February 20, 2020
IF YOU’VE HIT PAUSE ON YOUR JOB, you’re hardly alone. More than 40 percent of women working today take at least a year off—that’s nearly twice the number of men who do, says the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.1
Some may opt out to stay home during their children’s early years, or take a break to care for an aging parent; others may leave work as a result of illness or job loss. But nearly all eventually try to get their careers back on track. It’s not just job satisfaction they’re seeking. The financial impact of a career break can be significant. A woman who takes just a three-year break leaves more than half a million dollars on the table, including forfeited wages, retirement benefits, and lower Social Security earnings.2
“A comeback career can play a large role in shoring up your financial security,” says Jennifer Auerbach-Rodriguez, head of Strategic Growth Markets at Merrill. “But planning your return takes patience and persistence.” Take heart from this fact: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that women over 55 are the fastest growing age and gender workforce category.3
Use the tips below to start your job search—they’re just as useful for men plotting a return to work—and after you’re hired, consult with a financial advisor to create a plan that can help you make the most of your salary and benefits to boost your retirement savings.
Picture the job you want. “Be honest with yourself about what kind of work you want to do now,” says Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder of iRelaunch, a career re-entry firm that works with employers to build return-to-work programs that hire career re-launchers. That could mean a totally different career, especially if your former one is no longer compatible with your lifestyle (is travel a deal breaker?) or your interests have moved in another direction. Ask your financial advisor to calculate how new work-related expenses will impact your budget (will you need to pay for childcare?), and to run the numbers on the effect of a longer break, if it takes you a while to find the right fit.
Refresh your network. Most jobs are landed through personal contacts, says Auerbach-Rodriguez. Use LinkedIn to reach out to former colleagues, then arrange to stop by their office or meet them for coffee. And don’t forget junior people who have likely moved up the ladder while you’ve been on your career break, adds Cohen. After taking an 11-year career break herself, she initially returned to a company run by someone who'd been junior to her when they'd worked together before.
Practice your personal ‘elevator pitch.’ Feeling out of practice and a little unsure of your skills is common among re-launchers, says Auerbach-Rodriguez. “Possibly the hardest part of this is the emotional journey of the transition.” Besides learning about opportunities, an in-person meeting will get you in the habit of putting on your professional game face and talking about what you can bring to the job. Be honest about the reasons for your career break, both on your resume and in interviews, and don’t sell yourself short. Share your passions and past career accomplishments and show that you’ve kept up with developments in your field.
Look at ‘return-ships.’ Auerbach-Rodriguez notes that “companies are aware of the value of career re-launchers. Many now offer ‘return-ships’ specifically aimed at attracting them.” Like paid internships, these programs offer training, mentorship, and a built-in support network. And they often lead to job offers at the sponsoring company. Cohen’s iRelaunch partners with companies that sponsor return-ships. “Bank of America holds ‘Returning Talent’ workshops to give re-launchers an opportunity to network with hiring managers and recruiters,” adds Auerbach-Rodriguez. Another tip: See if your alma mater maintains a job board or offers job counseling for alumni.
Be realistic. Especially if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, you may not immediately find a job that matches your former title and/or salary. Talk with friends and do some research to find out what the going rates are in your profession. And don’t hesitate to negotiate your first offer. Remember, too, that you can negotiate to sweeten the deal once you’ve had a chance to prove yourself, perhaps by requesting a performance bonus or salary review six months in, suggests Auerbach-Rodriguez. Your financial advisor can help you evaluate the total financial package of a job offer, including stock options, bonuses, 401(k) match and other benefits.
Supercharge your savings. Once you start a new job, make sure to take full advantage of any tax-advantaged retirement plan your employer offers, and consider auto-escalation, which will gradually increase your contribution every year, suggests Auerbach-Rodriguez. Then schedule regular check-ins with your advisor. In addition to helping you plan your retirement catch-up strategy, your financial advisor can suggest ways to help you prepare for health care costs and other priorities you’ll have—years from now, when you’re ready to retire.
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