A career break is just what it sounds like: an extended period of time off work. And while it's traditionally been associated with parental leave, professionals take career breaks for all kinds of reasons these days.
Having a career break on your resume hasn't always been seen as a positive thing by employers, but they're becoming much more common, especially among millennials. In fact, according to one study, over 84% of millennials plan to take one at some point in their careers.
The good news is they can actually set you apart in positive ways if you approach them the right way. Here's what you need to know about taking a career break and having it advance your career rather than hinder it.
Why Professionals Take Career Breaks
Professionals take career breaks for any number of reasons both professional and personal — to learn a new skill, see the world, spend time with family, or even just to take a breather.
Here are some of the most common ones:
- Travel – Many professionals take time off to experience new countries and cultures.
- Education – Some professionals take time off to go back to school (to get an MBA, for instance).
- Passion Projects – Some professionals take time off to do something they love.
- De-Stress – Some professionals take time simply because they need a breather to recharge.
- Family – Many professionals take time off for a birth, death, illness or simply to spend time with family.
- Volunteering – Some professionals take time off to help others in need.
Although career breaks are becoming more accepted, there are certain realities about taking extended time off from work that you can't get around.
Time away from your industry and job often means your skills and expertise go unused and could become outdated, and many employers will question an employment gap on your resume because of this.
However, if you can show them how your time away has made you a better hire, you'll be able to lessen those concerns.
An easy example: maybe you're taking a break to go back to school and further your education. This benefits companies because now you have new skills that will help you be a better employee.
However, not all benefits have to be this tangible (or obvious).
For instance, more employers are realizing how important soft skills are to their organization's success. So traveling could benefit your employer because it taught you how to be adaptable (in places where you don't speak the language or understand the culture, for example).
Or, since many companies have realized that work-life balance is critical to productivity, taking time off because you were burnt out could help them because now you're fresh and energized to be productive again.
No matter why you're taking a time off, make sure you understand how it could ultimately benefit a future employer. Here's how to speak to it once you're ready to reenter the workforce.
How to Get a Job After a Career Break
1) Know Your Story
When you're ready to reenter the workforce, many employers will have questions (both spoken and unspoken) about your time away. Though they may sound harsh, these questions may include:
- What have you been doing all this time?
- Are your expertise and skills still sharp?
- How sound is your professional judgement?
- Is there something you're not telling me about why you're unemployed?
You may never be asked these questions outright and some employers might not care that you took a break at all, but it's good to be aware that it's at least a possibility.
To address those that do have concerns, you'll need to show them that you're a sharp, motivated individual who's ultimately become a better hire than you would have been if you didn't take a career break.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself that will help you build a powerful narrative about your time away:
- Why did I take a career break?
- What did I learn during my time off?
- How do the things I learned make me a better person/professional?
- How do they make me more qualified to do the job I'm applying for?
- What goals did I have and achieve?
Think about how the answers to these relate to each job you apply for in order to ensure that the hiring manager can see how your experiences would benefit them.
2) Get Reacquainted With Your Industry
Since one of the dangers of being away from your job is that you might fall behind on what's happening in your industry, you'll want to read up on it and get up to speed before you start interviewing.
Doing so shows that you're a self-starter and that you take your career (and the work you'd do for a prospective employer) seriously, even if you did take a break.
3) Leverage Your Network
Hiring managers are more likely to interview people who are sent to them via referral. So networking is one of the most important (if not the most important) activities job seekers need to master to find one.
When you're returning from a career break it's even more important, as the people you know can help you mitigate some of the concerns around an employment gap by vouching for your abilities and professionalism.
So when you're ready to get back to work, start by reconnecting with friends and colleagues in your industry to see what kinds of opportunities there are for you to jump back in.
Tip: Document Your Experience While Away
Documenting your experiences through a blog or social media can keep relationships with those you've worked with warm while you're away.
While this works especially well if you're doing something envious like traveling, even if you're working on a passion project or on parental leave, anything you can do to stay top of mind with those in your professional life can help smooth your return.
How To Explain a Career Break on Your Resume
Your resume is often your first impression with companies and recruiters. And since employment gaps can often be cause for concern, you need to be strategic with how you represent one on your resume.
Short-term breaks (less than one year) can often be left off of your resume altogether by using only the year to show when you worked at each previous job. However, keep in mind that transparency is always the best policy and putting a career break on your resume isn't something to be ashamed of, no matter how long you've been gone.
Just make sure you present it such that a hiring manager can see how your break makes you a great hire (using the questions from the previous section).
How to Explain a Career Break on LinkedIn
It's been said that LinkedIn is the new resume. While that's not entirely true, one thing is for sure — your LinkedIn profile is very important as a professional who is searching for a job these days.
So just like your resume, if there's a gap in your work experience on your LinkedIn profile, companies will likely have questions about it.
Your best bet is to follow the same guidelines as you did for your resume — if you've been gone for less than a year, you could simply represent your work experience by years instead of a specific month/date to avoid mentioning it.
However, again, it's always better to be transparent and highlight how your career break spurred personal or professional development using the questions from the previous section (especially if you were gone for more than a year).
How to Answer a Career Gap Question in an Interview
This is where having your narrative or story prepared ahead of time helps you the most. If you know how to articulate why you decided to take a career break and how it can benefit an employer, you can answer any question a hiring manager asks about it.
Even if you had to take time off work involuntarily, you can still speak about what you did to keep your skills sharp during that time and the lessons you learned from it.
No matter the question, be sure to keep your answers positive and focused on what you learned and how you grew in ways that will benefit you and the company. Need more help finding a job after a career break? We've created additional resources to help with your search.