Been Away? How to Make a Career Comeback

If you're not Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts or even Britney Spears, it's no picnic making a career comeback after time out of the workplace. Among the hesitations and concerns on the minds of employers:

Are you really ready to reenter the job market?

Have you kept up with the trends and issues impacting your industry?

Are your skills current and up to date?

Do you have realistic expectations of today's workplace?

Can you articulate how your time off will benefit your future career endeavors?

Make sure you can answer those questions and issues before embarking on a job search. Bounce your responses off trusted friends, especially those who are currently working in demanding positions.

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Focus on face time instead of Net time. Get off the Internet and get out of the house. When you have a gap in your resume, scouring job boards and relying on posting your resume online will not help. Every recruiter I spoke to admitted that when looking at two resumes -- one with current experience, one with a gap -- they always went for the current one. You have to be in the room with the recruiter to turn that missing time into something interesting and positive. It's your personality and passion that can help overcome the gap, and that can only be accomplished in person.

Get in the door. You must focus on meeting people the same way you do in other aspects of life: through mutual friends and contacts. Connect with former colleagues and working friends. Ask for leads on jobs and ask for other contacts. Another great way to meet people in your industry is to join a professional group. You'll find associations in every field as well as working women support groups. Even your alumni association, no matter how long ago you graduated, is a stellar resource.

Face-to-face meetings. With all of your networking, you're looking for face-to-face meetings, so offer to buy the person coffee or to meet them at their office for 15 to 20 minutes. These are busy people, so be very clear about your goals and what you hope they can do to help you. Convince them that you're recommitting yourself to your career, so sitting down with you will not be a waste of time. Tell them you're hoping they'll connect you with some key contacts because you know you'll be a great asset to any team.

The rule of thumb for informational meetings of this kind: Walk away with at least three contacts or referrals. It's the way to rebuild your professional database. And then be sure to follow up on those leads in a timely manner.

Once you've made it in front of a decision maker, be ready to handle the gap in your resume head-on.

Turn time out into time well spent. Be ready to articulate what you've been doing and why it's relevant to what you want to do next. If you've renovated your home, explain that enormous undertaking. If you've had to put our parent in a nursing home, talk about how you've managed that care. If you'vve navigated the college admissions process for your kids, discuss that process. Figure out ways to showcase your skills and successes through meaningful and relatable anecdotes. You don't have to explain what you did quite literally every single day; instead focus on these big picture examples.

Focus strategically on volunteer experience. Long-term commitments matter most, not writing a check or spending a day at the recycling center. You want to show that you're focused and can follow through on a project over the long haul. Be able to demonstrate a meaningful contribution with a positive outcome.

Face employer concerns head-on. It's important to be able to read the room, to recognize those subconscious cues. And just as with everyone sitting down with a prospective employer, you have to face any doubts head-on.

If you sense that the employer is uncertain of your commitment, make it clear that you've considered all the factors that go into rejoining the work force and you've already made the necessary arrangements at home. Remember that for an employer, new hires are costly -- in time and money. They really need to know that you're committed and serious.

Another concern we heard from employers was that some comeback moms don't keep up to date on technology or the latest news in their field. If you're serious about jumping back in, make sure that you are ready to go on Day 1.

If they say you're overqualified, which is often code for "too old," don't walk away. Instead say, "I'm wise enough to know not to pursue anything that would bore me. I've really researched this position and while I might be more qualified than the average candidate, by hiring me you get more bang for your buck and I get to make an immediate contribution to the company."

And finally, it's critical to really know what you want. If you're looking for a comeback but tell the prospective employer that you have time restrictions -- "I can only work four hours on Monday and I need Friday afternoons off" -- you're actually feeding into the concerns they already have. Instead, think long term. Instead of holding out for the dream corporate job, take a part-time job as a sales associate and work your way up. When you've proved your worth to the company, you will no doubt be promoted to where you want to be.

Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women for Hire. Visit her Web site at