Without a doubt, my biggest fear when I quit my job to take a career break to travel was whether I would be able to find a job again upon my return. The fear plagued me throughout my thirteen months on the road. Not a week went by that I didn’t worry to some extent about what I was going to do next.
I started my job search early – and unless you have enough money in the bank to get you by for several months after you return, I recommend you do the same. With two months to go before I would return to the United States, I signed up for job alerts, updated my resume and started applying for jobs. I made it clear when I would be back in the country and that I was available in the meantime to speak via Skype. Indeed, I did two Skype interviews while I was still on the road.
I was alternately overconfident and insecure as I plunged into my job search. I only budgeted for two months’ worth of living expenses after my return, thinking that if I started early, I would surely find something within a couple months. When I got my first Skype interview, I had visions of doing an in-person interview as soon as I landed in Chicago and being back to work within a couple weeks. Unfortunately, it didn’t go so well and my hopes were dashed. Then my anxiety grew as I sent out resume after resume with no response – not even for the jobs that seemed to be a perfect fit!
Back in the United States, I focused on three main areas in my job search. I long thought I wanted to pursue a job in travel after my trip, so I looked at a variety of travel company jobs. I could also see myself combining my professional background in event planning and fundraising with my international interests by working for an internationally-focused non-profit. Finally, I knew I had the experience to land a job back in my old field, working at another law school or university. I customized my resume for each area and tailored my cover letter for each position to which I applied. I also started networking like crazy, reaching out to friends and former colleagues, looking to make new contacts wherever I could.
It wasn’t long before I started getting calls for initial phone interviews – primarily for the jobs in my old field, but also one for a tour company and one for a non-profit with a bit of an international angle. Before I knew it, I was juggling multiple interviews and my confidence was through the roof. I got an offer for a job with a tour company exactly a month after I returned from my trip, but while I once thought such a position was my dream job, I made the tough decision to turn it down – the pay was too low, the benefits non-existent and overall, it just wasn’t what I thought it would be.
I soon realized that the process can take a long time. I got a call in mid-October about a job I applied for back in August. I had rounds of interviews spread out over two months. Employers don’t necessarily review resumes and start contacting people immediately after posting a job and once they do, trying to coordinate schedules among candidates and multiple interviewers can take a lot of time.
More importantly, I never got the impression that my career break was much of a factor – good or bad.
While some interviewers commented on it (“that’s cool”), no one asked many questions and some didn’t even realize I wasn’t currently employed – they just saw my previous job at the top of my resume and assumed I was still there. I was still attractive to employers in my old field because I had the exact experience they desired. On the other hand, aside from the offer for my so-called dream job, I didn’t have much luck with the internationally-focused positions I desired. There were several positions that made me say “yes, that is exactly what I want to do,” but I got nowhere with those. While my international experience could have been seen as a bonus, it wasn’t enough to make up for other skills or experience that I lacked.
In the end, I was invited to interview for about one-third of the jobs I pursued and ultimately received 5 job offers within 3 months of returning. I know I am extremely fortunate to have had so many options, but I also think I positioned myself as well as I possibly could have. I started early, did a lot of research, customized every cover letter and resume, and approached the whole process with a positive attitude. I really enjoyed networking and interviewing and learning about all of the options that were out there. Sure, I didn’t end up where I thought I would, but I’m thrilled to be bringing in a regular paycheck again while gaining valuable experience and preparing myself for whatever comes next.
Katie Aune quit her fundraising job in 2011 to spend a year traveling and volunteering throughout the former Soviet Union and is now back at work as the director of alumni engagement for a law school in Chicago. You can read about her travels, job search and re-entry experience on KatieGoingGlobal.com or follow her on Twitter at @katieaune.