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  1. Blog
  2. Return to Work

Struggling to Get Back into the Workforce? Here Are 4 Ways to Reframe Your Return

Your skills are more marketable than you think

Woman browsing on a computer
Photo courtesy of Annie Spratt

This article is part of InHerSight's Working During Coronavirus series. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, find helpful advice here on working remotely, job hunting remotely, dealing with anxiety and stress, and staying safe at work if you have to be on-site.

If you’re still reeling a little (or a lot) from job loss and general disorientation during the pandemic, you are not alone. Although the term ‘post-pandemic’ is bandied about regularly, we are far from putting it in our rearview mirror, so it is essential to remember to continue to be as kind as possible to yourself, and others, as we look toward recovery. With so many competing priorities it can be very hard to tune into our own needs. 

In February, the World Economic Forum shared that “114 million jobs were lost in 2020, which, in combination with working-hour reductions within employment, resulted in working-hour losses approximately four times as high as during the financial crisis in 2009.’’ The impact has been massive, to say the least, and things are changing on a daily basis. 

So what can you do as you look to return to the workforce after an employment gap like a layoff, reduction in hours, or an exit to care for your family or personal needs? 

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: I've Changed So Much During the Pandemic. Is My Job Still Right for Me?

1. Assess the situation

First, ask yourself what you need right now. It may be that money is tight and it is necessary to have an income immediately, you may find that it is the right time to reflect on your career path and make a pivot, or you might realize that what you need right now is a bit of time before returning to work. Just because we have been home for a year or more does not mean we have had a vacation. Take note of what will actually help you in your current situation. If you are struggling in other areas of your life, the pressures of a job search may be detrimental to your overall wellbeing and may not be successful.

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Can a Recession or Economic Downturn Affect My Career?

2. Look to your strengths

Whatever the situation, strengths can help. A strengths focus goes beyond your job search. Most people’s strengths are like their default settings and they are good at the same things both in and out of work, so understanding strengths can impact how you structure everything from your work, to parenting and even dividing household responsibilities. 

Understanding your strengths has benefits even if you are seamlessly returning to a similar role and industry. According to Gallup’s website, “people who use their strengths every day are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8 percent more productive, and 15 percent less likely to quit their jobs.” Typically, people find it much easier to grow what’s working rather than to fix what isn’t working, so examining your strengths is a beneficial exercise no matter the circumstances.

If you are not sure how to determine your strengths you may start with some self-reflection around what you enjoy and gives you energy. You could also learn about your strengths through revisiting performance reviews or ask your friends and former colleagues what they see as your strengths. Hearing from others often has the side effect of boosting your confidence during a difficult time, and it also gives you new language and examples that you may not have thought of on your own. 

Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Discover My Hidden Talents?

Remember to go beyond the general and get specific. For example, if your strengths are in “big picture thinking,” that can mean many different things. For you, does big picture thinking mean that you are able to see how all the pieces of a workplace puzzle fit together? Does it mean that you love to manage a project and create an action plan? Does it mean that you see patterns more quickly than others? Perhaps for you, big picture thinking means that you have big ideas for the future that really wow people. Try to get as specific as possible to identify transferable skills

Getting to the core of what you enjoy will be essential. Take a restaurant server, for example, if their main love in their job was recommending the best dish on the menu, they may consider a sales role. Those who enjoyed explaining the intricacies of a dish may be natural educators. Someone whose main motivation was creating an exceptional dining experience may have a future in customer service or UX.  

3. Ask for help

Remember that most people find jobs through connections, so go ahead and reach out to people to let them know you are searching and the skills you can contribute to an organization. For example, if you were laid off from a job doing accounting for a hotel and cash flow is your top priority, you might ask people if they need help organizing their personal finances and budgeting. You may reach out to small businesses to offer help on a project basis, or take a temp accounting job to get your foot back into the market. I like to think of the people you know as a little army of job searchers who are working for you. We need to equip them with the right information so that they can easily see the right job when it comes along. 

Read more: Should You Use LinkedIn’s #OpenToWork Feature? A Recruiter Weighs In

4. Mind the market 

As we are starting to see a resurgence of hiring in industries that have been hardest hit during COVID-19, it is reasonable to expect that the growth may not indicate a thriving industry, but one that is working its way back to pre-pandemic levels. The truth is that no one can predict the future. What we have seen, however, is that jobs in technology and services for older adults have remained buoyant, and they go far beyond programmers and nurses. You’ll find roles for support staff, human resources, customer service and operations within these fields as well. 

During this time, some may argue that it is most stable to build a portfolio career. This way of working puts together a variety of work that makes up one’s portfolio. For example, a writer may do freelance work writing people’s biographies, preparing resumes and editing others’ work. For many, this variety provides more stability than a typical job where all of our proverbial eggs are in one basket. 

A perspective shift

During a time when so much is out of our control, it can be really helpful to focus on what is within your control. Every little step in the right direction will make a difference. Here are a few resources to help you change your mindset around your current and future career during this time:

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