Returning to work after a period of unemployment might give you mixed feelings. On one hand, you might be keen to meet new people and develop some new skills, but on the other, you may feel anxious and overwhelmed.

This handy guide should help to make your return to work as smooth as possible.

How do I regain my confidence after a period of unemployment?

It’s not uncommon for people who’ve been out of work for a while to report having issues with low confidence and self-esteem. And there are many reasons why this might be.

Some people experience a loss of identity when they’re not working because they’re missing the daily routine of working within a team, meeting people, developing new skills, and receiving positive feedback. Other people might feel that they’ve forgotten things associated with their previous role, their skills have become rusty, and/or they’re being left behind as technology evolves.

Be kind to yourself

If you’re struggling with confidence, it’s important to be kind to yourself; which starts with realising that you have plenty to offer – it’s just been a little while since you’ve been able to put your skills into practice in a workplace environment.

Try to focus on what you have been doing during your break from employment. If you’ve been caring for a sick family member, raising children or grandchildren, or recovering from an illness yourself, then it’s likely you were using a lot of valuable skills during this time – you just might not have viewed it that way.

For example, if you’ve been caring for a sick family member, you may have been using skills such as organisation, patience, and empathy, as well as demonstrating great resilience and strength of character.

If you focus on what you have achieved during your break (it may sound silly but do take the time to write down your strengths and achievements – the process itself is helpful!), you should have an easier time feeling confident and remembering how much you have to offer.

You may also find Allen and Overy’s ReStart programme a helpful way to boost your confidence and shift your mindset as you look to rejoin the workforce. The ReStart programme is a holistic 13 week course for those who’ve been unemployed for six to 12 months. It offers one-to-one coaching and personalised support interventions to help you set achievable goals, build your personal brand, and plan for success.

Allen & Overy – ReStart Programme

Looking to re-enter employment or explore a new direction after experiencing a career break? Want to proactively boost your employability skills and jobseeker profile, but not sure how?

Allen & Overy’s ReStart Programme is designed exclusively for those over the age of 50 who are seeking to regain employment and are eager for support in taking their next steps.

The programme is free to attend – all we ask is for full attendance at every workshop, that you’re in commutable distance of Allen & Overy’s central London office and have a growth mindset to succeed.

Apply now

Brush up on your skills or learn new ones

If you’re lacking confidence because you’re worried your skills aren’t as sharp as they once were, or you haven’t been able to keep up with technology’s rapid changes, then one of the most helpful things you can do is to focus on refreshing and developing your skills.

There are plenty of free and paid online classes which you can use to help you update your skills in a variety of areas. You can browse courses on the learning section of our website. 

If you’re thinking about changing careers, it can also be helpful to develop some new skills related to the role or industry you’re interested in. Some roles may come with full on-the-job training, while others may require you to hold a specific qualification before you can apply.

  • For jobs that require specific qualifications, it’s important to do your research so you can work out the most effective way to achieve this qualification.

    For example, if you’re required to complete a college or degree course, then you’ll need to check whether the course is accredited and/or recognised by the industry you’re going to be working in.

    You’ll also need to look into funding and work out whether there could be any grants or loans available to you – as these can help you cover the cost of the course. It’s best to contact each institution directly about this.

    If you’re thinking about going back to university, you might find it helpful to read our guide to becoming a university student in your 50s, 60s and beyond and our guide to financing your education in later life.

  • If the job you’re interested in offers on-the-job training, there’s still nothing to stop you from brushing up on your skills before you apply, as this can help to increase your confidence and employability.

Generally speaking, employers will want to see that you’re flexible and willing to learn, so showing that you’ve recently worked on developing your skills could really benefit your application.

There are a few ways that you can develop your skills before you start applying for jobs. Alongside taking a relevant course online or at a local college or adult education centre, you could find a charity or organisation to volunteer for on a weekly basis.

Volunteering can be an opportunity to develop your skills and make industry contacts. Plus, in some cases, it can even lead to a paid opportunity. If you’re interested in furthering your skillset, why not read our article; 5 ways you can develop your skills today?

Reach out to old contacts

Reaching out to people that you used to work with is a great way to find out about interesting job vacancies, as well as get job application tips and industry-related advice.

Even if you’ve decided that you don’t want to return to the type of work you were previously doing, it’s possible that some of the people in your network are currently working in industries or roles that appeal to you – or they may know someone who does.

If you don’t already have LinkedIn, then it’s worth setting up a profile. This is one of the most efficient ways to search for and reconnect with people that you’ve met throughout the course of your career and keep up with them if they change jobs.

Putting yourself out there and meeting people is one of the key ways to boost confidence levels and feel supported during your job search – so don’t be shy! Chances are some of your old contacts would love the opportunity to catch up with an old friend or colleague.

How do I approach the application process when returning to work after a period of unemployment?

Refresh your CV and cover letter

It may have been a while since you’ve put together a CV and cover letter. Chances are you’ll have years of skills and experience, so it’s all about translating this onto paper to create something that you can feel proud of.

Your CV and cover letter are opportunities to sell yourself to prospective employers and show off everything that you feel makes you the right person for the job (which is why it’s important to feel confident that you are the right person!). So make sure to highlight your skills and achievements as much as possible, giving relevant examples.

It may be appropriate to give details about your employment break in your cover letter, depending on your individual circumstances. Our article, Common CV gaps and how to explain them, offers more detail on this.

For more help with your CV and cover letter, you can visit the CV section of our site. Here, you’ll find CV and cover letter templates to download, plus tips and advice on creating a CV and cover letter that’ll really help you stand out from the crowd.

Be honest about your circumstances

While it’s important not to make your employment break the main focus of your job application, you should always be honest about your circumstances if asked.

However, this doesn’t mean that you have to give specific details about why you haven’t been in employment. For example, if you were off work because you were recovering from a serious illness, then there’s no need to give details about which illness you had or which treatment you received – unless you’re going to need additional help and support put in place at work.

Or, if your long employment gap is because your job search has lasted a lot longer than you’d hoped for, it’s okay to tell employers that you’ve been looking for work but simply haven’t come across the right opportunity yet.

Try to keep your explanations as brief as possible – confidently let prospective employers know why you had a break from work, but don’t over-explain or give unnecessary details that could shift the focus away from your achievements.

It’s much better to be honest about your circumstances than to lie and be found lying, or to commit yourself to something that you may not be able to manage without support. Employers are human too and providing that you can confidently explain your situation and show them that you’re the right person for the job, they should be understanding.

If you need help structuring your cover letter, you may find it useful to download our template, which is specifically designed to help you explain CV gaps.

Always be interview-ready

Once you start applying for jobs, there’s no telling when you may be called to participate in an interview – either in person, over the phone, or via video chat – so it’s best to always be prepared.

This preparation includes things like having an awareness of what kind of questions you may be asked and what interview etiquette may be expected of you.

It’s also a good idea to make sure that you have something appropriate to wear to an interview, in case you’re called in at short notice. Employers will generally expect you to follow a formal or smart-casual dress code depending on the nature of the role you’re applying for.

If they don’t specify what you should wear, it’s worth taking a more formal approach to show that you’re serious about the position. If you feel out of place when you turn up, it’s always easier to dress down a little (by taking a tie off, for example) than it is to be scrambling to make yourself smarter.

With years of life experience under your belt, there are plenty of reasons to feel confident going into your next interview. Just be sure to have read up on the latest interview techniques so you can go in feeling fully prepared. You may be surprised at how much of a confidence boost it can give you.

The interview ideas section of our website offers more tips on getting yourself interview-ready.

Allen & Overy – ReStart Programme

Looking to re-enter employment or explore a new direction after experiencing a career break? Want to proactively boost your employability skills and jobseeker profile, but not sure how?

Allen & Overy’s ReStart Programme is designed exclusively for those over the age of 50 who are seeking to regain employment and are eager for support in taking their next steps.

The programme is free to attend – all we ask is for full attendance at every workshop, that you’re in commutable distance of Allen & Overy’s central London office and have a growth mindset to succeed.

Apply now

I’m feeling really overwhelmed by the idea of returning to work. Is there anything that I can do to ease myself in gently?

Consider temporary or volunteer roles

If the thought of going back to work full-time or on a permanent basis makes you feel worried, then there’s nothing wrong with easing back in by applying for a temporary role or doing some volunteering first.

Getting back into the swing of work can be challenging if it’s been a long time since you last had a daily work routine. Sometimes doing something with a low commitment level or that you know is only for a fixed period can help you to adjust before you look for something more permanent.

Plus, if you’re not entirely sure what kind of work you want to do, this can also be a great way to ‘try before you buy’ and explore your options.

A temporary or voluntary position can also help you brush up on your skills, and learn new ones. The odds are you’ll feel less performance pressure in temporary situations than in a role you’re looking to do long-term. This can make it easier to relax and focus purely on developing your skills.

If you’re considering a temporary role, why not have a read of our article; 11 short-term contract jobs for the over 50s? Alternatively, you can search for volunteering positions on our site

Get into a routine

If you haven’t had to follow a set routine for a long time, going back to work can be a bit of a shock to the system.

If you’d rather not take on a temporary role or volunteer position as a precursor to something more permanent, it can still be useful to get yourself into a routine during your job search. Having a routine can give us direction and purpose, and help with adjusting – both mentally and physically – to a working pattern again.

Not everyone finds the same routine effective, so it’s up to you to decide what suits you best. However, as a general rule, it’s a good idea to incorporate things like exercise and a regular sleep pattern to keep you feeling refreshed and energised.

It’s also likely that your new role will involve mixing with lots of new people, so you might want to add something interactive to your routine – like calling or meeting up with people from your network a couple of times a week. Connecting with new or unfamiliar faces can be a great confidence booster that may help ease those return-to-work nerves!

Look after yourself

Returning to work can be tough both mentally and physically, so it’s important that you look after yourself as best you can – both during your job search and when you start a new role.

This involves being kind to yourself throughout the process by accepting that your best is all you can do and prioritising things like getting enough sleep, eating a healthy balanced diet, and being active when possible.

It’s also important to recognise the valuable role that friends and family can play in supporting you during your return to work. Whether the process is rough or smooth, it may help to have someone to lean on or celebrate with, so don’t be afraid to reach out.

And finally…

The rapid growth and change in technology is one of the biggest challenges that people of all ages face when they consider returning to work after a period of unemployment.

Initially, this can seem daunting. But this change can also lead to new opportunities opening up – so it helps to look at the opportunity it could bring, rather than as something to be feared.

For more tips on how to brush up on your tech skills, you might want to read our articles; How digital skills can benefit career changers and 8 very different digital skills you can learn from home.

If you’re feeling nervous about making a return to work, try to remember that it’s normal to feel this way when you take steps outside of your comfort zone. It’s completely necessary for us to experience change if we want to continue to grow and develop.

So, whether in a similar or completely different career role, by deciding to challenge yourself you could be setting yourself up to embark on a new and exciting chapter of your life…

Ready to look for work?

Have you recently returned to work after a long period of unemployment? Do you have any additional suggestions that you’d like to share with others? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.