Re-entering the workforce can be a challenge even in a strong economy and job market. Volunteering, working or studying abroad, starting a family, caring for a sick relative or coping with your own illness can all be seen as viable reasons for taking a hiatus, but from a hiring manager’s perspective, they can also create a major gap in one’s work history.

Your search can be made more difficult by a challenging economy and a bias against people who have gaps in their work history. Still, there are some viable steps a person can take to maximize their chances for success when re-entering the workforce after a layoff or just some time away.

  1. Update Your Skills Before You Embark on Your Search

If you’re returning to the workforce after a break and you haven’t kept up with developments in your field or target occupation, it’s time to sharpen up. Subscribe to industry publications, browse professional websites, sign up for a college course, and attend conferences, seminars, and trade shows in your field. Do everything you can to accumulate the knowledge, skills, and professional vocabulary that will mark you as a practical candidate for your target job.

  1. Define Your Brand – Know Exactly How You Can Help an Organization

Rather than casting a wide net and marketing yourself as the jack-of-all-trades type who’ll take any available position, re-think your strategy and determine just how you could best create value for an organization. You’ll get more with less by taking a more focused approach and branding yourself as an expert in a particular area, i.e., project manager, meeting planner, or administrative assistant. Ensure you communicate this branding strategy in your résumé, cover letter, and 30-second short pitch.

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  1. Create a Functional Résumé – Include Volunteer and Pro Bono Experience

If you have significant gaps in your resume, it may be best to choose a functional format that highlights your skills and experience, rather than a chronological version which uses the dates of your past employment as the main organizing principle. Research target job descriptions and include as many requisite skills as you can validate by your past work history or experience. Ensure you customize your résumé for each position you apply to by working in relevant keywords and phrases into your document—provided you can authenticate them in an interview situation.

  1. Augment and/or Optimize Your Network

Whether you’ve fallen out of contact with past colleagues or you’re trying to build up a network in a new field, the prospect of connecting with a new group of professionals can be intimidating. Set up a LinkedIn account to promote your brand asking for connections, recommendations, and joining virtual groups. You can use Twitter to follow industry experts, publications, and target companies to stay up to date on the latest news and events. Have a set of business cards printed up, develop a 30-second short pitch, and begin to look for industry, occupational, and networking events in your area.

  1. Focus Your Search on Smaller Organizations

Smaller companies (up to 50 employees) may offer more breadth and latitude when evaluating candidates than their larger counterparts. Smaller companies generally don’t offer as robust a compensation plan and benefits package, so the conventional thinking is that they have to somewhat temper their expectations and criteria when recruiting new employees.  This is turn can assist job seekers who lack the exact skills and experience the company is seeking for a given position. It is also easier to network your way inside a smaller organization to meet with key employees and decision makers.

Re-entering the workforce after a hiatus can be a challenging prospect given the level of competition in today’s marketplace. Still, people are hired based on their ability to add value to an organization, solve problems and contribute to the bottom line. You may not land you dream job right off the bat, but a solid position is still within anyone’s reach if they take a focused and organized approach and market their brand like a high-quality product.