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Returning to Work

An woman on a cell phone with a young girl in front of a laptop.

​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. 

I took an eight-year break from working to be a stay-at-home mom, and now I am ready to get back into the workforce. I recently earned my master's degree in biotech. The problem is, I have had five interviews in the last year but no offers. Prior to staying home with my children, I worked at four different companies, so I do have some work experience. What advice can you give me?

Getting back in the game after a long absence is always a challenge—and an eight-year break from biotech is a lifetime. Nevertheless, it's a challenge that can be overcome, especially since you used that time to get further education in your chosen field. You're entering the search with work experience backed with a current advanced degree—proof positive of your commitment to and qualifications for today's biotech world.

Target the Right Job

The most common mistake people in your situation make is trying to get back in at the same level they left all those years ago. Be realistic and focus instead on a job title that gets you back into the profession of your choice as quickly as possible. That usually means taking a step or two backward. But once you get in the swing of things again, you should be able to regain your former stature.

Get Interviews

You need to get interviews before you get job offers, and that means you must create a discoverable resume. All recruitment is now online, which means your resume is going to be loaded into resume databases. This changes the way you write your resume because when recruiters search databases, they are looking for specific keywords and phrases that are found in their job postings. Resumes that aren't focused on these keywords get lost in the databases.

To be discovered, your resume must focus on the skills you bring to the table for a specific job. You achieve this by:

  • Looking at job titles one to three levels below the last title you held and determining which of them is the best fit with your skills.
  • Collecting a sample of job postings for that job, so that you can identify the skills most commonly sought by employers.
  • Writing a resume that shows you have such skills and experience.

Pulling back a little on your title and status to regain entry into the workforce means targeting a job that you can excel at, making an easier sell for you and an easier buy for the company. You will have minimized the chance of failure and maximized the odds for a fast, strong start, while positioning yourself well for future professional growth. You will soon feel confident in your work and can begin to look around for your next step.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, is available at the SHRMStore.


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