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How to go back to work after a long leave of absence

You took several years off from work to be CEO of your household, taking care of a new baby and developing your interpersonal skills of persuasion and patience. Or maybe you off-ramped to travel, care for an elderly family member or focus on volunteer pursuits. Now you’re ready to go back to work, but where do you start? Here are six steps to ease your transition back into the working world.

1. Notify your network
It’s the best first step in any job search: Tell your family, friends, acquaintances and former colleagues that you’re completing your stint as stay-at-home parent or full-time caretaker and you’re planning to go back to work. Before you reach out to your network, make sure your résumé is ready; if one of your contacts knows about a good opportunity, you’ll want to be able to send out an application package immediately.

2. Prepare your pitch

When you start your job search, you need to be able to talk to anyone you meet or reacquaint with about why you’re going back to work and what you hope to find in a job. Practice your 30-second elevator pitch so that it comes naturally. Don’t hide the fact that you’ve been on hiatus, and do project a positive attitude about your situation. You might say, “I’m an accountant with eight years of experience. I took the last several years off to be with my kids (or travel or take care of a sick parent), and now I’m looking forward to rejoining the workforce.” Then briefly list your previous jobs and describe what kind of position you’re looking for now.

3. Build up your résumé by volunteering
If you’re able to fit it into your schedule, volunteering can be a great way to boost your résumé and keep your skills current. For example, you could help a local nonprofit or charitable organization or tutor students. Giving of your time like this is a great way to slowly re-enter the working world, dust off your skills and network with people who might be able to help you in your job search.

4. Take classes
Whether you’ve been out for two years or 10 years, it never hurts to brush up on your hard skills. Technology is always changing, and it’s essential for job seekers to keep up-to-date on the latest industry best practices. Check out the class schedule at a nearby community college, or try to find online courses that will meet your needs. Don’t forget about MOOCs (massive open online courses), the vast majority of which are free. Search for courses at MOOC-list.com.

5. Consider temporary or part-time work
If you’re at all nervous about going back to work, try easing into it with temporary assignments or a part-time position. This can be an especially smart method if you’ve taken time off to be a stay-at-home parent, as transitioning directly from full-time parenting to a 9-to-5 job can be jarring for both you and your family. Accepting temporary positions also gives you the opportunity to sample several types of employers and job roles and assess which ones are good fits and which are not.

6. Focus on the skills you’ve gained
What skills have you developed during your break from office life? Although your time off might not have given you much time to work on your technical talents, you’ve had many opportunities for personal growth. Employers are increasingly seeking workers who have strong interpersonal skills such as communication, collaboration and adaptability. Mention those assets in your social media profiles, cover letters and job interviews.

Job searching is rarely easy, and it’s even more of a challenge for professionals who’ve been out of the field for a while. It can take time to find a good position when you’re going back to work after an extended break. If you get discouraged, remember all your positives: education, experience, soft skills and determination. With time, patience and perseverance, the right job will come your way.

Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, read our blog at blog.roberthalf.com or follow us on social media.

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