Getting back to work after a break: your five-point plan

Whether you've been out of the workforce for a few months, a few years or even a decade, it is perfectly normal to feel nervous about getting back to work.

Fear not. With our five-point plan, you can turn your fear into excitement and use it to fuel a new chapter in your life.

1. Research

Whether you're returning to the same industry that you left or entering a new career completely, there will be technology, lingo and processes that you will be unfamiliar with.

This is where you need to get your research hat on.

  • Sign up to industry newsletters online or through email
  • Read up on industry trends (look at industry publications and websites)
  • Visit and participate in online industry forums (you can find these by Googling)
  • Check out company websites
  • Join professional associations (these will have networking nights and can be a goldmine for information and connections)
  • Do you have any friends or family in that industry? Can you buy them a coffee and have a chat about the industry?
  • 2. Explain your gap

    If you've been out of work for longer than a few months, you will need to mention this in your resume and it's likely you will need to explain the gap in job interviews.

    The first step in this process is to create a skills list. To do this, think about all the skills and strengths that you gained outside the workforce. These may include:

  • Courses or qualifications
  • Personality strengths (negotiating, communication, patience, organisation…)
  • Practical and time-management skills (you may have balanced your partner's books, managed the finances, tutored your child during homework time, learned counselling skills…)
  • Work out how to translate these skills and strengths to a work environment and write them on your skills list. You will use this list in your resume and draw from it during job interviews.

    3. Network

    back to work

    When you're ready to get back to work, tell everybody you know that you're on the job hunt. Ask for advice and ask if anyone knows of any jobs going.

    You may be surprised at how many people get their jobs through a friend or family member-word of mouth can get your foot in the door quicker than a traditional search.

    It's also a good idea to make a list of businesses that you'd like to work for. Call them up and ask to speak to their HR about potential positions and ask what it takes to get a role with the company. Be friendly and professional. You never know what may happen!

    Have a look online to see if there are any professional associations related to the industry you want to work in. If there are, join them. Make sure you get involved; go to networking nights.

    4. Get online 

    LinkedIn is a social network site for professionals. It lets you connect with other professionals in your field as well as companies and industry associations. It is also heavily used by recruiters to find and research potential employees. Companies also tend to advertise jobs on the site and it's a great place to get industry news and explore career options.

    When you join, take some time creating a really great page that shows who you are as a professional and make sure you completely fill in your profile.  For tips on creating a great profile, check out the advice on LinkedIn's site here.

    Use the LinkedIn tools to start making connections with other professionals. You can start this process by importing your email lists. Also, connect with companies you are interested in and read what they post.

    5. The interviewback to work

    You want to go into your interview well researched. If you know what you are talking about, recruiters are likely to overlook a career gap and trust that you know your stuff.

    Go into the interview knowing a lot about the company. During your interview, find chances to demonstrate that you know what the business is about and that you understand the industry.

    When you are asked about your work gap, it's best to be honest. Keep your explanation brief, and focus on how your gap gave you skills that make you a good fit for the role. Then move the conversation back towards your skills and experience.

    Recruiters know that sometimes people need to take time out of the workforce. It is not uncommon and they won't eliminate you from the running simply for a work gap. What they are interested in is how you are going to benefit the company. You need to show your value, your commitment to work and what you can bring to the table.

    Your resume

    It is important that you understand you are not trying to hide your employment gap. Trying to hide the gap makes you look suspicious to recruiters. Instead, you're trying to get their attention focused on why you are a great job candidate.

    You want to get employers interested in you before they get to your work experience. That way, they are more likely to overlook your employment gap and get you in for an interview.

    Importantly, recruiters generally spend less than ten seconds looking at candidate resumes before they make initial decisions, so you want to put your best foot forward.

    To do this, you need to load the top half of your resume with all your strengths and skills, following that up with your work experience.

    Start with a resume objective

    A resume objective is two to four sentences in length (keep it short and sweet). It highlights your skills, strengths, experience and core competencies. Think of it as your sales pitch, outlining why you are perfect for the job. You need to tailor your objective statement to fit every one of your job applications.

    Writing an objective statementback to work

    Your objective statement should focus on what you can bring to the business.

    Start with who you are; move on to your experience, key functions and accomplishments; then outline your transferable core strengths and skills; finish off with how your abilities are relevant to the position.

    Example: ‘Loyal and hardworking retail assistant with 3+ years' experience in boutique clothing. Looking to leverage my high-level customer service, communication, patience and problem-solving skills as a medical receptionist at the Green Square Medical Clinic.'

    Skills section

    Straight after your objective statement, you want to insert a skills list. Paint a picture of yourself as the perfect fit for the role that you are going for. Pull skills from the list that you created earlier.

    Remember, only list skills you enjoy or are good at. Don't make up skills you don't have, and don't list things you don't enjoy doing (you want a job you'll like).

    Career chronology

    Here is where you will insert your work history, starting with your most recent position. You will also need to slot in your career gap.

    When outlining your gap, be brief and include other skills that you picked up during your break, as well as courses that you did or volunteer work you undertook.


    2016 - 2017 – primary home caregiver, completed Certificate IV in Aged Care, volunteer at Dalloway Retirement Village.

    2016 - 2017 – primary care provider for ill relative, mastered Photoshop and Dreamweaver, volunteer at Image Design Studios.

    2016 - 2017 – travel: South America and Asia, volunteer at Borneo Orangutan Sanctuary, mastered project management.

    Launch in!

    So there you have it, a concrete plan to help you get back to work. There may be times when you begin to question and doubt yourself. That's very normal. Everyone who has been in your shoes has felt that way; don't let it stop you. Remember your strengths, remember that you have something to offer and give yourself the opportunity to show that. Soon, when you have a job, this will all be a memory.

    Meanwhile, if you're looking for a way to boost your skills, or update your qualifications, check-out TAFE NSW's extensive course range here.