Over the past few years the idea of a career break has become popular. It makes a lot of sense, after all we spend so much of our lives working that when a chance comes along to spend a year or two doing something else, why not seize the opportunity? But the problem may come when you are applying for a job and are trying to explain the gap on your CV. Not every employer recognises the value of a career break and, unless you explain it carefully the fact that you have taken time out can easily count against you.
There are many reasons for taking a career break. You may want to go travelling, you might want to use the time studying for further qualifications. More sadly, you may need to care for an unwell relative. Or you may simply be burnt out and need a break. These are all good, legitimate reasons for a career break, but they all run the risk of counting against you, unless you deal with them properly on your CV.
The first thing to bear in mind is not to use the words ‘Career Break’ on your CV. Instead, find a positive description of what you have been doing. If you have been training or studying then of course it is easy, just make sure that you show the relevance of what you have been learning to your career.
But what if your career break has been to care for someone who was unwell? You will need to be a bit more creative in what you say. You might decide to refer to your time as voluntary work, and to explain that you stepped away from your career temporarily for personal development. Similarly, if you have been travelling you might say that you took the opportunity to learn new languages or explore different cultures, as a means of enhancing your knowledge and marketability.
Of course you are unlikely to completely explain away the fact that you have taken a career break, and it is quite possible that it will continue to put you at a disadvantage as far as some employers are concerned. In which case, the remedy is to get something onto your CV which is more current than your career break; so that the people you are applying to will focus on what you are doing now, rather than the fact that you haven’t been working for some time. This probably means taking a job with a smaller, perhaps a local, company where you can approach them directly and explain face to face what you have been doing, rather than relying on your CV to do the work for you. Most people understand the benefits of a career break when it is explained to them; it’s just that a CV is too impersonal a format to make the case for you.
But probably the most important thing of all is to make sure that if you do take a career break you combine it with some relevant activity, for example studying or voluntary work in a field that relates to your career. A plan like that will save you a lot of frustration when you do finally return to work.