A couple of years back, a dream scenario happened for my husband and me. He was offered a new job that would involve us spending nearly a year in Spain. As someone who loves to travel and has always dreamed of living abroad (I did spend a semester in Australia, but that wasn’t exactly a cultural exploration as much as it was a five-month beach vacation), I promptly told my husband to take the job.
I was immediately picturing us enjoying 11 p.m. tapas and jaunting off to Mallorca for the weekend. On the flip side, I wasn’t giving much thought to leaving my own job (one that I actually loved), and I definitely didn’t think about what would happen after the year of being out of work.
We did move to Spain, and it was an incredible experience, one I’m especially grateful for right now. When we came back, I got pregnant and discovered the job hunt was harder than I imagined. Suddenly, it seemed, I was six months pregnant and trying to hide my belly at interviews. I didn’t get any of those jobs, and my planned year of not working was growing longer. Soon, I had a newborn and certainly wasn’t job hunting in the fourth trimester.
Here I am, well beyond that experience, and looking back, I know I’m very fortunate for the reason why I left the workforce. It seems like a lifetime ago and can’t compare to what many people are going through right now. Would I willingly leave a job in the current economy with so many unknowns? Probably not.
There are a lot of reasons people leave the workforce, whether it’s planned time off to be a stay-at-home parent, because of a partner’s job, or for reasons out of your own control like layoffs, furloughs, or caring for young children during a pandemic. Right now, mothers are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are leaving the workforce in record numbers.
Whatever reason leads you to step away from work, it can be extremely challenging and frustrating when trying to re-enter the workforce. While we’re still in the midst of the pandemic, there will hopefully be a time in the not too distant future where those who have left jobs are able to get back to work. In the meantime, there are some things you can do to better prepare yourself for the future job search.
During my time off, here’s what I did to keep myself motivated and ready to start working again.
I stayed in touch with my network
Once you leave your workplace, it’s important to keep your connections strong. Thankfully with social media and email, this is incredibly easy. Keep in touch with your former coworkers and colleagues in a genuine way. It doesn’t have to be formal check-ins at specific intervals, it can be a simple email every so often to see how they are doing and to give updates on what you’re up to. It’s much easier to tap into these resources later on if you stay in touch now.
In my own situation, I updated my travel-loving former coworkers with stories of what it was like to live abroad, and we also followed each other on Instagram, which led to casual commenting and conversations.
I worked on a passion project
If you have the means, is there anything you’ve been wanting to try but haven’t because of a lack of time? Now is the time to jump into a passion project. Start the blog, open the Etsy shop, launch the small business. Whether it’s a big or small endeavor, it will keep you busy and give you something to talk about when you do go back to interviewing. Plus, if you’re stuck on what to update your former coworkers on (see item #1 on this list), an update on your passion project is a great place to start.
I lent more time to my personal blog and also launched a mini outdoor running tour through Barcelona, a fairly simple business done through Airbnb Experiences.
I took on small freelance opportunities when I could
Don’t fall into an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to work. Even though you might not have the ability to take on something full-time, small opportunities are an excellent and manageable way to maintain your portfolio. Ask your network, your friends, and your family if there are any projects in your area of expertise that you can assist with.
For me, I started pitching stories to websites I loved and dipped my toes into personal training.
I continued learning
When you are ready to go back to work, you want to be able to point to what you’ve learned during your time off. Show that you’ve grown in your field by taking continuing education classes online. These can be formal or casual but are a great way to expand your knowledge and make yourself more marketable.
One way I kept learning was by taking The Everygirl Photoshop course, a skill that had been on my to-do list for years (and was often noted in the requirements for jobs I wanted to apply to).
I owned my reason for leaving
There are so many reasons to step aside from work for a while. Whatever your reason is, be open about it when interviewing. If you left work to be a stay-at-home parent, think about why this was important for you and your family, and don’t belittle your reasons. If you left work to care for your kids during the pandemic, let’s hope every potential employer understands and respects your reasons.
I was worried prospective employees would be less interested in me after taking a year off to live abroad, but often they were excited to hear about the experience. It gave us something unique (and memorable) to talk about.
Looking for a new job is never easy. Looking for a new job after taking time away from work admittedly has an added layer of challenge. While life may be hectic right now, find some time to do the work now that will pay off down the line.