Your purpose is twofold: First, to find out as much as you can about where your skills might be needed now and how you would fit into organizations you might want to work for; and second, Walsh says, "to turn yourself from an outsider into an insider."
The more people you meet who can introduce you to other people, the more that might lead to a job. "It really helps if you've stayed in touch with former colleagues and kept up with professional associations, and if you've stayed on top of industry trends," Walsh notes. If not, start now.
Most of this is similar, of course, to what any job seeker has to do -- with the significant difference of that five-year hiatus. Tempting as it may be to try and fudge your resume to hide it, "you do have to address that absence," says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, a job site that matches employers with people who want to work flexible hours. "But if you do it in the right way, it could actually work to your advantage by making you stand out from the crowd."
How? "Write well-researched cover letters, tailored to each employer, that are conversational, not form letters," Fell suggests. "And use those letters to portray what makes you unique."
For example, Fell recently hired a former finance executive who, after being laid off in early 2009, decided with her husband that the moment was right to take some time off from the rat race: "They moved abroad with their kids and spent six months living in a couple of foreign countries. It was a great learning experience for them."
That sense of adventure, plus the fact that "this candidate had obviously researched our company carefully and understood what we're about," impressed Fell enough to hire her.
"Companies are so swamped with job applicants now that they're looking for reasons to rule people out," she says. "But if you convey a clear picture of who you are and what makes you special, you just might catch someone's eye."
Talkback: Have you ever returned to the workforce after an extended absence? What worked for you? Leave a comment below.