The Big Return: Tips for Workforce Re-Entry

By Laura Harrell (’92), Director of Engagement Programs in the Office of Alumni Engagement at Wake Forest University

In September of 2012, I returned to campus with my family to celebrate my 20th reunion during Homecoming weekend at Wake Forest. I never would

Laura Harrell head shot

Laura Harrell (’92)

have imagined that five years later I would not only be attending my 25th reunion, but would be responsible for planning it as well! Five years ago I was a stay-at-home mom doing a bit of independent meeting planning on the side. Now, I work full-time in the Office of Alumni Engagement planning signature events and directing engagement programs.

Making the transition from full-time mom to full-time employee was not without trepidation and challenges. My resume hadn’t been updated in 15 years. I wasn’t even sure what an acceptable resume and cover letter looked like in this century.  How was I to explain the five-year gap of unemployment? And, oh by the way, what is an “elevator speech?”

Do you find yourself at a stage in life where you are poised for something new? Are you considering returning to the workforce with a second career (or like me, a third career)? Or this may be your first career outside the home . . . either way, it can be daunting, but don’t despair! Women (and men) do it every day and you will too!

We all come to this place with different journeys in our rearview mirror. And while no two situations will be the same, I’d like to offer a few tips from my own experience.

Own your gap. Don’t be hesitant to highlight your accomplishments while full-time homemaker/parent/ caregiver/volunteer. Take time to consider all that you’ve managed and created over the past years. There are many online articles outlining this very concept. Have a little fun first with’s 16th Annual Mom Salary Survey, (not that you need a calculator to enumerate your worth).  An excellent resource by Tory Johnson addresses how best to format your comeback resume, networking, and the idea of reinventing yourself.  Search “re-entering the workforce” and you’ll find more than enough content to get you started. Stand tall and proud of the way you’ve managed your household, coached the soccer team, or directed the school fundraiser each year!

Know there will be a no.  Most likely, your first testing of the waters will not result in a hire. It may take a few (or multiple) attempts to land your comeback dream position. Each opportunity will only fine-tune your cover letter, sharpen your delivery, and prepare you for the next interview! Just as before, there are a multitude of online resources written to address job rejection: Don’t give up. Don’t take it personally. Don’t burn bridges.  Ultimately, view each “no” as a chance to learn and grow by asking for feedback. Katherine Street’s article, “Learning from Job Rejection,” offers specific questions to use other than just a general ask for feedback. And albeit cliché, one closing door may later provide an opening window. In “Why NO Isn’t Always the End of a Job Search Story,” Ronnie Ann reminds us that initial rejection does not always equal ultimate rejection. I’m fortunately employed where I want to be, but it didn’t happen with my first attempt.

Embrace the curve. Coming at no surprise, there will be a learning curve and everyone’s will be different. If you’ve been out a decade or more, technology and social media have changed the game in obvious ways. And if you are entering a completely new industry, the curve will be even greater. If you “don’t know what you don’t know,” school yourself to catch up with the trends, technology, and 21st Century ways of doing business. So whether your curve comes at the beginning of the job search or once you are seated at your new desk (or both) – get ready to exercise your brain! There is one additional curve you’ll need to be prepared to embrace and it’s truly worth its own column. Your big return to full-time employment will affect you and your household/lifestyle in ways both expected and unexpected. It will bring unique challenges and further opportunities for growth. While your transition may not be seamless, embrace this shift in your life’s journey with expectant hope and a sense of adventure!