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How to Handle Taking a Career Break

BY JEN HUBLEY LUCKWALDT   Updated on May 14, 2019

Thinking of taking a career break? Whether you’re staying home to care for children or traveling around the world on a year-long sabbatical, the prospect of taking extended time off from work can be equal parts exciting and terrifying. How will you survive financially while you’re away from the office? And how can you make sure that your career will still be there when you get back?

The key is to do as much planning ahead of taking a career break, so that you’ll be able to devote your energies to other things – plus, minimize stress when you return.

Before You Take a Career Break

Save Money

If you’re reading this article, chances are that you’re already biting your nails about the financial aspect of taking a break. Don’t let your fear and trepidation scare you away from making practical plans.

The first step is to make a budget. How much money will you need while you’re away? Think of your financial needs on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

Most people won’t be able to bank a year or more of salary ahead of time. How much money might you realistically save? What other methods do you have for filling in the shortfall? Depending on your situation, a spouse or family member might change jobs or take on more hours, for example. Or you might decide to do some part-time work to make ends meet.

Refresh Your Network

Making the leap from a fairly stable job that you’ve had for a long time? Chances are that you’ve let your network dwindle somewhat as you gained comfort in your position. Even if you change jobs fairly frequently, it’s easy to fall out of touch with former colleagues and friends.

Before you head off into the unknown, reconnect with old contacts. Plan some networking coffee dates or just a fun outing with old friends. When was the last time you went to a concert or a movie or a play? Use this as an opportunity to get motivated to make some plans. It’ll be fun, plus you’ll be refreshing your connections.

Have a Re-Entry Plan

Unless you’re independently wealthy, you probably have an idea of when your career break will come to an end. Don’t wait until then to think about how you’ll get back into the swing of things professionally.

For instance, let’s say you’re in an industry where freelancing is common. If you’re on good terms with your current employer, you might ask them if you can get in touch to pick up some contract work once you’re ready.

Or perhaps you’re volunteering a few hours a week during your time off. You might let it be known that you’re going back to work on such-and-such a date and that you’ll be looking for opportunities.

Regardless of your plans, you should keep your resume up-to-date and be ready to change your LinkedIn and other social media accounts to reflect your availability.

When You’re Planning to Return to Work, Do These Things

Take Stock of Your Situation

Plans are one thing. Reality is often quite different. Perhaps you planned to be away for a year, but now five have gone by. Maybe you thought you wouldn’t work at all during your time away, but you wound up taking on a part-time job. Or perhaps you left one industry only to find that for various reasons, you’d prefer to do something else when you return.

The goal now is to figure out where you are, so that you can make the transition back to work as smooth as possible.

Cope With Resume Gaps

Dealing with resume gaps can be as simple as changing resume formats or as complex as refocusing your entire CV to reflect new skills and interests.

A functional resume, for example, puts the focus on your skills and achievements, rather than on your linear work history (as with chronological resume). You can also take exact dates off your CV – this is especially helpful if you’re heading back to work within a year or so of your last job ending.

There’s no need to volunteer that you have an employment gap, especially if your resume does a good job of emphasizing your skills and not your chronological work history. However, you should be prepared to talk about your employment gap in a job interview, just in case an intrepid hiring manager figures out that you’ve been out of work.

Just remember that it’s always a mistake to lie on your resume. In the first place, you’re likely to get caught – and sooner, rather than later. Even if you get away with it, think of how stressful it would be to spend the rest of your career hoping that the truth doesn’t come to light.

Use Your Experience to Boost Your Professional Profile

OK, so maybe you don’t want to update your resume to say “Lead Domestic Engineer” (for stay-at-home parents) or “Ski Bum” (for sabbatical-takers who enjoy winter sports). But you can mine your experience outside of the workforce to improve your chances of getting a better job once you’re back.

How? First of all, by giving yourself credit. Sit down and think about everything you did for the past year. Write it down in the form of a bulleted list, for easy review.

Now, tease out any and all job-related skills you acquired or developed during your time away. Did you learn a new job role at a volunteer gig? Brush up on your language or coding skills? Gain experience managing a budget? Put it in a list – and then add it to your resume.

Finally, don’t forget about the friends you made along the way. Networking doesn’t have to mean attending conferences or going to tedious networking events. Every person who will write you a recommendation or refer you for a job is a contact who might help you find your next big career move.

You’ve just spent time doing something that’s so important to you, it was worth pressing pause on your career. That passion is worth something, professionally as well as personally. 

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