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How to Make the Most of a Career Break

Lakshmi Hutchinson profile image

Lakshmi Hutchinson

Close up in a hand writing in a notebook.

There are a lot of reasons why you may need to step away from your career for a while. Becoming a parent, looking after a relative, or dealing with health issues can all lead you to need a break from work.

When you first decide to step away from the office, you may worry about what awaits you when you’re ready to return. And while the uncertainty may feel a bit overwhelming, there are ways to use a career break to your advantage.

Branch out

A career break, regardless of the reason, can be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes we stay in jobs as a matter of habit or convenience, and we need a bit of distance to see that the job wasn’t the right fit. You may be able to use the time away to explore different options, or even try out a new field on a part-time basis. If you’re looking to learn about new career directions, try:

  • Identifying and reaching out to companies that interest you to request informational interviews
  • Taking stock of your current skill set. Consider enrolling in a degree program, or pursuing online coursework in a field that interests you.
  • Volunteering with an organization to gain an entry point into the field.

Follow your passion

Maybe you have a passion that took a back seat to your previous career. Perhaps you’ve been itching to use your graphic design skills, but never had the chance? Doing volunteer or freelance projects to build a professional portfolio could be a good option.

Or perhaps you’ve come to realize that you want to be your own boss. This time away from work can give you the freedom to start a small business. Taking the leap into an entrepreneurial venture might seem daunting, but this could be the best time to develop a business plan and identify what you’ll need to move forward. If there is anyone in your network who has started their own business, ask them for their insight and for professional recommendations.

Be prepared

A long break from employment may cause some employers to doubt your commitment to the work. Selling yourself to a new organization will require some foresight and confidence—confidence that might be lacking if you’ve been away from the workplace for a long time. So be sure to research positions carefully and identify any skills that you need to brush up on.

One of the main challenges you may face is figuring out just how to address your time away from the workforce in your application materials. Get a head start by:

  • Brainstorming ways to address the gap in your cover letter. Make sure you clearly explain how you can be an asset to the company.
  • Revamping your resume to ensure that the format is really showcasing your successes. Be sure to include any marketable skills—blogging, consulting, volunteer work—that you developed during this time on your resume as well. 
  • Start preparing for possible interviews. It’s likely that employers will ask you to explain the gap on your resume, so be sure to rehearse your answer beforehand.

Reach out to your network

Whether re-entering your old field or starting a new venture, building on your network is key. Reach out to friends and former colleagues, and consider attending college alumni association events in your town.

Finally, don’t underestimate any new connections you may have made while away from work. For example, if you’re a parent, consider the other parents in your kid’s playgroup as a new addition to your network. Although being out of work can feel isolating, you probably know more people than you think!

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Lakshmi Hutchinson profile image

Lakshmi Hutchinson

Lakshmi Hutchinson is a freelance writer with experience in the nonprofit, education, and HR fields. She is particularly interested in issues of educational and workplace equity, and in empowering women to reach their professional goals. She lives in Glendale, California with her husband, twin girls, and tuxedo cat.

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