Stop Fearing Work Gaps: 8 Tips for Reentering the Workforce

woman putting on high heels in preparation for reentering the workforce

Have you taken time off to raise kids? Have you needed to care for an ailing relative or friend? Have you decided to take a travel or educational sabbatical? Deciding to take a work gap can lead to fulfilling actions and allow us to experience life in new ways, but such events can also cause us to veer off our professional path. And what do we do when we decide to return?

Such a decision can be daunting. We can feel as if our skills are rusty, technology has advanced beyond us or that we have simply lost touch with our professional side. But don’t worry: reentering the workforce successfully is possible. Here are eight tips to help.

1. Apply for a “Returnship”

Do you have unfinished business in a career you enjoyed and now it’s time to reentering the workforce? If this sounds like you, check out paid returnships. These internship-like experiences are designed to reacquaint you with the workplace, set you up with a mentor, help address skill gaps and build your confidence for a successful transition into a full-time position.

More opportunities exist than you might believe, too. Check out iRelaunch, which has been tracking these return-to-work programs since 2008 and has 90 returnships currently listed.

2. Reconnect with Old Colleagues

It is time to rekindle old relationships. No, not dating. I’m talking about using sites such as LinkedIn to reconnect with past colleagues and co-workers you lost touch with during your work gap. Don’t fret about what to say about you, come prepared with questions that center on what’s transpired in your colleague’s career. Be curious and interested in him or her.

Ask how the workplace has changed since you last talked, ask what he or she believes it takes to be successful and where they see the industry (and company) going in the future? When the conversation turns to you, just mention you’re exploring the idea of returning to work and always appreciate them taking the time. For more detailed ideas on the best way to network, listen to my latest podcast.

Client Success Story: One recent client, who wanted to return to work after taking time off for her kids, set up lunches with past colleagues she admired. One contact recommended her for a role. The job description wasn’t an exact match but the company was perfect. My client had clarity on the role that would work for her and negotiated to create a great fit.

3. Become a Shadow

Another great way to get up to speed is to job shadow a friend or colleague. Show up to work with him or her for the day. Take note of what’s the same and what’s changed. Gain a sense for the timing and pace of the work and understand the types of tools and software used for communicating and getting work done.

4. Attend Industry Events

Another strategy for reentering the workforce is to attend an industry conference or association meet up in-person or even online. In the course of a few days, you’ll get a healthy dose of what’s new in the industry, the current trends from thought leaders, and also have the chance to network with fellow attendees or members who may become future co-workers and colleagues.

Make sure you find out where your new contacts work, too, and connect with them on LinkedIn or exchange email addresses. The point is to get yourself back in the mix of the work world in some way, shape or form. Your new contacts will help you stay connected to the industry and its trends. They can also lead you to future employment opportunities.

5. Take a New Direction

Did time away spark new interests and enable you to discover new talents? Do you crave a new purpose? If so, it is possible you have outgrown your previous career path. In this case, you must envision the ideal return scenario.

Detail the role(s), responsibilities, subject matter, office culture, setting, location, hours, commute, pay, etc. Whatever you see for yourself, capture it. If you aren’t sure, it is okay, too. For clarity, do a formal Soul Search and take the best of the past with you as you move into a new career. Many of your skills from your previous jobs and time away will be transferable.

6. Informational Interviews

Another of my favorite ways to explore the chance for reentering the workforce on a new path is to research via informational interviews. Reach out to individuals in roles or at companies you love to work for and ask to meet them for coffee and conversation about their role and career successes.

Value their time and focus on learning about the career and industry. People love talking about themselves and offer great information–and often great advice too.

7. Collect Testimonials

Another great way to boost confidence for your reentry is to collect “testimonials” from your gap. Ask those you cared for, spent time with, and volunteered with to give you a testimonial. How? Ask simple questions such as, “What did I do that made a difference? What are my best skills, abilities and talents?” Listen to the essence of their response and capture it.

You’ll be surprised at what you hear back and how that can benefit your next career move. Plus, such testimonials will be extremely helpful when you need to explain the gap on your resume.

8. Do Not Apologize — It’s Not Necessary

What most people don’t realize is that what matters most is how you feel about your time off. If you feel like damaged goods, others will pick up on that. Instead, focus on what inspired you to make the decision and be at peace with your choices (and the consequences). Acknowledge what you learned and take the attitude that you are better for your experiences and that your employer will benefit, too.

Success Story: One of my clients took a travel sabbatical and spent time learning Spanish. When he returned to work, and added conversational Spanish to his resume, he was the perfect fit for a new project in Mexico City.

Reentering the workforce after time off is not the anomaly it used to be. Rather, employers are recognizing they’re missing out on quality talent by ruling out candidates with gaps on their resumes. Take these bold steps, and when you’re ready to return to work, you’ll find employers ready for you.

Learn more tips from Maggie about reentering the workforce in this video:

About the Author

Maggie is a mom, a podcaster, and a career/executive coach. She has helped thousands Soul Search, Research and Job Search into their ideal careers. Dubbed by CNN as "One of the Nation's Best Known Career Coaches" she has appeared in numerous media outlets including the New York Times and has worked with Fortune 500 companies. Over 5.5 million people have watched her how to Ace a Job interview video on YouTube and NBC’s Today Show featured her personal story of dealing with life and career change. For 7 years, she hosted a weekly national radio show called “Making a Living with Maggie” on SIRIUS XM. For more including a clip from her Follow Your Dreams cabaret show, visit
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