A Career Comeback at Any Age

Two years. Five years. A decade. No matter how long you've been out of the workforce, what makes a difference is knowing the right tips and tricks to launch you back in

by Laura Sinberg and Kate Ashford
career comeback image
Photograph: Illustrated by Aad Goudappel

Though she was laid off in 2009 when the recession hit, by then Scrupski had enough credibility to set herself up as a consultant. In 2010, when she was 51, Fast Company voted her one of the most influential women in tech, and today she runs a business called Change Agents Worldwide, a network of professionals whose aim is to help large enterprises embrace organizational and technological advances. “I’m happier now,” she says. “I’m doing exactly what I want, and I’m making a difference.”

Gail Morales
Years out: 7
Way back in: returning to previous company

At just 31, Gail Morales was on the executive fast track. A senior vice president for investment management at Bank of America in Atlanta, she was charged with running a $100 million private portfolio. Then her husband was offered a job in London. So in 1997, Morales quit the bank and moved with him and their young son to England, where she had a second child. Two years later, Morales’s husband took a new job, and the family moved back to Atlanta. “Because I didn’t have children until later in life, I think part of my identity was always tied to my work,” she says. “The challenge for me of being around kids all the time was the lack of intellectual stimulation.”

In 2004, when her younger child entered school, she decided to go back to work, knowing re-entry wouldn’t be easy. Then Morales had an idea: Why not try to return to the company that already knew what she could do?

She had left Bank of America as a top earner, and many of her peers were still there, now in senior roles.

Morales persuaded a former coworker—now a human resources executive at the bank—to float her résumé. “I didn’t have to sell myself in the same way I would to a company that didn’t know me,” she says. “My reputation was that I was a team player and could get things done.” Seven years after she left Bank of America, she accepted a job there as a senior vice president in supply chain management.

More important, the bank didn’t penalize her for taking time out. “I got a very competitive salary for the role that I took,” she says. “I wasn’t punished for having left the corporate environment.” Returning at a high level opened new doors. In 2012 she took a position with SunTrust bank as the senior vice president of enterprise change management. “Your brain doesn’t atrophy,” Morales says. “But when companies see a break, they see a degradation in your ability. Several companies offered me less for taking a break. I wasn’t going to work for less than I’m worth.”

Laurie-Ellen Shumaker
Years out: 2
Way back in: accepting a cut in pay and title

With more than two decades of legal work under her belt, Laurie-Ellen Shumaker, 62, assumed she’d have no problem finding another position when she was laid off from her job as a commercial real estate attorney in February 2009. But months passed, and although she’d sent out hundreds of applications, chatted with several recruiters and attended numerous job fairs, not one offer materialized. “You never think that the situation is going to keep going on,” she says. “When the unemployment checks started coming in, I kind of ignored them, because the amount was so low. It was humiliating.”

Shumaker, who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a year earlier, drained her 401(k) and savings, and sold her car to pay for expenses. Ten months later, facing homelessness, she moved into the second home of her daughter’s friend.

Nearly every day for the next year, Shumaker applied for jobs from 6 in the morning until after midnight. “I revised, revamped, reworded, reslanted, re-re-re-everything I could think of to my résumé,” she says. Though the lagging economy contributed to her failure to get hired, Shumaker guesses other factors came into play: her age and the perception that she’d want lots of money.

First published in the November 2013 issue

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