The thought of re-entering the workforce after a sabbatical or career break can be daunting. However, I am here to tell you it does not have to be. I’ve worked in Human Resources for 15 years, have been involved in various aspects of hiring, and I know a career break doesn’t mean career suicide. If you are willing to put a bit of planning into it, you will set yourself up for success when you return. All it takes is a bit of prep work, maintenance, and effective storytelling.
Prep before you leave
Prep your network. Make sure you inform your network (trusted colleagues, former supervisors/clients, friends, family) about your career break and keep them updated during your journey. This will keep you top of mind when you return from your break. Even if you don’t plan to return to the same industry, your network is invaluable. The contacts you have made are the shortest distance between you and your next job; they are your connections to multiple industries and companies. Statistically, you are 70%-80% more likely to receive a job offer through your network than through job boards and direct applications.
Plant the seed for when you return. If you do intend to come back to the same industry, plan ahead of time. Tell your hiring manager and other potential employers that you intend to come back while you are still top of mind. Your return dates may change, but if you share your intentions, they will have more investment in following you while you are away and be ready for your return.
Stay connected while you are away
Don’t unplug completely. Use social media to stay in touch. Blogging or simply posting updates to LinkedIn or Twitter can achieve that connection. Include quick updates of your trip and examples of what you are learning so your network will see the value of your travel experience. It is easy today to stay in touch with your contacts in the US. Online tools and smart phones make it simple…Google Hangouts and Skype for video calls, Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) for updates, Email for Newsletter…the list goes on.
Volunteer or be part of a trade organization. This is another way to remain visible to your network and stay current regarding trends in your field. For trade organizations, offer to write blog posts or help with activities that can be done remotely. There are also many global organizations that offer volunteering opportunities. The Gates Foundation provides a great resource for volunteering in the US and abroad. Chose one that fits with your current field and/or an area where you want to gain more experience. This is where a little bit of planning goes a long way.
Learn new skills. Remember your career break is also a chance to add new skills, particularly ones you want to learn. Perhaps you want to become a better writer. Use blogging to practice and share your skills. Maybe you always wanted to learn HTML or build a website? Use this chance to build a travel website. These are all useful skills to learn while away and are very relevant to the work place. The tools you use to stay in touch (video conferencing, blogging) also make you a stronger communicator and emphasize your ability to connect with people remotely. These are important skills as the workforce becomes more global and remote workers become more prevalent.
It is important to review your experience and evaluate the skills you are learning along the way. Perhaps you do decide to volunteer. This may take the form of organizing an event or tutoring a student. These experiences provide you with skills such as leadership, team building, and marketing, which are all transferable to your potential job. Don’t overlook the potential of what skills you are learning.
Stay relevant. The skills above can certainly prove that you have been working and staying relevant. However, if you know that you want to enter into a new industry or even return to the one you were in, you can stay relevant by participating in industry webinars, MOOCs, reading books, earning online certifications, etc. This shows your potential employer your passion and excitement for the industry and your drive to stay current. This goes a long way in the mind of a hiring manager.
Sharing your story when you return
Explaining your career break. How you tell your story can make the difference between whether you get the job or not. Many people are intrigued to hear about a sabbatical or career break, but if you don’t share the story in a way that is relevant, it can impact your job search.
Think about this from the employer’s point of view. They want to know your career path and how this career break fits into that. Include your sabbatical/career break on your resume. Share the relevant experience you gained as discussed above. Succinctly share the details of when and why you took the sabbatical as well as the outcome. If you are enthusiastic and upbeat about this time away, your passion will shine through and will excite your potential employers as well. Perhaps it will also trigger a relatable experience for them.
If after you share your story effectively and the company decides not to hire you, this is likely not an environment in which you would like to work. Culture is every bit as important in your job search as your skill set. The company certainly is evaluating your fit for the company, but you are just as much evaluating whether they are a good fit for you. If they do not understand why you would chose to take a career break, this is likely a sign that their culture overall is not going to foster an environment in which you would like to work.
Your time away does not have to sabotage your job search if you focus on how it adds value to your personal brand and your future employer. You will be successful in finding that next job, just be sure to do a bit of planning before and some maintenance during your trip. And always be thinking about how you will share your story to your next employer. Safe travels!
Read more about re-entering the workforce:
- What to Expect When You Return Home
- How to Make Processing Part of the Re-Entry Process
- How to Deal with Reverse Culture Shock
With over 15 years of talent acquisition experience, Heather Baker has worked with a wide range of companies to build sustainable workforces in technology and marketing. Recently, she channeled her skills to the other side of spectrum to help students gain and implement valuable assets that help them compete in the workforce at a Higher Education Startup called Experience Institute. She is passionate about the future workforce and enabling professionals at all levels find their career strengths while matching those strengths with workforce needs.