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Returning to Work After a Career Break

Are you looking to return to work after a career break but don’t know where to start? Whether you’ve taken time out to start a family, travel the world or recuperate after redundancy, there are plenty of opportunities still waiting for you.

What is a career break?

A career break refers to any prolonged period of unpaid leave from work; this could be anything from 2 months to 20 years. A career break is often mistaken for a sabbatical but the main difference between the two is that a sabbatical is agreed with your company and you typically have your old job waiting for you when you’re ready to return. It is common for someone to take a career break when a sabbatical is not granted to them by their employer, if they do not know how much time they want to take off work or if they know they do not want to return to their job. Here are some more reasons for taking a career break:

  • Travelling - you may have taken some time out or quit your job to go travelling and explore the world
  • Take a break - taking a career break can be as simple as taking the time to relax, focus on yourself and take care of your physical and mental wellbeing
  • Redundancy - a career break may not always be taken by choice but a result of being made redundant from your job
  • Volunteering - taking time off work to help others and volunteer for a non-profit organisation can be extremely rewarding
  • Starting a family - after having children, you may have wanted to take time off work to care for your family and be more present in their early life
  • Caring duties - you may have left your role temporarily to look after a friend or family member
  • Bereavement - after losing a loved one, taking time out of work to grieve or spend time with family can be beneficial
  • Upskilling - leaving work to learn new skills or study for a new career path is also very common

Jumping back into work after a career break may seem daunting but with the right attitude, preparation and training, you can make it a positive and rewarding experience. Here are our top tips to help you on your journey back to work.

1. Assess your strengths 

The first step to returning to work is to assess your situation carefully and decide the direction you want to take in your career. It's easy to rush the process and many returners would like to get back into the job market as fast as possible, so the tendency is to take the first job offer available. Patience is key. Think about your skills, weaknesses and past experiences. Find a role with an opportunity for progression and learning within your field that caters to your strengths.  

Remember to stay open-minded and be realistic about your goals. You may not be able to step right back into a senior position from the get-go, but this doesn't mean you won't get there eventually. Stay positive and don't let rejections get you down. 

Check out Smiti Sahu's story about how she left work to look after her family as they relocated to another country and, with the help of FDM, returned to work for an energy company as a Senior Business Analyst.

2. Look for Volunteering or Work Experience 

Volunteering is a great way to boost your confidence and put your skills to the test before re-entering the job market. Taking on new challenges and responsibilities is extremely rewarding and can help you upskill. Volunteering experience is also an asset to add to your CV and is a good conversation starter during interviews. 

Some places to volunteer include schools, animal shelters, soup kitchens and other NGO's where your skills can make a huge contribution. Check out some of the wonderful charity organisations that we work with for inspiration. 

3. Update your CV 

Before applying for jobs, ensure your CV is up to date, but don't try to hide your absence from work. A career break is not an aspect of your life that you need to hide. You can use your career break as an opportunity to showcase any skills you have gained while out of work, even if they are not directly related to the career you would like to pursue. For instance, if you have travelled abroad, you may have improved your interpersonal skills or even picked up a new language. Having children could have improved your ability to handle stressful situations and multi-task.  

Read our getting back to business CV advice for more information. 

4. Professional Networking  

Get in touch with old colleagues, clients, friends and family to let them know you are looking to get back into the workplace. They may be able to help you by sharing information on open positions at their organisation by providing a reference for future applications or forwarding your CV to someone who might arrange an interview.  

We also recommend updating your social media or professional platform profiles to ensure that you are active online and engaging with other professionals. This will help you keep informed about industry information and new job openings.  

5. Take your break as an opportunity to update your skill set

You’re never ‘too old’ to learn new skills or gain new qualifications. Why not find a new area of expertise, sign up for an online course or enrol for a postgraduate degree? There are so many different ways you can expand your skill set and gain a new sense of confidence before returning to work after a career break. Read our blog on retraining at 40 to find out more.

6. Create a Support Group

Create a supportive environment by surrounding yourself with like-minded people, who are in a similar situation to you. This could be a WhatsApp chat with other mums or carers, an in-person discussion group for Returners or a weekly video call for mature students on your course. Talking to those in the same situation as you and sharing experiences and tips can make the process a lot more enjoyable.

7. Take a Phased Approach

Sometimes it’s better to take a phased approach back to the workplace rather than rushing and taking on too much at once. If you think you need time to adjust, you should consider starting work part-time or working from home a few days a week to make the adjustment more manageable. We recommend speaking with your new employer to see if this is an option for you.

8. Interview Preparation 

It is entirely normal to feel a bit 'rusty' when it comes to the interview process, but you can do many things to prepare. Most importantly, practice your interview questions, especially those relating to your career break. You should be able to confidently answer questions about what you did during your time out of work and why you are now choosing to return to work after a career break. Next, you will need to do some research about the company you are applying for, its values, as well as the role you want to fill and the wider industry. The key is to show employers your passion for the position and eagerness to get back to work and face new challenges. 

Remember to sound as natural as possible. At FDM, similar to many other companies, we conduct strength-based interviews, designed to focus on your strengths and passions rather than your past experiences. Read our blog to find out more about how to ace this interview style, too. 

For more information on how to answer interview questions, check out our FDM interview advice.  

9. Find a Returners to Work Career Programme

In addition to applying for regular job listings, specific career programmes are available for anyone returning to work after a long career break. Returners programmes offer helpful training courses and career advice to help bridge the gap and equip you with an updated professional skillset and a new-found sense of confidence.  

The FDM Returners Programme offers experienced professionals the opportunity to jump back into work after a career break with expert training and placement with our clients. No matter how long your career break, our training programme will give you the tools you need to expand your knowledge, update your skills and prepare you for your dream career, then place you to work with one of our renowned strategic partners that include some of the biggest companies in the world.  

We offer a range of support and development programmes to help you along the way, including mentoring, online learning and networking, both throughout training and during your client placements. We also support flexible working arrangements, if required. 

The journey back to work will look different for everyone and it's essential to do what works best for you. For example, you may prefer to return to work part-time, with flexible working hours or remotely to begin with and slowly transition to full-time. Watch our videos to find out how FDM have helped many others return to work. 


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