A stay-at-home mom recently returned to work following a career break. At first, she was unsure where and how to fit into a professional role and bring value, wondering whether she could compete with job seekers with more current experience. She needed to find her confidence again, but it was like searching for buried treasure.
This uncertainty is common among professionals with career breaks. For decades, a career break was considered a career breaker. Women returning to work have faced significant challenges — unrealistic job requirements, unconscious bias inherent in hiring and, in recent years, technology that has been proven to automatically weed out individuals with resume gaps, even if they’re qualified.
Now, with unfilled jobs at a record high and millions of employees looking for new opportunities as part of the Great Resignation and “turnover tsunami,” forward-thinking employers are seeking alternative talent pools — including women returning from career breaks — to create a stronger and more diverse workforce. Employers are also realizing the quantifiable business impact of providing development and community initiatives designed to actively engage and retain more diverse workforces.
Thanks to the plethora of open roles and a mindset shift in hiring (including embracing paid returnship programs), women are successfully transitioning back into the workforce and thriving in new and exciting ways.
If You Are Ready To Return, This Is Your Time
More than 3.5 million women left the workforce during the pandemic, and many are asking similar questions as they consider a return:
Is it the right time for me to return to work?
What can I expect and ask from an employer?
Is it okay for me to advocate for what I need as a returner?
The good news is women don’t have to approach the return-to-work journey alone. Returnship programs provide women with not only the employment opportunity, but also the resources, support and a community of peers to drive successful transitions back to the workforce.
No matter your specific skill set or career break, here are some reasons why now is an ideal time to return to work.
1. Workplace flexibility and support are the new normal.
Deciding when to return to work is a highly personal decision influenced by financial, family and personal considerations. Returning depends on finding the right employer, compensation and role to make returning to work worthwhile and exciting.
Many returners are so eager to rejoin the workforce that they overlook what kind of support they require to thrive and advance. The current power shift to the employee gives all job seekers, even those with career breaks, a new opportunity to vocalize what they need to succeed.
Flexibility is a top factor returning women take into consideration. According to McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace 2021” report, one in three women have considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers, in large part due to work-life balance challenges. Fortunately, as more employers approach childcare as a business issue, conversations with employers — and with your family — about workplace flexibility are commonplace. In today’s environment, given the high demand for skilled workers, asking about such support won’t shift your resume to the dreaded “no” pile.
For many returners, a sense of community is also key to a smooth transition back. Recent data shows that employees who establish an above-average connection with their colleagues are more likely to produce great work. To support this, employers might offer cohorts for returners, mentorship programs, team events or access to an employee engagement platform to build a stronger sense of belonging among employees.
Another key to success for returners is access to continuous learning and development. Often after a career break, returners feel their skills have aged. While some firms might offer a professional development stipend or company-wide training programs, leading companies also provide on-demand access to community-based online platforms that put the advice, answers and learning right at employees’ fingertips.
2. Employers see the value in transferable skills.
LinkedIn has reportedly seen a 21% increase in U.S. job postings advertising skills and responsibilities instead of qualifications and requirements. As you consider different opportunities (including returnships), think about the projects you were most proud of before your break and the skills required for success. Chances are you still possess these skills, and they can be refreshed to meet current business needs. Also, don’t underestimate the most consistent compliments you receive across your home and community life. Observations about your sense of calm under pressure, passion and multitasking capabilities are all transferable skills that benefit any role.
Focus on your total contributions on your resume and throughout the interview process, specifically how they can serve you and your future employer. This helps employers better see your unique skills and experience, rather than just your career break.
3. Companies recognize the benefits of returnships.
A 2020 study from LinkedIn and Censuswide found that nearly half of working moms take an extended career break, with the average break lasting about two years. Other professionals take career breaks for personal health issues, to care for ailing relatives or for a variety of other reasons.
Rather than simply applying to roles that match your background and experience, consider a returnship. When I founded reacHIRE and began working with companies to start returnship programs, we discovered that returners were more successful when they came back to work in a group of peers, with defined training, coaching and continued learning. Leading companies are eager to bring experienced professionals back to the workforce to help make a positive impact on their overall business goals. And you’ll have the chance to “try a company on for fit,” and get a better feel for long-term career compatibility.
Jumpstart Your Return-To-Work Journey
The pandemic’s impact on the labor market and the ongoing need for workers provides a restart button for millions of women. Before you push that “apply” button, evaluate what motivates you. Harness your unique skills, desires and needs and bring them all to employers who need and recognize your superpowers and are eager to best leverage them to succeed.
This post from the reacHIRE blog was originally published in Forbes.