Been Away? How to Make a Career Comeback

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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.

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