How To Rejoin The Workforce After A Long Break

by | Last updated Apr 11, 2021 | Executive Women

A friend of mine recently told me that she was considering rejoining the workforce after a long break- eight years, to be exact.

I said, “Hey, that’s awesome!” and instinctively raised my hand for a high five just as I realized she was pale. She was worried that her talents would no longer be valued; did I think she needed to attend an industry conference before networking for a position? 

“No!”, I said. “Get on the horn today & start calling people!”

I shared that the only way for her to start putting things into motion is to put herself into motion first. The simple act of submitting a resume for an opening or calling a former colleague is enough to stimulate her brain to be mindful of opportunities all around her.

The best way to ensure that her search takes twice as long? Take no action; rather, ruminate about her search, talk about it repeatedly, daydream about it, then wait to be 100% qualified for a position before applying.  

It was apparent from her flushed face and anxious body language that she was struggling to overcome impostor syndrome. I thought to myself, “She has to see herself as a confident business woman before she will be able to convince an employer that hiring her is a good choice.”

Sometimes it helps to know that you are not the only one scaling what feels like an impossible summit. 

43% of highly qualified women leave the workforce to fill caregiving roles. Recent estimates indicate that there are 3 million women in the same position as my friend: they are ready to rejoin the workforce. 

When it comes time to make your pitch to the coworker you used to each lunch with or explain an extended (intentional) lapse in employment to a new professional contact, remember: 

  • returning professionals offer employers an opportunity to hire people with a level of maturity and experience that is unattainable in younger applicants
  • professionals at this stage in life tend to “stick around”, so to speak: many of the life-stage jolts to an employee’s stability, such as marriage, relocation, and parental leaves of absence, are behind them. 

If you are still feeling hesitant about your prospects of landing a professional position when coming into the workforce “cold”, consider some of these options:

Research “returnships” in your desired field or industry

These positions are structured like internships and generally last from 8 weeks to 6 months; they are open to men and women who have taken a career break of at least two years. People rejoining the workforce get to refresh their skills and organizations can evaluate them as potential future employees. If it’s not a fit for one or both parties, no long term commitment has been made, the employer has benefited (and paid for) the work performed, and the returnee has an updated resume to bring into the workforce.  Win-win. 

Outreach specialized recruiting firms

iRelaunch is a company that specializes in matching up employees returning to work with employers eager to hire seasoned talent. Corps Team has evolved from its roots as “Mom Corps”, now helping to match professionals in Accounting, Finance, Marketing and HR. 

Not sure about either of these resources? Give Inspiring Capital (a Certified B Corp a la Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Athleta and Noonday Collection; learn more about Inspiring Capital’s social impact here), Reboot Accel, or PathForward a try.  ALL are focused on people re-entering the workforce after intentional time away, often for caregiving purposes.

Network with college career counselors

Some college career placement programs have expanded their reach to include alumni when it comes to networking and career placement. Some colleges even have career counselors dedicated solely to assisting alumni. Send an email that explains your position and desire to rejoin the workforce, and then see where it goes. 


Research online education and re-certification

The number of online, affordable education courses has skyrocketed in recent years.  The certification that you let lapse? You may be able to to achieve recertification online.  Worried about graphic design skills that are dated, or not being current on the most recent version of the software you used to know inside and out? With a little digging, you can find plenty of low-cost online courses and re-education options that will add a recent completion date to your resume.

Network, network, network

Freshen up your network. Sure, making connections on LinkedIn are good, and publishing articles on LinkedIn are great, but making arrangements to meet past mentors and colleagues face-to-face are invaluable. These contacts will be honored that you reached out to them and will gladly share lunch with you to bring you up to speed on your industry and previous (and potential) employers. Don’t know where to start?  See if there is an Ellevate chapter near you. Ellevate is a community of professional women committed to helping each other succeed.

Consider a career pivot

Just because you worked in in-house graphic design in your “first” career does not mean you must go in-house again, or even work for an agency, for that matter. In the gig economy, you may be able to skip the suits altogether and pick up enough freelance work to a) hone your skills, and b) possibly replace, or even increase, your pre-off-ramp income. Look into sites like Fiverr,, Upwork, and others. 

Still feel like you need a kick in the pants to get in contact with your network? Fewer than 10% of roles are achieved through a formal cover letter and resume application processes.  Technology is here to stay, BUT, so are humans. Get out and go meet some!


Strengthen Your Courage Muscle

There are plenty of books on courage and confidence, and reading them is a great first step towards understanding how to build back your confidence. However, the characteristics of a courageous woman are borne out of a woman who takes action.

Start by taking small steps with low-risk outcomes, then build your way back to being an assertive woman who understands that self-promoting is a necessary part of getting what she wants. Stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t easy at first, but with practice, it becomes a habit. 

Purpose is attracted to motion, so the important thing to take away here is this: JUST START.  Make a phone call, send a text, get gussied up and schedule a business lunch with a former colleague. Hold yourself accountable to a certain number of actions (three phone calls and one lunch each week, or attend one local conference each quarter, etc.) so you can see the moves you’re making along your career path before you’ve landed your desired position.

Every bit of motion counts except for the one you didn’t take, so start today.


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