How to Support Clients Re-Entering the Workforce

Re-entering the workforce

Whether forced or by choice, it’s not unusual for people to be out of the workforce for a year or more. There are many reasons for this situation such as starting a family, returning to school, caring for children or elders, deciding to travel, becoming seriously ill, or even being incarcerated. No matter what the reason, the good news for people choosing to re-enter the workforce is that they’re able to get support in their decision. You, as a skilled career development professional, possess the knowledge, experience, and strategic thinking that can make a big difference in the life of someone who wants to secure a job again. I’d like to present the steps I take as I support my clients in their goal of re-entering the workforce.

Step 1: Ask About Their Story

Actively listening and understanding the client’s story is an important place to start. Asking strategic questions about the time period they were away from the workforce can shed the light on a number of key items that will help you guide them. Was the time a positive or negative experience? What did they learn? What kind of activities did they engage in? How did this time shape their vision of the world? What thoughts related to the return-to-work are they currently leading with? Answers to these questions will help inform their brand, job search documents, and how they tell their story.

Step 2: Conduct Guided Re-Discovery

I believe it is beneficial to take the client through a guided re-discovery exercise where they revisit their values, interests, strengths, personality, and ambitions. Many of these variables may have changed with time and to serve our client powerfully and effectively, we need to understand their current alignment in order to produce an actionable, authentic strategy.

Step 3: Explore New Options

Some industries change faster than others, some jobs no longer exist while new ones emerge, education material evolves, and working environments have been transformed. Depending on how long your client has been away from the workforce, what they did during their absence, and which direction they want to go, conduct a thorough assessment to determine how long the transition could take. Clients who have been freelancing or volunteering will need a shorter time to re-enter the workforce, while others may need to go back to school or take on an internship or a “returnship” to re-skill. It’s an important step to re-calibrate any existing assumption the client may have about how long the process will take.

Step 4: Create the Future

Equipped with all this current information, you will be able to develop a narrative for the career break that the client can use while networking and during interviews. It’s also a good time to share up-to-date information about interview questions that may be inappropriate or discriminatory. The bulk of this step will be to help with re-branding as well as create the necessary career documents and collateral that will serve the client’s new goal. Encouraging and preparing your client for the future of work while managing their expectations, rehearsing for interviews, and helping them build resiliency will uphold their motivation and mental health throughout the job search process.

Step 5: Practice Delivery of “The Leaving Story” and “The New Story”

I suggest role playing and re-engaging in networking as activities where clients can start practicing both the leaving story and the new story (sometimes referred to as the return-to-work story). It is vital that both stories be told out loud to as many people as possible: friends, family members, old and new acquaintances. This helps clients own their messaging and feel confident about how they are showing up. It’s also an opportunity to be confronted with difficult or uncomfortable questions they may face and learn how to answer them—not only with ease, but to their advantage.

Step 6: Create an Action Plan

As the process of re-entering the workforce can become overwhelming very quickly, it’s important to make the endeavour manageable by breaking down the full return-to-work plan into smaller and achievable action items, with a timeline for each item. Checking in with your client frequently will help you gather feedback on what has been working for them and what has not. You can then work together to adjust the actions accordingly.

Step 7: Support, Support, Support

As the return-to-work process unfolds, I strongly advise a list of resources be prepared so the client can tap into them if/when additional support is needed. Are there groups they can join or community networking events you know of where clients would be able to share their experiences with others in the same situation? Articles or books? Trusted referrals who could discuss and integrate other aspects (like financial planning) of re-entering the workforce into the overall plan? You might also propose activities like journaling and meditation. And, don’t forget to celebrate small wins together. This is proof that the plan is working!

Congratulations! You Helped Someone Re-Enter the Workforce!

Yes, it feels that good! I believe that work should be accessible to everyone. One should be able to leave and re-enter the workforce without prejudice. Even though your client may have had to take a few steps back to speed up later, or even consider a complete pivot, helping a person to achieve their goals is always rewarding.

How are you supporting clients who have been away from the workforce for a long time? Please share your strategies and tactics in the comments below.

Rita Kamel, CDP, MCCS, MCES, CRS, CIS, CWS is a Master Certified Career and Employment Strategist, an award-winning résumé and interview strategist, and the founder of DossierPro. Her mission is to empower professionals to lead their international career moves. Rita holds a master’s degree in marketing and has extensive experience in recruitment. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Great article. As a career coach/vocational instructor working with clients re-entering the workforce after long term disability, the client’s journey can produce feelings of anxiety, lack of confidence, low self-esteem, frustration and overwhelm. Part of an effective client job strategy includes acknowledging these emotions and re-assuring the client that what they are feeling is very real and providing motivation by working with the client to identify their transferable skills, and value that they are bringing to a potential employer.

Hi Christine,

What a great and insightful addition to the steps and the support that is needed for clients returning to work after a lengthy gap. I have been thinking about the emotional side of the process, too, as I talk to a friend who is going through it after a 4 year absence.

Funny that when you Google the emotional support needed for people in this situation, the vast majority of current articles that come up are related to returning to in-person workplaces post-COVID.

I did find this article—written before the pandemic—that offers some helpful tips. I love the “tell-yourself-what-you’d-tell-your-kids” suggestion.?

How to Tackle Self-Doubt After a Career Break