by Sarah K. White

6 tips for re-entering the workforce and competing with millennials

Jul 20, 2015
CareersIT JobsIT Skills

Re-entering the workforce after time off can feel overwhelming. If you’re looking to get back into a career after some time away -- and you’re feeling outnumbered by a swarm of millennials -- here’s how to improve your chances of landing the job.

According to a study from The Hartford, 55 percent of Gen X workers, typically aged 32 to 46, feel their generation is ignored in the workplace, and 70 percent say that millennials, generally aged 18 to 31, are given too much attention.

If you’re reentering the workforce after some time off, you might find you’re up against this new generation. But just because companies are focused on hiring millennial talent, doesn’t mean you won’t find a job. Here are six tips to help you stand out in a sea of millennials and get noticed when re-entering the job force.

Play up your experience

As a seasoned job seeker, you want to emphasize your experience. Even if you haven’t worked in the tech industry in 10 years, you can still draw on your past experience to gain perspective in a new work place. Millennials don’t necessarily have this experience, and 96 percent of this new generation agree that baby boomers bring experience and knowledge to a working environment, according to data from The Hartford.

“I think any worker, instead of thinking of millennials as individuals, should probably think about — what I think of as — the millennial influence that’s happening in the workplace, so increased use of technology, social media, a need to be current with your technical and social media skills,” says The Hartford’s Millennial Workplace expert Lindsey Pollak.

You can learn how to use Twitter, but you can’t teach someone the cultural aspects of a professional workplace. One way to emphasize your ability to gain new skills, may be showcasing skills you’ve honed in your time off. Did you keep up a Twitter account, start a blog or learn how to use a new networking tool or some software? You can use these as examples to make yourself look even more impressive to a hiring manager.

Use your network

Millennials generally have a small net to cast when it comes to their professional network, since most of their peers are in the same new-grad boat. When reentering the workforce, it’s important to use your network to help get yourself back into the industry.

“Unfortunately the business world can be rather fleeting when it comes to people’s attention, so you have to remain known so when the time comes for you to get back in the workforce, people remember your name,” says Kavaliro’s lead resource manager, David Gilcher.

Gilcher recommends keeping in touch with old colleagues, even if it’s infrequent. You want to stay on their radar, so that when you are interested in finding a new job, you have contacts to reach out to.

He also suggests attending events and meetings near your hometown to help get you back in front of professionals in the industry. Connecting with new people can help you get your foot in the door or get you referred for other positions.

Know your way around tech

There is really no excuse for anyone working in a modern office to not understand at least the basics of technology. But if you’ve been out of the workplace for a few years or more, you might not have felt particularly motivated to adapt to some of the latest technology. If you haven’t brushed up on the latest tech, whether it’s using Office 365, social media or smartphones and tablets, it’s time to take time to learn the latest innovations in the industry.

“I would not suggest resting on ones laurels, or assuming that you don’t need to grow and develop in the workplace, I think that everybody today needs to be regularly updating their skills and developing their talents and expertise,” says Pollak.

If you have the luxury of taking a few months to find a job, you can enroll in some classes, either online or in person. Or find some free resources on the internet to hone your skills, so you can feel confident in the interview.

Take advantage of reverse mentoring

If you really want to know how to go up against a millennial, you should talk to one. Whether it’s your children, family friends, or millennials in your professional network, you can glean valuable information from them in a conversation. Chances are, they’re going to have some questions for you, too.

“I’m really in favor of what is called ‘reverse mentoring’ or ‘reciprocal mentoring,'” says Pollak, “which is not just finding a mentor, or somebody to give you advice on your job search who has been doing it for a long time or has a lot of experience, but also looking to people younger who are less experienced than you are to see how they view the world.”

Emphasize your value

Sometimes the reason companies hire younger recent graduate’s boils down to the bottom line. Not to say they aren’t qualified for the roles, but after the economic downturn, companies are focused on staying within tight budgets, and that includes salaries. Hiring new and recent graduate can sometimes be less expensive for a company, since millennials are more likely to accept lower paying jobs to get the ball rolling on their career. In fact, wages for recent college grads are currently lower than they were 15 years ago.

You may be content with taking a pay cut when reentering the workforce, but if you aren’t, you should be ready to emphasize the value companies will get with your higher salary, says Pollak. Employers will be open to hiring you at a higher starting salary than your millennial counterparts if you can demonstrate to them a return on investment. For example, with your experience, you may require less training and you might be more invested in staying with a company longer term, two things that can incur heavy costs to a company.

Overcome Stereotypes

Returning to work from time off might mean you are faced with certain stereotypes, whether you were home caring for children or a relative, or whatever reason you took time off, there may be hiring managers who make unfair judgments. But remember that millennials are up against unfair stereotypes as well, as they are often lumped into a group deemed “lazy” or “entitled.” The idea is not to focus on these stereotypes, or what the hiring manager may be thinking, but instead, be prepared to emphasize the positives of what you did before and after you left the workforce.

“Divert the focus from those items on why you were gone and really devote yourself to what you were doing before you took the time off and what you’ve done to keep yourself in the fold since then. If you’ve gone to college, you’ve taken technical classes, you’re still networking with the right people, keeping up consistent contact; those are the things you want to emphasize,” says Gilcher.