after Career Breaks

Building a resume after any career break is a daunting task. There are employment and skills gaps that could be noticed by any future employers reviewing a resume and questions might arise on why someone was away from the workforce. Formatting a resume in a functional and hybrid format can be beneficial in highlighting the important experiences and transferable skills that are just as important as educational credentials or job titles, especially when many hiring managers have turned to skills-based hiring practices. Skills-based hiring is where employers hire “based on specific skills and competencies instead of education or experience (Arnold 2018; Gallagher 2018),” as stated in the March 2022 research report on Skills-Based Hiring and Older Workers.

Both functional and chronological resumes aim to showcase your skills and qualifications to potential employers. However, they differ in how they present the information. A chronological resume lists work history in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent position; each job entry includes the company name, job title, dates of employment, and a brief description of your responsibilities and accomplishments. A functional resume focuses on skills and abilities, grouped into categories like communication, problem-solving, and leadership. It may not list work history in a chronological format and it may only mention the most relevant positions. The Muse offers a breakdown of each type of resume to help determine which might be best in which scenario: A Guide to Resume Formats (and How to Pick the Best One for You!). For those who are entering the workforce after a career break, functional resumes can encourage hiring managers to see your credibility through skill sets and other experiences that do not fall into a chronological timeline.

Addressing the Career Break: Explaining an Absence

Sometimes, addressing the career break is more beneficial than avoiding it. Embracing the career break and integrating it into a resume and cover letter can show future employers that there is no reason for it to have had any negative impact on who someone is professionally. Labeling a career break as a ‘sabbatical, career break, or other experience’ can help frame the time as an opportunity for personal growth and highlight a few transferable skills that were learned during the break. A cover letter accompanying a resume can also help provide the context of a career break; use the space in a cover letter to concisely explain the reason for the break, connect back to how the break reenergized you to refocus on your career goals, and emphasize genuine interested in getting back into specific industries or job responsibilities. While being honest and transparent about reasons for leaving the workforce might be uncomfortable, it can help with showing courage and resilience in wanting to get back on track with professional endeavors.

Beyond the Resume: Building Back a Network

For those returning to the workforce after a break, networking is not simply an option, it’s a crucial tool. It’s a pathway to hidden opportunities, valuable information, and a supportive community that can ease your re-entry into the professional world. Attend alumni events, reconnect on LinkedIn, and schedule coffee chats to rekindle old connections and build new ones within your existing network. Reconnecting with former colleagues can provide valuable insights into your field’s current landscape. Beyond familiar faces, actively seek out industry professionals. Attend industry conferences, join professional associations, and participate in online forums and discussions. This exposure allows you to learn about current trends, connect with potential mentors, and gain valuable insights that can inform your job search. Read more about networking in another one of our blog posts: Networking in the Digital Age.

Remember, networking goes beyond simply seeking job leads. It’s about building genuine relationships, offering expertise, and contributing to professional communities. The more you invest in others, the more likely they are to reciprocate when you need the support

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Upskilling to Break Up with a Career Break

Don’t let a career break hinder chances of landing a dream career in the future. Use a functional resume to your advantage; highlight relevant skills acquired during a career break, such as volunteer work, freelance projects, or personal development initiatives. Emphasize transferable skills like leadership, communication, and problem-solving, demonstrating adaptability and resilience. Address the career break to frame the time as a growing opportunity. Network with familiar and unfamiliar faces in former and new industries to grow a professional community that will invest their support in you when you invest support in them.

As a premier independent provider of vocational certificate programs, Digital Workshop Center is a vital training option for nontraditional students and the professional workforce. For those who have taken longer career breaks and are looking for avenues to upskill, reskill, and/or new skill their core soft and hard technical skills, consider one of our nine certifications in high demand tech skills. Always online with live and expert instructors.