8 tips for returning to work after a career break

By Lina Arshad

Whether you’ve been out of work for a couple of months or a couple of years, re-entering the workforce can be a daunting experience for anybody. But with unemployment figures from the U.S Bureau Labor of Statistics showing that the number of unemployed people reached 5.7 million in January 2023, being out of a job is something that impacts a vast majority of us at some point in our lives. 

And while this is sometimes for permanent reasons, such as retirement, there are also times where professionals will opt to take temporary career breaks for a number of reasons, with a view to returning to the same or a different field of work in the future. Alternatively, some temporary career breaks can be down to situations outside of a professional’s control, such as redundancy, being furloughed, or a change in personal circumstance.  

Whatever the deciding factor behind your career break, if you’re looking to get back on the horse this year, there are a couple of things you should be doing to ensure a seamless transition back to the working world.  

Why do Microsoft professionals leave the ecosystem? 

Life can be unpredictable—sometimes it requires you to completely change paths in certain aspects of your life. And for a lot of professionals, this can mean needing to take a step back and take some time to themselves to consolidate their career plan and the journey they’d like to take going forwards.  

In fact, according to our Careers and Hiring Guide: Business Applications Edition 2023, among the most common reasons that Business Applications and Dynamics professionals are leaving the Microsoft ecosystem include because of health issues (14%), for a better work-life balance (14%), and for a career change (14%). This is demonstrative of just how many professionals nowadays are prioritizing their health more than ever, as well as showing that employees are now more focused on finding a job that matches up to their values and expectations, rather than just settling for money—as the jobs market quickly discovered during the Great Resignation.  

Whether your reasons for leaving the Microsoft ecosystem mirror those above or were for a different reason—such as expired contract (36%), redundancy (7%), or perhaps the job just wasn’t for you (7%)—if you’re thinking about returning to the workforce soon, you may be looking how to make your transition back into the ecosystem as smooth sailing as possible.  

In the next sections, we’ll be sharing some of our expert tips and tricks for getting back to work after a period of unemployment, to make this period of change easier for you.  

The return to work after a career break 

The world of work has seen a major shift over the past three years, with things like remote and hybrid working dominating work trends—so much so they’re now considered an expectation rather than a perk. As well as this, many employees have a greater say when it comes to negotiating their perks and benefits packages, which is great news for you as you re-enter the global workforce! 

But what else do you need to know to help you get back into the swing of things? We’ve shared our tips below.  

8 tips for returning to work after a career break 

  1. Take your time 
  2. Assess your skills and marketability
  3. Narrow down your non-negotiables
  4. Reconnect with former colleagues and network
  5. Research and analyze job descriptions
  6. Learn new skills
  7. Update your resume and portfolio
  8. Find a recruiter to help

8 tips for returning to work after a career break 

Returning to work when it feels like everybody around you is well-established in their careers and roles can be incredibly daunting—whether you’re returning to an industry you know well or are looking to break into an industry entirely new to you. But it doesn’t have to be.  

In the following sections, we’ll be discussing some of our top tips for going back to work with a bang.

1. Take your time

We know the search for your perfect job can seem never-ending, but relieving the pressure on yourself will help significantly. When we’re busy stressing ourselves out about landing the perfect role and rushing back into work when we’re taking a break, it can lead to accepting jobs not fit for us, and even burnout—which is obviously an issue when starting a new job! 

Taking time to consider why you left and took a career break will ensure you’re steering yourself in the right direction, rather than being driven into decisions by external influences and pressures. Perhaps you left because of ill health, or your contract with an organization came to an end and you wanted to regroup and rethink the services you offer.  

Whatever the reason for your career break, it’s also important to reflect on what its taught you. For example, you may have learnt the importance of balancing your workload and negotiating it, rather than saying yes to picking up every task and overwhelming yourself. Or you may have narrowed down the specific part of the industry you want to be working in—or even changed your mind on the industry completely!  

By being honest with yourself about the reasons you left, you have a better idea about what you want for your career beyond this employment break.  

2. Assess your skills and marketability

The tech world has changed massively over the past three years, and so it’s important that any candidate looking to re-enter, or enter for the first time, has the skills to match up to the industry’s advancements.  

Start by taking a look at your old resume. A lot of the skills on there will be ones you still hold, even if there are a few which need a bit of finetuning before you enter back into your field of work. You can then start thinking about any skills you’ve acquired during your time off—whether that was down to a course you took, or a hobby you turned into a venture to make some cash while you were out of employment.  

Once you’ve got a list of your existing and current skills noted down, you can determine your marketability and match these up with the most-wanted skills for your industry. This can help to increase your earning potential without having to do much salary negotiation—it’s a win:win.  

Just remember: soft skills are just as important as hard, technical ones in today’s working world!

3. Narrow down your non-negotiables

The employee-employer power dynamic shifted significantly under the circumstances in 2020. And with employers desperate to bridge the digital skills gap that was ever evolving during the same time, employees and candidates have since had the upper hand. This means you’re now more likely to dictate your non-negotiables, and be given them, than you were in the past.  

For example, if you took time off due to health complications and will be expecting regular medical follow-up appointments, choosing a role that allows flexibility will no doubt be a key consideration for you. This may mean one of your non-negotiables is flexible start and finish hours, the option for longer lunch breaks, or even full-time remote work.  

Similarly, if you’ve taken your time off to gain new skills that’ll be particularly valuable to the industry or a specific organization, you can be more particular about what salary you accept. Knowing your worth has always been important within the working world, but with candidates holding more power , it’s arguably more important than ever to ensure you get what you need and deserve from an employer.

4. Reconnect with former colleagues and network

When you leave a job, it can sometimes be difficult to keep up with colleagues who still work there or who have maybe also moved on to other jobs—but don’t underestimate the importance of it. Despite having significant job browsing options available at our fingertips on the internet and across social media, there’s every chance that a former colleague of yours may know of a vacancy for you. Plus, if they’ve worked with you before, they may be willing to make a recommendation of you or be willing to provide you with a personal reference that stands testament to your work ethic.  

As well as mingling with the people you already know, it’s crucial to know just how important maximizing your network can be when you’re looking to return to work—especially for tech companies where competition for these roles tends to be stiff.  

Attending Microsoft events can help you to meet like-minded professionals who may have an opportunity for you, if not now, then further down the line. Similarly, building relationships with others in the field you’re exploring gives you plenty of other opportunities to learn and develop your knowledge and skill set, so you can boost your career even further over time.

5. Research and analyze job descriptions

Once you’ve thought about the type of work you’d like to do and consolidated your skill set to ensure it matches up with the roles you hope to apply for, you can get stuck in with the nitty gritty of job searching. At this stage, we recommend simply researching companies you’d like to work with and looking at the job descriptions of open roles for positions you’d be interested in applying for. 

By not jumping the gun and applying straight away, you give yourself time to see if there’s any gaps in your skill set that you could do with filling before applying for these types of positions. For example, if you’re looking for an F&O Functional Consultant position, being able to have clear strategic conversations with stakeholders will be imperative. So, if you’re not much of a speaker, taking the opportunity to attend or even present at conferences and exhibitions can show your commitment to helping the Microsoft community. If the big stage isn’t for you, you could alternatively host webinars or do live videos on your social media profile. Anything you can do to build on your existing skills to the desired level a company would want will be worth it—even if you end up accepting an offer from another company. 

6. Learn new skills

As well as building on the skills you already have, taking the time to learn new skills can help you to stand out among competition in the candidate market. Think about it: if an employer has your resume and another candidate’s, and you have more relevant skills listed on your resume among great experience, they’re likely to put you ahead in their shortlist.  

But it’s all too easy to simply list the skills—having proof of your knowledge is sometimes what can tip the scales in your favor. And one way of verifying your skills is by getting certified.  

While certifications aren’t all the be-all and end-all, 83% of Microsoft professionals who took our survey told us that they believe getting certified makes you a more valuable candidate, while 92% believe it makes you more marketable. Regardless of whether or not this is the case across the board for hiring managers, the significance of these statistics among professionals currently in the industry is certainly something to consider.

7. Update your resume and portfolio

Once you’ve accumulated all the skills needed to get into your desired career, updating your resume with all your new skills and experience is your next port of call. Although you’ll no doubt want to fill employers in with every detail of your learning experiences, remember to keep it concise—hiring managers will have heaps of resumes to get through so short and sweet is the way to go.  

If you’ve got an online portfolio of your work, remember to update that as well. Whether you insert URLs to recordings of your webinars and keynotes at conferences, or you provide links to articles you’ve written about your specialist topic, evidencing this is not just good for validating what you say in your resume, but also shows your dedication to your career. 

8. Find a recruiter to help

Finding the perfect job can be difficult, especially when you’re looking for a tech job as the industry is so fast paced and there are new roles cropping up extremely often. If you’re overwhelmed when it comes to looking for your dream job, think back to the skills you’ve got and perhaps the routes professionals tend to take to get to each key role—you can find more about this in our guide.  

If you’re still struggling to find the role you want without compromising on one of your non-negotiables, it may be time to find a recruiter that can help you out. Of course, you’ll need to prioritize finding one you trust and who understands what you’re looking for, but it’ll also massively help if you find one who is a specialist in your industry. For example, here at Nigel Frank we specialize in Microsoft recruitment and so each of our consultants is an expert within the ecosystem, which we consider to be a huge advantage in landing candidates jobs they love and can do with confidence—especially after a career break. 

Returning to work after a career break can seem scary, but it needn’t be. By following the tips laid out in this article, you should be able to do all the background preparation to rebuild your confidence and maximize your skills and experience before you start applying for jobs again.  

Need help? We’re here to help. Get in touch to speak with one of our friendly consultants for a no-obligation conversation. We have contacts across the Microsoft ecosystem who are looking to hire great Microsoft professionals just like you. 

Looking to find your dream Microsoft role? We can help.

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