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

Finally, in late 2010, one of her daughter’s friends happened upon a listing for a job that she thought might interest Shumaker: lease administrator in the real estate department at the University of Pennsylvania. Shumaker applied. One of the things the hiring manager was looking for was knowledge of software that Shumaker had introduced to her former company; she made it a talking point during the interview.

Eventually, Shumaker was offered the job—at one third her previous salary. “I said, ‘I’ll take it!’” she says. “Even though I wasn’t being paid to be a lawyer, I was still using the same skills. I thought, Maybe someday something will evolve that will let me expand more.” Nearly three years later, Shumaker’s job responsibilities have grown, and she’s gotten a couple of raises. “I’m happy,” she says. “Every single day I’m thankful for my job.”

Hina McCree
Years out: 9; 7.5
Way back in: taking classes

Hina McCree’s first timeout came in 1988, when she was pregnant with her first child. Then an engineer for a defense contractor, she quit her job to move to Atlanta from San Diego with her husband, who was pursuing his PhD at Georgia Tech. McCree stayed home for the next nine years, going to school in the evenings to obtain a master’s degree in electrical engineering. She relocated twice more for her husband’s career, eventually landing in Dallas.

It was there that a former professor told her about an engineering job at a telecommunications company. With two kids now in school and a fresh set of credentials, McCree, then 36, landed the spot. Four years later, she was having second thoughts. “I didn’t want to be so tired when my kids asked to have three friends spend the night,” she says. “I needed more quality time with them.” Her solution: a second hiatus.

This time, McCree stayed home for seven and a half years, during which her family relocated to Boston. In 2006, as her kids neared college age, she decided to go back to work again. But a year and a half later, she was still jobless. “The changes in software development between 2001 and 2008 were huge,” she says. “With the speed of tech, I was no longer up to date.”

To catch up, McCree took a program-management workshop at the University of Massachusetts–Lowell and an online class in computer engineering. Then she reached out to her network. In 2008 her husband’s colleague told her about a software engineer job at a technology firm. “At that point, I was extremely nervous because the first couple of interviews I’d gone on had been so bad,” McCree, now 52, says. But this company was looking for a broader skill set than the previous ones were, and her computer class had prepared her well. She got the job.

Last year, McCree transferred within the company and relocated with her family to Baltimore. “In high-tech industries, the field changes so rapidly,” she says. “Now that I’m the one hiring people, I’m happy when someone has updated their skills by taking a class or workshop.”

Next: 18 Tips to Jumpstart Your Career Comeback

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First published in the November 2013 issue

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