What to do if returning to work feels like a crisis

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What to do if returning to work feels like a crisis

3 common mistakes and 6 proven steps for getting back to work from an expert career coach, Jo Abbot Pullout

Are you out of work right now? If so, you may be on maternity leave, or been out of work for years bringing up children. Your kids may have left home and you are feeling the empty nest. Or you may be out of work due to retrenchment or illness. With the cost of living crisis hitting us all, many people want to get back to work and need to do so quickly. As a career coach, I work with many back-to-workers, and they have often tried many things before they reach out to a coach. I want to short cut the job seeking process and get you back to work sooner, by looking at the 3 biggest mistakes to avoid and the 6 best steps to take. Getting back to work doesn’t have to be a crisis.

3 Common Mistakes

When we are in crisis, our impulse is to get busy and do things. And these are the common things that people do:

  1. Dust off their CVs and start applying for multiple jobs that relate to what they were doing before.
  2. Register the dusted off CV with every recruitment agency they can find and click against a long list of job titles/roles of interest.
  3. When they don’t hear back, the burst of energy turns into a slump and they doubt they can get a job. They get depressed and give up applying.

Sound familiar? I meet people who have followed these exact steps, have applied for 100s of jobs, and repeated these steps multiple times. Not hearing back on your application IS absolutely gutting, no feedback, no comms, zilch. I get it.

Now think from the recruiter side (and I work with a lot of recruiters), getting 100s of dated CVs and cover letters that bear little resemblance to the job is SO frustrating as it wastes everyone’s time. As a recruiter or hiring manager, I am looking for candidates that show a link between the job and their motivation, skills and experience. I brace myself knowing that most of the CVs in my inbox/on the portal will be opened and closed in 30 seconds as there’s just no fit. I have to wade through all these CVs to find maybe 5 that will show the right alignment of skills and experience and motivation. See the disconnect?


6 Proven Steps To Success

So how do we get your CV to be the one that brings a smile to the recruiter’s face? We have to do the exact opposite of the ‘crisis-needs-action’ impulse. We don’t start with your CV. We have to stop, think and job search differently when we have been out of work for a while. Here are my proven 6 steps:

  1. Don’t look at your old CV. Get your diary out. Decide how many hours you want to dedicate to getting back to work eg 3 hours a day, 5 hours a day. Be realistic but challenge yourself. Block that time now in your diary and structure your week around this. For example, you decide to work 8-11am Monday – Thursday. Friend invites you for coffee at 10am. Nope, you are working at that time, find an alternative slot. Treat the back to work search as though you are back at work. Being disciplined around a regular time commitment not a big energy burst is what counts. Discipline and commitment reap big rewards. You need both to get back to work, and the same skills will help you perform when you do land a job.
  2. Don’t look at your old CV. Go for a walk or sit in a quiet place and think. Think about what you want to do at work. What did you love about what you did before, what are those things you have always wanted to do. What functions or tasks did you hate about your old job(s). Write it all down in a table with column headings like What I love, What I want to avoid, How I want to work, The Skills I bring, Things I want to develop, Where I want to work. Think about which of your skills you want to keep using, what new things you want to learn to do.
  3. Don’t look at your old CV. This is where the internet becomes your friend. Start researching dream jobs, all the things you love in your list, look up dreams jobs eg you love making things happen on time, look up ‘Project manager jobs’ (and you can add a location too eg ‘project manager jobs cape town’). Love being out talking to people and selling things, look up ‘relationship manager and sales jobs’. Your aim is to bring up job adverts and role profiles/job descriptions and read them from top to bottom. Amazing how few people read the summary, the key responsibilities, the essential skills, the desirable skills, the company information. Is this something you would love to do? Is this an organisation you would like to work for? If not, keep going, tweaking the job title for something more senior or more junior depending on the skills needed, or for particular sectors eg ‘project manager for non-profits’. Keep going until you have around 5 jobs that you would love to do and are qualified to do ie you meet at least half of the requirements, yes tick them off one by one!
  4. Don’t look at your old CV. Start the Analysis. Copy the job adverts/descriptions into a Word document. Now working online or with a printout, go through these jobs and highlight in PINK what you love about the job, highlight in GREEN what you have that the jobs are looking for eg qualifications, experience, skills, languages etc. Highlight in YELLOW anything you don’t have that the jobs are looking for. Now sit back and look across all the jobs and identify what’s common – in the requirements, the language used to describe the work, things you love about the jobs, gaps you may have. Get into the zone of what these jobs are all about and how you fit.
  5. Don’t look…just kidding! Step 5 is the right time to get out your old CV. Update and tailor your CV specifically to these jobs, using the language of what these roles are looking for, how the roles are described. Show the experience you have. Use the phrasing the jobs are using now, not the language of your CV from when you last worked. Ideally, talk to someone who works in the same field and get them to review your CV. Think what you can offer related to any gaps. Once your CV is done, you can now update (or open) a LinkedIn profile too.
  6. Get busy applying for jobs and registering with recruitment agencies. You shouldn’t be applying for 100s of jobs, rather you will be applying for jobs that are best suited and tailored to you. And it will take time, within your diarised hours, as you will be analysing each job and updating your CV/cover letter to show you have thought about the role you are applying for, have read the advert / job description and have made the linkages to your career history. No burst of action for 2 days, but regular tailored job searching. Meeting with people who work in the field, and building your networks is a great way to find ‘hidden jobs’ and complement your formal job search. You can also take short courses to fill gaps and update yourself using the many free resources online.


In summary

Getting back to work will feel like a crisis if you haven’t prepared your head, your heart and your homelife for working. Tempting as it is, getting busy and applying for multiple jobs will make you feel you are doing something, but rejections will confirm that inner voice seeding self-doubt eg you will never get back to work, your skills are dated, no-one will want you with those employment gaps. Rather, take time to clear your diary, think, research and analyse before acting. You don’t need months to do this. I get it, once you make the decision to go back to work (or finances mean you need to get back to work), you want to be back at work ASAP. But take a few days to go through Steps 1 – 4 and you will be set up for success. Follow these 6 steps and it will be your CV moving to the shortlist pile as you make the recruiter’s day with an application that aligns motivation, skills and experience.

If you want to learn more about how to get back to work, then follow this link and to register your updated CV with RecruitMyMom, select 'Candidate Sign Up' from the home page.

More about the author: As a working mum and career coach, Jo Abbot is passionate about helping women get back to work after a career break bringing up children. Learn more.