When Getting Back to Work is a Military Manouver

The return to work after a long absence is full of indignities and isolation. I know, because with a career spanning two kids and several countries, I've made this kind of comeback already three times. In the 21st century, many of us don’t aspire to spend life in an unbroken stint of paid office dwelling. Consulting firms and universities offer “sabbaticals,” civilized countries offer paternity leave, and the increase in remote working and freelance contract work means employment gaps among women and men are becoming more and more common. But you'd never know this from most corporate hiring processes. 

Would-be returnees of any gender discover that no one cares what you did in the good old days. Skills used more than a year ago are considered "too old," and if you're not savvy about self-marketing, you could be seen that way, as well. Even though a CV or résumé is nothing but a list of past achievements, it’s hard to sneak past living and computerized employment gatekeepers with gaps in employment.

GETTING PAST THE GATEKEEPERS

How can a regular person avoid intrusive questions such as:

  • did your brain wither in your time away from an office?
  • does your status as a mom mean you can never travel?
  • does ‘travel’ to you mean that you'll forever be leaving work early for ‘family matters’? 

There are three proven ways of getting your foot in the door after an employment gap - based on the same type of pattern-matching that tech-driven companies love:

  1. Treat your job search like a military operation. You wouldn’t infiltrate a location without learning everything you could about its people, products, competitors and most recent business results, would you? Use LinkedIn, Xing, Google and your network to find out who's doing what, and their priorities. Decide what kinds of business challenges you want to assume.
  2. Lose the definitive life story For an employer, a candidate with a year or more of inactivity is like an aspiring athlete with seasons on the bench. Employers want to hire a team equipped with insights, "lessons learned," and practical experience. Get ready to ruthlessly cut and massage your CV so that it demonstrates what you know and can do for Employer X today, tomorrow, and in the foreseeable future...while looking, as much as possible, like other CVs look. You do NOT want to stand out for having the longest list of work roles or having had the highest title. In fact, you will probably need to:
  3. Go Mission: Impossible on paper. Don't be afraid to re-brand your life, continuously if necessary. To get yourself into a specific role or company, you need to be as adaptable as a mask-wearing agent. Focus on getting in the building, not on how you're being announced. The best time to start these changes? Right now:  change your mindset from awaiting discovery by a company, to engaging in meaningful projects and documenting them in public.

SIDE PROJECTS AREN'T PLAYTIME

Side projects are not just for college students and software developers: they can also help you bridge the distance between what you used to do and what you'd like to be doing. Technology can help via free online courses, storytelling tools, prototyping templates, podcast editors...in short, ways to make yourself heard. If you're not sure your interests are in step with the job market, you can: 

  • take an adult-education class that includes a Capstone requirement 
  • study online and join a project group or study-related meetup IRL
  • volunteer, mentor or teach a class in a subject that interests you

Although it often feels that way, it isn't only moms who struggle to re-enter the workforce: anyone with a lengthy gap in their employment history can face a rough return to professional work. FrauenLoop trains women in technology areas, but in addition, we stress adaptability as the single strongest skill. We know that more and more employers globally look for a mix of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skill sets — including the ability to convey information effectively. By focusing on career-changers, FrauenLoop equips our students to tell their professional stories in a manner commensurate with industry expectations. Our résumé-, CV-, and interviewing workshops cover these and other insights with diverse groups of recent immigrants and resident Germans.

Want to know more? Check out frauenloop.org — coding in context for EU women residents and newcomers.

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