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Heading Back to Work, Part 1: Preparing for Re-entry

By Marcia Pennington Shannon

If you have been away from the workplace for an extended period of time, re-entering the job market can feel overwhelming, even frightening. People returning to work normally experience myriad emotions, both positive and not so positive. It is challenging, yes; impossible, no. Even in the current marketplace, lawyers do find jobs—good jobs. However, it will take persistence, creativity and a good plan.

In part one of this series, we’ll look at your pre-search considerations.

What Do You Want? Formulating Your Strategy

For any job search, your first search step is to identify a clear focus or goal. This is particularly important when you have taken a break from the marketplace. Having a clear sense of your goals will help you create an effective strategy, conduct your job search in an organized fashion and clearly communicate—both to your network and potential employers—what you seek to do.

Consider whether you want to return to the practice of law, do something law-related or change careers. Do you seek full-time, part-time, flex-time, telecommuting or some other alternative work arrangement? Would you consider contract positions or do you prefer permanent employment options?

You will have the easiest time returning to work after an absence by seeking a position similar to what you left. For example, if you practiced as a tax attorney, seek options that relate to this practice area. Your options might include returning to the position you left, going to a firm with a tax practice, applying for IRS positions, seeking a position at a university in alumni giving, working at a bank in its trusts department or seeking an in-house position with a company.

If you aren’t sure how your experience will apply in the current job market, consider conducting informational interviews with individuals in your field. They may know of jobs in which your background would particularly help. Also, they may know others with similar backgrounds who have used their experience in creative ways.

What Do You Bring to the Workplace?

Too often, people who have taken a break from the job market lose sight of what they have to offer. They forget that in addition to the experiences from their previous jobs, they have also developed skills while unemployed. However, depending on how long your break has been, you may recognize some gaps in your current knowledge and experience. As part of your preparation for re-entering, you’ll want to fill these gaps if possible. Some suggestions include:

  • Sharpen your skills. Identify online or in-person courses to sharpen skills, such as web-based research, computer programs and language skills, if relevant.  Find volunteer positions that would allow you to hone these skills.
  • Sharpen your knowledge. Find CLE courses to update your knowledge in your specialty area. Ask your previous employer to recommend current publications. Identify pro bono opportunities to build your knowledge base, including interning with firms in your specialty area.
  • Get advice. Talk with others who have returned to the job market after an absence. Ask how they updated their skills and knowledge, and get their advice on the job search itself.

Once you’ve formulated your plan and begun the work to sharpen your skill level and confidence, you are ready for the next step—connecting with potential employers. You must convey to them, through your application materials and personal contact, the relevant skills and experience you have, and how you can make an immediate contribution to their organizations.

In part two of “Heading Back to Work,” we’ll discuss strategies for a successful job search.

Marcia Pennington Shannon is a founding principal of Shannon and Manch, LLP, and has nearly 30 years of experience in lawyer career and professional development. In addition to her expertise in career transitions for lawyers at all levels, she has extensive experience in career advising and performance and executive coaching, especially focused on those in leadership and management roles. Marcia’s latest book is The Lawyer’s Career Management Handbook: Your Bridge to a Satisfying Career.

Illustration ©ImageZoo.

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Categories: Daily Dispatch, Learning, Legal Career Development, Professional Development
Originally published February 21, 2012
Last updated September 14, 2019
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Marcia Pennington Shannon

Marcia Pennington Shannon is Senior Coach and Consultant at See Clear Coaching. One of the leading experts in lawyer career and professional development, Marcia served as Assistant Dean at the Office of Career Strategy for  Georgetown Law for 10 years. Marcia has numerous publications, including “Recruiting Lawyers,” which she co-authored with Susan Manch, and “The Lawyer’s Career Management Handbook: Your Bridge to a Satisfying Career.” Follow Marcia on LinkedIn.

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