How to Talk About a Career Break, with Carol Fishman Cohen

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Transcript

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host and publisher of Mac’s List. I’m joined by my co-hosts, Ben Forstag, Becky Thomas, and Jessica Black from the Mac’s List team.

This week our topic is how to talk about a career break when returning to work.

You’ve taken a career break, perhaps to raise children, care for a parent, or go on a sabbatical.  You’re feeling rested, relaxed, and ready to get back to work.Many people struggle, however, with explaining taking time out from a career. Our guest expert this week is Carol Fishman Cohen. She’s the founder and CEO of iRelaunch.She says with preparation and the right messages you can make a great case for yourself. We talk later in the show.

Many people volunteer during a career break. This lets you do work that makes a difference and it can help you grow your network and improve your skills. Ben has found a website with the best international volunteer gigs. He tells us more in a moment.

What’s the best time of year to look for a job? That’s our question of the week. It comes from listener Wendy Lynn of Talent, Oregon. Becky shares her advice shortly.

First, as always, let’s check in with the Mac’s List team.

Now, our topic this week is how to talk about a career break when you’re going back to work. How have you all done this yourselves or seen others do it successfully? Ben, you want to jump in first?

Ben Forstag:

Sure. So I guess I’m a little bit too young in my career to have had too many breaks in it. I think the thing I would share is when my first son was born it was really important for me to spend more time at home and I was at a place that didn’t have a formal paternity leave program. When I approached my boss about “I’d like to work from home for a couple of days a week for a couple months to support my wife”, the key for me in that request was spelling it out very clearly how this is going to work. “I will be online from this time to this time, you can always call me on my phone. I will be responsible for doing x, y, and z.” So that it wasn’t up to my manager to figure out how to make it work. I basically told them “this is how it could work, all you need to do is say yes.”

Mac Prichard:

So you were stopping work for a time period, but you were being clear about how you were going to be available, or you were working remotely from home?

Ben Forstag:

Well I was taking a little bit of time off, but then I was about, how I was going to make that transition. So I was going to work at home for a couple days a week, and here’s what it’ll look like and then I’ll come back to office full time at this point.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Yeah. Becky, what are your thoughts?

Becky Thomas:

I’ve never taken a thoughtful, planned break from work, so I don’t have a whole lot of experience with it, but I have seen others do it successfully. I think one of the keys is, when you’re coming back from a longer break or time off from work, to really add that story of what you were doing during the break to the entire narrative about who you are as a professional and how the break ties into that. So if you took a break from work to care for your children, using the skills that you used during that break and how you’re a responsible person, you’re caring, you’re supporting your family, all those things tie into your professional…the list of great things about you as a professional as well.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, that’s actually what I was going to say, is similar to that of, I’ve always used…if I’ve had pockets of time in between official work roles…I’ve always used my volunteer time, what I’ve done as a volunteer to supplement that. And certain volunteer roles I’ve put directly into my work experience. I call it professional experience on my resume so I can use that narrative and be able to address it head on. Just say, “Here’s what I was doing in between. I did this, I maybe quit this job, or had a contract job that ended and I was doing these other things in between when I looked for another job.”

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Jessica Black:

Or, you know, especially when you’re interviewing with someone, in that break between paperwork, it’s really good to have something else, whether it’s caring for family, or volunteer experience, or whatever it may be that you’ve done to, “Here’s my skills, here’s where…I haven’t just been sitting on the couch doing nothing.”

Becky Thomas:

Well sometimes people do though, if you’re taking a break.

Jessica Black:

Well yeah, you could have a sabbatical and just…

Mac Prichard:

Most of us who know Jessica Black know that she’s not going to sit around for awhile.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, not Jessica, but other people.

Jessica Black:

Well, no, but yeah, I think you can have a sabbatical and take actual time, but say, I took this intentional break off and I think that’s great too.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, and not be apologetic, and be like, “Oh yeah, I was just really lazy and at a bad time in my life.” Don’t go into that, just be positive about it.

Jessica Black:

Right.

Mac Prichard:

“I always wanted to go to Paris.”

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, or like, “I hated my last job.”

Jessica Black:

Yeah, just focus on the positive.

Ben Forstag:

I would actually say that the “I always wanted to go to Paris” would be okay, though wouldn’t it? If you said “this was a dream for me, and it’s something I worked hard for.”

Becky Thomas:

It shows you’re goal oriented. Yeah.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, it’s like a gap year but just not right after college.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I agree. I think you need to say a little more than that though. I think employers are going to want to make sure that you had something you wanted to accomplish during that time in Paris or Thailand or wherever you may be. South Dakota, wherever you decided you wanted to go.

Jessica Black:

Tie it back to the skills.

Mac Prichard:

Right. What did you get out of that experience? What did you learn and how might it apply to job?

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

I followed your lead on this, Jessica. I haven’t taken a formal career break, but I have been unemployed three times, and two of them were for lengthy periods. I, too, sought out volunteer experience that was professionally related and I used those experiences to fill those gaps in my resume.

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, but I know today with Carol, we’re going to talk about people who have taken long term breaks, particularly to your point, Becky, about raising families and caring for family members. I know she’s going to have some great suggestions about how to have this conversation when you are out there looking for work.

Jessica Black:

I think that’s really important, because a lot of people don’t know how to do that.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Well first though, let’s turn to you Ben, because you’re out there every week exploring the internet, looking for websites, books, tools, that our listeners can use in a job search or a career. So what have you found for us this week?

Ben Forstag:

So this week I want to talk about a resource that I think would help a lot of people I meet with. You and I, and Becky and Jessica, we meet with job seekers all the time and oftentimes they tell us things like, “Well I’m looking for meaningful work”, and that’s understandable. A lot of times people also say, “I’m also looking to see the world. I’ve been stuck in this town since I was twenty, or since I was born, and I want to see the world a little bit more and do something.” And I think for a lot of folks, what that means at the end of the day is, a really good opportunity for them would be international something. Volunteer, work, anything like that.

So the resource I want to share this week is the 2017 best volunteer abroad programs or organizations and projectsAnd this is from a website called VolunteerForever.com.

So, volunteering abroad isn’t just for church youth groups and just out of college, Peace Corps cadets. There’s a lot of opportunities there for older people, particularly people who have professional skills. So you can use the education and training experience you have right now to help people where such skills are much less common.

So the thing I liked about this is it’s not just going abroad and teaching English, although there’s a lot of opportunities for teaching English abroad if you want to do that. But it’s how you can use the skill set you have now somewhere else in the world. We always emphasize this, if you’re going to volunteer as part of a job search strategy, you want to volunteer in your field or doing something where you exercise your existing skills. So this website has a list of resources where you can do that.

The site has a list of different organizations that organize international volunteer trips, along with some very specific projects these organizations work on. Again, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of the projects focus on teaching English. There’s also a lot of things on healthcare and education, but there are a lot of other cool projects out there including things like manatee rescue, or temple restoration, or maintaining the Inca Trail. Training elephants, those are some of the more exotic ones, but I think just about any skill set you have, you can probably find some international volunteer opportunity out there.

So if that’s something that you’re looking to do, take some time off of formal work, get some work relevant experience and see a different part of the world, this would be a good website for you. Again, it’s called, 2017 best volunteer abroad programs or organizations and projects and we’ll have the full url in the shownotes.

Mac Prichard:

Great. Then, Ben, do the length of these volunteer gigs vary? I know sometimes when people go overseas to teach English they’ll do it for a year, but are these assignments that can last months or even a few weeks?

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, I think as short as two or three weeks and all the way up to, I think multiple years. I didn’t dig deep into some of the visa requirements which is what you get into when you start talking about year long volunteer opportunities. That’s always something you’ve got to keep in mind, but I think there’s a lot of flexibility here about how much time you want to contribute to the cause.

Mac Prichard:

Great. Well thanks Ben, and if you have a suggestion for Ben, please write him. We’d love to share your idea on the show. Ben’s address ben@macslist.org.

Now it’s time to hear from you, our listeners, and Becky is here to answer one of your questions. So, Becky, what’s in the mailbag this week?

Becky Thomas:

This week’s question comes from Wendy Lynn of Talent, Oregon. She asks,

“I’m wondering to what extent job openings are seasonal?  Are there better or worse times to look for a job?”

So this was a good question, Wendy. I think that in general, it depends on the industry that you’re looking to work in. So a lot of retail and and service industry type work can be seasonal. So retailers will hire around the holidays. Tax preparation is also another one I thought of. There’s a lot of build up around tax prep, but accounting stuff around the tax season in the spring. Also service industry work around seasonal activities like skiing, summer camps, that kind of thing. So those are definitely seasonal, but that industry is just typically…that’s the way it works… busier seasons and things like that and not always full time. So those are some of big ones.

But as far as professional level stuff, there’s ebbs and flows in general, but typically things slow down around holidays, especially around the winter holidays, especially around December, January, but pick up early in the calendar year, around January, February, after budgets are approved and the company has budget to hire somebody new. They’re going to start hiring for that earlier in the year. So that’s sort of the general, seasonal advice I would give. Do you guys have any other thoughts on that?

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, I think the business cycle has a lot to do with it, and so you pointed out the big one which is, people stop hiring at the beginning of December.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Ben Forstag:

And frankly, a lot of people stop looking in December because people’s minds are elsewhere.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, it’s a busy time.

Ben Forstag:

Then they hire again in January. I think you see the same thing in late June because a lot of organizations have a July to June fiscal year.

Becky Thomas:

Oh yeah, fiscal years, yeah.

Ben Forstag:

I know here at Mac’s List, January is always a big month for us. July is often a very big month for us. The slow months tend to be Septembers, or I’m sorry, August. I’m already dating us, no August, which is where we’re at right now, so it’ll be interesting to see what that looks like over here.

But yeah, I think that’s generally when organizations realize they have the budget to bring in new people.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I think you all are spot on here. I would say if there’s a particular company or field that you’re interested in working in, finding out, to your point, Becky, what the budget cycle is, is going to give you a sense of when you’re most likely to see openings for hiring.

Something that’s changed a lot in the age of Amazon and other online stores, you just don’t see the demand in retail for holiday help that you might have twenty-five or thirty years ago.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, as far as like the number of openings.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Department stores and malls used to hire people between Thanksgiving and in December you could always count on that, and in those old days, even the post office would add lots and lots of people. So if you were looking to make some extra money in a part time job there was a way of doing it.

Ben Forstag:

But that’s kind of shifted to a different sector because now, I know that Amazon ramps up its hiring around fulfillment centers.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Ben Forstag:

The folks who are going out there and putting stuff into the boxes and getting it mailed. It may well be with all those boxes getting shipped, USPS and UPS and FedEx all need more help too.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. Good. Alright, well thank you for the question, and if you’ve got a question for Becky, please send her an email. Her email address is becky@macslist.org. You can call our listener line as well. That number is area code,  716-JOB-TALK. Or send us a tweet. Our Twitter handle is: @macs_list

If we use your question on the show, we’ll send you a copy of Land Your Dream Job Anywhere, our book new book, and we’ll be dropping a copy to Wendy in the mail.

We’ll be back in a moment. When we return, I’ll talk with this week’s guest, Carol Fishman Cohen, about how to talk about a career break when you’re ready to return to work.

Now let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Carol Fishman Cohen.

She is the CEO and founder of iRelaunch, a pioneering company in the career reentry space. She contributes regularly to the Harvard Business Review and her TED talk on relaunching has been viewed over 1.5 million times.

Carol also hosts the 3,2,1 iRelaunch podcast. And she has a bachelor’s degree from Pomona College and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

She joins us today from Boston. 

Carol, thanks for being on the show.

Carol Fishman Cohen:

Hi Mac, thanks for having me.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, it’s a pleasure. Now, Carol, as you know, our topic this week is how to return to work after a career break. Let’s start by talking about who typically takes a career break, Carol, and why do they do that?

Carol Fishman Cohen:

Well probably the biggest subset of people who are on, what we call voluntary career breaks, are females who take career breaks for childcare reasons. But we have men who take career breaks for childcare reasons and men and women who take career breaks for reasons that have nothing to do with childcare. It could be eldercare or pursuing a personal interest or a personal health issue.

Mac Prichard:

And when people are coming back to work, what are the top challenges you see people face after they’ve taken a break?

Carol Fishman Cohen:

Well probably the number one challenge is that people have to figure out exactly what they want to do. I know it sounds obvious but we’re talking, typically, about a multi-year career break here. It could be one to over twenty years and the longer you’re out the more important this is. But you have to think about whether your interest and skills have changed or have not changed while you’ve been out of the workforce.

Mac Prichard:

Today, we’re talking about how to talk about that break and what to say. But I just love the fact that you’re making this point; you have to be clear about what you want to do next. Can you talk a little bit more about why that’s important, Carol, and how that will help you re-enter? Just being clear about your goals.

Carol Fishman Cohen:

Well, figuring out what you want to do drives out every other part of your relaunch, as we call it. We call it relaunch, because you have to get clarity on exactly what you want to do in order to know which jobs you want to apply for and in order to have the conversations with other people to articulate what you’re interested in doing. So potentially they can be helpful to you and that’s one of the strategies is you want to get out of the house and start having these conversations.

So the very first step is to get that clarity on exactly what you want to do and then from there everything else flows.

Some of the other challenges that people have when they’re first starting out have to do with building up their confidence again. I took a career break myself. I was out of the full-time workforce for eleven years and then I returned to work in a financial analyst role after being home with my children. I felt very professionally disconnected when I was on my career break and I really even stopped reading the newspaper on a regular basis. So I was feeling not only disconnected from my professional self but I was also feeling like I had to get updated. I had to even just read the newspaper to know what was going on in the business world to have conversations with people without talking about some company that didn’t exist anymore.

So there are all sorts of pieces to that, and that invigorating your networks, getting updated in your field, figuring out what you want to do, and all of those pieces help you build up your confidence over time.

Mac Prichard:

Once those pieces are in place, or you’re working on them, and you’re ready to go out and have conversations with people about that break and what you want to do next, what’s your advice, Carol, about how to approach those talks? How do people begin?

Carol Fishman Cohen:

Well let’s talk about first how people get connected. We’ll talk about actual language that you use in conversations in just a second, but I’m also thinking about how do you even reconnect with people who you’ve been out of touch with for five, eight, or ten years.

You might want to ask them to connect with you on LinkedIn, and of course, being able to have clarity about your career goals also drives setting up a LinkedIn profile and that’s a completely separate topic. But let’s say you ask someone who you’ve been out of touch with for ten years to connect with you on LinkedIn and they accept.

And if you have their contact information you can email them and say, “Hi Jim, it’s great to be back in touch again. I’ve been on career break for the last ten years and I’m in information gathering mode.” It’s really important to establish right up front with the people that you’ve been out of touch with that you’re not getting back in touch with them because you are looking for a job and you want them to directly and immediately to help you find a job. But you want to communicate, “I’m in information gathering mode.” A great question to ask people at this stage is, “Who do you consider the best experts to be in our field? I’m spending a lot of time updating myself, being very strategic and thoughtful about exactly what I want to do or exactly what part of the business I want to get back into. Which experts do you follow? What are the best books that have been written lately? What websites are you on and who’s writing the best articles or blogs?”

Those are great questions to ask people that you’re getting back in touch with without them feeling like, a) you’re being opportunistic, and b) it’s an easy response for them. It’s something that they can be helpful right away with you, as opposed to, “Oh no, that person got in touch with me because now they want me to help them get a job.” So I would say to take that baby step and reestablish relationships around questions that have to do with being in information gathering mode.

But this other question that you’re asking me in terms of, how do I talk about my career break, really comes up a little later in the process, when you’re talking to people in your field, maybe at a professional event, or even in the interview, and someone gets really focused on the fact that you’re just coming off of a six year career break and they might even say, “Wow, I see there’s a six year career break or gap here in your resume. Tell me about that.” Then that is your opportunity to acknowledge that you took the career break, do not apologize for it, and then move on to why you’re the best person for the role. You might respond, “Yes, I took a career break to care for my children and now I can’t wait to get back to work. In fact, the reason I’m so excited about this particular position at your company is because when I worked at Xerox, we faced very similar customer challenges. Let me tell you about one of them.”

So you’re able to give that message and the other message you can say is, “I didn’t apply for this job on a whim. I applied for this job after a lot of thinking about where my interests and skills are strongest, and where I could add the most value. That’s why I was so attracted to this position.” Then you can go on, “Here’s some experience I had at Xerox that was really relevant to the job responsibilities.” So again, you want to acknowledge why you took the career break, you don’t apologize, and then you move on to why you’re the best person for the role.

The only other thing I’ll say here is that this kind of response requires you to have in your back pocket an anecdote from each of your significant prior work and volunteer experiences. You have to first identify what those are; think about about the past, recreate the past, what were some of those great experiences? Document them, and then practice saying them out loud, so you can bring them up during the course of the interview, whenever they become relevant.

Mac Prichard:

So there’s so much good information in that answer that you just shared with us, Carol, and just to break it down, I loved just talking about, how do I talk about a career break? I love the fact that your advice is to not apologize, communicate why you’re excited, take advantage of the research that you recommended the people do earlier, so that the listener knows you’re not applying on a whim, this is something you’ve given thought to, and it’s a strategic choice. What kind of reaction do you see people get, those folks you work with, who follow this approach?

Carol Fishman Cohen:

Well, we think that when you give this kind of reaction, you’re kind of retraining the interviewer in a way to look differently at the relauncher population, to think more about, this is a person who is at a great stable life stage to come back to work. Fewer maternity leaves, or no maternity leaves, fewer spousal job relocations. This is someone who’s mature,who’s educated,  who’s had great work experience, who has energy and enthusiasm about returning to work, precisely because they’ve been away from it for awhile. These answers give you a chance to just play those qualities. I especially think that energy and enthusiasm about returning to work precisely because you’ve been away from it for awhile…I remember this vividly myself. That in year nine of my eleven year career break, I was chomping at the bit to get back to work. I went back in 2001, before anyone was talking about this and I had no idea how I was going to do it. I remember feeling like it was my time and I was really ready. So any part of the conversation that allows you to communicate that, I think really opens the eyes of the interviewers to realize, “Oh wow, this is a different kind of candidate than I’m used to speaking with.” And there’s some really great attributes of the demographic.

Mac Prichard:

Now, many people who take a break to take care of family or raise children, they remain involved in the community, often doing a lot of volunteer work. How do you recommend people talk about that volunteer experience when they’re sitting down with a potential employer?

Carol Fishman Cohen:

Well first of all, let’s talk about volunteer work on the resume or on your LinkedIn profile, because we think that substantive and relevant volunteer work belongs on the resume side by side with your paid experience. So I know that LinkedIn, for example, has a section for volunteer experience. We would say use that section for maybe volunteer experience that was important to you but maybe not directly relevant to your goals, your career goal. But in the main body of your LinkedIn profile or on your resume, you should be putting that volunteer work and describing it just like you would paid work.

So that’s number one. On the resume you can actually create a section and instead of calling it work experience, just call it experience and then you can list that volunteer work in addition to your paid work. You know, quantify whenever possible, use action words, and we find most employers are quite interested in volunteer work to the extent that it is relevant to the job that you are applying for.

Mac Prichard:

Those are great tips and I see people take the same approach when they’re in between jobs and they need to explain what they’ve been doing between positions. Once you’ve done that work on your online profile and your resume, and you’re having a conversation with a potential employer, what’s the best approach to talking about that volunteer experience?

Carol Fishman Cohen:

Okay, so I just remembered one more thing I want to say.

Mac Prichard:

Sure.

Carol Fishman Cohen:

About volunteer work before I jump into the actual conversation with the interviewer, and that is that there are specific resources that are global databases of volunteer opportunities. We call it strategic volunteering, taking on volunteer roles that are in line with your career goals. So if you want to manage a construction project, then take on a weekend build for Habitat For Humanity. We had a relauncher who was interested in returning to the field of architecture and volunteered at a summer program introducing high school students to architecture. We had a writer who became the volunteer editor and head writer for an online nonprofit newsletter on her career break.

So again, when you’re talking about these experiences, you’re going to talk about them just like they were paid, and say, “For the last six months I’ve worked really hard on this Habitat For Humanity build project, and we’re working in this particular area.” I don’t know the details of construction management but you would talk about it the same way you would talk about a job. For any of these examples that I just gave, you just want to be specific and talk about what your role was, and employers are going to completely see the relevance and the parallel between that work and the job that you’re applying for.

There are three great sources for strategic volunteering: one is idealist.org, and another one is volunteermatch.org. Both of those resources are global databases volunteer opportunities and they’re really role based. You can sort by location and it will give you all the different roles you can have in organizations. Then there’s another one called catchafire.org and that is project based volunteer work and many of those projects are remote. So I just wanted to mention those three resources as places to look for and find relevant volunteer opportunities.

Mac Prichard:

Those are great tips. We’ll be sure to include urls for those sites in the shownotes. I also just want to give you a shoutout for encouraging people to think about volunteer opportunities strategically. As you talk, Carol, I was reminded of the advice that college students often get about internships. Choose experiences that allow you to test whether you want to work in a field or let you get credentials or experiences that will help you get a job if that’s indeed the field you want to work in. You’re giving basically the same advice to mid-career or senior people who’ve been out of the work force for a while but want to get back in and need to have the most up to date credentials and the authority and credibility that comes with it.

Carol Fishman Cohen:

I would also add in the case of the relauncher, the mid-career professional, to look at certificate programs in almost the same way. With certificate programs, even though you have to pay to do those, it’s a very strong signalling to employers that you’re serious about updating in a particular field. You can take certificate programs in fundraising development or landscape design or running a political campaign, and they’re great to put at the top of your resume as relevant coursework, something recent and relevant, and you’re sending these signals to employers, “I’m very serious about this.”

And the last piece I’ll say about that is, especially when people are returning to a technical field, you might be required to, for example, get Lean or Six Sigma certification in manufacturing if you’re in manufacturing engineering or quality engineering for example, in order to even qualify to apply for a certain role.

So that’s another piece, is to think about where some education might fit into your preparation along with that volunteer work that you might be doing.

Mac Prichard:

Well speaking of qualifications, what advice do you give to people who are coming back to the workplace and are thinking about applying for positions for which they might be overqualified or might pay less than what they were earning in their last position?

Carol Fishman Cohen:

Alright, so a couple of comments about being overqualified. So some people feel that being called ‘overqualified’ is a veiled form of ageism. So I would say first of all that the antidote to ageism is subject matter expertise. So if you’re worried about being viewed as too old, then the most important thing that you can do is to get really up to date in your field and then go to professional events or meet ups or other places where you’re meeting other people in your field and get in conversations with them about the latest thinking in the field, the articles and the books, speakers and experts. Because if you’re up to date on those and you can talk about people, talk about that subject matter in an energetic and knowledgeable way, they’re going to look at you more in terms of what you know versus how old you are. I just want to establish that first.

As far as overqualified is concerned, I just wrote a piece for Fairygodboss actually, called 5 Reasons People Take Lower Pay when They Return to Work, and one of the reasons is that sometimes people simply want a less stressful job. So they will go for a role that is actually junior to what they might have left before their career break. Then they have to convince the employer or the interviewer that they did this intentionally. So the language that we would recommend in a situation where someone might say, “Wow, you know, you really seem overqualified for this position.” You can then respond, “I understand why you might think I’m overqualified for this position but I intentionally applied to this role at this level because I want to provide excellent results for my employer and I want to manage my life outside of work. I thought long and hard about what level I should be at in order to achieve both of those goals and this job was exactly at that level.”

Now there are some employers or hiring managers who will reject that out of hand but others will never have looked at it that way before and we have had numbers at iRelaunch community use that language verbatim as they moved through stages of the interview process and have gotten hired. It’s a matter of educating the interviewer or the employer and letting them look at it from a different perspective.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I like that explanation a lot. I think it’s very persuasive. Well Carol, this has been a terrific conversation. Now, let’s talk about what’s next for you?

Carol Fishman Cohen:

Well we always have a lot going on at iRelaunch. We’re very excited about a new product that we just launched called RoadMap. It’s a multimedia, five-stage return to work product that you can access online and it’s self paced, and it really takes you through all the different stages that you need to successfully relaunch your career. It’s a culmination of a lot of the thinking, writing, and work that we have been doing with thousands of relaunchers over the last ten years. So that’s something we’re really excited about.

We’re also about to run our twenty-first iRelaunch Return to Work Conference in New York at Columbia University this fall. We’ll have six hundred people there; we sell out every year, and we are running these conferences now a couple of times a year on the West Coast at Stanford, and on the East Coast at Columbia. It’s a day of education about career reentry strategy, and the opportunity to have substantive conversation with employers interested in hiring people who are returning from career break.

Mac Prichard:

Well we’ll be sure to include links to both that new product and your conference in the shownotes, and I know people can find you and learn more about your company by visiting www.iRelaunch.com. You also host, as I mentioned at the start of the interview, a podcast, 3,2,1, iRelaunch, which is available on iTunes. Well, Carol, thanks for being on the show this week.

Carol Fishman Cohen:

Thanks for having me, Mac. I really enjoyed it.

Mac Prichard:

It’s been a pleasure. Take care.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. Now what are your thoughts about my conversation with Carol? Who would like to go first? Ben, are you going to jump in?

Ben Forstag:

I’ll jump in.

Mac Prichard:

You’re leaning into the microphone.

Ben Forstag:

I think one of the big takeaways here is the importance of controlling the narrative around the time you’ve taken off so that the employer is not guessing and creating their own story in their head about why you were gone and why you’re coming back. So her point about controlling the narrative all the way up to telling someone, “I’m in information gathering mode right now. I’m not looking for a job.”

Jessica Black:

I liked that part a lot.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, I mean, it’s just telling people exactly where you’re at and exactly what you’re looking for because it really makes you look like you’re in control of your situation and not you’re being forced back to work because you need money or because some other reason. You’re the agent in all of this.

Jessica Black:

And want to be really intentional and thoughtful about all of it. Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, you have a plan, there’s a process there you’re following. You’re not just looking for a job, you’ve mapped out some steps.

Becky Thomas:

I really also liked that she underlined the situation of people who are coming back to work. The fact that they’re stable and excited about work more than people who might have been working continually for twenty years, who are just tired.

Jessica Black:

That’s a good point yeah. The refreshing.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah. I think there’s a lot of people who are in this situation that she was explaining for herself, “I hadn’t been working for however many years and I was just chomping at the bit, and I was so excited and had so much energy to put into that.” So, I think the point she made about retraining employers and interviewers to think about that, for people who are coming back to work is really important. Really powerful.

Jessica Black:

Yeah. That’s really important. I also really liked her note about thinking about certificates or additional training to be able to not only build your skills and refresh all of your knowledge in that industry, but also demonstrate that you are really excited and your very serious about reentering that industry and being successful.

Mac Prichard:

While we were talking this week about how to speak about why you’re coming back to work, I love that she started with looking at your network and reaching out to people that you haven’t been in touch with for some time and then having a very specific ask, not like, “Let’s get together and talk about my interest in returning to work.” But, “Give me your advice about the best websites, the best books, things that will help me get up to date.”

Becky Thomas:

Something specific.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, making it easier for people, that really resonated.

Mac Prichard:

Well, easy both to say yes to and to help you get up to speed.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, it’s actually valuable for you too.

Mac Prichard:

And it’s a baby step as she said, but it’s a concrete thing that you can do that’s going to lead to exactly those kind of consequences.

Jessica Black:

It’s a nice conversation builder with those folks who you haven’t had contact with for awhile. Making sure that, you know like Ben was saying, she was intentional about saying, about saying I’m in information gathering mode, which brings it back to, “I just want to have a conversation about this.” And then asking someone’s advice is always a really nice way to….you know, “What books are you reading? What is important? What’s happening in the industry?” I think that’s always a good way to start that and then build from there.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Well thank you, and thank you, Carol, for joining us.

Thank you, our listeners, for downloading today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.

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Join us next Wednesday when our special guest will be Danna Redmond, host of The Career Cuepodcast. She’ll explain how to switch careers.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job!

Many people take breaks during their career. People take breaks for childcare, elder care, travel, health, and more. When you’re ready to return after a multi-year break from work, it can be hard explain a resume gap and relaunch your career.

The first step is to figure out what you want, according to this week’s guest, Carol Fishman Cohen. “From there,” she says, “everything else flows.” In this episode, Carol shares her personal experience with relaunching her career, and gives advice for job seekers who need a plan to reenter the workforce.

One great tactic is to use strategic volunteering to beef up your recent experience. Carol shared a few resources to find opportunities, including Idealist and Catchafire.

This Week’s Guest

Carol Fishman Cohen is the CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch, a pioneering company in the career reentry space. She contributes regularly to the Harvard Business Review and her TED talk on relaunching has been viewed over 1.5 million times. Carol also hosts the 3,2,1 iRelaunch podcast.

Resources from this Episode