15 Expert Tips for Re-Entering the Workforce

Re:Work 2015

Changing careers or re-entering the workforce after time away can be daunting.

For the fifth year in a row, we hosted a series of workshops designed to ease this transition. The program, RE:WORK V, presented expert speakers on topics like marketing yourself, resume writing, social media and interviewing. Here are their 15 best tips for your success.

Address the “Gap”

There are two kinds of work-related gaps: time and experience. The former appears on your resume as white space exposing the months or years since your last job. The latter crops up when the skills needed in your industry have evolved or when you want to make a total career switch.

Explaining the Time Gap:

–In interviews, be honest and stay positive. Don’t apologize or complain about previous experiences. Raheela Anwar, vice president of global outplacement for Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says, “You didn’t leave the workforce or prior jobs because you were unhappy, you left for something that was a better fit for you.”

–Highlight skills gained in activities you engaged in while out of the workforce. “You have experience, whether you were paid for it or not,” says Meg Schmitz, entrepreneur and franchise consultant.

–Keep a future focus; don’t view your resume as a history of your past. “A resume should convey what you can do for someone in the future,” says Patricia Glydenfeldt, director of training for Challenger, Gray & Christmas. With this perspective, the gap becomes less important because you’re focusing on how you can meet employers’ needs.

–Glydenfeldt says that a functional, rather than chronological, resume, might be a better career changers. This type of resume is organized by functional skills with details of relevant achievements for each. Then it provides a simple list of employers, dates and titles.

Remedying the Skill Gap:

–Engage in volunteer/pro-bono work. “A recent LinkedIn survey found that one in five employers hired someone primarily because of his or her volunteer experiences outside of the office,” says Andrea Ziel, executive director for WomenOnCall.

–Seek a mentor or champion. Identify someone in your personal or professional life who can advise on skill building or just help keep you on task. Set up weekly conversations.

–Gain additional formal education or certification in your desired field. Ziel suggests online resource edX.

–Look for an internship in your desired field.

Utilize the Internet

A recruiter no longer just looks at your resume. He or she will also seek information about you online. It’s important to curate your online identity.

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–Make your Facebook profile private and your LinkedIn profile public. Reserve Facebook for socializing, connecting with friends and entertainment, while LinkedIn should represent your professional identity—a place to make useful contacts and search for opportunities. Don’t post personal details on LinkedIn.

–Beef up your LinkedIn profile. Add a photo—it will make your profile 11 times more likely to be viewed. Ensure your history is current and consistent with your resume. Ask appropriate members of your network to write a recommendation. Dina Gallay from LinkedIn says, “When you’re making profile changes, make sure to disable ‘notifications’ so that your entire network doesn’t get a play-by-play of every update you make.” (Click on “profile” then “edit profile” and look to the bottom right to find “notify your network?” and click “no.”).

–Build connections. Grow your network by searching your address book via LinkedIn to locate others. You can also click “people you may know” in the upper right corner of your profile page. Always reach out to recruiters who have viewed your profile. Take a moment to personalize your connection requests. Be sure to follow companies you’re interested in.

Build a Strong Resume

Glydenfeldt reminds us to focus on our audience. “People don’t want to read what you want, they want to read what they need,” she says. “Address their needs in your resume.”

Resume quick tips:

–Read job descriptions of your ideal position and include keywords in your resume.

–No need to drastically customize a resume for each job—that’s what a cover letter is for.

–Instead of an objective at the top of your resume, write a summary statement. An objective is me-focused, whereas a summary offers a snapshot of your skills and experience.

–Use present tense in summary and past-tense, active verbs for the rest.

–Double-check for grammatical errors.

–Electronically submit your resume in MS Word or Rich Text Format (rtf) so it’s easily searchable.

DON’T:

–Write a resume longer than three pages

–Include references

–Use more than one font (though it’s OK to bold text or vary size)

–Save as PDF or use tables in your document as they often don’t work in applicant tracking systems

Conduct a Winning Interview

“In an interview, you’re either building credibility or giving reasons to be eliminated,” Anwar says. Follow these tips to avoid getting cut.

–Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. Anwar suggests that 80 percent of what you say should be planned. Get good at describing yourself in three sentences. Also, have eight to 10 stories ready in response to common questions about challenges you’ve dealt with and projects and employees you’ve managed.

–If asked prickly illegal questions about topics like childcare, religion or disability, offer a professional non-disclosing response such as, “There’s nothing that will prevent me from doing great work.”

Interview quick tips:

–If given a choice between a meeting over the phone or in person, always meet face-to-face.

–Dress for the organization’s culture. Ask an assistant or do some sleuthing on the company’s website to determine if employees wear suits or are more casual.

–Don’t ask about salary, vacation, benefits and hours. That will come later.

–At the interview’s close, ask a forward-motion question like, “What is the next step in this process?” Leave on a positive note.