Woman Returnee Job Search Guide



The thought of returning to the workforce after a hiatus can be overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you format your resume? How will employers view your employment gap? And what about social media? There's just so much to consider.  
The good news is that's it's not only possible to return to the workforce after a hiatus, it's possible to do so in a rewarding position. We know. It's what we do, and we've seen it happen many times (Click here to see some of our success stories). Women Back to Work is a leading, socially conscious organization that partners with leading employers to assess skills, train, and mentor returning women in an effort to set them up for success in their search for employment and beyond. 

resume writing as a returnee

Your resume is often the first opportunity a potential employer has to form an impression about you. You'll want to make sure it's the best representation of your skillset and experience. But then there's that gap. What do you do about the gap in your employment?  

As someone who's been in the workforce, you've likely drafted several different versions of your resume over the years. And if you're like most, your resume is probably formatted in reverse chronological order. The reverse chronological format displays your most recent work experience first and ends with the oldest. This format works well for most, but probably not if you're a returnee. 

For women-returnees, the issue in question is how to effectively communicate skills and experience while downplaying the gap in your employment. Employers understand the need to take time off to raise a family, or to care for an ailing parent. They have families too! So format your resume in a way that allows your skills and accomplishments to stand out on your resume. A functional resume is often the best way to do this.  

A functional resume is good if your most recent experience is not the most relevant to the job you're applying for or if you have an employment gap. This format focuses on skills and experience rather than chronological work history. Here, you list the most relevant job experience at the top of the page even though it might not be the most recent and follow suit with the rest of your experience. A quick Google search will give you many good examples. 

A combination of functional and chronological is also an option for returnees. With this approach, the resume starts with a functional description of your skills including your professional qualifications, achievements, and abilities and then follow with a reverse-chronological layout of your work experience. 

The resume you put together before your hiatus will likely not work as you plan your return. Gone are lengthy stories that made up the typical resume format a few years ago, now crisp and to-the-point are what employers expect. No one has the time to thumb through pages and pages of work experience. You have to condense it into a format no more than two pages, ideally one if you can.   

(Read more: Resume Formatting for Women Returnees)

Are you a woman looking to return to the workforce? We can help. 

Applicant Tracking Systems

Smart technology has become a significant part of the recruiting process. Nearly every company now uses some sort of ATS or Applicant Tracking System to screen resumes as they come in. The resumes are parsed by the ATS and then entered into the employers candidate database. Recruiters can then use the ATS to sort through thousands of resumes to find the best fits for a position based on keywords. An ATS is designed to streamline and organize the hiring process while reducing human bias.  

If you are submitting your resume online for any open position, it's safe to assume that it will go through an ATS. Here's what you need to do to optimize your chances of having the ATS rank you as a fit: 

  • Keep your resume simple. No graphics, fancy fonts, frames, boxes, or colors that may trip up the ATS. 

  • Use keywords from the job posting in your resume. The job posting is what's used by the ATS for the keywords. 

  • No fluff words. Recruiters rarely search on terms such as "team player", "motivated", or "quick learner". 

Applicant Tracking Systems are a fact of life. Learn how they work and use them to your advantage. You may want to try a website like Jobscan that can help optimize your resume for an ATS. 

Interviewing as a returnee 

Getting that first interview request is exhilarating. Especially for a woman returning to the workforce. Once the dust settles, however, the panic of how to ready oneself for a face-to-face interview often sets in. As a returnee, the thought of sitting for an interview after a break can be stressful. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you go in for your interview: 

  • Be confident. Appear for your interview with a confident demeanor, with a readiness to answer questions regarding your career break. Keeping abreast of advancements in your domain during your hiatus can help bolster your self-confidence. Don’t feel like the fact that you took time off will be perceived negatively by a prospective employer. Allow your eagerness to return to work and contribute to shine through. Remember, you also bring a unique perspective to the role that other candidates may not have. Your ability to juggle multiple responsibilities only serves to add more to what you bring to the table. Do communicate your skills and don’t be afraid to showcase your uniqueness. 

  • Greet your interviewer with a smile and firm handshake. 

  • Be prepared. It goes without saying that you need to be prepared to answer questions pertaining to the job you are applying for. Apart from that, you also need to do your research on the company, the industry you are in, as well as the person interviewing you. Also, be prepared to discuss what you did during your time off and how you've prepared to return. 

  • Dress professionally. Business professional is the rule of thumb when it comes to most interview clothing. While you don’t want to appear over-dressed, you don’t want to show up looking too casual either. No jeans and t-shirts. A formal skirt, or slacks with a button-down shirt and pumps are the standard for most interviews. Keep your hair and makeup simple but polished. And no loud jewelry!  

  • Bring hard copies of your resume. Have enough on hand to provide if your interviewer hasn’t had the time to print out one. 

  • Be early. It's better to err on the side of caution and show up 10 minutes early rather than 10 minutes late. Nothing creates a bad first impression like a candidate who is late to an interview, no matter what the excuse. 

  • Follow up with a thank you email. Get back to your interviewer the same day to thank them for taking the time to interview you, as well as for considering you for the position. This step goes a long way in conveying sincerity. 

(Read more: Interview Do’s and Don’ts for Women Returnees)

Many in-person interviews are preceded by a round of video or phone screenings. Here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you're prepared before dialing-in. 

  • For video interviews, follow the same dress code as you would for an in-person meeting. Make sure you are polished and professional.  

  • Keep your background tidy and free of distractions. Put away those toys! 

  • For both video and phone interviews, make sure you are in a quiet location where you will not be interrupted. 

  • Good reception and a stable internet connection are absolute necessities for interviews of this kind. 

Online courses for a returnee

Taking time off from work shouldn’t mean that you take time off from learning and honing your professional skills. Consider taking an online course (or two) in your area of expertise. Online courses are a great way to stay in touch with your industry without spending a lot of money.  

(Read moreAre online courses worth adding to your arsenal as a returnee?)

What are some of the benefits of taking a course online? 

  • It shows employers that you take your career seriously and are continuously looking to improve.

  • They cost a lot less than traditional in-person courses or degrees. Take a look at some options from Coursera (link) 

  • There are endless options to choose from. Be it a Digital Marketing Certification or Python for Everybody, you can find courses on virtually every imaginable subject. 

  • Learn at your own pace. With most online courses, you can choose your own schedule. Take a break when you need it and pick up where you left off when you’re ready. 

  • You can take these courses from anywhere in the world. All you need is a laptop or mobile device and an Internet connection. 

  • You gain access to a large online community of teachers and students which allows you to communicate, share ideas, and collaborate effortlessly. 

  • Keep your skills up-to-date. With the number and variety of courses available online, you should never feel that you can’t keep up during your time off from work. Keep adding to your repertoire by picking up relevant coursework whenever you have the time. 

Social Media for a returnee

If you didn’t already know it, social media is now the go-to recruiting tool for most companies. In fact, 92% of companies use social media for hiring, and that's not just limited to LinkedIn. Recruiters also employ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube as channels for finding candidates. This shows that you need to rely on more than just your resume to land that next job.  

(Read 5 Tips for Returnees on Using Social Media for a Job Search)

At the top of the social media pyramid for job seekers is LinkedIn. To maximize your potential, it is important that your Linkedin profile is up-to-date and an accurate reflection of your professional experience. All this needs to be done before you even post to a job board or send out your resume. Here are a few tips on getting your LinkedIn profile optimized for job seeking: 

  • The Summary. This section is the topmost part of your profile, and is what viewers first see when they land on your page. Use this space to write a brief but clear summary of your professional status. This is your 'elevator pitch', so to speak. Your Summary should incorporate your skills, interests, and achievements to catch the eye of a potential employer. If you want recruiters to find you, your Summary should read something like "Looking for an ABC position in XYZ industry".  

  • Your Profile Picture. Your profile photo is an often overlooked, but critical piece to a job-ready LinkedIn profile. In fact, members with profile photos get 21 times more views than members without one. With that out of the way, the question arises- what kind of photo should I upload to my profile? Here are a few do's and don’t's when it comes to your photo: 

  1. Your face should take up at least 60% of the frame. Don’t upload photos taken from a distance away 

  2. Choose a neutral background, which won't distract the viewer 

  3. No group photos, pictures of your kids, or family. 

  4. Wear a professional looking outfit akin to what you would wear to an interview 

  5. Your photo should be lit well and in-focus. 

  6. Choose a recent picture of yourself, not one from ten years ago. 

  7. If possible, have a professional photographer take your headshot. This goes a long way in creating a lasting first impression 

  8. If you decide to use a cover photo, make sure that the one you choose complements your profile picture and is 1400x425 pixels in dimension with high resolution. 

  • Add your location and industry. Users who add their location are more likely to show up in searches than those who don’t. 

  • Customize your URL. Go to the Edit Public Profile & URL option on the right-hand side of your profile page and customize your URL to look like www.linkedin.com/yourname. This feature makes it easier to add your LinkedIn URL to your resume and makes it easier to remember. 

  • Make your profile publicly viewable so that your interviewer or recruiter can access it without needing to add you as a contact first. 

  • Use the Summary section to highlight your work experience without going into a list of job duties. Use bullet points to keep it clean and concise. 

  • Reach out to old colleagues and bosses and ask for endorsements to showcase your skills and accomplishments.  This is not the time to be bashful. And don’t forget to return the favor. 

  • Make sure you add completed online courses and certifications to your profile. 

  • Reach out and connect with people you don’t know in your industry. Build those connections. 

  • Add recruiters to your LinkedIn contacts. When it comes time to start job-hunting, these are the people you want to know. 

Job Boards and the returnee 

If you’ve ever been in the market for a new job, then you are certainly familiar with job boards. Simply put, job boards are a place where employers advertise for open positions and where candidates can submit their resumes for consideration for these open positions. There are a few big players when it comes to job boards. They include Monster, Indeed, and CareerBuilder. These boards fall in the category of general job boards where you can find just about any type of position you are looking for.  

There are specialty job boards as well like Dice (technical), FinancialJobBank (accounting), USAjobs (federal jobs), and JobsinManufacturing to name just a few examples. A quick Google search should give you specific job boards for your skill set. 

Most job boards also have a feature that allows you to create job alerts. You simply create a profile, enter your search criteria, for example “software engineer java san jose”, and you will get jobs delivered directly to your inbox every morning. You can also go back and tweak your search terms if you are getting jobs that aren’t quite a match. It’s a great way to start the day if you are looking for a job.  

LinkedIn and Glassdoor are not traditional job boards but are sites that you should incorporate into your job search as well.

The other option is to target specific employers. Nearly every employer posts their job openings on their website. You will likely find job postings under the About Us section. Be sure to follow all instructions when applying directly through a company website. 

Networking for a returnee

If you have been out of the workforce and looking to make your return, networking with industry professionals is a step you do not want to overlook. In the time leading up to applying for jobs, meeting with other women in the same position as yourself can help bolster your self- confidence and provide valuable support (WBW holds a weekly Power Hour for returnees). Even if you are currently a stay-at-home mom, networking and meeting other like-minded adults is crucial to maintaining your sanity. 

Often, women returnees find their first position after a break through word-of-mouth. Friends or actively employed acquaintances can be a great resource and a connection to the working world. Take some time to think about anyone whose connection you can leverage to find open positions and reach out. A lot can happen over a cup of coffee. 

Facebook also offers great options for job seekers in the form of local groups that share information and have meetups. Find a Facebook group in your area and join to start networking. These communities often have thousands of members, all who can be part of your network with one click. Jobs are frequently posted within these communities, so keep checking these pages for updates.   

(Read 5 Reasons Why You Should Network as a Returnee)

Another great option for networking is the site Meetups.com.  Look for groups on Meetup under broader subcategories such as "tech", "family" and "career and business".  Groups such as Upstate Women Returning to Work (Greenville, SC), Back to Business (Raleigh, SC), Shifting Gears: Women in Career Transition (Palo Alto, CA) are just a few examples of the great networking opportunities that Meetup provides. Join as many groups as you can and start connecting with people. You never know when you will meet someone who will refer you for your next job. 


Whatever your reason is for taking a career break - caring for an elderly parent, raising children, or simply recalibrating your life - the process of getting back may seem daunting at first. Being mentally ready and energized to jump back into corporate life is the first step of many that you need to take to land that perfect job. You might worry about being technologically obsolete  or having to compete with candidates who are more current in their experience. But arming yourself with knowledge, and building a strong network can help ease your transition. A workforce reentry program such as Women Back to Work can provide you the tools needed for a successful comeback. Workforce reentry programs are specifically geared towards addressing the unique needs of a person who has taken time off from work. From advice on interviewing and resume overhauling to career workshops and tips on networking, such a program is an invaluable weapon to add to your returnee arsenal. 

Are you a woman looking to return to the workforce? We'd love to hear from you.