Re-Entering the Workforce after a Hiatus

I have not worked in over 15 years. I was a stay-at-home housewife and now I find myself unemployed, broke, and hopeless. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how or where to start. Anita, can you help me?

Worried housewifeDear “Desperate Housewife,”

As long as you are breathing, there is always hope! Many people exit the workforce for extended periods for reasons ranging from raising children to taking care of an elderly parent or life circumstances of all descriptions. It may be difficult, but it’s not impossible to get back into the labor pool.

First and foremost, update your skills. Do you know the basics to work in today’s office environment? Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook are commonly used in many companies. If you possess any accounting aptitude, QuickBooks knowledge is valued by many small- and medium-sized businesses. Brush up on computer programs with classes at your local community college or online at sites like and

Have you been a volunteer during the last 15 years? Many skills used in the do-gooder arena are transferable to the workplace (think organizational skills from chairing that charity event, or sales finesse to charm potential owners into adopting a dog from the shelter). Use a functional format when  creating your résumé; it won’t hide your employment gaps but will focus on your competencies.

Use a cover letter to very quickly explain why you have not worked for a few years, then go on to highlight the skills you have that match the job posting to which you are applying.

As an interim measure or a long-term alternative to a J.O.B., you could join the gig economy. Instead of getting paid by the hour, you can earn money by completing projects or tasks.

If you have talent in bookkeeping, copywriting, data entry, social media, customer service … whatever, advertise your skills on a freelancer site like You could become a Tasker on, which connects local errand-runners and chore-doers to busy folks willing to pay for someone else to buy their groceries or assemble their latest Ikea purchase. is an online service where, for a starting price of five bucks, Grocery delivery serviceyou can offer to do any number of projects, ranging from the expected, like graphic design, to the bizarre (someone will paint a message on his body and video himself dancing in a jungle for $5!). Stay-at-home moms or parental caregivers, even pet owners, can translate their nurturing experience into a gig on or by word of mouth.

Which brings us to the importance of networking. You may have heard the quote, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Let everyone – friends, relatives, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers – know that you’re looking for work, whether you wish to pursue freelance assignments or a traditional job.

Consider signing up with a temporary staffing agency. By working on assignment in various companies, you’ll discover the types of work you like (and those you don’t care for).  Some temporary positions can even turn into full-time employment.

Readers: How have you successfully re-entered the workforce after an extended absence?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Gaps in Employment
Functional Format for Résumés
Hiding the Gray on Your Résumé (and Beyond)
Take Advantage of the Outsourcing Trend
Help People Help You Find a Job

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wendy C
    Aug 09, 2016 @ 10:37:06

    In 2011 I dislocated my shoulder in a non-work related incident far from company property. Since I was a valet attendant, I had to leave work; 3 months later my surgery still hadn’t been scheduled so I chose to resign (which the company appreciated). A year after the injury I was finally released to work again, but after a year of unemployment most employers blew me off. Luckily, I found an excellent fit in a workplace that I love where I can do what I’m good at while working on my weaknesses, and I’ve been here over a year now. “There is always hope” is an encouraging truth.


    • anitaclew
      Aug 09, 2016 @ 10:42:02

      Wendy, thanks for sharing your story. I’m glad you found a position where you can thrive and grow.


  2. les
    Aug 05, 2016 @ 18:30:38

    Go jump off a cliff Anita clue.your cyber harrassment comets should be outlawed. Your what employment agencies are used to degrade and dispair the employed/unemployed.


    • Wendy C
      Aug 09, 2016 @ 10:53:03

      I’ll you don’t get useful information from Anita’s posts you might consider unsubscribing from them. I find her advice useful.


      • anitaclew
        Aug 09, 2016 @ 10:58:04

        Here are instructions for anyone wishing to unsubscribe: On the next email you receive containing one of my posts (next Tuesday morning), there will be a link at the bottom to Unsubscribe. Or you can select “Manage your Subscription.” Click that link, then the name of my blog (“Job Talk with Anita Clew”). Then, in the Bulk Actions pull-down menu, select “Unfollow.”


    • Oscar Rodriguez
      Aug 09, 2016 @ 10:55:14

      les, I do not see your point in blaming Anita’s advise. Could you please be more specific?


  3. Yvonne
    Aug 03, 2016 @ 11:34:04

    Temp agency works great. Currently using one to find a part time


    • Wendy C
      Aug 09, 2016 @ 10:58:17

      Temp agencies worked quite well for me when I was using them. If you hold several positions within the temp service, they still qualify as one job (lateral motion within the company?) When I describe the duties I use the phrase “variable according to assignment” to good effect.


  4. Oscar Rodriguez
    Aug 02, 2016 @ 19:47:17

    “Desperate Housewife” did not give her age, but since she has been married for more than 10 years, she is entitle to her husband’s social security benefits plus his pension(if he has any). These benefits will not automatically be offer to her. She has to applied for them.
    In reference to the job situation, my suggestion is to start her own business. Many business can be started with very little money.
    She can get her RE license. Real estate is a great career because you are in business for yourself inside a bigger business.
    Since she stayed home for 15 years she might be good for the following easy to start business:
    1) Children’s Party Service. A love of children and party planning are the two most important prerequisites for starting and operating a children’s party service. RESOURCES: • Event Planners Association

    2)Pet Sitting . Many people have pets that cannot be boarded or left with friends or family when the need arises—pets with chronic health conditions or exotic pets that are difficult to take care of, for example.

    3) Gardening Consultant . If she enjoy working in the great outdoors and playing in the dirt, and know a whole lot about flowers, trees, shrubs, and vegetable gardens, chances are you are the perfect candidate for the idea of starting a gardening consulting business. RESURCES: • National Gardening Association • Urban Farming
    Hope it helps


    • anitaclew
      Aug 03, 2016 @ 08:23:55

      Great advice and suggestions, Oscar.


    • Andrew Blackmun
      Aug 22, 2016 @ 18:21:09

      Oscar Rodriguez,

      What wrong with this, after 15 years stay at home mom with no childern, no husband, broke, she should have requested husband to pay for attorney fees, where are the childern or child, 15years=15year old child. Flat broke, child support, alimony, homeless?

      Wheres the Lawyer at from the State or Her own lawyer, in custody matters its always joint PYSHICAL, at first.
      You, seen a valunerable women(which, who left who valunerable), needing something, your unable to address= confidence man!

      That just dont seem right.

      Andrew Blackmun


  5. Tiffany Lieu
    Aug 02, 2016 @ 15:46:36

    Good suggestions Anita! “Desperate Housewife” needs plenty of help because there are so many employment rules and exceptions as well as presentation demeanor to follow.

    As with me, my on off employment is due to the pace of hiring demands in California Bay Area. At times, I can look somewhat of a job hopper too as the jobs don’t last too long and then you have to find another one. But they earn pocket money and give you job experiences.


  6. Mary Phillips
    Aug 02, 2016 @ 09:47:05

    It is mostly about networking. The more people who know you are looking for a job, the more likely you are to find one. Also, it’s not just responding to adverts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to work at a place and applying even though there are no openings. I got a position for a job that was unadvertised because I knew someone in the company and he knew there was someone about to be fired. They needed a quick replacement and I fit the bill even though my experience went back a few years. They were looking for someone responsible and that worked hard. They were ecstatic that they didn’t have to advertise the position and go through that whole tedious process. Also, yes, register with as many employment agencies as you can stand to. But beware that most of them will test your skills on Word, Excel, Power Point, and Outlook. Probably the most important of the Microsoft knowledge is Word, second is Outlook. Those two are minimum essentials for even a reception position these days.


    • anitaclew
      Aug 02, 2016 @ 10:17:23

      Great advice, Mary, about unadvertised positions.


    • les
      Aug 06, 2016 @ 00:31:28

      The use of this reps once to Anita clue is degrading as the workforce has been attacked and dismantled in reference to networking people,coworker driven from employment to no longer be productive or denefitial to support the workforce.


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Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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