11 Tips for Rejoining the Workforce After a Career Break

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: April 28, 2014

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

First of all, congratulations on the new job! Whether you were unemployed and searching for something new, or you took time off to raise kids or take care of loved ones, welcome back to the workforce.

But at the same time, it's understandable that you're a little leery about transitioning back to the working world after a prolonged absence. Will people like me? What have I missed? Is the technology different? Can I really meet these new challenges in unfamiliar territory?

Before you start your new chapter, take a minute to read about a few tips for getting back in the flow without breaking stride.

11. Prepare Ahead of Time

Getting up nightly at 3 a.m. was irresistible when you were scouring job postings, filtering through contacts, and tweaking your resume, but so was sleeping in until 9 a.m. when your first interview of the day landed after lunch.

These nights preceding your start date will be better spent reestablishing the biological rhythms of your newly employed lifestyle. Cut the caffeine and/or alcohol, late night TV and Internet surfing, set your morning alarm, and replicate next week's schedule.

Advance adjustments will set you up for better rest and all the mental and physical benefits that accompany a regular seven to eight hours of sleep.

10. Adjust Your Diet

Yup, you read that right. You need to recognize maintaining a 9-5 focus after a period of unemployment will be an exertion and adjustment -- even in the food department. So ease the back-to-work transition by planning ahead.

Make a grocery run to stock up on quick, healthy breakfast options such as oatmeal, Greek yogurt and fruit. And maybe grab some apples, almonds or protein bars to bridge any gaps between your lunch break and the end of the day.

You're coming in with a clean record; don't leave yourself vulnerable to sugar buzzing, habit-forming, breakroom donuts that will carry you no further than that last temp position did.

9. Get Your Body Ready

Your first month may impinge on longstanding healthy habits such as gym workouts and running, walking or cycling. You'll eventually fit it all together again, but anticipate a few misses in the first few weeks.

Launch yourself at peak condition for the challenges ahead by being especially faithful with fitness in your last unattached days. Don't overdo to the point of uncomfortable muscle soreness, but aim to be your prime physical self as you go into this new endeavor. Think through workarounds for the nights your regular regimen proves impossible. Incorporate stress relief, a metabolic boost, and life enhancing endorphins via exercise to ease your potentially taxing transition time.

8. Take Care of Unrelated Chores Ahead of Time

In another week or two you'll be fully focused on excelling in your new position, with less time than you're used to for errands and everyday tasks like car maintenance, bill paying, gift shopping and home repairs.

Are there any upcoming tasks you can do ahead of time? Your happily employed self will disdain the laziness of unemployed You if unnecessarily loaded with time consuming household duties the first week back on the job. She'll wish she could relax a little after such a long day at work and may be annoyed by the dirty windows she no longer has time to clean.

7. Perform a Dry Run

Yes, you know the commute route. You drove it three separate times -- no, it was four -- before the final offer came forth like dawn splitting the darkness. But do you know it at 7:15 on a Tuesday morning? Probably not.

Don't let your first Monday commute be the test drive. You'll have enough on your mind without worrying that you should have taken the bypass or left 15 minutes earlier, and wondering if the freeway backup on your new route is typical or related to some new construction project.

Drive to work before you have to be there on time. Sip your morning coffee. Wear pajamas if you want to. But drive it before you need to be there at 8 a.m. for a meeting with your new sales team.

6. Dress the Part

The "Aha, my favorite suit is at the cleaner's" moment should come the week before you start signing health insurance forms. Not the evening before your start date -- after the dry cleaner has closed for the day. A frantic Sunday night at the mall is not the optimal way to pre-launch this next chapter of your career.

Yes, it's totally first-day-of-school-ish to lay out your clothes the night before your first day back to work, but think about how much easier your first day will be if you don't have to work around missing buttons and mismatching ties.

This one's a gimme. Plan ahead, or you'll have only yourself to blame when you discover those pints of late night ice cream landed within the waistline of your best work casual pants.

5. Verify the Dress Code

You should've received the company handbook which contains the dress code. But even beyond that, the best way to figure out the environment is to observe the people who work there.

If you read "corporate casual" but spotted the occasional tie during your last interview, it might be worth asking about typical attire. The discrepancy could be a mark of management, an employee's propensity for style, or a disgruntled few sliding prematurely toward weekend wear.

If in doubt, err on the side of formality. Better to look overly starched than sloppily clad. It's far easier to remove a jacket or tie than it is to add polish to a less than professional look, and first impressions count for a lot.

4. Stack Your Deck

It won't hurt to anonymously scan the company's website and LinkedIn page for key figures you're likely to meet in your first week.

Anticipate being on sensory overload with a steady stream of unfamiliar faces and routines. If you're able to organize some of that information in your brain ahead of time, it will be that much easier to absorb the salient details of your new job.

Demonstrating a quick memory will enhance first impressions and give you the mental space to better engage with your new colleagues.

3. Pace Yourself

Keep it simple as you ease back into regular employment, and avoid going crazy on after work happy hours.

Give yourself space in the evenings to regroup and refresh for the next day's work. Once you're acclimated, and the new routine is -- well, routine -- it will be easier to integrate evening activities beyond your basic grocery shopping and fitness goals.

For now, leave yourself time to fill newly discovered wardrobe gaps and to read up on company policies and procedures.

2. Pay It Forward

An extended period of unemployment will radically transform your spending habits. Austerity measures often kick in when the burn rate exceeds the cushion of savings and likely time frame for future employment. And when cash flow is gloriously restored, there may be a relieved desire to live "normally" again.

However, fight the gut reaction to go low or to even postpone 401K participation. A new job is not an instant solution to the financial issues created by long-term unemployment. View this transition as a continued part of the whole journey, and understand that making yourself whole for a future retirement is essential to your bigger financial picture.

Yeah, you may have to skip the designer coffee a little longer, but you already cold turkeyed through the caffeine detox. Ride it a little longer for your greater good, and maximize your future retirement benefits.

1. Remain Confident

No matter how high the unemployment numbers, your inclusion in that tabulation was exceptionally personal. And it is difficult to navigate such a challenge with self-perception and confidence unscathed.

Many report unreturned phone calls and averted eyes during their jobless period. Your talents and abilities hadn't changed at all, but in your temporarily unplugged state, many short-term thinkers deemed you to be of less value to them.

Surging past that diminished view of self will take some muscle and professional forgiveness. But hold fast to the knowledge that you were ultimately hired to fill a need for which you were deemed to be the best fit. They chose you for a reason.

And always, hold onto the enhanced perspective of the once unemployed: A bad day at the office always beats a bad day without a job. No whining.

Don't Forget to Negotiate

Hopefully you negotiated your starting salary before you were hired. But even if you didn't, let Salary.com can help you get paid fairly what you do in the future.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.