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Returning to the Workforce

There are many reasons for leaving the workforce for an extended period of time. The most common is childcare, but other ones include:

  • Care for an aging parent or other family member
  • Furthering your education through full-time study
  • Health issues
  • Spouse relocation
  • Discouragement with not landing employment
  • Travel or other “bucket list” items

Allow me to interject before we look at what’s involved in returning to the workforce. All too often, work done without pay, such as childcare or caring for an aging parent, isn’t considered “work” at all. It most certainly is work, and the skills used and developed are as valuable as the skills ones uses and develops in paid employment.

The decision to return to the workforce may be an easy one, or very difficult. Very often, whatever the situation, returners have similar concerns:

  • Will anyone hire me? Will my experience be perceived as out-of-date?
  • How will I adjust to full- or part-time employment?
  • How do explain my gap on my resume? My LinkedIn profile? In an interview?
  • I haven’t kept up with technology; how will I be able to compete with other candidates?
  • I’m not interested in doing the kind of work I was doing before I left the workforce, but I don’t know what I do want to do.

With a clear goal, and a plan, you can achieve success.

You are not alone! Many people have made this transition, and you can too.

Figure out your target(s). What’s important to you at this stage of your life? What are your transferable skills? What type of work do you want to do? What are your target organizations?

Develop the right mindset. This is absolutely crucial. You have skills and maturity that are valuable to potential employers. You must believe this in order to successfully transition back into the workforce.

Use resources that are already there. Check out the resources from these organizations, which specialize in helping returners. Their websites contain a myriad of articles, videos, and webinars.

iReLaunch ( offers the iRelaunch Return to Work Conferences, iRelaunch Employer Events, and works with over 100 global companies on return to work initiatives of all kinds, through which thousands of relaunchers have resumed careers after career breaks of one to over 20 years.

Path Forward ( empowers people to return to the paid workforce after a career break to accommodate caregiving. Path Forward offers returning professionals the opportunity to restart their careers with companies that appreciate the skills they offer, the perspective they provide, and the contributions they can make. 16-week mid-career return to work opportunities are open to individuals with at least 5 years of professional experience who have been out of the paid workforce for two or more years for caregiving purposes. The Path Forward website provides webinars, success stories, career advice blogs, and job opportunities.

See other websites for returners here.

Read a book. In particular, read Back On The Career Track by Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin. Referred to as the “Bible of Career Reentry”, this book takes you through the seven steps to successful career reentry after a break.

Consider a returnship. This is a concept that has been growing in recent years, where companies create programs that ease the transition back into the workforce. Think of it as an internship for returners. Read more here.

 Create your own returnship. You checked the lists and don’t see a returnship in your field or preferred geographic area? Don’t give up! Develop your own using the tips in this article.

Get up-to-speed on computer/technology skills. There’s no getting around it… in most fields, computer skills are crucial. Find out which ones you need for your re-entry and hone your skills via self-study, free and paid courses, and certificate programs. Include this information in your resume, in a section titled “Professional Development”.

Engage with professionals in your target field. Scour the Internet for information on the latest trends in your industry. Invite professionals to connect with you on LinkedIn, then follow up with a request for a conversation. Join LinkedIn groups that are relevant to your desired transition, and comment on posts others have made.

Volunteer for a nonprofit to build skills and credibility. We’re not talking about just volunteering for the fun of it, but unpaid work that aligns with your career goals. For example, if you want to move into a marketing role, seek or create volunteer roles that utilize the same skills you’ll be using in that paid employment.

Start your own business. What are you doing for free (or low cost) for friends, relatives and neighbors that is relevant to your re-entry objective? Perhaps you find yourself being asked to proofread papers, resumes and business communication, and you’re interested in obtaining employment that uses your natural writing and editing skills. You can start a self-employed sole proprietor business and cite these relevant tasks (using the min-CAR story format) in your resume and LinkedIn profile.

Connect through your professional association(s). If you’re not already involved in professional associations in your desired field (at the national, state and/or regional level), it’s time to become a member, attend events and join a committee.

Develop internal advocates in your target organizations. This is especially important for returners, as applying for jobs posted online is unlikely to be a successful strategy when you’ve been out of the workforce for a number of years. The best resource for how to do this is The 2-Hour Job Search, 2nd edition by Steve Dalton.


Need help with your return to the workforce? Contact Debra Franke, Assistant Director of Alumni Career Programs, at or 215-991-3582.