If you’ve stepped away from the working world—and the gap from your last job is several months or many years long—it can be daunting to figure out what to do next.
But re-entering the workforce can be empowering.
Before you jump into the job search, take time to reflect on your skills and what possibilities might be open to you. Think about what you truly enjoy doing now, rather than simply what you did in your previous jobs. Then you’ll be prepared to use your employment gap to your advantage.
Even if you have to re-enter the workforce faster than you intended, you can go through these steps while you are employed at a transitional job.
Here are a few tips to get started:
Make a list of your accomplishments. Whether you’ve been a stay-at-home caregiver, a world traveler, or active hobbyist, you have been building skills. Review your experience with budgeting, tutoring, organizing the work of others, coaching, research, or project management. If you struggle with this, ask your friends and family to help. They might see your accomplishments or interests more clearly than you can.
Decide if you need training. From formal education like degrees or certificates to free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS), webinars, or volunteering, there are lots of options to get the training you need.
Assess the job market with your interests in mind. Pay attention to news stories, follow topics and people that interest you on Twitter or Facebook, note the places you enjoy shopping or visiting, ask others about the places they work, and search LinkedIn for job titles or employers that pique your curiosity. Figure out who does what in your community, and which of those places might match what you’d like to do.
Create the two-minute story of your career path. This helps you build confidence in your story and in yourself. Briefly outline what you did before, where you want to go next, and why—and then test it out on your friends for feedback and refinement. You can use your story as the framework for your resume, include it in your cover letter, and tell it during job interviews. The important thing is to explain your career gap, but not over explain it.
Take a breath, and start networking. It’s true that most people find jobs because they know someone on the inside. While this sounds intimidating, you are likely only a step away from someone in the business or organization you’re curious about. Asking for an introduction, inquiring about someone’s job, meeting for coffee to learn more, attending conferences or lectures, and offering to volunteer are all excellent ways to network.
If you have shown that you’ll be an outstanding employee, it’s likely your future employer won’t mind your gap at all!
This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.