Sabbatical, extended leave, taking time off to raise a family—whatever you call it, many people find themselves in a difficult position when the juggling act comes to a halt and they choose or need to leave the workforce.
But what about when the time comes to go back to work? Will you be an outdated fossil? Or can you still be competitive in the job market?
The key to ensuring that you're still appealing to employers is to stay active and in-the-know career wise. With technology at our fingertips, there's no reason you shouldn't be current on what's happening in your field. "Read, read, read and stay current," stresses Lisa Stein of the online support network FreelanceMom.com. "For example, a co-worker of mine (who is a writer/journalist) was unemployed for over a year. She didn't just sit around. She kept up with the latest in her field by learning everything about social media. She attended workshops, started her own blog, and continued to practice her writing. When the time came when she started working again, her learning curve was much smaller."
Staying connected to industry news is as easy as setting up an RSS feed of top industry blogs and media sites. Look for free or affordable conferences and workshops in your city as a way to keep up with what’s happening in your industry and expand your professional network.
Keep in Contact
Just because you're not working doesn't mean you can't continue to network, says Cheryl Palmer, founder of the career-coaching firm Call to Career. "Stay involved in your field," she says. "Join a professional association and attend the meetings so that you maintain your professional contacts."
These industry organizations should be the first place you turn when you're back on the job market. Because you will have spent months or years nurturing these relationships, they'll be more vested in your future search.
New contacts aren't the only ones who will help you find your next job. "Maintain contact with your former co-workers and supervisors," says Andrew Schrage, co-owner of the website Money Crashers Personal Finance. "These people can provide tips and advice on the best places to look for a job as you attempt to re-enter the workforce."
Even if your schedule is a bit crazy, volunteering in your field is another great way to keep your job skills fresh and up to date. Palmer suggests searching a website like VolunteerMatch.org to find opportunities that fit around your schedule.
Volunteering gives you the chance to dust off your job skills as well as learn new ones while you're taking time off. You might get the opportunity to work in different types of organizations, which helps beef up your resume. And you never know: Volunteering at an organization might just lead to your next job.
Make Sure It's Right
Being out of your former work environment may lead you to consider whether you want to go back into the same field or position. "You also need to do a little soul-searching," says Schrage. "Decide for yourself whether staying in your old career or finding a new one is the best way to go. However, finding work in a brand new industry after an employment lapse may make the job hunt that much more difficult."
If you have the money, Schrage suggests working with a career coach to get on the right path for your re-entry into the workforce.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.