Getting back on track after a career break

We often hear of people struggling to reenter the workforce after a career hiatus. People that have taken career breaks for elder care, personal health issues, and most commonly for full time parenting the responsibility of which largely weighs on women. Returning to work thereafter is undoubtedly hard. Employers can be hesitant to hire people with a gap in their resume, while returnees may have doubts about their competency to get back on track, especially if they have been out of work for a long time. These barriers lead to a lost talent pool and significantly contribute to the gender gap in mid to senior positions. In more general terms, the impact on the economy is tremendous: US$28 trillion could be added to the global economy if women participated in the workforce equally to men.

A recent survey by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey revealed that 43% of educated women exit their jobs at some point to tend their homes. Of these, up to 90% would eventually want to resume working, but only 40% return fulltime. In the UAE, the average of mothers looking to resume work adds up to 77% of the female population, rising to 98% if the work schedule offered flexibility. In light of these statistics, returning to work might seem daunting. Luckily, there are inspiring stories from all over the world of women who have taken breaks and returned stronger than ever. Perhaps one of the most famous examples is Brenda Barnes, the former CEO of PepsiCo, who took a seven-year career break and returned as COO, and a then went on to become CEO of the Sara Lee Corporation. The reality on the field is that there is still much to do in terms of changing employer mindsets. The good news is that there are some key steps that talented mothers can take to increase their chances of success. Here’s a list:

1. Go public with your job search

Reach out to your ex-colleagues, clients, friends and family. Tell everyone you know of your interest to return to work. While most of these conversations will not land you a job interview, there will be at least a handful that can ultimately lead to a dream job opportunity.

2. Be confident

Whether you’ve been away from work for a few months or a few years, getting back into the workforce can be nerve-racking. If you’re interviewing at a new company, remember that a confident demeanour can go a long way towards leaving a positive lasting impression with HR. If you’re looking to return to a company where you were previously employed, know that although your confidence may have diminished, your ex-colleagues will remember you for the quality of your work before your career break.

3. Know your stuff 

One of the biggest concerns that employers have with regards to returnees is that they will not be up to date with the latest advancements, processes, and practices in their industry. This may mean that interview questions will be a bit more difficult, as the hiring manager looks to see if you know your stuff. The best way to prepare yourself is to stay connected throughout your career break. This means making sure that you are staying on top of the latest trends, and keeping up with news and key influencers in your industry.

4. Assess your situation 

Although you may feel ready to return to work, it is important that you take a step back to evaluate what you are particularly looking for and whether your interests and skills have changed. Also, ask yourself whether the job you are applying to is suitable for your new home life. What may have been right for you pre-career break may not necessarily be the best fit for you now. Start by reviewing your support network and openly discuss how the home will operate when you return to work. Having a clear sense of what the deal-breakers are will help you narrow your search, and avoid wasting precious time.

5. Hone your CV 

Avoid leaving a big gap in your CV, even if your break was for a significant amount of time. Instead, an option could be to include a “relevant experience” section that highlights how you have developed characteristics that are considered desirable for an employee in your industry. If you are uncertain on how to structure your CV, you can seek advice from a job coach or attend workshops.

6. Consider returnships 

Around the world, returnships have become increasingly popular, creating a bridge back to senior roles for experienced professionals who have taken an extended career break. In the region, however, this concept is fairly nascent though we have begun to see world-class companies in the UAE such as EY, IBM, and Visa start to realize the important benefits that come with offering returnships. This means that we are likely to see this offering grow tremendously in the coming years.

Returnships are a win-win for both parties because it gives mothers a chance to see how they will balance work and home life while giving employers an opportunity to test the waters before offering a full-time contract. Taking a career break is more common than you may think. Bridging this disconnect is what drove Women@Work to its inception in 2016. We recognized a need to change perceptions and show companies that a woman’s ability to have a successful career does not change, just because she has children.


The article was written by Louise Karim, Managing Director of Women@Work for Entrepreneur