Opinion: How to navigate a return to the workforce
By Nicki Parr
It was a welcome development when LinkedIn recently announced that “Career Break” would now be a standard option in the “Experience” section of a user’s profile. Given that at least half of us will need to take a career break at some point in our working lives — whether to provide care to our children, our parents or, increasingly, ourselves — normalizing this period to prospective employers and peers is significant.
For the estimated 12 million women who were forced into an unplanned career break to care for families and loved ones during early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, wider acceptance of this detour on the career journey will also be seen as a positive.
For many women, however, the time eventually comes when we have to think about returning to work … and then the doubts can start to creep in.
For the returner, it can be a daunting time, especially if she has been out for several years, or longer.
Questions such as “Have I still got it?”, “How much have things changed?”, “Aren’t they just going to be interested in someone younger and fresher?” and “Where do I even begin?” can rattle around our heads, plaguing us with fear, self-doubt, and uncertainty.
For working parents, a whole other level of stressors can creep into the contemplation of the return: “Will I still be able to do school drop-off/pick-up?”, “Will I have to miss my kid’s school performance?”, “What if my child needs to stay home sick?”
The good news is that the work environment has changed considerably since the pandemic began, with employers becoming far more flexible and accommodating to retain their existing workforce — and attract new employees. Depending on your industry, things could seem quite different from how they were even two years ago, with increased flexible schedules, the ability to work from home, the option to take increased time off, etc. Prospective employees can also use these factors as negotiating tools in their job offer.
Still, fears and worries can still paralyze us from taking that first step back into the workplace.
WHAT DO I WANT WITH (WORK) LIFE?
Start by thinking about what kind of work you are interested in doing now (as opposed to before your career break). Consider the time you will have available, what you would like (or need) to earn, what the possible locations are for your new work. Do you want to work for yourself or return to employment?
Gather information by talking to friends and colleagues about their working lives, especially if they have managed a career break. Take the time to explore and ask questions. And leverage their relationships to meet with friends of friends or referrals if you hear about something or someone that piques your interest.
It’s also important to recognize that your first position back after a career break may not be The One. However, it will be the one that gets you back into a new routine and a new momentum, while you dust off those “work skills” and get them back up to speed.
Connecting with a supportive community can help reboot your career. In Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV) is a resource network for anyone looking to start or grow a business – or develop their business and professional skills.
If you are contemplating a return to work, seeking practical strategies and guidance, consider registering for WEV’s one-day workshop: “Yes You Can! Return to Work After a Career Gap.” The workshop will be held Sept. 9 in WEV’s downtown Santa Barbara office. For information and to register, visit wevonline.org/empower.
• Nicki Parr is the director of programs, services and strategy at Women’s Economic Ventures.