Tips to Prepare for Your Career Restart

While on a career break, what are the best ways to prepare for your eventual restart? Kathryn Sollmann, author of Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead, shares her insights in a Q&A with Path Forward.

Q: How do you recommend addressing career gaps on a resume? Should the reason for the gap be stated or not?

I’m in the “honesty is the best policy” camp. There’s no shame in the decision you made to leave the workforce (but there’s tremendous wisdom for getting back in…quickly!). Tons of women take time to be home from family, so employers are used to seeing these resume gaps. As a career coach, I often advise women to state that they are a “returning professional” right in their resume or LinkedIn summary.

Q: Do you recommend adding volunteer experience to resumes?

Most women on hiatus are what I call “mega-volunteers,” so I also advise creating a “Non-Profit Experience” resume section. This emphasizes that volunteer work requires business skills, and most volunteering is for nonprofit organizations. Then in that section, make sure you describe volunteer roles the same way you describe paid work with all the “size and scope” and bottom-line metrics that prove you made a difference.

Q: What’s your advice for women who are considering a return to the full-time workforce in a few years. Is there anything they can do while on break to best prepare for a return?

I’m a very strong advocate for women always working in a flexible way. Even if you’re in heavy caregiving mode, there’s time for a part-time job two mornings a week or the occasional freelance job to keep your resume current. So instead of spending time preparing for a return, I say invest that time getting your toe in the water with limited — but actual — flexible work. There’s a huge cost every year you’re out of the workforce.

Q: What’s your advice to someone looking to restart their career but unsure of what they want to do? If their prior job is either no longer marketable or wasn’t a good fit, what’s the best way to proceed?

I suggest doing a networking research phase. This is the best way to get moving and to get out of your own head. Women often make assumptions (like “I’m not qualified for this…,” “My skills are outdated…,” or “The work that I want to do will probably be low paid…”) based on what they think or on one or two conversations with people who probably do not have universal information.

Q: What are the best ways to get the most out of the networking research phase?

Update your resume and LinkedIn profile and hit the networking road through your personal connections and the vast, never-ending connections on LinkedIn. Zero in on one or two areas that interest you and then try to get as many people as possible to have 15-minute conversations with you by phone or answer a few questions by email. In either case, have at least three very specific research questions ready.

Here’s an example of what I mean by specific: “I used to be a marketing manager on the Estée Lauder account. Now there is so much digital marketing, what’s the best way for me to build up these skills or what kind of position should I target to learn on the job?”

The more people you talk to, the more information you gather. You start to see patterns of information. You find out about jobs or career niches you never heard of before. You see that maybe you’re not interested in XYZ after all. You keep refining and broadening your search until you’re getting lots of signals that you’re headed in the right direction.

This networking research phase, by the way, is a must for all job seekers — from entry to executive levels — not just returning professionals. Most job seekers skip this step and wander off aimlessly in too many directions, prolonging a job search unnecessarily.

Q: Many women assume the only way to get true flexibility is to work for themselves as a consultant or freelancer. First, is this true? And, more importantly, are there any flexibility pitfalls in independent work that women should be aware of?

Being your own boss is, of course, a great way to get flexibility, but it’s not for everyone. Today there are six different kinds of flexible work including part-time and full-time jobs, job sharing, telecommuting, longer-term consulting assignments, and shorter-term freelance projects. It’s possible to get true flexibility in all of them.

I always say you have to make sure that you’re truly “Type E” to be an entrepreneur. Very few people can truly wear the many hats that even a small freelance business requires. You may love freelance writing, but not billing/accounting, constantly marketing for new projects, etc.

The other issue is that some women want and need a predictable paycheck and health benefits. If you’re not covered under a partner’s health plan, you can get benefits from a part-time job if you work 30+ hours a week for an employer who has 50+ employees.

There are pros and cons to every kind of flexwork and you have to figure out which one is best for you, your family, and your pocketbook. Follow your own path to financial security…it’s OK to lean in-between!


Kathryn Sollmann is a career coach, speaker, and author. This interview was conducted by Tami Forman, the founding executive director of Path Forward and a frequent speaker on issues related to caregiving and workforce participation.

See also Working Toward Financial Security With a Career Restart.

Originally published October 2018.