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Returning to paid work after a break in employment

Updated on February 3, 2011

Applying for work is a daunting experience. However if you have been out of the workforce for a while, whether it be due to illness or injury, caring responsibilities or a chosen break, returing to work and entering into a competitive job market can be overwhelming. Being out of work creates gaps in your employment history and these stand out to recruiters, often setting alarm bells ringing. Unexplained gaps can signal to employers’ poor work ethic, unreliability and incompetence, even if in actual fact the reasons for these breaks are honest and legitimate. But with some consideration and planning a return to paid work can be successfully made.

The first step to securing paid work is to develop a resume. A resume is a marketing document in which the product is your ability to perform the duties of that particular job role. Resumes however are not a one document fits all situation. A resume should be tailored to each type of job you are applying for. A resume for your local café should not be the same as the resume that you use to apply for a payroll position with a manufacturing business. So what proof do you have that you can perform the job? Think about what you do day to day. Chances are that you have skills that you have never thought about and some of these duties are comparable to those in the paid workforce. Budgeting, filing, food preparation, cleaning and even your caring duties are all things that demonstrate your abilities.

However more challenging is the scenario where you don’t have any experience or skills that come to mind. The solution? Volunteer work. Many cities have a volunteer resource centre that will point you in the right direction for the experience that you need. Another option is contacting not for profit, community organisations or schools in your area. Most are happy to have an extra pair of hands on board for a few hours a week and you get the added bonus of knowing that you are contributing to your community. Just bear in mind that these organisations have things that need to be done in a timely manner and despite the word volunteer it will still mean hard work.

When compiling your resume remember to explain gaps in employment. This can be done with a career objective at the beginning of your resume, directly under your contact details. Without going into too much detail explain your break for example; ‘I took time away from paid work due to the poor health of a family member / to travel / to raise my family’ and then state your commitment to returning to the workforce, ‘I have now reached a point where circumstances allow me to return to work and I do so with an assurance that I will give my all’. An unexplained gap can let recruiters’ imaginations run wild and most of the things that they imagine will be negative.

Gaps in employment inevitably bring a lack of referees and references. Referees need to be able to attest to your work ethic, your commitment and your reliability. If your work related referees have moved on, common these days as people change careers so often, look towards your hobbies and interests for referees. Do you play sport? You could ask your coach. Are you a member of a club or group? You could ask someone from this. If you are not involved in anything like this volunteer work is again a great solution. Referees need to be able to reassure an employer of your suitability for a job. Make sure that you contact your referees and ask their permission to be put on your resume, and then contact them again to remind them after you have attended an interview and to expect a call. Doing this will ensure that they have you in the forefront of their mind when an employer calls to check your referees.

When hunting for work after an extended break its important not to let the idea of the perfect job get in the way of your ‘for now’ job. It is ironic that having a job makes it so much easier to get a job but it is a reality that you are a more attractive candidate if you are already employed. Your ‘for now’ job really is the first step to securing your dream job.


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