Bereavement. Career transition. Caregiving. Full-time parenting. Gap year. Layoff/position eliminated. Health and well-being. Personal goal pursuit. Professional development. Relocation. Retirement. Travel. Voluntary work.
These are all reasons for taking a career break. In a survey of nearly 23,000 workers and more than 4,000 hiring managers, LinkedIn found that nearly two-thirds (62%) of employees have taken a break at some point in their professional career, and just over a third (35%), mostly women, would like to take a career break in the future. If you’ve taken a career break, you’re in good company. Why then, is there such a stigma with an employment gap on your resume?
With 54 million women out of jobs globally during the first year of the pandemic and a national labor shortage, this stigma will be a thing of the past moving forward. Career gaps are becoming more common and widely accepted and mid-career women will have an advantage upon re-entering the workforce in the coming years. If you’re planning to re-enter the workforce in the near or distant future, the following post is a roadmap for how to navigate this journey with a new and exciting career on the other side.
Traditionally, we’ve been taught to bury our career breaks down in our resume or not highlight the fact that we were eliminated from our last position. With the pandemic leveling the playing field, these reasons are going to be more common moving forward. The first thing you want to do is frame your story. Think about what you’ve learned and who you’ve become during this career break. How are you different than you were before? The new skills you’ve acquired are an asset. Consider the following scenario:
You’re a mom of three and your husband was offered a three-year international position in Italy. While a three-year break might seem daunting, you’re returning to the workforce with a wealth of new experiences and skills. You will have learned a new language, developed an international network, managed a trans-Atlantic move and multiple schedules and logistics. You’ve been dropped in a strange country and been forced to figure it out from scratch.
In this scenario, you might be a powerful resource for a startup company or a company that does international business. LinkedIn now has a feature to share and explain your career gap, which is a great way to highlight your break and continue to network throughout. By owning your narrative, you control the message and the perception. Branding your career gap as an asset instead of something you must “overcome” will demonstrate your character and problem-solving skills to your potential employer.
Be a Lifelong Learner
Don’t use a break in your career to stop gaining knowledge. Even if you’re not presently working, it’s important to stay fresh. Think about how you can continue learning and staying up to date in your industry during your break. Make sure to read, listen to podcasts, stay current on your certifications, etc. This could also be the time to learn a new skill. If you’re a new mom staying at home, you might take up photography to document your little one – this is a marketable skill upon your return to the workforce.
Think about it like riding a bike. You don’t ever really forget how to ride a bike, but if you’re out of practice you might be a little wobbly and need a few sessions to regain your balance. The same is true for your career. When you’re considering a return, find out what the latest technology or developments are and try to find opportunities to practice them before you start interviewing. This way you’ll be more knowledgeable and confident when you speak about them.
Now that everyone is working remotely, you might not be familiar with Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, Google Docs, etc. Get a few friends together and set up some practice sessions so you can practice the ins and outs and get your hiccups out of the way. If you’ve never created a PowerPoint, start now by creating a presentation for the next family vacation or the school fundraiser you’re organizing.
Get Some Experience
Whether you’re planning to stay in the same industry or change career paths when you return, volunteering or freelancing can offer you a way to try out new skills and industries. If you’re interested in pursuing a teaching career, there are lots of opportunities to try substitute teaching with low commitment. If you’re considering a career in marketing or public relations, you might try your hand at a few tasks on UpWork or Fiverr to gain some experience. If you need skills in accounting, volunteer to be the treasurer for a local nonprofit or community organization. Even with a long career gap, there are opportunities to add new skills to your resume without having a formal position.
Your former colleagues, bosses, and team members are going to be your best pipeline for referrals when and if you decide to get back in the game. They can also speak to your previous work and provide recommendations. With social media, it’s easier than ever to keep in touch during your break. You can be systematic about your networking by planning to meet up with an industry contact once a quarter to stay top-of-mind. A coffee date, happy hour, or even stopping by their office to go out to lunch with them is a great way to stay relevant. Don’t underestimate the power of a Zoom coffee date to stay connected if you’re unable to leave the house. You can find out what’s new in the industry and keep your contacts warm for possible job referrals in the future.
Many professional organizations and associations have events and meetups throughout the year. Following the pandemic, some are still virtual giving you an opportunity to attend periodically and see what people are talking about. Depending on your industry you can stay active in conversations on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep your name top of mind.
Get Your Paperwork in Order
Don’t wait until the last minute to put your resume together or create your portfolio or website. During the break, you can use my Resume Workbook to finally perfect your resume with engaging bullet points and well-thought-out examples of your accomplishments. Since you’re not caught up with the day-to-day details of your job, you can start to work on some long-term career projects. Things like finally asking for all those LinkedIn recommendations (and reciprocating), pulling together case studies or project examples from past work, developing your personal branding or mission statement, perfecting your cover letter, writing thought leadership pieces on LinkedIn, completing those professional certifications you’ve been meaning to do, or getting professional headshots taken.
Enjoy Your Time
No matter the reason you’re taking a career break (whether wanted or unwanted) remember to actually take the break and try to enjoy your time away. Whether you’re raising your family, caring for a family member, traveling, or unemployed after a job loss, try to enjoy your time not working. Do the things you always wanted to do but never had time to because you had to go to work. Try to savor each moment with your family members and remember what your priorities are.
If you’re ready to get back to work after an extended break, I’m here to help you. No matter how soon you’re planning to dive back in, I can help develop a short- or long-term plan that will maximize your opportunities. I know it can be intimidating to come back to your career after an extended break which is why you need all the support you can get. If you’re looking to take a break or return from one, we should talk about all the ways you can start preparing yourself for success.