Returning to the Work Force After an Absence?

Starting any new job can be as nerve-wracking as it is exciting. While you're anxious for a fresh start and to meet new people, you're nervous that you won't be able to do the job or you won't fit in with co-workers. Things inevitably work out, but that initial doubt can be daunting. People returning to the work force after an extended absence have an additional concern: Will they even find a job?

Yes, they will, according to a recent survey of employees who have recently returned to the work force. Of surveyed workers who returned to work after being gone at least one year, 45 percent found a job in less than one month. Thirty-three percent took between one and six months to find work, while only 14 percent took longer than one year.

Thomas Singer, author and former stay-at-home dad, spent two years out of the work force while he raised his oldest son. "During those two years I focused on keeping my business network alive and active," he says. Each week he had a breakfast meeting and lunch appointment with business contacts in the industry. When Singer transitioned back into full-time work it was easy because he wasn't that removed from the business world.

When Roberta Chinsky Matuson quit her job and took more than a year off to travel, she expected a barrage of questions about her absence when she began job hunting. Instead, she found that people made their own assumptions about her departure, and no one asked her to explain the gap. She realized she could set the tone of her job search, and it didn't need to be defined by her extended leave.

"If you are re-entering the work force and you are so concerned how others will view your time away from the workplace then you will be setting yourself up for a long search," Chinsky Matuson says. "Go in confidently and let potential employers know why you have what it takes to do the job."

Thirty-seven percent of survey respondents cite having to prove themselves all over again as the most difficult part of returning to the work force. For 24 percent, the primary obstacle was explaining the gap in employment. Other issues that caused problems were a lack of required skills or education (20 percent), competition with younger colleagues (18 percent) and employers' fear that returning workers would take another extended absence (9 percent).

In order to make your return to work easier, follow these tips:

1. Use your cover letter to your advantage.

In addition to showcasing your experience and skills, your cover letter can answer any questions about an employment gap that a hiring manager might have.

2. Network. It's a small world.

The more people who know you're looking for a job, the more likely you are to hear about an open position.

3. Knowledge is power.

Stay abreast of new trends, technology and developments in your industry by attending seminars and courses to prove your time off doesn't put you at a disadvantage.

4. Volunteer.

Many employers view volunteer work as relevant experience, so don't be afraid to devote some free time supporting a favorite cause. Volunteering not only benefits others, it also allows you to network and beefs up your resume.

5. Stay positive.

During an interview, emphasize the experience, accomplishments and enthusiasm you can bring to the position. Don't focus on the gap in employment.

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Copyright 2008

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