Returning to the workforce after an extended absence can be a petrifying experience. Being out of the workforce for a prolonged period of time can lead to rusty skills, few suitable references and lack of confidence in yourself. Whether you have been home for child rearing, the health of yourself or a loved one, inability to find employment, or other reasons, staying home can stall your career path. But there are ways to keep your skills sharp when you are taking a sabbatical. The suggestions offered will also help reduce your anxiety about going back to the work force and increase your waning self-confidence.
Work gaps in resumes scare prospective employers. They don’t care that you are Mother Teresa, or Mrs. Brady, or that you have battled breast cancer for the past four years. They want the most qualified employee and your task is to convince them of that. Volunteer work is one of the least expensive, easiest ways to stay qualified. You can look at volunteer work as helping out society and also free job training; a win-win. The organization needs your help and expertise and you need them to help keep your skills current, learn new things, improve the optics of your resume and obtain work references. The added benefit to volunteering is an increase in your self-confidence, and food for your inner soul, all while helping out an organization that needs and appreciates your assistance.
You can volunteer at a non-profit, a community health center if you have health care experience, a community law office if you have a law background, a community improvement board, church or PTA at your children’s school. When considering volunteer work, find something that you are good at, something that will keep your skills current or relevant, something that you’ve always wanted to learn, or find an organization that you’ve always wanted to help out. Also know that connections that you make while volunteering are vital when you start your job search. Not only may you land a job from your volunteer work at that organization, but you will have a reference to vouch for your character, work ability and work ethic when you start looking for a new job. So, show up when you say you will, set up regular hours, do your best work and have the confidence to stretch your comfort zone.
Volunteer work will also improve your dwindling self-confidence. Unfortunately, when we are away from the work force for a period, we lose our mojo and start to doubt ourselves and our abilities. This outside reinforcement validates your internal value which may help with your positive self-image.
Taking classes of some sort during your work sabbatical is also another way to enrich experiential and emotional areas during this time. You can take local classes at the community college, or high school and of course, online. Some people may be concerned about staying current with technology, however, this is not as daunting as it was in the past. Today there are many resources available online to help you identify what employers are seeking from a technology skill set. Unless you are looking to become a coder, the reality is, technology that is used in a professional setting changes much slower than the media may lead you to think, so don’t become overwhelmed with this concern. If you feel the world has somehow left you behind on the technology landscape, I have included some of my personal online favorite sources to help you update your skill level and remain ‘buzzword compliant’ when speaking to recruiters or hiring managers.
GCF Learn Free is a free site that offers basic content for technology, social media and some other areas.
GCF Learn Free – http://www.gcflearnfree.org/popular
Coursera offers top university courses for free.
Coursera – https://www.coursera.org
Udemy is my new favorite training site that offers over 25,000 courses by trained experts. Offering nearly everything under the sun, from complex new technologies, to social medial to yoga, Udemy is truly a great resource for learning just about anything. Although some courses are free, most range from $10 and up. Be on the look-out for frequent specials.
Udemy – https://www.udemy.com
TED Talks has an enormous reservoir of inspiring and intellectually challenging 20 minute presentations given by thought leaders from a vast array of disciplines ranging from leading edge business thinking to neuroscience breakthroughs that are changing how we create new products and solve some of world’s most pressing challenges. I personally love TED Talks because not only will you gain insights on many different subjects that you can incorporate into your everyday life, but you may find tidbits of information that could be useful when interviewing with hiring managers.
TED Talks – https://www.TedTalks.com
Don’t underestimate the value that you received for yourself and others while you were on work sabbatical. Taking time off to support a family or yourself, in more personal ways, should only be viewed as an asset and not a liability. Your task is to communicate this to prospective employees in a way that resonates with them. Discuss the challenges you faced while on your sojourn and how you dealt with them; translate them into how adaptable, organized and vigilant you are. Most intelligent employers only care how you can move the needle of their institution/organization forward in the future, so tying your personal experiences to the challenges they are seeking to overcome will all but eliminate any concern they may have about your ‘gap in employment history.’
Of course there may be people who will discourage you or make you feel that your time wasn’t useful, but buying into this thought process will do nothing positive for you. If you can look at your experience as a fruitful, beneficial time and translate that accurately to prospective employers, you will be on your way to landing a terrific job with an organization that values the ‘collection of all that you are’ and looks to you as a positive contributor to their collective future.