Ready to go back after time away – What’s Changed?

Paid work hasn’t been a part of your life, for a variety of reasons. You feel like you’re ready to go back. You’ve changed, and so has the modern workplace. So what do you need to know?


First of all, sit down and think about what you can commit to. You took a break for a reason; if that reason is now not relevant and you can go full-steam back to work, go for it! If you still have time commitments, caring responsibilities or health restrictions that mean you won’t want a full-time or intense job off the bat, then it’s important to work out what you can do. How much time; if that’s restricted to particular days/times; whether you’re able to take work home with you; how much mental energy you’ll have. If you don’t really know what you want before you start looking, you run the risk of applying for a job that it’s not practical for you to undertake.


The next thing to think about, if you aren’t totally sure, is how you want to spend your time. As someone who has been away from paid employment, you might have been thinking about your contribution to the world. That’s a year’s worth of discussion in and of itself – what do we owe to our world? What is our value in society? – but in terms that are easier to think about, a good question is: what problem do you want to solve? Every job exists because it helps someone. If you know what kind of person you want to help, that’s a good start to finding the right role. You might want to work in an abstract or technical way on global or national problems, or with a real hands-on approach to smaller or local situations, or you might have discovered a gap in the market that you could fill.


The sectors that have potential for progression might be vastly different to the last time you worked. You can work on tech in the supermarket industry, you could work in construction and never need to lay a brick, you could be serving cold brew and golden milk in your local café, or you could have a great new business idea to get started on by yourself. To put it simply, the world is still enormous, and the possibilities are ever more infinite. Employment in the UK is growing, but so is the wage gap, which appears contingent on education levels (if you want a long read, the Centre of Social Justice recently published a report on The Future Of Work with more detail on this), so retraining might be the way to go – but should you do it in work, or go back to formal education first?


The good news for those ready to go back is that there are now scores of companies offering dedicated ‘returnships’ for people who have been out of work and need a tailored return. These can vary between short contracts and staggered, part-time lengthy ones, and if security in a role is important to you, it’s good to wise up on the differences. If you aren’t 100% sure that a position is for you, a 16-week traineeship with no further obligation might be perfect, but if you have financial commitments you are anxious to meet, longer term may sound better. The companies that offer these formal schemes tend to be in the financial, professional services or large-scale service industries; Women Returners has an excellent list to use as an initial resource.


Finally, when you’re applying to a role – whether it’s a returnship or not – don’t leave a gap in your CV where you haven’t been working. Employers are much more reassured by an explanation than an empty space, and they will appreciate honesty. If you can list skills you’ve picked up or tasks you’ve done while you haven’t been working, then even better. There is a lot of value in unpaid tasks; caring responsibilities means you’re practical, a self-starter, and probably good at both following instructions and being adaptable to very quick change. Having been a jobseeker for a year means you may have built up resilience and some excellent research skills. Whatever you decide to go for, be patient, think positive, and #StayNimble.



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Author: Katherine Stephen

Katherine is a qualified careers advisor and a member of the Career Development Institute. She has just begun a PhD programme to research meta-skill development in the workplace, and is a fiction editor and publisher in her spare time. You can find her on Twitter at @katobell.

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