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Returning to work after a career break

“I’m 40, my kids are 12, 10 and 9. I have 20 years to make a discernible impact. How do I go about getting back into the workplace? Where do I even start?”

Is this you? Whether you’re looking to return to work after a break, change direction completely or step up after stepping back it can seem like a momentous task. Having supported countless women (and many men!) in their return to the workplace over two decades, I have identified patterns of challenges as well as tips and behaviours that empower people in returning to the workplace and these are outlined in this article.

Careers are not linear. It’s unlikely that the career you embark on at 21 will go in a straight line until you retire. In fact, it’s highly likely that there will be many bumps along the way such as you end up hating your chosen career, you burn out, you find a new passion or perhaps you take time out to rare your children or care for elderly relatives. Careers ebb and flow.

More women than men still see their career as a series of reactive moves, responding to circumstances as best as they can but if you think like a chess master and play the long game – this begins to change. There is a bigger game at stake other than work- life balance. It’s called the game of ‘creating your life’ and it’s played one move a time. It’s important to invest the time and energy in engaging with this to set yourself up for success.

At Change Grow Succeed, we have identified 8 critical tasks and behaviours that will support you in achieving results – these are:

  • Your mindset is key.

Watch out for self-limiting beliefs or expired stories such as “I feel irrelevant” or “I’m too old to start again”. Roosevelt says “Believe you can and you’re half – way there”. Be intentional about fostering a mindset of possibility (over judgement) and begin by getting curious about yourself, your interests and your priorities. Curiosity keeps judgement at bay and will enable a positive mindset.

  • Consider your career and wider interests, now.

Remember, we are products of a dynamic environment and what interested you in a job 5 or 10 years ago is likely to be different to now. Life happens and this alters our outlook and priorities. I often ask clients to consider and make a note of what they love learning about or what experiences leave them feeling energised. This provides important insight into the ‘here and now’.

  • Complete and audit of your skills, strengths and talents

It’s important to explore what puts ‘fire in your belly’ and gain clarity on what energises you. There are some great online resources available to support you in this regard. I often refer clients to the self- assessment section of  to make progress with capturing transferrable skills and completing interest inventories. Licensed psychometric test can also be invaluable. Seek out more information (a coach will be a good resource for you here).

  • List your professional skills and background

It doesn’t matter how long your career break was. The likelihood is that before, you were a successful professional. Capture your professional skills and work history – it’s your story to tell.

  • Your Network is your net worth!

Networking can appear to be a daunting task if you feel that you’re ‘out of the game’. However, if you think about it, your network is your community of people who empathize with you and want you to succeed. This tribe can be an emotional lifeline in your job search as well as offering support and guidance. Get curious about the people in your network (you might find them pitch – side or at the school gate also!). Focus on being interested (not necessarily interesting) and be the first to give. Seek to build relationships and doors of opportunity will open. Did you know that you are 4 times more likely to find a job through your network than a recruitment agency?

  • Generate/ Update your LinkedIn Profile and accompanying CV

Over 500 million people use LinkedIn and it’s worth mentioning that it’s the only social platform where employers and potential employees can connect. Unlike your CV, uploading a photograph is paramount as current data tells us that your LinkedIn profile is more likely to be viewed with a photo. Once your profile is created, connect with people and groups and follow those companies whom you are interested in.

The best CV will always be written with a particular job spec in mind. If I could offer any guidelines, it would be to try and keep your CV to no more than 2 pages, write in the third person and include a ‘Personal Profile’ at the top – usually 3-4 sentences outlining your relevant skills and experience for the role at hand. Don’t hesitate to label your ‘planned career break’.

  • Own your career break

Seek to reframe any ‘gap’ in your C.V. as an opportunity. Perhaps it was an opportunity to rare a young family or to care for an elderly relative. Perhaps it was due to illness or injury and you used the time to heal and re-focus. Maybe you have broadened your skills during this time or deepened your network. Whatever your reason, your ability to reframe and own it will set you apart from the crowd.

  • Engage a life or career coach

A good coach can be an invaluable asset in this process. Seek out someone who is accredited and with experience and who is a licensed practitioner in psychometric assessment. My qualifications in psychology, life and business coaching as well as psychometric assessment as well as my experience in industry and multinationals all compliment my ability to empower clients at Change Grow Succeed, enabling them to make progress and achieve positive change in their lives.

So, there you have it – 8 tips to set you up for success when returning to work after a career break! Most of all, believe in yourself. You were successful in the workplace before and will be again. Stay curious, keep learning and get comfortable reaching out to your network. Back yourself – you’ve got this!

Gillian McGrath is a Cork based Leadership Coach & experienced facilitator and public speaker. For more information, go to


About gillianmcg

Professional Trainer, Life and Business Coach, Mother of 3,Blogger and Founder of Change Grow Succeed. See for more details.

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