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How to Return to the Working World Like You Never Left

Marcelle Yeager

If you've spent years out of the workforce to raise children, care for a loved one or are unemployed due to a layoff, it's intimidating to get back into the work game. Going back into an office environment where you're required to show up at a specific time and answer to an employer is going to take some getting used to. How can you ease your mind, feel like you're in-the-know and generally prepare yourself to get back into workplace grind?

First, relax. You're not the first person to go through this transition. It may help to seek others in your network of friends and family who have returned to work after an absence. Ask them to tell you how it went and what they wished they had done differently to prepare better. They may offer some insight into how they made themselves stand out.

The other daunting prospect of course is how to even begin the job search. Things do change quickly in the professional world, but the standard "who you know" is still one of the best ways to get a job. This is another area where your network can help you, or at least advise you on what worked and what didn't; remember to ask the latter question because it may save you precious time. LinkedIn is a powerful tool for finding old colleagues, friends, classmates and acquaintances, as well as job postings. If you're not yet on there, set up a profile and start using it.

Update your documents. The first step is to update your résumé and LinkedIn profile, if you have one (or create one as soon as possible). You will meet professionals soon who may ask to see your résumé and Google you to find your LinkedIn profile. Consider what you've done since you last held a part- or full-time position. Have you volunteered or advocated for particular causes? Are you the head of your child's parent-teacher organization? Do you lead an intramural sports team? Have you done odd jobs? These should go on your résumé and LinkedIn profile.

Read articles online. Search online for articles about your industry and field. There are also lots of blogs and materials out there about career development and different work environments. Read through some of these to help you feel more connected with the professional world as you re-enter it. It may also make you more knowledgeable about current trends in your particular field, which will help you in interviews.

Take classes at home. There are many websites where you can sign up for quality classes to take from the comfort of home. Some are free and others paid, and subjects range from yoga to computer programming. Two well-rated websites are Coursera (which offers free courses) and Udemy (which has both free and paid). Coursera has more than 600 free courses from top universities and organizations. Some classes can be taken at your own pace, while most are six to 10 weeks long with up to two hours of video lectures per week. Udemy offers 16,000 free and paid classes, which you progress through on your own time. Prices are typically less than $100 and are determined by the course instructor.

Go to industry networking or social events. Many networking and professional-oriented events are free, while some charge an entry or nonmember fee. Search online for local chambers of commerce, rotary clubs or other local associations and organizations. Meetup.com offers industry-specific professional networking events in many cities.

Reach out to old colleagues over email and phone and set up coffee or lunch dates. Don't worry if it's been a long time. People with whom you worked well and had good rapport will be happy to hear from you again, as long as you make the contact meaningful. What does that mean? Don't just send a standard LinkedIn request or email. Personalize each one with a few details on what's happening in your life, and definitely ask about them, their family, etc. It will garner many more responses.

If you were getting back into playing a sport or a hobby you enjoyed many years ago, you'd need to give yourself time to adjust and reorient yourself. You're not going to be the star basketball player at 40 that you were at 18, when you last played the game. Give yourself time to let it happen. Take a deep breath and prepare yourself. It is going to take some practice, but you'll be back in the work game in no time.

Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Yeager holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.

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