I heard a great TED Talk on my way to work this morning by Carol Fishman Cohen talking about re-entering the workforce after a gap in employment. I see this quite often with women wanting to re-enter the workforce after raising their kids or even taking time off to care for an aging parent. How do you do it? What are the pitfalls and how can you package yourself to be appealing to a potential employer?
I hear questions from clients all the time like, “What’s she been doing for the past six years?” Or “Why hasn’t he or she worked in five years?” The employer’s concern can range from being afraid that the potential hire will be “technically obsolete” since software changes a lot in a multi-year period to just plain being rusty. I always suggest to put the gap in your employment on your resume as if it were a job with the dates you were out of the workforce and the reason for the gap. That way, the potential employer knows that you took 5 years off to raise your kids.
Prior to the economic downturn, most civil engineering firms were using AutoCad Land Development Desktop and now Civil 3D is pretty much the gold standard. So where do you turn to get up to speed quickly? Lynda.com has hundreds of tutorials on their site: everything from Civil 3D to Revit to the latest versions of Excel and it’s an inexpensive source that you can do on your own time. The onus is on you to try and get yourself back up to speed with technology, not the employer.
The other challenge you’ll face from a leery employer is starting back at your pay that you had when you were fully engaged in the workforce. Fishman-Cohen suggests trying to do a paid internship to re-enter the workforce and cited many Fortune 100 companies who are already setting up programs to hire and re-engage mid-career interns. While you may not be making what you want to make right out of the gate, it’s a great way to “try on” a company for size and allow them to see what you are really made of, too. The advantage to the employer is being able to see someone’s work ethic, their critical thinking skills and all the intangibles that are so hard to find. Software can be re-learned but a strong work-ethic and a great attitude are the gems to grab when you can find them! As the intern, you get a chance to see if the company culture is a fit while blowing the dust off your skills and re-engaging in the 9-5.