You wanted to try something new. Or perhaps you took time off to travel or to stay home and raise your children.
There are tons of reasons why you might step off your career path for a year (or three). But you can always go back—right?
That’s actually a trick question—one with a “yes” as well as a “no” answer. Yes, you can get back to your old career, but no one said it would be easy.
Even if you have an incredible comeback resume, you may face some hiring managers who look at you the same way Apple store employees viewed my 2009 laptop: front of the pack—six years ago, that is.
Getting a job in your field the second time around can be just as challenging as it was the first. But there’s one key difference (a.k.a. secret weapon), and that’s your network. Read on to learn why (and how) your prior professional contacts can help you get back to your desired field.
1. They Know You
One stereotype you may have to defeat upon reentering your industry is the idea that your skill set stagnated while you were gone. It’s actually a little ridiculous when you think about it (and gives no credence to the new skills and perspective you’ve gained).
That said, if a hiring manager sees that you haven’t worked in a certain area since 2012, she might assume you’re rusty. So, you need to move the reference check from the last step of the hiring process to the first.
Begin by reaching out to your contacts and asking if they know anyone who is hiring. (Try this template as a starting place.) Then, tell them the sort of reference that would be most helpful for you. If your old co-worker would typically put in a good work for you—say, that you’re reliable and results-oriented—ask him to include your technical skills when making an introduction.
For example, an accountant should be good with numbers regardless of whether she’s taken two years off. So, instead of just highlighting that proficiency, you’d want your contact to mention that you’re familiar with new tax law and its ramifications. Similarly, a designer should have perennially great taste, but ideally your contact would also mention that you’re comfortable with the latest software.
An introduction that highlights both your timeless and recent skills will help others look past the idea that you’re not “ready” to get back to your original field.
2. They Trust You
So, no one knows anyone who’s hiring—that’s that. Well, don’t “pack your knives and go” just yet.
Sometimes your contacts are so focused on finding the “in” that’s right for you (e.g., you told your old mentor you’re looking to work full-time) that they don’t even think to do an inventory of how you might work together. So, if your connection replies that he doesn’t know of any open positions, tell him what skills you’re hoping to put to good use, and see if he has any need for them.
For example, I’d been out of fundraising for four years when I volunteered to play a substantial role planning a 10th anniversary gala for a friend’s nonprofit. Suddenly, I had recent fundraising experience (and actually, that event led to a job offer to stay on full-time). Similarly, a friend who is in graphic design had taken a few years off and couldn’t find local work in her desired industry. She started promoting her recent artistic creations through social platforms, and now she’s helping an old colleague remotely and on a per-project basis. After all of these years, her original—and preferred—field is once again at the top of her resume. And no one will think you’re out-of-touch if your resume begins with recent experience!
So, ask your contacts who know how valuable you are if is there is any way you can be of assistance. No matter if it’s grunt work, volunteer work, more or less hours than you had hoped—it can get you back in, which is often the hardest part.
3. They Have Insider Information
It’s crushing when you do everything right but don’t get the job because the company was going to hire an internal candidate anyway. But it may feel even worse when this happens and you were counting on this job to be your ticket back in.
You can often avoid this by paying attention to what’s going on in your field. I know—when you take time away, you’re off the industry gossip wagon. But your contacts aren’t. Even if it’s a hunch, they may have a better idea where some personnel shifts might be happening in the new year—with a given company or the field as a whole.
So definitely put feelers out. Tell your contacts that you’re looking to get back into your old line of work and, even if they can’t make an introduction, ask if they can keep you apprised of what you should be keeping your eyes and ears open for.
Don’t be discouraged if you’re having trouble getting hired in your former industry. Rather, be thankful you’ve stayed in touch with your network. This is the time to reach out, and at some point in the future, when someone in a similar situation reaches out, you’ll return the favor.