Women were much more likely than men to have taken work gaps of two years or longer.
More than 57% of people said financial necessity was a reason behind their return to the workforce.
Nearly 1 in 3 people struggled with imposter syndrome as they attempted to rejoin the workforce, with women more likely to report experiencing it than men.
People reported higher job satisfaction upon reentering the workforce, compared to before they left.
More than a third of people said they didn’t regret their time out of the labor market.
The COVID-19 pandemic has come with many unfortunate impacts, and unemployment has been a major one for millions of Americans. Given the unique circumstances of the pandemic, many careers and industries that typically see minimal effects from an economic downturn have been negatively impacted.
With many people out of work who might not have had a gap in their resume before, it’s natural that people are concerned about how an employment gap will be perceived. To examine the implications of a career break, we surveyed over 900 people about their experiences with stepping back from the workforce for a time. We asked about reasons for resume gaps, as well as reasons for returning. Plus, we asked about action steps taken to get back to work after a break.
Spending Time Away From Work
To start, we wanted to look at how long career breaks typically are and who is most likely to take them, whether voluntarily or not.
Among people who had a career gap, the longest average amount of time they were out of the workforce was six months. Overall, more women than men reported taking a career break at all. More significantly, though, we found that women were disproportionately more likely to have longer gaps in their resume, compared to men. While women made up 61.1% of those taking gaps of at least one year, that number jumped to 71.8% for breaks two years or longer.
Older generations were also more likely to have experienced a gap in their work history. This could be in large part due to simply being in the workforce longer than younger generations.
Dropping Out and Coming Back
People rarely leave and reenter the workforce without reason. We wanted to compare reasons for leaving and returning to work.
Job loss was the top reason people reported having a gap on their resume (32.9%). This is undoubtedly a common situation given the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. recently hit the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown orders, and while there have been some indications that the economy is slowly coming back, the United States still had 10 million fewer jobs in December 2020 than before the pandemic.
Career change (23.5%) and caring for children (20.7%) were the next most common reasons for stepping back from the workforce. The latter has been a particular focus of discussion during the COVID-19 pandemic as women have left the workforce at an unprecedented pace. With schools closed and safe child care options scarce through much of the last year, working mothers have faced difficult decisions about how to handle the care of their children while also trying to be productive employees. A recent development, though, gives parents an easier way to immediately address family-related work gaps on their LinkedIn profiles if they decide they need to temporarily leave the workforce. The platform introduced new work titles like “stay-at-home mom” to the platform’s options, giving caretakers a way to address and describe time out of the workforce.
Financial necessity, though, most often brought people back to the working world, with 57.4% saying it was a reason they rejoined the workforce. Finding or transitioning to a new position after job loss was the next most common reason for returning at 33.8%. Interestingly, nearly 3 in 10 people said they came back to work because they wanted to feel productive and like they were contributing to society.
Preparing for Reentry
Deciding to return to work after a break — long or short — can be daunting, and a fair amount of preparation typically has to go into making that transition. We asked people who’d reentered the workforce before what action steps they took to prepare for the next phase of their career.
The most common step people took when preparing to get back to work was restructuring their resume (50.5%). It’s a natural place to begin, especially as many worry about having a gap in their job experience on their resume. A few easy changes are to put your most impressive work first (rather than reverse chronological order) and focus on transferable skills. Reentrants should be prepared to handle the gap in interviews as well. Experts agree that honesty is the best policy when it comes to explaining holes in your work history. Job seekers have the opportunity to structure the narrative around the gap and highlight their other experiences and strengths, so a gap definitely isn’t a deal-breaker.
Just over 1 in 4 people who reentered the workforce said they built or reached out to their professional network as they sought to make the transition back. This can be an overlooked but crucial step in landing a new opportunity, as it’s often true that when it comes to job hunting, it’s about who you know. It doesn’t have to be a daunting task, though. Experts suggest that if low confidence is messing with efforts to network, people should start with those in their “safe zone” – such as family members and friends. As people refine their elevator pitch and get their bearings in the job search, they can expand to acquaintances and people outside their current network.
Finding Your Footing
Even the most confident workers can feel shaky upon a return to work. Next, we asked people about the difficulties they faced as they transitioned back from a work break.
The top difficulty people reported facing as they rejoined the workforce concerned landing job interviews (30.3%). It can sometimes feel like fighting a losing battle knowing that there’s historically been a stigma around gaps on resumes, with hiring managers wondering about the validity of gaps. However, gaps in employment are becoming more common, so hiring managers may have adjusted their view of them.
Imposter syndrome was another difficult aspect of reentry people reported contending with (29.7%) – women especially so. Imposter syndrome can be defined simply as “an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be.” Looking for work after time away can be a very vulnerable and anxiety-inducing experience for people, so it makes sense that doubt can creep in.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added a new wrinkle to the already daunting task of rejoining the workforce. Nearly 18% of people surveyed said they’d reentered during the pandemic, and over half of them said it made the process of rejoining more difficult. The main factor people pointed to was the saturated job market. With unemployment still high after a year of COVID-19, there are plenty of people looking for work, creating a more competitive field.
Looking at Career Gaps Through the Rearview Mirror
Rejoining the workforce is no easy task, and we wondered how people viewed the experience looking back from the other side.
More than 1 in 3 people said they had no regrets about the gap in their work history, and only 8.6% reported extreme regret. Many people actually reported increased job satisfaction after reentering: 28.5% said they were very satisfied with their job after reentering, compared to only 18.4% before leaving the workforce. While the experience can vary widely based on circumstances, it appeared that people typically felt good about their break in job history.
Don’t Mind the Gap
Taking a break from the workforce, whether planned or not, can come with a number of anxieties and can be the product of a variety of circumstances. Women were more likely than men to report longer absences, and job loss was the most common reason people found themselves with a gap in their work history. But at the end of the day, more than a third of people said they had no regrets about their time away from work.
If you’re looking to reenter the job market after time away, Joblist is here to connect you with your next opportunity. We’ve made it our mission to help you find your next job with ease. We have opportunities spanning all industries, employer sizes, and locations in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Check out Joblist.com to start your personalized search today.
We surveyed 924 people who are currently employed after having a work gap in their career history at some point. Respondents were 55.2% men and 44.1% women. Six respondents were nonbinary, and one chose not to disclose their gender. The average age of respondents was 37.4 with a standard deviation of 10.8 years.
If people had experienced multiple gaps in their career history, they were instructed to answer questions based upon their most recent gap, with the exception of asking them to report the length of their longest gap out of the workforce.
When reporting their reasons for leaving the workforce, reasons for rejoining the workforce, and the actions they took to prepare to rejoin the workforce, people were given check-all-that-apply questions. Therefore, percentages won’t add to 100.
The data we are presenting rely on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.
Fair Use Statement
Career gaps can be an unfortunate occurrence, but they don’t necessarily have to be bad for your career. If someone you know would benefit from the information in this project, you may share for any noncommercial reuse. Please link back here so the entire project and its methodology can be reviewed. This also gives credit to our contributors, without whom this work wouldn’t be possible.