10 October 2015

A career break is a wonderful opportunity to broaden your horizons and take stock of where you are in your career.

Whether you plan on returning to your job, finding a new one in the same field, or making a complete shift, it’s a good idea to strategise about what your career will look like after your career break.

If you’ve just finished up your career break and are ready to get back to work, taking these steps will help ensure that your employers also recognize the benefits of your career break.

1. Take stock of what you’ve learned

Depending on what kind of career break you took, you may not immediately recognize all the professional benefits of your career break but every single option on this website has massive benefits for you professionally.

Grab a pen and paper or open up a new doc on your laptop and start brainstorming!

Here are some questions to get you thinking about the personal and professional benefits of your career break:

  • Did you learn any new skills on your career break? A language? Writing? Photography? A physical skills like construction? A mental skill?
  • Did you interact with a new group of people or further develop your skills with a group? Kids, older adults, people with disabilities, etc.?
  • Which organisations did you interact with? What fields do those organisations work in?
  • Did you gain knowledge about a different country or a different culture? What did you learn?
  • Did your outlook or worldview change based on your career break? How? Why do you think that occurred?
  • Did you have the opportunity to teach anyone else something new either in a formal or informal setting? What did you teach? How did you teach it? To whom?
  • How did your perception of yourself change based on your career break? Do you consider yourself more capable now than before? Did your belief about your role in the world change?

Add anything else you can think of. Don’t limit yourself! This is an exercise that you don’t have to share with anyone else so write whatever you like.

2. List your career break accomplishments

After you feel like you have exhausted your list of the personal and professional benefits of your career break, it’s time to get clear on what you accomplished.

The first thing to do is to wipe your definition of professional accomplishments out of your mind. You don’t need to think of “increasing sales by 50 percent” or “managing 300 people” during your career break.

What you do need to figure out is what you accomplished personally and professionally. These accomplishments could look something like this:

  • Learned Spanish.
  • Gained understanding of how the non-profit sector in the United States operates.
  • Taught children to read.
  • Constructed 20 houses in six months.
  • Honed writing skills.
  • Started a blog.

3. Practice how you will tell employers about your career break

The very first thing I tell my clients who are trying to fit a unique professional experience or a career break into their CV is that they have to be absolutely confident about their decision.

Some of you may have taken a career break and are certain that the break was right for you personally but are not as convinced that it was right for you professionally.

I’m going to tell you right now that it was the right decision.

Definitely. Absolutely.

Now tell yourself the exact same thing and make a convincing argument. Why? Because that’s exactly what your employer NEEDS to know.

Your employer needs to understand why your career break is beneficial to them. When they understand that, your career break becomes part of your career trajectory and not a strange gap in your professional experience.

If I took six months off to travel around Africa and I come back telling my employer, “It was an amazing, relaxing trip!” my employer doesn’t care a bit about my career break.

However, I can convince my employer that my career break was the best thing for my company by saying, “After travelling to 16 countries in Africa in six months, I now understand elements of African culture that I never could have understood by studying it from my desk for years. I’m looking forward to using this new insight to help our marketing efforts in Africa.”

On the surface, before I began the brainstorming in step 1, maybe it was just a relaxing trip.But when you think about it, I GUARANTEE you will find many benefits to your career in the long-term.

4. Include your career break on your CV

Now that you’ve brainstormed what you’ve learned, you’ve got a list of accomplishments, and you know how you want to talk to employers about your career break, it’s time to put it in black and white on your CV.

If your career break aligns perfectly with your professional experience, by all means include it under professional experience on your CV. It’s okay if you were not paid. If you were serving as a volunteer and your responsibilities are very similar to your career, include it there.

Let me give you a couple of examples:

Example 1: You are a graphic designer. You took a career break to volunteer (unpaid) in Vietnam building houses. The organisation you were working with decided to redesign their website while you were there and asked for your help. You did all the graphic design for the website and a lot of the coding, which you learned “on the job.” Include it under professional experience? Absolutely. You used your graphic design skills plus you learned some new related skills which might be beneficial to your employer.

Example 2: You work in finance. You took a career break and traveled around Latin America. During your travels you started a blog and wrote for a travel guide. Include under professional experience? Probably not. Writing travel guides and blogging doesn’t have much to do with your career in finance. While writing travel guides doesn’t have much to do with your career in finance, something else you learned on the trip might. Maybe you learned Spanish which is actually incredibly relevant and should be included on your CV. But where? If you learned a new skill, especially a language, you probably want to include this under the Education, Training, or Skills sections of your CV.

Our friend in finance from example 2 could very easily use this new skill with his Spanish speaking clients from Latin America. If you can’t find a place to fit your accomplishments from your career break under Professional Experience, Education, Training, or Skills you may be able to slide it in under Activities, if you have a section like that, or even in your Key Qualifications Summary at the very top of your CV.

Some of you may be reading this article in anticipation of returning to the workforce after your career break. You may be looking for tips on anticipating what to do after your career break. If so, here are a few things you can do before or during your career break to ensure you’re ready to jump in when you get back.

  1.  Develop a skill that will advance your career. If you are reading this before your career break, consider being intentional about what you do on your career break. Planning to try for a job in marketing but you currently work as an administrative assistant? Try to incorporate a volunteer opportunity in marketing into your career break. You can add this to your resume and show that you already have marketing experience. Work for a company that does a lot of business in a certain country? Consider doing your career break in that country in order to learn more about the culture, learn the language, and be able to connect with your company’s clients in the future. 
  2. Stay connected to your colleagues. Even if you don’t plan to go back to the same position, keep connected to your colleagues on Facebook or LinkedIn. Those are the people you’re going to want to check in with when it’s time to get back into the job market. If they haven’t heard from you in a year or two, that contact is going to be uncomfortable. If they have been hearing from your regularly, it won’t feel strange that you call them when you get back.
  3. Keep up on industry news. If you already know what field you’d like to work in when you get back, don’t disconnect entirely from the field while you are on a career break. Peruse industry journals online and join professional associations and LinkedIn groups to make sure you stay abreast of the developments in your field. You do not want to return from your career break and feel like you missed out on everything.

This is a guest post by Anna Sparks, Global Career Coach and Professional Resume and Interview Skills Coach. She runs Anna Sparks Coaching and you can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  Anna Sparks is a global career coach who helps professionals create attention-catching resumes and prepare for successful interviews. She works with people with international experience and those who need help fitting a unique job or career break into their work history. She has lived and worked in six countries in Europe, North America, Africa, and Latin America in the last fifteen years. She currently lives in Quito, Ecuador. Get her free guide on How to Edit Your Resume Like a Pro to take your job hunt to the next level and get the job you’ve been dreaming about!