Career break with the current pandemic around is going to be a common trend with most professionals. And this gap is incidental and no reflection on a job seeker’s capability. However it remains important for a job seeker how to handle this while responding to recruiters. You as a job seeker need to remember that you are hired for the value you get to the table. Just a career break does not in any which way mean that you are not valuable. Keep all the success stories in mind with each of the employers and feel proud of yourself. Let me tackle the issue of a career break which you may have taken under both circumstances maybe before the pandemic broke out or it has happended recently.
If as a candidate you have taken a career break for some reason or have lost your job due to the current pandemic and are in the process of returning to the corporate world, the 8 key steps mentioned below would dramatically increase your chances of success:
1] Updated market knowledge: – One needs to do his/her homework and stay connected with what are the trends in the industry and domain that you are applying for. With the current pandemic the skills required have undergone a huge change so you need to identify what is required by different companies across industries which you are targeting. Being aware of what changes have taken place in the decision making process and the people involved is essential. It is always a good idea to make a list of key people in the marketplace (customers, ex employers) and revive old relationships by calling and/or meeting them to understand the dynamics before you start applying for jobs.
2] Resume with a customised pitch letter: Because there has been a career break, the prospective employer will always have a psychological barrier and even being called for an interview might be a challenge. To overcome the hurdle, you need to do a lot of homework on each prospective employer, study their pain points and present yourself in terms of skills, domain knowledge and your experience as a solution provider. Your Resume has to highlight your success stories with outcomes delivered and not focus on job responsibilities alone. It needs to be customised and each job application should also be fine-tuned as per requirement of each job.
3] LinkedIn Profile– It is critical to keep your LinkedIn profile updated, well written and active. If not already done, start making your connections and keep your engagement active on the platform by contribution to relevant discussions. Research the relevant groups and become a member. With the advantage of a professional social media platform, it is easier to keep yourself up abreast of developments in your domain. Recommendations on LinkedIn are useful too. Your online presence on LinkedIn with a well written profile creates a positive perception of being up to date with trends.
4] Interview: – Three questions will always remain tricky to handle in an interview:
A] Why did you take a break? : – Honesty is the best policy here. If the reason is downsizing due to covid, it needs to be mentioned presenting the impact on the entire business segment, department and / or company, not on you as an individual. If you are a female and your husband got transferred to another city or country, say so. If one wanted to give priority to parenting since you became a mother, please do mention it. If the company down sized and you were part of a number of people who were asked to leave, please share that. But remember, the art here is not keep delving on the reason…..instead shift your focus of discussion by presenting points on how you can add value to the prospective employer.
B] What were you doing during the break? :- It is always a good idea to keep your skill sets honed in related areas . For example, if you are a young mother and had to attend to your baby, there could be options of making use of your analytical ability to handle your husband’s investments or finances, improving your hobby like dancing or singing, doing volunteer work, teaching yoga and so on. Or it could be some project based assignment that you did. Creates a favourable impression .You could have taken up freelance consulting assignments which kept you active in the domain with success stories to share. Or if you have pursued any kind of further education, it helps. The point is to demonstrate that while you took a decision to stay away from the corporate work place, you also kept yourself productively engaged. Again ……….steer the discussion in the direction of how your experience can help in taking care of the pain point of the employer.
C] How do we know that you are not looking at this as a short term career move? :- One needs to demonstrate excitement that you are attracted to the company because of the values it reflects with the kind of initiatives and products/ service it has. Mention with confidence that you are eager to put to use all the experience you gained over the years to a professional organisation and start contributing towards the role for your own job satisfaction which creates a win win. If downsizing was the reason for the break and you have been engaged in freelance or consulting assignments, it can be mentioned that you would now like to take up a career opportunity offering more stability. The concern of the employer would be that you may leave at the next available opportunity. Importantly you need to give the confidence to the employer that you are not looking at this break as a course correction. This is where the in depth homework done by you on the company and presenting yourself as the most suitable candidate will be most useful.
5] Compensation: – This is an area where most employers feel that they should pay a candidate as per the scale of the position applied for and not necessarily as per the last salary drawn (say 1 year or 3 years back). As a candidate, with the current pandemic environment, it is advisable to keep the compensation part open for discussion and focus on the job profile and career prospects offered. It can at times mean taking a lower salary than what you earned last or lower than your expectations however keep the dialogue moving forward. Or else, you might be missing the woods for the trees. One can always cover up for the deficit over a 1 year period and get back on track. If there is a performance linked variable component in the job offer, it makes the employer feel comfortable working it out. Be open to negotiation of variable pay linked to performance. The biggest mistake candidates make is to get stuck to a specific figure of compensation expected and make it a deciding factor. It is good to display empathy towards employers because during this pendamic they too have undergone a huge amount of change on all fronts. So your being flexible on the compensation front can become a point in your favour as compared to other candidates if you have been able to excite the employer that you are the ‘right’ candidate.
6] Energy levels and enthusiasm: – Low energy levels and a laid back body language can seep in unconsciously in an interview when one has been away from work. And can be a major put off for employers. Now with video interviews becoming the norm, you need to brush up your communication skills through the digital platform. It is advisable to do a lot of homework and preparation on the company, job profile and one’s own ability (past achievements boost confidence) to handle the job and then appear for interviews with excitement, full of enthusiasm and high energy levels. Please remember, there is one thing more contagious than enthusiasm, and that is lack of it.
7] References& Certificates: – Strong references from your ex bosses and decision makers from the market place offer a positive influence on one’s candidature. Do ensure that the references are of people with a high standing and repute in the organizations they are associated with. Also be prepared for blind reference checks. Certificates of appreciation add a lot in terms of building credibility.
8] Confidence in yourself: Last but not the least, it goes without saying that confidence in your own abilities is the most important factor in LIFE. While one appreciates it is a challenge during such trying times, all effort needs to be made to keep it intact.
Keep these 8 things in mind and you are well on your way to a successful career leaving the break far behind.