Returning to work can be a daunting process after a career break. You may be questioning ‘who am I’ professionally after several years out, and this may feel even more profound when returning to work after a very lengthy break.
Different life factors at play can also bring additional challenges – how does returning to work differ in your 30s, 40s and 50s – and what can you do practically to help yourself?
Careers often accelerate during your 30s, and it can feel hard to return when you’ve stepped out of your career while your peers have continued to progress. You may feel frustrated and that you have to play catch up with others in your age group to get your career back on track. Remember, as working lives grow longer with many of us working into our 60s and beyond, this is just a small pause in your career, and you will be back up to speed and smashing it before long!
The first step is to avoid the trap of comparison and focus instead on the value you bring. Reconnect with your professional brand – what you have to offer in terms of your strengths, skills and experience, and what you stand for – your values and your purpose. Read our blog here on personal brand and focus on raising your visibility in line with this.
This is a prime time to grow in your career and it can be really valuable to seek a mentor to help you think about your career progression, and spot opportunities for development as your resume your career. Explore organisations’ mentoring programmes, or be brave and approach people you think could be a great mentor to set up an informal mentoring relationship.
If you have young children to care for, this can be challenging both practically and emotionally. Explore child care options early so that you’re well prepared on this front. The good news is that post pandemic, flexible working is here to stay and in many cases has made it easier for professionals to return to work. In addition new laws that come into effect in 2024 also mean that you will soon have the right to request flexibility from day one. Read our flexible working blog post for further tips and advice.
“The advantage to being older is that you know who you are and what you want” a returner in her 40s told us recently. Your 40s is a good time to review what you want from the next 20-30 years of your career. Reflect on your strengths, values and interests and whether these have changed since you last made career decisions. If you have children they may well be at school now, freeing up some time and space for you again and it’s a great time to reignite your career fire!
At this life stage, ageing parents may also start to pose new responsibilities and challenges. Consider who else can help out to support loved ones when you’re back at work – other family members, friendly neighbours, community support? Explore these now whilst you have the time to set up and trial new arrangements.
Perimenopause can also bring its own challenges in your mid to late 40s. See our blog here on asking for the (peri)menopause support you need as you return to work.
Balancing all of these elements can be stressful so it’s important to practice the basics of looking after yourself well and reaching out for help. Join supportive groups for tips and advice, build your network and challenge yourself to be more visible. Listen to Tamara’s inspiring story on our Career Returners podcast about the value of networks and creating opportunities to reconnect.
At this age you will have achieved many brilliant things throughout your career and life. You will have years of valuable work experience, you may have lived or worked in different countries, developed your own business, volunteered your time, maybe created or designed something. You may have raised your children, cared for your parents, supported a partner, and witnessed life changing events. Value what you have to offer an employer.
Workplace ageism can be a challenge returning to work in your 50s and while it might be true that some organisations fail to recognise the great value and benefit of hiring older workers, the landscape is changing as more and more organisations embrace returner programmes and the government commits to new initiatives to help over 50s back to work.
Returners too often create self-imposed barriers that need not exist. There are lots of free online upskilling courses to help you get up to speed with new technologies, to pivot your career or to retrain into a new area. Explore our resource signposts here to get upskilled and grow your confidence.
Reframing and developing the right mindset where your age is an advantage is essential. There are lots of resources out there to help you realise your potential – check out Restless, a fast growing digital community for the over 50s and 55 Redefined, ‘champions of the over 50s’ with an over 50s jobs board and membership platform.
Whatever age and stage you’re at, remember that you bring many years of skills, experience and wisdom that employers hugely value. For inspiration, delve into our Library of Success Stories to help you get started on this next career chapter.