Return to work


There are many reasons that might lead to a break from paid work, such as taking time to look after kids, caregiving a parent or someone in need, taking time to heal from an accident or health event, volunteering your time for a cause, pursuing an interest, traveling overseas or furthering your education.

It’s natural to be apprehensive when returning to the paid workforce. Paid work often provides feedback and recognition that builds self-belief. Unpaid work may not always provide the same opportunity for this, which can often lead to a lack of confidence when approaching the market. It can be natural to question what you might have to offer.

To make a successful career decision at any time, the greatest asset is to have the right information about yourself. It is important to appreciate that many transferable skills will have been developed during the time away from paid work. Transferable skills are those that can be utilised regardless of where they were gained. For example, being on a preschool committees may have developed skills in organisation, delegation, planning, research and teamwork. All these skills are valuable and can be successfully transferred to many workplaces – the trick is highlighting and marketing them in a way that shows the added value that these bring to your next potential employer.

I find that clients often downplay the value of activities outside of the paid workforce. Yet many activities develop great transferable skills. Some examples are:

  • Taking care of a sick or elderly or bringing up children may have developed your patience, listening, multitasking, compassion, communication, flexibility and physical strength.
  • Holding a position on a preschool or school committee develops teamwork, leadership, delegation, fundraising, negotiation and organisational skills.
  • Volunteering may develop your creativity, problem-solving, initiative, financial, advocacy and adaptability skills.
  • Taking time out to recover from a health event develops your patience, positivity, flexibility, acceptance and resilience, along with research skills.
  • Navigating travel whilst overseas may have developed your ability to manage unpredictability, adaptability, resilience, problem solving and creativity.

Identifying what activities and achievements, especially where you have experienced a sense of pride, in how you approached a situation, is a good place to start. Next brainstorm all the skills gained in these activities. Here is one example of how you might approach this:

What I have been doing Activities and achievements Skills demonstrated
Six months’ leave without pay to look after unwell parent recovering from a medical event. Required 24/7 care. ·      Researched and organised the best treatment and care

·      Advocated at medical meetings to ensure best care

·      Organised home-care visits and healthy meals to be delivered

·      Patience

·      Compassion

·      Physical strength

·      Communication

·      Advocacy

·      Researching

·      Organisational skills

·      Negotiation

·      Tenacity

It is also important to remember that you don’t suddenly lose the skills, experience, achievements and qualifications gained previously. Reflect on past successes, strengths and achievements to highlight what else you have to offer and this will put you in a strong position to target the right area (job search), to market strongly (CV and LinkedIn) and to be confident in presenting yourself (interview). These steps will all help you to negotiate the best role for yourself.

On return to paid work, you may also want the future to look a little different from past roles. Your priorities may have changed (what you value, your interests, and how you want to spend your time). There are many options other than a full-time job, offering possibilities that might not have been considered. This includes alternatives such as part-time, job share, contract and temporary work. Spend time considering how you want this to look and the different ways this might work for you.

If you would like help to answer these questions my most recent book, Love Your Career Forever, takes you through a comprehensive series of exercises to assist you in this next stage of your career journey.