Unexpected injury, illness or disability: Re-entering the workforce after a long absence

Whatever your reasons for taking time off work, reentering the workforce after a long absence can feel both daunting and exciting.

Whether you want to get back to the same type of role you used to work in or are ready for a career change – there are jobs out there that are right for this stage of your employment journey.

If you've been forced to take an absence from work as a result of an injury, illness or disability, you may find that you've got new wants and needs when it comes to work. The good news is support is available to help you feel confident about the transition, whatever challenges you might be facing.

At APM, we help thousands of people across Australia find work and succeed in the workplace. In this guide on reentering the workforce after a long absence, we discuss tips to make the return smooth, how to explain an employment gap to potential employers and where to get support along the way.

Tips for re-entering the workforce after a long absence

1. Brainstorm your wants and needs for work

Before getting back into work, it's important to think about what types of jobs, workloads and work environments are the best fit for you and your needs. Speaking with an employment consultant may help you find opportunities you haven't considered before.

If you can't return to work in the same capacity as before, workplace accommodations may help. For example, if you can't manage a full-time schedule at the moment, part time work or working from home could be an option. Employers may be willing to provide a more accessible workstation, ergonomic equipment or assistive technologies to help you do the job safely and effectively.

2. Use your network to find opportunities

Many job openings are filled through word of mouth. Try telling people in your network, including friends, family, past colleagues and community members, that you are looking for work. You might be surprised what opportunities arise.

You can also search for work online or approach small businesses in your area directly. Employment service providers like APM can also help you find suitable job opportunities, write your resume, prepare for interviews and access additional services you might need such as workplace modifications or funding for transport costs.

Also read: 5 Secret strategies for job hunting you’ve probably never tried.

3. Recognise your skills and experience

Often the skills and experience you've gained in your previous roles – including volunteer and work experience – can be transferred to a new job, even if you can't return to the same role as before.

Even if you haven't been able to do paid work for an extended period, consider the skills you have picked up from other valuable experiences such as study, volunteer work, sport, family care and managing a household.

4. Refresh your industry knowledge and skills

If it has been several years since you've worked, refreshing your skills and industry knowledge could help you feel more confident going back to work. It's also a great way to show potential employers that even though you've had time off work, you're still ready to bring your best to the role.

There are many ways to upgrade your skills and knowledge including:

  • Adult and community education courses
  • Short courses
  • Further education options like university and TAFE

5. Build your confidence and ask for help

It's natural to feel nervous or apprehensive about getting back to work, especially if it's been a long time. Volunteer work, networking events and employment services can help you build your confidence and make valuable connections with others in the workforce.

If you are finding it hard to cope during the job search, it's important to reach out for help. Your GP is a good place to start if you're experiencing depression or anxiety symptoms. You may be eligible for a number of government funded employment services which can help you access the right supports and services to help you reach your goals.

How do you update your resume after a long break?

It's a good idea to refresh your resume with any new skills or experiences you gained during your time away from work. This can include things like:

  • Volunteer work or unpaid work
  • Study or training
  • Relevant life experience

Although you don't need to go into personal details, your cover letter can be a good place to explain why you had a break from work and how you are ready and eager to get back to work now.

For more tips, read our guide on how to craft the perfect resume for people living with a disability.

What to say in an interview when you haven't worked in years?

If you have an employment gap on your resume, potential employers may ask you about it in the job interview. You don't have to get personal, but it's important to be honest. Explain your reasons for the gap, but focus on your enthusiasm and readiness to get back to work and what you can bring to the job.

Also read: Job interview tips.

Getting support through the transition

Re-entering the workforce after a long absence can be challenging. If you're finding it hard to get a job or cope during the transition back to work, support is available. You may be eligible for services such as:

  • Disability Employment Services – support finding and keeping a job for people with an injury, illness or disability.
  • Workforce Australia (replacing jobactive from July 1 2022) – a mainstream employment service to help Australians find a job and manage their employment.
  • ParentsNext – support for parents of young children who want to transition back into employment.
  • NDIS Employment Supports – support for NDIS participants to achieve their employment goals.

Speak to an APM consultant about your situation

At APM, we're committed to supporting people in Australia to find meaningful work and achieve their employment goals. Whether you're getting back to work after a career break or hoping to find the right job that aligns with your interests and strengths, we're ready to support you on your employment journey.

To speak to one of our team about how we can help, call us on 1800 276 276.