Tips for returning to work after a long gap

When my daughters were young, I left my job as a production manager to care for them. We’d had some struggles finding trusted daycare providers but the larger truth was I wanted the time with them. During the years I was home, we moved to two different cities, and my last place of employment went out of business. Although I stayed in contact with two of my superiors, neither of them remained in that industry. I knew there would be difficulties when I was ready to return to work. Sure enough, as I started the process I wrestled with my confidence.

In Back to Business Nancy McSharry said many people returning to the job market suffer the same self-doubt I did and often these feelings are reinforced by the indifference of hiring managers. The pandemic has surely changed the job hunt experience – there are openings – yet the task can still feel daunting. There are so many questions to answer. Is it time to return? Do you want to do the same type of work or start over? When preparing your resume, how do you account for the time you were not employed? Can you get through an interview without calling unnecessary attention to the gap? Where will you look?

Making Choices

Many people who take a break from work will eventually decide to return. A change in marital status may necessitate the income, a trauma may ease and make working feel doable again, or an at-home partner may miss the stimulation of a career.

In Back on the Career Track Carol Fishman Cohen said the choice can be gut-wrenching. You may long for a role that better fits your current life. Perhaps, too, you struggled to keep up with technological or industry advances during the gap. When I returned, I felt as if I was looking for my first job again. Although I knew my strengths, I had no idea where to start. If you have similar worries, the library has many books to help.

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The Job Hunt

McSharry suggests you explore ideas by evaluating your past work. Figure out what you liked, what you didn’t and why. Then look at the job market to get a feel for what kinds of work you feel enthused about. If you decide to return to a similar position, you can contact previous employers or search for what else is available in your area. If you are starting fresh, look at what opportunities are available and trending. Check out our Job Search and Career Development page for links to job search sites.

Most importantly, ask around when you are looking for a job. According to Wendy Enelow (Expert Resumes for People Returning to Work) referrals and networking channels are often among the most effective job hunt tools. Check out this library post about maintaining a current LinkedIn account, which can help with those connections.

Resumes and Cover Letters

Enelow also said because of the gap in employment, your challenge when writing a resume is to focus on your skills, qualifications, project highlights and achievements, rather than start and end dates. Her book includes several resume formats geared to those seeking a return to work. If it has been more than a year since your last job, McSharry suggests you briefly account for your time away. You don’t want to distract from your bigger message and introduce discomfort or doubt. Another option from Cynthia Shapiro author of What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here! is to simply and positively address your time of unemployment in the cover letter rather than the resume.


Shape the story you want to tell about yourself. Practice describing your strong work qualities to an employer in two or three statements. In an interview if you are asked about the gap, be succinct. “I have been caring for my elderly father, but now I am ready to resume my career in advertising sales.”

Make it clear during an interview you are a team player who is curious and willing to learn. In Answering Tough Interview Questions Rob Yeung lists possible questions and answers that deal directly with work gaps.

For me, it was networking that led to my first job after the gap. After hearing about an opening in an area I’d never considered before, I applied for and accepted a part-time job that led to a full-time, benefited position. I would never have traded that time with my children, but even years later, I feel a knee-jerk defensiveness when I speak about it. However, if I hadn’t stepped away for a time, I’m not sure I’d have wound up with the position I hold today, which I thoroughly enjoy. Wishing you similar luck with your own job hunt.

My job as Circulation Assistant takes me around town delivering books and materials to the Smartlockers and TSCPL-at-work sites. I am a fiction reader with a fondness for romance, and I also enjoy gardening, cooking and watching my grown daughters navigate their lives.