Sometimes you get to take a career break because you want to and it’s easy enough to get back into the workforce when you decide to.  Other times it’s harder, because taking one – or having one forced on you – can make career breaks feel risky.

That risk is reducing.  Perhaps not fast enough.  Family break arrangements are changing, they’re longer and more likely to be shared by parents.  Retirement age is on average increasing which makes taking a break during the career even more appealing!

We need a new map for career management across the lifespan, and that includes valuing breaks along the way.

There’s been a big penalty for women taking parental and other family leave, particularly if they want to return to the workforce part-time.  While this is changing, there’s onus on both hiree and hirer sides to keep the focus on the skills and experiences.

Early career gaps, e.g. that wonderful ‘gap year’ can often be romanticized, and may even garner a dash of envy from hiring managers.  Later in careers it can be trickier.  This article by Cadi Kuchel promotes the career benefits of gaps.

A leader I know, later in their career, is on a self-imposed, purposeful career break.  They were working in an industry that they found uninspiring.  They were feeling demotivated, trapped.  They decided to break free by quitting their job and devoting their full attention to opportunities in a couple of targeted industries.

I know this because they reached out to me during the break.  They inquired about me and what was going on for me.  They asked for my help and thoughts, with a light, friendly touch, which made it easy to feel committed to helping out in some way.

To make career breaks positive:

 

  • Do your homework on your hiring company and boss. The kind of support they give to career breaks will give you an indication of how positive they might be about yours.
  • If you took a career break because the work environment was too toxic only disclose what’s absolutely relevant to your career story. While you should put a positive spin on whatever happened, don’t fudge it. Stay clear, focused, brief. What did you learn from the experience?  Prepare for worst-case questions in the hiring process, so that you maintain your poise.  But if you get them, think twice about whether this is an organisation or boss to work for.
  • If you’re on a career break right now, make sure you’re learning, stay in touch with people, build your network and your interests. Do like my colleague and reach out to people: offer to help first, then ask for it.
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