Career re-entry is probably the toughest career move to make. It requires someone who hasn’t worked in a while to jump back into the job search, identify their most marketable current skills despite having a resume gap of greater than a year, and muster up the confidence to convince others their skills haven’t gone stale amidst the work hiatus. It’s a lot to tackle. It’s even a lot to think about tackling. And it’s the “thinking” about jumping back in that tends to be one of the biggest barriers to re-entry. In this blog post we will share the reasons people lose confidence when attempting career re-entry and tips for overcoming low confidence in the job search.
The majority of roadblocks in the job search are in your head
The job search is mostly mental. I’ve also learned that starting the job search is also much more challenging for re-entry candidates. Therefore when it comes to the re-entry job search, mental roadblocks are usually the greatest setback. Removing mental roadblocks is the number one challenge to tackle when it comes to successfully re-entering the workforce. However, once you are aware of all the potential mental roadblocks, you can take proactive steps to avoiding them.
Why the self-esteem and confidence takes a hit during the re-entry process
For most people, being employed is closely linked to their identity as a productive member of society. This is also related to our egos and desires to be respected and appreciated. Because of this, when people lose their jobs, most people start to feel like less of a person. Now – nothing could be farther from the truth. For the record: You are not defined by your job or your career or your salary and you never will be. However it’s difficult for most people to believe this. And as a result, being unemployed impacts the confidence and self-esteem of people who are unemployed.
For re-entry professionals, unemployment is perceived differently. The reason for this is that re-entry professionals typically are the ones who decide to leave the workforce – in order to pursue some other life scenario (raising kids, caring for elderly parents, etc.). Even though re-entry professionals were not working during their gap period, they don’t typically experience a loss of confidence until they decide to return to work. For example, if your time was consumed with caring for family for the last 10 years, it goes without saying that you were probably super distracted from any desire to climb the corporate ladder. But once you make up your mind to return to work, and are faced with the job search – that’s when you start to notice the drop in confidence. This is completely normal. So if you find yourself in this position, know that you aren’t alone.
The first mental roadblock is the hardest to remove
This drop in self-esteem or confidence due to being unemployed is usually the toughest roadblock to remove. And if you spend time dwelling on it in a negative light, it will become a massive snowball rolling downhill fast. It starts with the mere fact that you have taken time off. You might think: “well I have a glaring gap on my resume and the competition does not. So that sets me back right out of the gate.” Then, the thought of filling the gap with experience that is equally or more competitive than the competition’s non-gap experience, seems utterly impossible to achieve. Once this mental roadblock appears it is a killer to remove. This is the mental roadblock that lays the foundation for the other roadblocks that follow.
You must take control of your thoughts. Start believing that landing a job IS possible. Recruit the help of a career coach if necessary. If you can stop yourself from believing that you will never land a job, you will be able to avoid going too far down a very negative and unproductive path.
Reading job descriptions is another painful activity
As if the resume gap isn’t devastating enough for most professionals, there’s the actual act of job hunting that reinforces any insecurity around the gap. I’ve found that simply reading job descriptions can create another huge mental roadblock for re-entry professionals. As you read the job description you might be thinking “well I haven’t done that in a few years.” You may also be thinking, “I haven’t done that EVER!” A few bullets like this and most people tend to cling tighter to the idea that they could never be a fit.
Don’t let job descriptions deter you. Job descriptions are composed of the hiring manager’s “wish list.” In some cases the hiring manager’s vision of the “perfect candidate” is merely a pipe dream which they will realize only after a few candidate screens. Before you rule yourself out of the running, spend time focusing on the transferable skills you DID use throughout your time away from the workforce. You may not have done everything the hiring manager is asking for, exactly in the way he is asking – but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a fit in a transferable way. So don’t beat yourself up or rule yourself out. Instead focus on your abundance of skills that could position you as a fit.
LinkedIn profile comparison can also lower your self esteem
The third mental roadblock occurs when scrolling through lists of employed LinkedIn contacts. There is a reason social media causes depression. You are consuming carefully curated images or status updates of people “living their best lives.” This is not reality. The same effect can take place on LinkedIn even though it is more of a professional platform than a place to blast your luxury vacation pictures. We start to view profiles of our employed colleagues, friends, and industry contacts outside of the context of reality. In reality they may be miserable in their jobs or even unemployed. But you would never guess it by viewing a profile. Simply by seeing other peoples’ profiles one may start feeling inadequate as a re-entry professional with no options to speak of. This is the slippery slope towards creating even more roadblocks!
LinkedIn is absolutely necessary for your job search success. Therefore you can’t avoid viewing profiles. However, you may find it helpful to set some limits for yourself while conducting your LinkedIn research. Use a networking spreadsheet to guide you in tracking specific information while surfing LinkedIn profiles. I created this networking spreadsheet for the Job Search Accelerator members that I think you will like. This will keep you focused on the goal (finding contacts to network with). Set some rules in advance for browsing LinkedIn profiles. For example no profile stalking onto other social media platforms – only gathering the info for the spreadsheet and then move on.
How to start boosting your confidence. Start with some simple reflection.
Shifting your mindset is one way to start boosting your confidence. In order to make this mental shift you want to focus on analyzing your gap situation in order to identify the silver lining. Trust me – there IS a silver lining even if it might not feel like it today. Think back to why you took leave from your career in the first place. It may have been incredibly difficult to break away from your career at the time but something compelled you to make the cut. What was it? Why is it important to you at the time? This is a good starting point.
Start by recalling why you took the break in the first place. If you took a break to care for family – is there any more noble cause? I try and remind my clients that ‘you can’t take it with you,’ so the time you spent away from your career was not in vain. There was some reason you felt it was important to take a break from your career. Sure the resume gap my be a tremendous headache now, but try and get past the initial gap frustration to see the silver lining.Jog your memory back to that time. Try to pinpoint the heart of you decision-making process at that time.
- What were your plans for your career break?
- Did you fulfill them?
- Did you gain something more than you expected?
- Did anyone benefit from your time off?
- How did your taking time off impact your life in a positive way?
Jot down every positive result you can think of. This simple inventory will help you start to recall the “why” behind your gap. It will also hopefully help you to see why it was worthwhile. We can’t change the past so your best option is to find that silver lining before moving forward!
Own your gap story and use it to your advantage
After you have spent time in your “why” move on to the “what.” What did you learn during your time off that you can offer to your next employer? How did you grow as a person? What new skills did you pick up? What old skills did you have to refine/adapt/use to maneuver the new situation? Did you become the sole caretaker for a parent? Did you become an expert in maneuvering the healthcare/insurance world? How did you have to get creative to solve problems? How did your understanding of the world/people expand/change/evolve? Exploring all of these questions will help to get the mindset back on track. It’s all about reframing.
Coming up with the answers to these questions is not meant to be a 5-minute exercise. It requires some dedicated silent reflection time. (Yes you heard me: silent). In order to get the most out of this exercise, shut off your phone, laptop, TV, radio, etc. Just sit in silence with a good cup of coffee, and an old fashioned pen and paper. If you use paper and pen you won’t be distracted by your computer/ads or any temptation to browse the web. Think back to day one of your gap period. Start to relive each day, moment by moment – really reflecting on all the actions you had to take to achieve your new goals or complete your tasks. How did others react? Where did you thrive? What did you become really good at? Pay attention to all of the details and just start jotting things down as they come to you. This is the most effective way to reflect on your gap and the advantageous parts that will become your selling points.
Repackage, repackage, repackage your brand
Once you’ve reflected on the past to identify the silver lining, and reminded yourself of all your valuable skills, it’s time for repackaging. You’ll need to use all of your great new material to create a great new brand. Start by summing up your gap story into a brief elevator pitch. “I took time off to…” Fill in the blanks with a concise summary of what you were doing, and then what you learned/the silver lining.
After the gap-filler elevator pitch, it’s time to focus on your resume, LinkedIn profile, and cover letter. This is easier said than done. If you are concerned with ageism in addition to re-entry, I highly recommend working with an expert who can brand you for a greater chance of experiencing application success. Here is an ageism-busting and re-entry resume writing service I created for people just like you. Most of the time I am fine with people writing their own resumes as long as they incorporate best practices. However, for re-entry folks, branding the resume gap effectively, can be challenging, especially if you are hoping to get past the application ATS’s. If you have budget for a professional resume writer, I highly recommend letting the experts take this one on. If you really want to take a stab at writing your own resume, you may find this blog post on resume gaps helpful.
Above all, have hope
Although career re-entry can seem like an uphill battle, it’s important to remember that there is hope! If you’re having trouble in the hope department, try some of these hope boosters. Nix any negative mental chatter that tells you otherwise. Today may seem dark but it will look much different a week from now. Stay focused on the horizon and where you know you can go with a little hard work. I’ve seen many of my clients re-enter successfully. It took a lot of work, but they made it happen. It just takes the right support, encouragement, and resources. The most important thing to remember is that re-entry IS NOT impossible.