Getting Back In: Helping Relaunchers Return to Work
By LaShawn Randolph
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021) reported that 8.4 million people are currently unemployed. One population not included in unemployment numbers is a subset of workers who left the workforce for reasons unrelated to their work performance. These reasons could include needing to care for loved ones, taking a sabbatical, pursuing higher education, or attending to personal health. In many cases, the exit from work took place at the height of the individual’s career, during the highest earning potential years (between ages 25-45), and they have remained out of the workforce for two or more years. Mika Brzezinski (2020) states in her book Comeback Careers, “statistics show that the overwhelming majority who take time off will want to return to the workforce.” However, many of these talented workers, often referred to as Relaunchers, are finding it difficult to break back in.
Meet the Relaunchers
Relaunchers are people who voluntarily left paid employment, have been out of work for two or more consecutive years, and are now ready to go back to work. Some Relaunchers wish to return to the profession they left, while others seek to enter a new field. The organization iRelaunch (2021) further defines Relaunchers as:
- over the age of 40
- highly educated (98% have a bachelor’s degree, and 63% have graduate degrees)
- having at least 10 years of experience prior to their career break.
Relaunchers may worry that employers view the career break as a red flag and that their skills have become outdated. They may feel insecure about what they have to offer employers. Marketing themselves as viable candidates may be challenging. Many are unaware of strengths they bring to the table precisely because of their career breaks. Career practitioners can help Relaunchers see the unmatched skills and qualifications they possess and build their confidence to present themselves in the best light.
Build a Strong Resume
In a recent podcast, Johnny C. Taylor Jr., CEO and president of the Society for Human Resource Management, stated that employers are looking for candidates who have buildable skills: those who demonstrate adaptability, strong communication skills, lifelong learning, creativity, leadership, problem-solving skills, and teamwork (Beard, 2021). These are skills often practiced during a Relauncher’s career break and can be emphasized on their resumes.
Conveying how breaks are applicable goes a long way. For example, a parent who has taken time off to care for their children demonstrates leadership and organization skills at home. Anyone who has volunteered has developed their collaboration and problem-solving skills. Sabbatical takers are life-long learners.
Career practitioners may want to follow these tips for creating resumes with Relaunchers:
- Craft the resume to focus on skills, rather than job titles, to help potential employers identify strengths.
- Place more attention on the years of experience gained performing tasks, instead of the dates they were performed. This takes the focus away from gaps in employment.
- Use updated resume formats, fonts, and career vocabulary (e.g., job titles such as Human Resources Business Partner instead of Personnel Officer).
Networking is one of the greatest resources to help Relaunchers springboard back into the workforce. Friends, former co-workers, and acquaintances can offer referrals and references. Career practitioners can help Relaunchers devise and practice a personal statement or elevator pitch that clearly states their career direction and relevant skills. Encourage the repeating of that statement in networking conversations, interviews, and in social media profiles so it is internalized and well-practiced.
Online resources are a convenient and cost-effective way to update or strengthen skills that may be out of date. LinkedIn Learning offers career workshops to build skills and confidence. Trade associations also offer skills training specific to the client’s needs or target occupation.
A resource specifically created for Relaunchers is Path Forward, a list of companies with Return to Work (RTW) programs. RTW programs are 16-24 week paid “returnships” that offer a formal pathway back to work for individuals who have been out of work for at least two years. Career professionals can help Relaunchers research RTW programs available in their area by contacting post-secondary institutions; businesses often partner with universities and community colleges to provide skills training and recruit training program graduates.
Breaking the Stigma
The route to achieving career goals is not always linear. Career breaks can be exciting, healthy opportunities, and in some situations, inevitable. Instead of viewing them as detriments, career practitioners can help Relaunchers reframe career breaks as positive investments in personal and professional growth. By describing career breaks in this manner, practitioners can break stigmas and encourage and empower Relaunchers to accomplish their career goals.
Beard, A. (Host). (2021, August 31). How the pandemic changed talent management. (No.817) [Audio podcast episode]. HBRideaCast. https://hbr.org/podcast/2021/08/how-the-pandemic-changed-talent-management
Brzezinski, M., & Brzezinski, G. (Eds.). (2020). Introduction. In M. Brzezinski, & G. Brzezinski (Eds.), Comeback careers: Rethink, refresh, reinvent your success- At 40, 50 and beyond (1st ed., p. 5). Hachette Books.
IRelaunch. (2021). About IRelaunch. https://www.irelaunch.com/about
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, August 6). The employment situation. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf
LaShawn Randolph is a Relauncher who holds advanced degrees in education and human resources development. She recently completed coursework to obtain the Certified Career Services Provider (CCSP) credential. LaShawn has over 10 years of work experience in education, human resources, and career advising. She enjoys helping others make connections and reach their professional goals. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or linkedin.com/in/lashawn-randolph