how to return to work after a career break

How to return to work after a career break: Top tips and advice to help you return to work

On June 15th, ViewVo, along with The Return Hub and She’s Back ran a Twitter Chat dedicated to those interested in returning to work following a career break.  In case you missed the chat, here are the key points that were discussed:


What are the main challenges facing those returning to work?



The Return Hub pointed out that many traditional recruitment firms have automated screening processes which tend to automatically screen out those who’ve taken a career break. A more personal approach with more enlightened employers is needed, which is where both She’s Back and The Return Hub come in.


Your own demons

Many people overestimate experience and underestimate skills.  The lack in confidence is entirely justified when you consider how people traditionally value and view a CV.

Your job is to convince potential employers that your skills are more valuable than the premium they may be placing on industry specific and recent experience.

Who would you rather employ?  A person with 10 years ‘industry experience’ who is pants at building relationships, or someone with no experience but great relationship building skills?  Within a year, the latter will be streets ahead of the former.  The person interviewing you doesn’t have the time or bandwidth to do the work for you – so you need to make the connections obvious and clear.


Not knowing what you want to do

Welcome to the world!  Who on earth does know what to do?  Stop beating yourself up if you haven’t got a passion or don’t know where your ideal career lies.  The reality is, you don’t have the luxury of choice and your bar is just too damn high.  Read more where I re-adjust the lens here on why the expectations you may have are probably unrealistic and have been unhelpfully misguided by what I call the ‘love and passion’ dreamers.


What can I do during my career break to give myself the chance of being able to return to a good job?

Rachel Bridgman from The Flex Factor was a strong contributor to the discussion and advises maintaining your network is important. We agree – if after a few years into a career break you do want to return to work (even in a different industry), it’s far better to nurture people who already know and like you than trying to build up again from scratch.  Your network know hundreds of other people – you’d be surprised how many contacts your network has collectively.

She’s Back say you should keep learning. Do a course, do anything!  Your biggest barrier will be to prove you are still relevant.  Doing courses shows your commitment to staying up to date.  In a world of free webinars, MOOC’s, e-learning providers, free meet-ups, free courses – you literally have no excuse.  Oh and it’s fun too, and a great way to connect with new audiences.


What if I want to change direction or try a different career – would I have to take a step back to do this?

You can pivot – take your existing skills but try using them in a different industry. Excuse the crass example, but let’s say you work in marketing for an industry which doesn’t allow flexible working.  You can take your skills and move industry.  The start-up world love part-time and flexible workers with amazing marketing skills.

Blatant plug alert – ViewVo helps here too.  Try it out, talk to experts, see for yourself.  Getting the inside story isn’t something you can observe.  It’s something you experience.


How can shadowing another professional during a career break help improve your prospects?

Let me illustrate. Here’s an example video:



Even if you have experience of an industry via being a customer (how many people think they could be expert hoteliers?!), the reality is there are simply some right and wrong things to do. Knowing what websites will destroy your margin, knowing what point of sale terminal to invest in, knowing what coffee machine to buy, knowing what questions to ask when arranging a lease – is truly eye opening.

What builds more confidence? Thinking about the job or doing the job?  What I’m finding is people who shadow a day realise how easy (or not) the job is.  The majority of the time, they leave thinking ‘I wish I’d done this sooner’.  Imagine yourself as an interviewer listening to both of these responses and make up your own mind:

‘I want this job because I’ve shadowed it.  I know it’s within my capabilities, it hasn’t put me off and I want this’

‘I believe this is a great match for my skills and experience. I’ve always wanted to be an xxx’.


What support is there for women thinking of returning to work?


  • The ‘She’s Back’ book is an obvious answer!she's back returning to work book
  • The Return Hub offer free webinars and have a growing number of resources on their site.
  • The Career Farm run by Jane Barrett has a number of online courses and exercises.
  • There are lots of coaches out there
  • City CV is run by Victoria McLean and they help people to get their CV/LinkedIn profile whipped into shape.
  • More from My Career run by Roz Jackson is a great website which covers the rest of all the great resources out there.


A lot of support is targeted at women.  Why is that?

When couples have children, it has traditionally been women who take a career break to look after them. Organisations therefore lose much of their senior female talent pipeline.  Whilst returnship schemes may allow men to apply, they were invented to target women to return. The advice for both men and women is the same though.


How should I explain my gaps on my CV?

Don’t beat around the bush. So yeah, you took a break. So what?  What did you get from it?  Sell it: Agility? Tick. Adapting to change – my new middle name! Dealing with difficult people – done! Nailed it. Oh – and the best of all?  I’ve done the break now I want to return.  I know what I’m missing but want to return anyway.  How many of your current employees can say the same?

Being unapologetic was the overwhelming advice here. Remember – career breaks will be the new norm.  You’ve paved the way and can teach your new employer some valuable lessons. Boom!


What are returnships and how do they work?

They’re a period of paid work for a set time. Typically, they’ll be around 5-10 people over a period of 3-6 months.  No commitment on either side for a full-time job at the end.  Most (but not all) require you to return full-time.


The Tweet Up was fast and furious with some fantastic contributions from those who took part.  To read and meet some of the more vocal tweeters follow:

@viewvo @thereturnhub @shesback @flexibleSurrey @theflexfactor @Dominie @mediasweetpea @C0mebackG1rl @ten2two