5 Ways to Relaunch Your Career After a Career Break

Work + Money

Carol Cohen Vivian Rabin 250
Carol Fishman Cohen & Vivian Steir Rabin





By Carol Fishman Cohen & Vivian Steir Rabin

With the national unemployment rate still running at 9.6% (and California’s at a depressing 12.8% as of early July), women who have been out of the workforce are simultaneously feeling more pressure than ever to return to paid employment  and more at a disadvantage than ever to do so. 

Yet almost weekly we hear from women around the country who have overcome the obstacles to reenter the workforce 5, 10, 15, or even 20 years after their last pay check. We’ve found that your ability to return to the workforce successfully has less to do with how long you’ve been out of work, and more to do with your ability to figure out exactly what you want to do professionally -- and to pursue that goal relentlessly through networking and other creative strategies. 

Here are five ways women are relaunching their careers in today’s difficult economy:

1.    The Volunteer Relaunch.  Interested in working for a certain organization but concerned your resume won’t measure up to those of people with more recent experience?  Then volunteer and let the organization get to know you before applying.  This strategy works especially well for those seeking to return to careers in the not-for-profit, healthcare, academic or government arenas, where volunteer opportunities abound.

  • ➢    After a five-year career break, Dawna Levenson sought an administrative role at her alma mater, MIT. After volunteering to help develop an executive education program, she was hired to run it. 
  • ➢    Volunteering is also a great way to test out a new field. Sarah Harnish, a former litigator seeking to return to work after a four-year career break, volunteered in regulatory compliance at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.  After two months, Dana Farber made her a paid contractor, and shortly after that, they named her Assistant Director for Non Clinical Research.

2.    The Back to School Relaunch.  Going back to school is as close to a magic bullet as you can get for returning to the workforce after a career break.  Not only can you update your skills and add coursework, a degree, or a certificate to your resume, but you have access to free career services, exclusive job listings and internships, and networking help via professors and fellow students.

  • ➢    Belinda Nanda, an IT consultant who had taken a 10-year career break, took IT courses at a local community college to update her skills.  She applied for jobs via public job boards and wasn’t getting anywhere, but then she applied for an internship posted at the community college to work on electronic medical records development.  Instead of being offered the unpaid internship, she was offered a permanent, part-time, paying job -- exactly what she was looking for! 
  • ➢    Erika Grinius completed an MBA in a part time program while on a career break, won a summer internship with an online retailer, and was offered a fulltime job with that retailer when she completed her degree.

3.    The Internship (or consulting) Relaunch.  But you don’t have to go back to school to get an internship. If you’re interviewing and sense that a company is interested in you, but concerned about your career break, suggest a three-month, nonbinding paid internship or consulting arrangement.  At the end of the three months, either they can hire you permanently, terminate you with no hard feelings, or renew the arrangement for another three months to evaluate you further.  Starting out as a paid intern or consultant gives both you and the employer a chance to test out the fit.

4.    The Career Reentry Program Relaunch.  At iRelaunch, we have identified over 60 career reentry programs at companies, universities, government agencies, professional associations and foundations worldwide. You can access a complete listing via the homepage link on our website.

5.    The Entrepreneurial Relaunch.  Finally, one of the most popular strategies for reentering the workforce is to start your own business.

  • ➢    Mary Murphy, a former teacher, is now franchising Hooray for Books, a successful afterschool program she has developed. 
  • ➢    Kris Hintz has melded her marketing savvy and her MA in Counseling and Social Psychology into a business that helps parents and teens through the college application process—Position U4 College

These are just some of the thousands of entrepreneurial ventures that relaunching women have started around the country.  Most businesses founded by relaunchers begin with little capital.  Yes, it’s a risky strategy, but these entrepreneurs relish the freedom they have to set their own schedules, and in today’s precarious economic environment, working for yourself may be no less risky than working for others.  

Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin are the co-authors of the acclaimed career reentry strategy book Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work, and the co-founders of iRelaunch, a company producing career reentry programs, events, and content for employers, universities, organizations and individuals. Sign up at (it's free) to receive more information. 

Carol and Vivian can be reached at or follow us on twitter

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