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5 Ways To Jump-Start a Second Career

Jobs are out there, even if you've been away for years

  • Jeff Minton

    Getting back in the game

    With a husband whose career required regular moves, Kathy Blyze (pictured) couldn't stay in one job for long. She was also raising her daughters, now grown up. Today, Blyze, in her late 50s, says, "It's Mama's turn." After months of networking and research, Blyze, who lives in Indianapolis, landed her current job as executive administrator for an HR advisory firm. "I'm the swizzle stick of the martini around this place," she quips. Blyze is one of many who return to the workforce each year after an extended absence. "When you've completely changed your focus for so many years, I think your brain gets rewired," says career coach Marc Miller. "It's difficult to go back." These five strategies can help smooth the path.

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    Network with past employees, especially younger ones

    Since former subordinates have often risen through the ranks in your absence, they're likely to be in positions these days where they can make or are privy to hiring decisions. That was the case for Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of iRelaunch, which helps people return to work. A junior analyst at Cohen's former investment bank had become a senior manager at another firm and helped Cohen find a new position there in 2001, after she had been out of the workforce for about 11 years. (She left that job after a year and cofounded iRelaunch in 2007.) "Often the junior person is happy to have a former boss on the team," Cohen says.

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    Get support, both formal and informal

    In addition to turning to career coaches, alumni networks and the formal reentry programs offered by some companies and colleges, look for support from people on a similar journey, which can make the process less lonely. Another option: "Find an organization where you can volunteer so you're meeting people and getting out," says Donna Satterthwaite, director of employment services at Senior Service America, which helps older adults rejoin the workforce.

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  • Istock

    Brush up on skills

    Earning certifications through a local college as well as watching YouTube videos on the latest in office tech can make it easier to adapt to today's workplace competencies. "You can do a lot of it for free with online tutorials," says Caroline Dowd-Higgins, a career coach and the author of This Is Not the Career I Ordered.

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    Get on board with the new cultural norms

    "We use emails a lot more for carrying on [work-related] conversations or analyzing issues," says Cynthia Wells, 56, an associate in the New York office of the law firm Sidley Austin. That makes the office quieter than it was 25 years ago, when she last worked full time as a lawyer. She took a hiatus to raise her six children, returning to work when the youngest was 12.

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    Accept a short-term assignment

    Cohen is a big advocate of internships for returnees, since this lets employers take a low-risk chance on someone. She also encourages job applicants to suggest a paid short-term assignment if their potential employer seems hesitant about their career break. Wells notes that while her return to work was challenging for her family, her husband stepped up to handle more parenting duties, and she loves her new responsibilities: "In many ways, you feel like you're young again. It's so invigorating and thrilling to be learning new things."

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