Recontextualizing the career break
As the discussion around work-life balance broadened in recent years, both employers and workers around the world started to rethink what kind of role work plays in a person’s life. Accepting a healthy approach to work allowed many people to separate their career from their personal lives.
Maybe the most important indication of this modern approach to the work culture was LinkedIn’s introduction of “Career Break” as an official option in the Experience section in user profiles in March 2022. Acknowledging the many reasons behind the decision to take a career break now gives many professionals room to grow, learn and cultivate experiences outside of a dated understanding of success.
What is a career break?
While the term “career break” can mean different things for different people, it can be summarized as time taken off of employment for various reasons; such as health-related (physical or mental) reasons, child-rearing, or even other professional pursuits.
In the business world, most career breaks last an average of 2 months to 2 years, however, this is also not indicative of everyone’s reality. There are successful professionals who take breaks from work for 5+, sometimes 10+ years and come back stronger.
Career break vs. sabbatical
The term “sabbatical” can be seen used interchangeably with “career break”, however, there’s a slight difference. Sabbaticals are usually more formal, limited times off of employment. Companies that have sabbatical policies give their employees a right to take time off, usually for around 12 months, and secure the employee’s previous position at the company for them to return to. During a sabbatical, the paycheck and some other perks can be suspended by the company.
Removing the stigma around career breaks
In the outdated work culture belonging to a time several decades back, career breaks were seen as indicative of unprofessionalism, failure, lack of skills and will to work. Most employers back then turned down candidates who had a career break at job interviews before even asking the reasons behind their break or what they did during that time.
Unsurprisingly, women were affected by this dismissive approach the most, as they were the ones mainly taking career breaks for child-rearing. Even today, LinkedIn’s own data shows that “The majority of women (64%) have experienced a career break at some point in their career with top reasons including parental leave (22%), medical leave (17%) and mental health reasons (14%)”.
However, we now know that child-rearing isn’t the only valid reason for a career break. Today, we have the correct vocabulary to define other reasons. Experiencing burn-out at a job and taking the necessary precaution to prevent a faster decline in mental health, for example, is a very valid reason to take a career break.
Exploring other professions, opportunities, interests and even hobbies that have a chance to be turned into a career is another reason. Taking an adult gap year and traveling around the world is another great way to make use of a career break.
Many people who choose to take a career break for these reasons report having experiences that broaden their world view, be it in a country all the way across the globe or right in their living room with their newly born infants. Taking a step back from a career to focus on other enriching experiences in life is an invaluable, brave option for professionals. And finally, many companies are finally acknowledging how individuals who have taken a break can return to the workforce with a fresh perspective and bring new ideas to the table.
In recent years, many big corporations including Amazon, Dell, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Boeing and P&G have started to offer return-to-work programs for professionals coming back to the workforce after their career break. These programs include trainings that span over several weeks to reintroduce and familiarize the returnees to the workforce. Return-to-work programs take different forms according to the companies offering them, however many fall into one of the two categories: Returnships and direct hires.
Returnship programs can be similar to internship programs; where companies bring in returnees in a cohort, or a class; and provide professional and technical training and customized onboarding sessions. Returnships themselves usually are separated as project-based and role-based. Project-based returnships take shape around a project where successful candidates can be offered open job positions at the end of the program. Some companies choose to follow a different approach named role-based returnships where they onboard a cohort for a specific open position in the company.
Direct hires work more, well, directly. Companies that recognize the untapped value of professionals returning to work can hire returnees as full-time employees right from the start and provide them with transitional support.
How to use a career break to your advantage in job interviews
If you’re ready to return to your career after a break, the key to success is having confidence in your decision; both to take a career break, and to come back.
The soft skills you’ve gained during your break will play a critical role in how you represent your professional persona in a job interview. According to Forbes, half of employers explicitly stated that candidates should bring up their career breaks in job interviews and talk about their experiences and what they’ve learned. Start by taking stock of all the new things you experienced and how you handled them during this time. For job interviews, it’s all about how you put your experience into words.
For example, if you took a break in order to raise your newborn, you might be thinking “Well, how could parenthood add skills to my professional career?”. Think of it this way; you’ve transitioned into a completely different way of life and had to deal with countless unexpected issues every day. “Resourcefulness, multi-tasking and leadership” would be the keywords for your newly-acquired skills.
Or, if you traveled and volunteered during your break, you can easily say that you had to find new ways to solve problems and communicate with people outside of your comfort-zone. In this instance, you’ll be right to claim that gaining insight into different cultures and practices made you more adept in solving hard problems in a short amount of time by yourself!
In short: Give yourself the credit you deserve. Even if you weren’t “productive” in a professional sense during your career break, (for example, if your break was for mental health related purposes) being forthcoming during job interviews will show that you’re a well-rounded individual who is not afraid to take responsibility and grow at every chance possible.
How to prepare for a career break
Have you been thinking about how you need to take a break from work, but don’t know how to go about it? You’re not alone. How this path will take shape, of course, will be defined by you personally. Here are some tips on how to get started on planning for a career break:
- Budget. This is one of the areas where people get stuck when planning for a career break, and it’s for a good reason. In the end, you will need to sustain yourself without a regular income. That’s why you should check in with your savings account to see how long your career break can realistically be. On the other hand, this time can be a great opportunity to try out freelancing, especially if you absolutely need a break from your full-time job but are not sure if you can afford it. You can still continue making money, but on your own terms!
- Have a plan. No matter how tempting it might be to just walk out of the office one day, especially if you’re feeling burnt-out, it’s recommended to have a rough plan on how you’ll go about doing this. Make a plan including the start date of your break, how long you want your break to be and what you plan to do during it. This might also help save you from future anxiety about feeling lost in the modern working world.
- Stay connected. You might be leaving work, but don’t sever your connections completely. You never know how your professional circle might be beneficial when you decide to come back. Stay in touch with your colleagues, check in with them on social media and if you feel like it, keep up with the latest developments in your area of profession. Keeping an open mind for new opportunities might set you on a new career path that might be even more fulfilling than the one you’ve had before.
Time to exercise your autonomy
Even if you’re not willing to take a career break right now, we think it’s a good idea to stay up to date on the developments in modern working culture. Thankfully, we are now living at a time where the value of a person’s life and its connection to a career is being discussed from a more balanced angle.
Who knows, maybe after taking that career break, you’ll realize how freeing it is to govern your valuable time on your own terms, like many did before. If you’re willing to take the next step to ruling your own solo career, Ruul is here to give you all the tools you need!
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