How to Relaunch Your Career After a Break
In a recent MATRIX webinar titled Alternative Hiring Pools – Finding Talent in New Places, Carol Fishman Cohen, Chair and Co-founder of iRelaunch, discussed issues for individuals looking to relaunch their career after an absence from the workplace. Watch the full recording of the webinar here.
“If you look at the population of relaunchers, the large majority of them are women who take career breaks for childcare reasons, but there are also men who do that, too,” said Cohen.
“There are also men and women who take career breaks for reasons that have nothing to do with childcare. The reason could be eldercare, pursuing a personal interest, a personal health issue, or an expat experience. Some of the programs that we work with in companies incorporate both veterans and military spouses.”
This population is large if you consider the Bureau of Labor (BLM) microdata of women who are between the ages of 25 and 54 with children under 18 and a bachelor's degree or higher. About 22% of them are not in the workforce. It translates to about 2.7 million women, and about 80% of that group is interested in returning, according to studies.
What are some ways for this group to become more engaged in the workplace?
“Internships are a great way. Personally, when I did this, I was chomping at the bit to get back to work. Employers often comment that relaunchers inject this same kind of enthusiasm, because they're so excited to be at work. Some companies sponsor formal in-house internship programs called ‘returnships’ where someone is in their role for 16 weeks and then typically converts into a full-time employee after that trial period."
There is a perception among some hiring managers that it is risky to hire someone who is coming off a career break, and that is why so many of the programs have been created as internship-like programs.
What we're talking to employers about is that this is a high-caliber population and people don't lose their abilities to be high performers simply because they take a career break.
We're seeing very consistently conversion rates of over 80%, so clearly the model is successful. In fact, what we're seeing now is fascinating. Some companies are switching their model from a return trip model to what we call direct hire when people are hired on day one as an employee.
So they're foregoing the internship because either they had very high conversion rates in their initial cohorts, or two, they've been following the data and seeing results of other companies, and have been encouraged about the conversion rates they are seeing.”
How do you prepare yourself to return to the workforce?
“We had a manufacturing engineer who wanted to get into quality engineering after an 11-year career break. She looked around and saw that every job description she was looking at required Lean or Six Sigma certification. She had to go out and obtain that. She said that with most of these courses, she was in a class with other people who were working full time. And she's the only one who had time to do the homework. So, she really stood out in the class. Then they had to do something called a Lean mapping study and she was able to do that at someone's company who was in the class.
So, she got that certification. Then she reached out to people who she knew in her network— many from the past, people with whom she worked, or went to school with. She ended up connecting with someone who had been junior to her when she was working, who was now senior, and she ended up working for that person.”
What pushback or concerns do hiring managers have?
“Concerns usually center around technological obsolescence, especially people who are returning to technical roles after a long career break. We recommend taking their own coursework, whether it's through an edX or similar certificate program or an actual degree.
Then we say it's a temporary condition once they've upgraded their skills. They're not technologically obsolete anymore.
The other piece in terms of obsolescence is on office management productivity tools like Slack, Basecamp, Zoom, Yammer, etc. And how comfortable people are with those tools. We're telling relaunchers to take volunteer roles where you're forced to learn those by immersing yourself-also through coursework.”
What do you suggest for qualified, older, experienced professionals who have gone into independent consulting and want to return to an employee status?
“It depends on the situation, but if people have been doing occasional consulting over a period of years, you can put that you've been on a career break. And one of the things that you've been doing during the career break is occasional consulting. But, if you have been really doing independent consulting over a period of time, it doesn't fall into that category. And it wouldn't be straightforward to characterize it as a career break.”
Independent consultants may have an easier time entering the work world full-time.
MATRIX Director of Professional Development Megan Abstein said the stigma of independent consulting is no longer what it was in the past.
“The gig economy has made it more acceptable for many hiring managers,” Abstein said. “I remember one client who wouldn’t look at a resume unless the individual had a minimum of four years of work in their last three jobs.”
“Now they are asking us for contractors, because they have high-value projects that need to be completed rapidly.”
Abstein added that in a virtual world, candidates should consider virtual tools to help them better position themselves and fill in the career gap years with meaningful experience that relates to job skills.
She said many employers look first at a LinkedIn profile to gauge the skills of a prospective candidate, rather than the resume. “You just can’t depend on a resume anymore,” she said. “Build out your profile. Explain how you have bettered yourself in your LinkedIn overview. If you have gotten certifications, put them in skills area. If you have done gig work, put it in your work profile. If you have volunteered, put it in the volunteer section.”
“All that makes a difference when it comes to your public persona.”