How to get back into the work market after a long career break

Ana Herranz. Director Careers Services. Alumni. IE Business School

29 February 2016

Getting back into the work market after a career break can seem like an uphill struggle, but it isn’t impossible. Here are the key factors you need to take into account to do it successfully.

There are various reasons a person may decide to take a career break. It could be because they want to take a year off to travel, study, or just relax, or for personal reasons such as taking care of small children or elderly parents.

It’s a difficult decision, and even more so if you work in Spain. First, for structural reasons - the complexities of finding a job - and second, for cultural reasons, given that we Spanish are quite averse to risk.

And this aversion is due to two things. First, as a candidate taking a year’s leave seems to produce a stigma and is difficult to explain, and second, a recruiter might think: “So you’ve taken a year off and now you expect me to recruit you? I think you’re just lazy!” Such beliefs keep a vicious circle turning.

Personally I think it is a very good thing to do, both if you are going to care of a member of your family and also if you are going to take a year during which you can clear your mind and open it to new ideas, projects, people, countries, cultures, etc.

So far so good, but what about when you want to go back to work? What do you do, considering what a typical recruiter thinks?

First, update yourself. You have to be completely abreast of market dynamics and new trends.  Take a look at key publications in your sector. Join a social network group, follow blogs that are of interest to you. Reconnect with your professional network, go for coffee with your contacts to make sure your knowledge is up to the minute and get yourself back on the radar.  

Educate yourself in something that you feel you are a little behind on. Look for a short course focused on what you want to learn. Don’t spend a fortune doing it. Do something practical and useful that will permit you to say that you know something about the subject. Today there are free and low-cost online education platforms for courses with top-tier universities. Try,, or

Do an evaluation of what you have to offer. One typical problem people have in this situation is that little by little their confidence ebbs away, and high self-esteem forms a key part of the process. Take a look at all your achievements. Make a list of the people who give you energy and a positive outlook, who make you feel like doing things and believe how good you are, and speak to them on a regular basis. Make another list of all the “ashes” in your life and relegate them to the forgotten past.

Explore new things. Think about specific projects you can offer to people you know. Think about NGOs or associations where you can work as a volunteer. It is a way to get back to feeling busy and useful, and to get to know new people.

Look for interesting long-term opportunities. Don’t be obsessed with finding a job that pays the same as the one you had before, and is the same level. Think long-term, because in the short term you are not going to have the same salary or position.

Don’t get too obsessed with headhunters. Forget about them in fact. You are not their target profile. But that doesn’t matter, there are other channels.

Convey a good message. Think that the years you were out of the work market have taught you other things.  Prepare a positive and fast message covering the skills/knowledge/experience that you have now that you didn’t have before.

Get out and about. Don’t limit yourself to online job searches. It’s not just about that. Leave the house, talk to people, build new relations, get ideas… 
Post by Ana Herranz, IE Professor, on El Blog de Eva (Ava’s Blog)


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