Returning to PR After a Career Pause

May 2021
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It’s not uncommon for PR professionals to take an extended career pause for any number of reasons, from furloughs or time off to raise children, to a personal illness or to care for a family member in need.

Sooner or later, many who’ve experienced such a pause are faced with a new challenge, which is the transition back to a full-time career. Once you decide to return to a full-time career, you may have questions.

Are my skills current? What are their expectations? Am I up to the day-to-day pace of the office? Agency or corporate? Nonprofit or government? Part-time or full-time?

Keeping your hand in the game 

Maureen Pearson, vice president of marketing and communications at VMRC in Harrisonburg, Va., decided to take a career pause from full-time work when her children were young. At the same time, she chose to freelance for a local newspaper to keep her skills sharp.

When she decided to return to a full-time commitment, she found that the opportunities presented themselves and the transition worked for her.

“I had five or six opportunities, which became available quickly,” she said. “Since I had telecommuted previously, I kept my ‘work schedule’ mindset, and by writing regularly for my local newspaper that required at least three stories per week, I was still used to being on deadline.”

Pearson said that the biggest adjustment for her was the advancement of technology and the need to learn certain platforms that were new to her. She also said that the time away gave her a chance to reflect.

“My time away from full-time work gave me the opportunity to consider if I wanted to change career paths or roles,” she said. “The hardest decision was whether I wanted to stay in communications or public relations, or change directions.”

Returning after a longer pause

Marion Hoffman Fraley, communications director at Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said her career pause lasted 19 years, during which she chose to be a stay-at-home mother.

With such a long gap between full-time employment, she faced significant challenges in relaunching her career, from finding a job, to upgrading skills, to adjusting to the new routine.

“Late in my 19-year career break, I joined PRSA as a starting point for my relaunch,” she said. “To update my skills, I took noncredit professional development courses on web design, spreadsheets and social media at local colleges. To determine which subjects to study, I had looked at online job ads for positions that interested me and then I analyzed the skills that were listed in the postings.”

Fraley said that her career relaunch consisted of a transition from part-time to full-time work in communications at her present employer.

Helping others

On what she would advise others considering the same path, Fraley said, she’d recommend tapping online social media groups and websites like 

She advises to address the gap as appropriate on your résumé and in interviews, but to place the focus on experience and relevant skills, and to keep learning. She adds that it’s a good idea to find a fellow job seeker with whom to share stories of setbacks and successes.

In the end, she said that if you decide to get back to full-time employment after an extended career pause, don’t give up.

“The road to relaunch can be discouraging, but it’s rewarding once you work your way back into the field and see how you can make a difference,” Fraley said.

Added Pearson: “If you are planning to take a pause, consider how you want to develop any professional skills, your volunteering skills, and how you might plan your re-entry — even if it’s years away. Consider a class or volunteering to put skills into experience.” 

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