Reasons why people take a leave of absence from a job may vary and, whatever the reason was for taking time off, this can pose some challenges when it comes time to re-enter the workforce. Additionally, it usually involves a great deal of change.

There are many circumstances which may occur that causes a break in your employment. You may have taken off time to be with your family, been through an illness, nursed a family member back to health, been given a layoff notice or perhaps you took a break to go back to school

It is not impossible to find a new job with a gaping hole in your resume, but it is a probable hurdle you will have to cross. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to spiffy up your resume and emotionally prepare yourself to go back to work, take a deep breath and focus. It might not be as daunting as it seems. Yes, there are those obstacles to bypass, but once you set yourself in motion, it is a lot easier to successfully get yourself back in the swing of things and into a job.

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Build a Functional Resume

When you have a long employment gap, experts often recommend you design your resume to highlight your skills instead of the traditional chronological order of your employment history. This is known as a functional resume.

Instead of listing your jobs according to the time frame you worked at each job, instead structure your resume to focus on the skills and abilities you possess. You may need to write a few different versions of your resume in order to better fit each job you apply for, but you are likely to find more success if you leave out the dates and avoid having to answer difficult questions about your employment gap.

What if you are asked about the gap? In that case, focus on sharing the things you were doing during your absence from the workforce. Highlight any time spent acquiring new skills, going to school, doing volunteer work or any other talents you've picked up along the way.

Prepare for Your Interviews

Preparing for the interview is typically another big stress factor for most people, especially for those who have not worked at a formal job for a long time. If you aren't accustomed to meeting with a prospective employer and prepared to answer questions, this can prove to be a challenge. It would be wise to take some time to reacquaint yourself with the "how to's" of interviewing.

Additionally, today’s questions often differ from the traditional ones employers used to present. Some of the questions asked might be ones you don't expect. In 2014 Forbes published an article outlining the 20 oddest questions asked at job interviews as found by Glassdoor. 3 Examples included:

  • "If you were a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors?"
  • "How many snow shovels sold in the U.S. last year?"
  • "Why is a tennis ball fuzzy?"
  • "If there was a movie produced about your life, who would play you and why?"
  • "If you could sing one song on American Idol, what would it be?"

In terms of questions, be prepared for the unexpected. Employers are not only looking at your skills or knowledge, they are trying to gauge personalities, creativity and a host of other personal attributes to see which candidates are the best fit for their organizations.

Tennis ball
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How much do you know about a tennis ball? This is probably a question not asked the last time you've had an interview if it has been a long time. Today, it's important to expect unique questions from some employers.

Also, many employers expect you to ask them some questions too. Before your scheduled interview, customize some questions for your potential employer. Stay away from the obvious stuff, such as what types of work do you do, etc. In most cases it will be expected you’ve already done your homework and they expect you should already should know about the organization. Instead, focus on asking about a typical work day, types of responsibilities, ways you can contribute, etc.

Today's dynamics have evolved in the workplace. Do some research on not only what the company does, see what you can find out about its philosophies and organizational culture too. It’s important, for both you and the employer, that you are a good fit. Competition for many types of jobs is high and, if you want to land that coveted job, you'll have to make yourself shine.

How Well Do You Know Tech?

Over the past several years technology has become heavily integrated with different kinds of jobs. Ones that may not necessarily involved automation in years past. This change spans many industries. If you are not familiar with current technology, this is probably going to be the biggest change and you might want to prepare yourself for how much workplaces have changed since your last job. 

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If you’ve been out of the workplace for a long time, it might be helpful to take some computer classes. Most people today have basic knowledge of computers, but if you aren’t computer savvy, it would be to your advantage to take a few lessons in order to get yourself up to speed. Keep in mind, being up-to-date on Microsoft Office, particularly Word and Excel, is also a skill a large number of employers seek. 1

Applicants without some level of computer skills will find their resumes likely sent to the bottom of the pile. Technology is a must in most industries and it is rare you'll find a position that does not require some level of computer proficiency.

Returning to work after a long absence is often hard to re-adjust to, especially if the break has been a long one. The good news is that once you get the job, the hard part is over because you'll have successfully crossed a big hurdle. Once you start your new job, you can focus on one day at a time as you learn your new position. Sure there will be a lot of change to be faced, but you've already illustrated you're up for the challenge.