The prospect of returning to work after years away from my career was daunting. I faced a host of challenges: a lack of recent and relevant experience, outdated corporate skills, and uncertainty about my Baby Boomer place in a Millennial-focused world.
I still thought, however, based upon my early career success and an advanced degree in my field, that I’d get a great offer in no time. It didn’t happen. My strategy—jumping into a role that was the wrong fit (and later leaving), followed by picking up consulting gigs here and there and then trying to explain it all in a resume with gaps and changes—was failing. I needed a strategic shift.
So I changed everything, from how I was approaching the job search process to my end goal. As a result, I applied for and landed a returnship, with Goldman Sachs. (If you’ve never heard of it, a returnship is an internship for people returning to the workforce.) It enabled me to add current and substantive experience to my resume, and reset my career path so I could once again move forward.
Here are the six most important lessons I learned in my quest to get back on track.
1. Update Your Online Presence
Being a somewhat tech-savvy boomer, I had a LinkedIn profile.
But too many people have ones that are lackluster or outdated. If that’s you, place this at the top of your to-do list. Both recruiters and hiring managers use the site to find and screen candidates. (If you’re starting from scratch, here are 10 steps to creating an “all-star” profile.)
I left off dates for my degrees to minimize age bias, and truncated my experience to the past 10 to 15 years (I recommend you do the same!).
You may think that networking is just for young professionals who need to meet new people. That’s simply not true. It’s beneficial regardless of your age.
For example, I had a friend put in a good word for me, and I know that helped me to be considered for the role at Goldman.
Here are four things you should start doing (if you’re not already):
- Periodically touch base with professional contacts. Be memorable by sending a personal note and an interesting article once a month.
- Let the other person know that you respect their time by being specific when you have an “ask.” Say (or write): “I’d really appreciate your perspective—can we speak/meet for 15 minutes?” And then stick with that time commitment.
- Extend your network. Ask your contacts to connect you with their contacts. (Here’s an email template for requesting an introduction.)
- Follow-up with a thank you note, every time. Take it to the next level by offering to be of help if they ever need your perspective or expertise.
3. Make it Easy for People to Help You
If you’re asking someone to refer you, give them everything they need, so they can simply send along your details.
So, if you’re applying to a role at their company, this includes the job name, job number, your resume, and bullets outlining what skills and experience you’d bring that match the requirements for the role.
People are busy, and so if you give them a complete email they can simply forward, it’s a lot more likely it’ll get passed on.
4. Refine Your Elevator Pitch
When you’ve had a lot of experience, it’s important (though often hard) to be clear about your objectives.
What are your areas of expertise?
What type of role are you looking for?
It’ll be tempting to rattle off everything you’ve done in the past, or say, “I can really do anything.” But a long speech can be overwhelming for listeners—and can make you look overqualified—and unfocused. So, cut it down and zero in on one thing you want the other person to come away with. My rule of thumb is that it should be no longer than 30 seconds.
5. Practice Self-Care
Unreturned emails, closed doors, and rejection all sting. But, it happens to pretty much everyone, especially when you’re outside the “sweet spot” of hiring prospects.
There’ll be surprises for better and worse: People that you’d have bet would be right there to help aren't; and people you barely knew will do all they can.
So, it’s all the more important to be kind to yourself: go the gym, meet friends, and see a movie! That stuff may seem frivolous when you’re job searching, but it’ll help you feel happier—and keep you from letting your identity be wrapped up in your professional life.
6. Pay it Forward
Once you’ve landed in your new role, do what you can to help a colleague or friend of a friend. It could be at work, like offering to mentor junior employees.
Or, it could be that someone contacts you seeking your advice. Remember how you felt when you were job searching and do your best to find the time!
And of course, when you’re hiring in the future, give those who’ve had winding career paths a second look.
After my 10-week returnship program ended, I was asked to stay on for another year—and I did, happily. When my role recently came to an end, leaving Goldman Sachs was bittersweet.
But one thing that made me feel better is that I knew I was ready to find my next, more permanent position. On this search, I have not only a solid and recent accomplishment to leverage, but all of the lessons I’ve learned the last time around, as well as some new and treasured Millennial friends.