How to Take a Successful Career Break
There might be many reasons why you are currently taking a career break, or are thinking about taking one. Perhaps you left employment to become a caregiver, spend time with a loved one at a critical time or to enjoy being a full-time parent for a while. Or perhaps you are thinking about stepping off the work treadmill for a while to reset and recharge, pursue new interests, study or for another reason unique to you. So, whether you want to successfully return to the workspace after a period of time away, or you want to plan a career break, there are some recommendations to consider.
Is a sabbatical an option?
If you are in a job you enjoy, or one that has many benefits, consider talking to your employer about the possibility of an arranged sabbatical or career break after which you return to your role. If you are in a senior position it's worth asking - valued leaders and team members are hard to come by so you might be pleasantly surprised by your employer's reaction. If you won’t be returning or are considering a career break due to difficulties at work or burn out, do consider your next steps very carefully and don’t make any quick decisions. It may well be the right thing to do, but you need to be sure, and heightened emotions or stress can cloud your decision-making.
More commonly than not, it is predominantly women who have had to hit the pause button on their career to take care of their families and home. Returnships are becoming increasingly higher on people’s radars - programs by which you can successfully return to work after an extended period away. Some returnships are tailored especially for women in this situation, where re-entering the workforce after a long time can be challenging. Returnships.org is an incredible resource to connect with others, identify your strengths and find opportunities for roles, training and coaching. Another useful website is Path Forward, with details of opportunities for those returning to work after caregiving.
Make financial preparations
It is important to consider how your finances will hold up during a career break. There are likely significant savings you can make in terms of commuting, eating out and business attire, and if you will be away from home you could investigate the possibility of subletting your home, or finding cheaper accommodation. Before you take your break be sure to save and clear any debts. You will likely be living off your savings so calculate your living costs to keep track of your new budget. You may also find it useful to speak to a financial advisor. However a word of warning: If your finances are not robust a planned career break may be a luxury you can’t yet afford.
Maintain your connections
Your past colleagues and managers are your connection to the industry and role that you have previously put a lot of effort into, so make sure to keep connected with them during your time away. They will help you stay current, and could send some great leads your way which could be the opportunity or knowledge you need to make a successful return to work! So if you haven’t already, reconnect with your past colleagues, and if you are planning a career break, don’t fall off a cliff and lose touch.
Don’t stop learning
You may not be in paid employment, but that doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Whether you are in the midst of a planned career break, or keen to get back to work after a long time, what you have been doing whilst not in employment is really important. Find the best way for you to skill up to help your future career –whether it is volunteering, completing free certified courses or training or even listening to relevant podcasts– and it will stand you in good stead with employers. A career break can be a really positive way to embrace growth and learning so go for it!
Be prepared to start again
Unless you’ve been lucky enough to have an arranged sabbatical, your career break may mean that you are now considering a different career path. That could mean that when you land a job the harsh reality is that it may be a little further down the career ladder. Don't be disheartened, as time and experience can lead to your dream job; just be prepared for it not to land in your lap straightaway. If you are planning a career break this is a really important point to consider, as substantial time away from the market can make it harder to go back in at the same level. However, with a growth mindset and enrichment from your time out you can maximize your chances.
Own your story
A combination of positive thought and self belief are the secret to a successful career break and re-entry into the market. When you tell friends and loved ones that you are leaving your job, there will be people who will be negative and tell you you are making a mistake and not to do it. Or perhaps your confidence and energy is low after time away from a fast-paced corporate environment. Whatever it is, own your story, your past successes and believe that the skills you have can make a difference, and that you are doing the right thing for you.
Don’t waste your precious time
I am not suggesting you pack your daily itinerary with jobs,tasks and chores to fill your every waking minute. There is much value in slowing down, or your reasons for taking a career break may mean you have responsibilities that take up a lot of your time. My advice is to carve out a little time everyday to focus on you, re-skilling, or the project you want to complete or the business you want to start. Whatever it may be, just make sure that your time doesn’t slip away from you, so you can focus on achieving your goals.
With proper planning, a career break can actually improve your long-term prospects. Even if it has been forced upon you by circumstance you can still turn it to your advantage. Time away from the workplace can present new opportunities and an improved mindset which in turn can open doors you haven’t even dreamed of. Beginning or returning from a career break takes courage and perseverance, but it has the power to reboot your life and put you on the right path. I wish you luck wherever you are on the journey!
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