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Returning to work after a career break

A typical journey back to paid employment following a period away from the job market generally follows this path:

  • What can I (still) offer?
  • Who will take me?
  • Where is the most flexible/local opportunity that offers reasonable compensation?

Then, after a flurry of optimistic application/CV sending, the 'Dear John/Jane' replies arrive, and self-confidence plummets.

A more effective formula for a relaunch starts with a marketing mindset: the 'four Ps'.

The four Ps

  • YOU are the Product (full of KASH - Knowledge, Attitude, Skills and Habits)
  • carrying a Price (salary),
  • to sell in a Place (target employer),
  • deserving and capable of self-Promotion (in the job market)

On this page:


Tips to help relaunch your career

1. Self-reflection

Are your knowledge and skills up to scratch? If not, address the gaps via refresher courses, reading about current industry issues and following potential employers on LinkedIn and Twitter.

2. Solicit feedback

Ask friends and family for feedback on what you're good at (with specific examples). Shortlist a handful of achievements that you are truly proud of - do these cover the following soft skills that employers desire most (from Careerbuilder.com)?

A strong work ethic:

  • Dependable
  • Positive attitude
  • Self-motivated
  • Team-orientated
  • Organised and can manage multiple priorities
  • Works well under pressure
  • Effective communicator
  • Flexible
  • Confident

Remember KASH. Employers shortlist candidates based on their Knowledge and Skills but sack employees because of their behaviours (Attitudes and bad Habits).

3. Prepare to network

Start by reconnecting with stale contacts and askingthem for tips. Open a LinkedIn account if you do not already have one (essential for all professionals). Develop relationships to form allies that can support you, but for whom you can also reciprocate. See our advice on networking for more tips.

4. Get organised

Get business cards printed and have your elevator pitch (an introduction that says who you are, what you do well, and shows off your unique selling points) ready. You need to make an impact in around a minute.

5. Be strategic

Don't underestimate the importance of trusted personal recommendations to get you in front of target employers. Don't rely on being the lucky one to get shortlisted on the basis of just a paper application. This can be a long shot if used as the only method to get noticed.

6. Compile your 'advert'

Highlight the achievements in your career biography, starting with your pre-break experience. Briefly explain your break but don't justify or apologise for it. Include periods of study/volunteering. Think of the skills you've continued to develop that could be used in the workplace. This career summary/advert will be your 'shop window' on paper (CV) and online (profile). Be explicit about what you're now looking for in your career relaunch. Don't forget to post a professional photo online.

7. Build and maintain

Make networking a central part of your relaunch strategy - experiment with different networking groups, remembering that it's the quality of relationships that matter, not the quantity. Ensure you log conversations and follow up where appropriate in a timely manner - first impressions count.

8. Fill the gaps

Use your growing network of contacts to plug any gaps in your experience by proposing a short project or work placement, 'returnship', freelance, interim or temp work, or skilled volunteering. You should seek to enhance your experience where the gaps really matter - many recruiters only seek candidates with relevant, up-to-date experience.

9. Be resilient

Keep applying for suitable roles - and be sure to request feedback where you have not been successful. When you receive feedback, listen and learn, and alter your content/approach accordingly.

10. Remember how much you have to offer

Never forget that your career break has developed valuable transferable skills - use them to your advantage to present yourself as a well-rounded individual who is agile and capable of dealing with change.

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Back to work - Law Society members discuss relaunching their legal careers

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