Job Search Strategies After a Career Pause or Job Loss

Wednesday, May 5, 2021
The latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that in December 2020, the U.S. economy lost a net of 140,000 jobs – all of which women accounted for. Meanwhile, men gained 16,000 jobs. These numbers are staggering and sobering. Career transition experts Nancy McSharry Jensen and Sarah Duenwald, authors of "Back to Business: Finding Your Confidence, Embracing Your Skills, and Landing Your Dream Job After a Career Pause," explain how this hurts the entire workforce and offer advice and actionable strategies for job seekers to combat these realities and move forward.

Not Just a Women's Issue

The latest BLS numbers are clear evidence that the pandemic jobless toll continues to hit women especially hard.

"Squeezed by the collapse of female-intensive industries, demands of at-home child care and education and general pandemic-related job losses, women moved away from paid work in the last year in droves," Jensen says. "And the reality is, whether they elected to leave or were pushed out, they will all need and want to go back."

But Jensen and Duenwald, who founded The Swing Shift, a resource hub for women in career transitions, emphasize that job loss for women hurts the workforce and the economy as a whole.

"This is not just a women's issue," Duenwald says. "It's a national crisis and one that will have negative effects for years to come. This backslide affects everyone, including the 25-year-old childless male who has no plans to marry or have kids."

How does this ripple effect happen? It comes down to some simple math. The authors note that when the labor force increases, the economy grows. When it decreases, so does household spending, which makes up 70% of the U.S. economy.

"When women have to leave the workforce due to job loss, lack of child care, or other at-home responsibilities that fall on their shoulders, they are decreasing their income," Jensen points out. "When families have less income, they spend less money and in turn it diminishes the economy."

How to Get Back to Work After a Career Break

If you are among the millions of workers who are unexpectedly finding themselves in the position of needing to look for a job – whether it's because you've been dismissed from your last role due to COVID-related job losses, you're away from paid work to care for your family or just need a change of pace – there are steps you can take to improve your odds. Jensen and Duenwald say the first step is to pursue a strategy to approach the job search. Here are four major paths that people can employ successfully when looking to get back into paid work:

  • The Boomerang Approach: Going back to what you did before your break. If you were laid off and just want to get back to doing something similar to your previous role, this is generally the best path."You approach your former employer or former managers and look to re-engage in that role and industry," Jensen says.

  • The Try and Buy Approach: Pursue contract or freelance employment as a way to test the work before looking for a full-time role. "This is a strong option when you've been out for a longer time period and/or want to leverage your skills in a new industry or role," Duenwald says. "You gain work experience and build a new network, but aren't committing for the long run."

  • The Lily Pad Approach: Take on a role in the short-term that leverages part of your skill set as a way of getting back into paid work. Then, jump into a richer role in 9 to 18 months as you build your recent experience and update your skill set. "This works when you've been out for a longer time and want to re-engage with paid work," Jensen says.

  • The Pro Bono to Paid Approach: This works best for people looking to pursue nonprofit roles or willing to engage for a short time (three to six months) in volunteer roles that strategically position them to get back into paid work.

  • The Boomerang approach may be a good place to start your job search. Many companies that consolidated last spring have now figured out ways to work within the new pandemic guidelines and restrictions, including work-from-home options, Jensen explains.

 If your last company is no longer around or your industry has imploded due to the pandemic, think about other industries or companies similar to your previous sector where you might be able to do your same job, Jensen and Duenwald suggest. Many women find that a professional break presents an opportunity to change direction, either by moving to a new discipline within the same industry or shifting to a different industry in the same role, they say.

"In those instances, a Try and Buy approach is a great path to re-entry for many of those impacted over the last 12 months," Jensen stated. "You're learning a new skill, making new contacts and most importantly, getting paid while you check things out."

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