How to get back on track

During your time out of the profession, it’s likely that aspects of the work have changed. Talk to former colleagues and find out what’s stayed the same and shifted

It used to be that taking time out from your career was seen as a derailer but now – with some planning and focus – it can be real asset, says Michelle Gibbings

There are many reasons people take a career break, whether it be raising a child, caring for an elderly parent, recovering from illness or needing space after an intensive work project. Whatever the reason, it is actually a perfect time to assess your work journey so far. You can breathe, take stock and decide what (if anything) you need to shift or change to step ahead.

Pick your speed
When it comes to your career, doing it well doesn’t mean there is only one way or one path to follow. It’s about being proactive and deliberate about your choices so you can lead your career in the direction you want it to go.

Each person’s circumstances are unique, so be clear on what matters the most to you and identify what drives your career.

For you it may be having a fully flexible job where you can work where you want and when you want, or it may be about working part-time and still maintaining your professional occupation. For others, it could be about about learning and challenge, leaving a legacy or career advancement.

At this stage, ask yourself:

  • What matters the most to me?
  • When have I been the most motivated?
  • What really drives me? (Status, financial security, learning, being challenged, service, being valued or something else?)

Know your value proposition
Everyone brings specific skills and ways of operating to the work they do. Think of it as your unique selling proposition; what makes you stand out from the crowd. It includes the value you deliver through your work and how you engage and lead.

When you step back into your profession, you must explain how your value matches your desired role. It is easier to do this when you play to your strengths. And these strengths are the skills and competencies that help you stand out. These can be cleverly used as a launching pad to get back into the market, highlighting them in your LinkedIn profile and CV, and talking about them with your network, recruiters and prospective employers.

At this stage, ask yourself:

  • What are my strengths and how have they helped my career?
  • What is unique about what I do and how I work?
  • How can I best articulate my value and worth?

Find your advocates
Reports suggest that between 60 and 80% of jobs available are unadvertised and/or are sourced through a contact. Consequently, your network is crucial in helping you land your next role. So, systematically review your network and consider those whom you believe are strong advocates.

These are people who:

  • Know what you do
  • Respect your skills
  • Are willing to speak for you.
    Make the time to meet with them and discuss your desired next steps but beware – this conversation isn’t about hitting them up for a job. Instead, it’s getting their advice about how the market has moved and seeing if they know people you should connect with.

At this stage, ask yourself:

  • Who in my network knows my strengths and values well?
  • How can my network support my career step?
  • Who don’t I know that I need to know to help support my next career move?

Assess your learning edge
During your time out of the profession, it’s likely that aspects of the work have changed. Talk to former colleagues and find out what’s stayed the same and shifted. Bear in mind, also, that you may need to take short courses to upskill and build out your capabilities and competencies.

Remember, the quest for knowledge and understanding never ends, particularly in a world of increasing connectedness and complexity.

At this stage, ask yourself:

  • How has my profession changed, and what new skills are required?
  • What are the best options for uplifting my skills?
  • How much time, money, and energy am I willing to devote to this?

Make each day matter
Be deliberate as to how you spend your day. You want to prioritise and plan, so you’re making regular and sustained progress – and it can help to document your plan. Consider it your ‘Career Reinvention Plan’, covering the activities you need to do to get your career on track, complete with dates and any resources you need. You can then use your plan to track your progress.

As you build your plan and implement your approach to get back in the game, you will have good and not-so-good days. So, manage your energy wisely and, in your schedule, set aside time for you. This means considering activities that are good for you and will revitalise your body and soul, for example – how does listening to music, regular massage or a daily run sound? Whichever does it for you, put it in your schedule and commit. When you’re busy, it can be hard to prioritise yourself but your body needs time to rejuvenate and you want to be ready to put your best self forward. 

At this stage, ask yourself:

  • How will I best balance developing my career and health and wellbeing?
  • What self-care activities do I need to prioritise?
  • What new habits do I need to establish to ensure I put my best self forward each day?
Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert. She has written several books, including her latest ‘Bad Boss – What to do if you work for on, manage one or are one’