How to Return to Work After a Long Break

If you have a career break of a decade or more, you might be wondering how to present your skills and experience as relevant to hiring managers. Will employers accept that your professional experience is 10+ years old? Do your volunteer and caregiving experiences count for anything?

First, you should take some inspiration from the many Path Forward alumni who’ve successfully restarted their careers after a break of more than 10 years — Alicia, Cathy, Wendy, Beth, Steffie, Tricia. They did it, and you can too!

Yes, volunteer and caregiving experiences count for something! These activities require a variety of skills including collaboration, conflict resolution, time and project management, planning and much more. You can translate the skills you’ve gained outside the professional workforce into business language. 

But how do you market these skills to a potential employer? Be thoughtful about what you do and don’t include on your resume. Significant volunteer positions and pro bono work absolutely belong on your resume and should be formatted like any other professional position. But family caregiving work doesn’t fit in that format. It’s better to relay the skills you gained through caregiving in a cover letter and in interviews. 

The same idea is true for demonstrating the ability to learn — any courses you’ve taken belong on your resume. A general ability to learn on the fly (something every caregiver does all the time!) is better demonstrated in specific examples offered during an interview. Think of great stories you can use to answer a question like, “Tell me about a time you had to do something you’d never done before.” 

When you’ve been out of the workforce for 10 or more years, you may need to rely more on networking than a standard candidate. In interviews you can make a case for how your prior experience, your caregiving skills and your overall life experience come together to make you the perfect candidate for the position you are applying for. That is much harder to do on a piece of paper. Going on as many informal interviews as you possibly can will not only expand your network and help your job search, but help you practice talking about yourself in job interviews. The more people you talk to, the more you practice telling your story, the better your chances of being considered for positions that you may never get by applying online.

Tami Forman is the founding executive director of Path Forward and a frequent speaker on issues related to caregiving and workforce participation.