Next Steps: Getting Back to ‘Reality’ and Resumes
I used to hate it when people would say to me while I was traveling “What will you do when you get back? You have to get back to reality sometime.” This really got my blood boiling – what did they think that I was living at that moment…some kind of fantasy? My travels were reality; they were real, and they had become my lifestyle. Why did people feel the need to remind me that I must work again? I always felt those people who made ‘gotta get back to reality’ statements just said it to make themselves feel better about their unhappy life.
Regardless, I did go back to the US, but I decided to change my ‘reality’ – I didn’t go back to what I was doing. How could I? I had vastly changed in those 16 months. That made my next steps rather difficult because the only thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to go back to working for a large corporation in the US.
Once you’ve taken a career break, there are a number of different directions you can take when you arrive back in your home country. You can plug back into your old life and your old job or find a new job within your old industry. You can go back to work, but in a different industry. Or finally, you can just not go back to work, but change your whole direction into something else. Just remember, anything is possible!
If you decide to go back to the working world, one of the first things you need to do is update your resume. But what do you say that you’ve been doing for the last year? Many people are worried about how to explain the gap that your career break has caused in your work experience. However, if you sit down and really consider it, you’ll realize you have actually been building your skill-sets while traveling; skill-sets that every employer looks for when hiring.
When Michael came back from his four-month career break and started job hunting, he was often contacted by recruiters who found his resume posted online. The recruiters were impressed by his work experience but worried about the ‘gap’ on his resume and thought it would be a disadvantage when being compared with other candidates. However, when he interviewed with companies, he found it to be quite the opposite. Employers were intrigued and impressed by his break and what experience he gained from it. The recruiters were mainly worried about making a commission off of the “hire”.
Here are some ideas on how to ‘sell yourself’ and your experiences from your career break. Please feel free to join in the conversation and add more ideas via the comments at the end of this post.
The World Is Flat: We are truly a global economy. This has been the ‘headlines’ now for the last 5 years. Now YOU have international experience to add to your resume. I was out of the country for a year and a half; I wasn’t working or living in a different country, but I might as well have been. I stayed in some regions (Asia for instance) for several months and was able to experience various aspects of many different cultures – from business and family interactions to religion and history. You can’t help but become accustomed to the way people operate.
This is better than simply traveling to Tokyo for a business meeting; instead you’ve actually been immersed. Don’t be afraid to tout this international experience that you’ve gained. Remember, most people in America still don’t have passports! You are miles ahead of them in the global economy job hunt.
And it won’t go unnoticed with your employer. When Michael’s new job required him to travel to India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines within a 10-day period, he was ready to live out of a backpack again. With him was a colleague who had accompanied others on this trip several times before. She was greatly impressed with how Michael was willing to “go with the flow” during a very hectic schedule and how open he was to getting to know his counterparts in those countries. Most others would go in, do the work, and return to the hotel. Despite jetlag and long days, Michael understood the importance of building relationships within those cultures. It’s not just about work, work, work like in the US.
And as an added bonus, he got to visit with orphaned elephants in Sri Lanka – a cultural trip that all others had by-passed. This only helped to create a greater bond with his colleagues.
Many employers want to see that you are able to take smart risks. The very core of what you just did – leave your job and take a career break – is the definition of a smart risk. It is certainly risky to leave stability in the hopes of gaining more. It’s even harder when you don’t have a road map of people telling you what steps to take and how to do it.
However, you have just accomplished this; you took a risk and it paid off. You are in a better place now. You have a greater global understanding of the world, you have refreshed your mind/body/spirit, and you have been able to step away from the corporate world to get a new perspective. All of this has left you a more well-rounded, and intelligent person.
So many people simply follow the road more traveled. They follow ‘rules’. They do what people tell them to do based on fear of the unknown or being different. However, you challenge those ‘rules’. You believe that retirement shouldn’t wait until you are 65 years old, vacations don’t have to simply be two weeks. Instead you want to accomplish some of these things while you are young, fit, and have time; so you take the risk. It is very clear to me that people who take career breaks in America are risk takers by definition. Remember, great things are not discovered or developed by people who simply do what every other person is doing.
Find Creative Solutions to Difficult Problems
Employers are always trying to find people that can think ‘outside of the box’. Companies today do not need ‘yes men’ – they want people who can think quickly on their feet and come up with creative, effective solutions. While on the road I experienced this challenge practically daily. When you are on your own in a foreign country and can’t speak or read the language, and you don’t have a map, you need to be able to think on your feet.
There were many times when I had to quickly switch from plan ‘A’ to plan ‘C’. Whether it was the time when my flight to Cairo was cancelled for some unknown reason and I was taken to a hotel for two days with no information about my luggage or my cancelled flight; or when the bus broke down in the middle of Morocco stranding me in the hot desert; or when I realized that the taxi driver had no idea how to find my hotel; or when you walk into a coffee shop and find that you have broken a cultural custom because you are the only female there; or you book the ‘luxury tourist bus’ to find out that you are really traveling in a 13 passenger van with 21 people crammed inside it – you need to be able to assess the situation and come up with a plan of action to move forward.
International travel requires you to be flexible, creative, and most of all, patient. When employers ask for examples of when you have been in a challenging situation and creatively come up with a solution, have some travel stories ready to tell. Of course, remember to be succinct and apply them back to the business world; but don’t be afraid to talk about your long-term travel experiences. If you have these personal qualities in your real life, then you will surely bring them with you to the workplace.
In my past career, I did a lot of hiring. I can tell you that if I found people with these soft skills that could be articulate about them, I would have been thrilled! More often than not, I had people that had very little exposure to the world outside their home state. Go ahead and embrace your new skill-sets and don’t be afraid to sell them in your next interview.
We’d love to hear from you:
Do you have some great examples of turning your career break into a resume winner? Let us know! Share your career break experiences here.