There are many reasons to take an extended break from your tech career—perhaps you needed some time to recover from burnout, or you had family issues to address. Whatever those motives, you’re now ready to step back into the workforce.
Landing a new tech job after a few years away can prove challenging, but it isn’t impossible, especially when you follow a proven, multi-step process.
How can you convince a hiring manager to give you a shot? Here’s a comprehensive guide to re-entering the tech workforce after an extended break.
Reassess Your Career Aspirations and Strengths
Many tech pros decide they don’t want to return to the same specialty and daily grind they left a few years ago. They need to engage in a bit of self-discovery in order to plot a new career path.
Conducting a personal SWOT analysis can help you identify valuable evergreen attributes, as well as the technical skills you need to acquire or refresh to compete in today’s market. Keep in mind that your life experiences, business acumen and skills you’ve acquired are always valuable, even if you didn’t acquire some of those skills in a tech context. That analysis may lead you to a different career path once you re-enter tech.
For example, Yasmin Ali’s heart wasn’t set on a return to programming after an eleven-year break. Having reassessed her strengths and skills, as well as her recent experience with homeschooling and community organization, she decided to found Skillspire, a coding bootcamp. It took some persistence and lots of connections, but now as CEO, she helps aspiring tech pros access affordable training and resources.
Ali says the process built her confidence and helped her realize that she had something valuable to offer job seekers and the business community.
Reconnect While Researching the Market
Since 85 percent of “returners” land jobs through personal connections, don’t wait to get the word out about your plans to return, noted Nancy McSharry Jensen CEO and co-founder of The Swing Shift and co-author of “Back to Business: Finding Your Confidence, Embracing Your Skills, and Landing Your Dream Job After a Career Pause.”
Don’t rush into retraining; you probably have most of the skills you need. Instead, start reconnecting with former colleagues, reaching out to employers, and lining up informational interviews, she said.
“You don’t want to be too broad when choosing a new role or specialty,” advised Jennifer Scott, VP of Strategic Partnerships for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and co-founder of the STEM Reentry Task Force.
Being able to describe the specific type of job you want and what you want to accomplish will help you present yourself with confidence to a potential employer. It’ll allow you to focus on which skills and experience to present during the interview process, whether through code samples or a portfolio of relevant and current projects.
While you’re in research mode, be on the lookout for a mentor who can help you navigate a successful return and transition to a new role, Ali added.
Upskill for the Short Term on the Cheap
Resist the temptation to try to re-learn everything. Instead, focus on learning one or two of the critical, newer technologies for the role you want to pursue. To give you a hand, check out the list of top-paying skills in the Dice 2020 Salary Report.
You need to demonstrate an awareness of what is hot in fields such as data analytics, DevOps or cloud. Keep in mind that everyone is on a learning curve, Jensen said. Listen to podcasts, read blogs and attend virtual conferences; making connections is key.
While you can certainly enroll in a pricy bootcamp, there’s nothing wrong with completing a free online course or tutorial. To impress a hiring manager, though, you may need to select a course that offers some sort of skill validation or certification.
Strategic Employer Targeting
Targeting opportunities at employers that have rolled out the “welcome mat” to tech returners or have embraced workforce diversity can make it easier to break back in.
Many progressive companies such as IBM, Intuit, AWS, PayPal, SAP and Microsoft are offering “returnship” retraining programs and executive support for engineers and STEM pros who have been out of the workforce, in some cases for decades, Scott said.
Some programs focus on specialties such as solutions architecture or data science. You can compete for opportunities in the coming year by requesting an exploratory meeting or informational interview now, she advised.
“Progressive companies don’t view a career break as a bad thing,” Scott also noted. “Whether you decide to pursue a relaunch program or hit the open job market, remember to sell yourself as a lifelong learner who brings a wealth of experience to the table.”