There was a time, quite recently, when any work history gap was a ding on your character. Algorithms flagged resumes with employment gaps. Hiring managers rejected these resumes without a second glance, regardless of a candidate’s qualifications. Even a stint of self - employment could equal rejection.
But times are changing fast. Over the past decades, some have reconsidered the outdated idea that you must work from the time you leave school to retirement, or red flags get raised. Nowadays, employers are less apt to assume negative reasons for an employment gap. Career breaks have become a career necessity for some, whether to care for (or even raise) a child or a loved one, to unwind and rethink what they want to do, or for another reason. In fact, LinkedIn has recently added a new "Career Break" category.
Yes, taking a career break is going mainstream. As Harvard Business Review points out, "the new label helps normalize the idea that careers are not always linear."
In fact, career breaks can be phenomenal for your personal, family, and professional success. Seventy percent of U.S. women who took career breaks say their well - being and outlook improved. Healthier employees with better work - life boundaries are good for business. Many employers are coming to recognize this.
But you certainly have a few items to check off your list before you choose to make this career move.
What Is a Career Break?
A career break is any conscious pause in career continuity. It can mean leaving your job completely or negotiating a time - limited absence from your current position. For example, after the intensity of the pandemic, many are taking short-or long-term breaks from nursing career stresses.
In a lot of cases, this break provides you a necessary recharge. After taking some time, you're ready to get back out there. Other times, it allows you to rethink your career choice or trajectory or permits you to raise your kids full - time.
The truth is that many employers will not be able to hold your job if your career break exceeds Family and Medical Leave Act requirements, maternity leave, or accumulated time off. For this reason, taking a career break may include quitting or leaving your job and then reentering the workforce at a later time. Many individuals who choose to leave the workforce to raise their children make this choice, for example.
But never assume you have to quit your job. Some employers, especially at a corporate level, have the ability to accommodate a career break and are adding this to the benefits as an employee retention strategy.
As the Society for Human Resource Management points out, "In the wake of the pandemic, some companies have created new programs to help returning employees, while others expanded or reimagined existing programs. The goal they share is to assist experienced professionals who have taken career breaks in re-entering the workforce, or ‘relaunching,’ without having to start over in an entry-level role."
Benefits of a Career Break
- Taking care of your mental, emotional, or physical health
- Reaffirming your value and self - worth as a person, professional, parent, etc.
- Fighting burnout
- Recharting your career journey
- Improving work performance
- Finding or exploring a separate passion
- Getting certifications, completing a degree program, or otherwise up - skilling
- Getting to see the world
- Volunteering for an extended period of time
- Being there for a loved one who needs your help
- Transitioning from a dead - end job
Concerns with Taking a Career Break
According to the Harvard Business Review, 50% of employers report seeing more career breaks in resumes than they used to. Yet 59% of people still believe that any break in work history carries a stigma. With that said, it's clear that perception is changing because 40% of Fortune 50 have career re-entry programs to support employees who take a break.
A career break comes with some challenges like:
- Losing career momentum (or perceived momentum)
- Depleting savings
- Facing stigma in the eyes of some employers
- Losing your insurance
- Losing access to important business contacts
- Falling behind with industry trends or tech in fast - paced industries
You can head off most of these challenges with a little planning and good communication.
9 Steps to Prepare for a Career Break
- Get your savings in order: Budget out the break. Be sure to add a buffer for emergencies like out-of-pocket health costs or unexpected house/car fixes, as well as a few months to support yourself when it’s time to job search again. If you’re going to be down to your partner’s one income, plan out how you’ll adjust to that change. For example, if you’re taking a break from a nursing career to raise your newborn through kindergarten while your partner works outside the home, how will this impact your finances over the next five years?
- Find a backup gig: If you do choose to quit your job, explore the gig economy. See what's available if something unforeseen forces you to stretch your savings.
- Create a schedule for your time off: Without a plan, the best - intentioned career break can become an endless succession of couch - sitting, killing whatever big ideas you had for that time.
- Find a hobby: If your break will be extended, find something you enjoy and do it regularly to stay active, keep socially engaged, and explore your interests.
- Assess your insurance situation: You may have a lapse in health insurance, life insurance, liability insurance, etc., and either need to keep policies in force or take steps to maintain protection.
- Give proper notice: Explore whether your boss may be open to rehiring you after your break and give notice to leave on good terms. This may include taking some time to train someone to replace you.
- Keep in contact with your professional network and don’t burn bridges: Continue to connect with people and update them about your break. Use existing social media accounts or register with new ones. If you're doing something interesting to others, consider starting a blog or vlog. Go out to lunch with important contacts, co-workers, and clients.
- Prepare how you'll discuss the break with future employers: Honestly, most employers today just want an answer about the career break. You can even briefly explain it in your cover letter.
- Change your LinkedIn status to Career Break: By making your career break a part of your LinkedIn profile, you can frame your choice in the positive terms it deserves and in a way that makes sense to employers and colleagues.
Extra Steps to Prepare for Retirement
Retirement is generally a more permanent form of career break. So take more time, plan it out, and evaluate whether you’re ready. Hopefully, you’ve been planning for it for several years in terms of retirement savings. So now is the time to take the final steps to put that plan into action. As that date approaches, you’ll want to:
- Create a long-term budget: Estimate how long the money you’ve saved will last you if you draw X amount each year and where you’ll keep that money so that it can continue to grow and beat inflation.
- Evaluate downsizing or retirement location: Where will you retire? Many people choose to downsize and simplify. Others want to stay put. Consider how you’ll make that happen.
- Pay down debt: Pay down credit cards and other debt. Otherwise, simplify your financial life to free yourself up from both financial and mental burdens.
- Get your legal affairs in order: You may want to consider setting up a trust and/or financial power of attorney in the event you become unable to manage your finances.
- Evaluate your liability insurance: If you’re in a litigious profession, retiring doesn’t prevent someone from suing you for something that happened while you were working. You may need to retain malpractice or other liability insurance.
If you’re a parent planning to leave the workforce semi - permanently for 18 or more years to raise kids and possibly not come back, then you may want to treat your career break as if you were retiring. (Of course, we all know raising kids is nothing like retirement!)
Asking for a Career Break
Depending on your relationship with your employer, this can be a difficult conversion. Often, getting your ideas in writing is the best way to go. Consider the following things when asking for a career break.
First, get very clear with yourself about why you're doing this. Do you hate your job? Are you bored? Are you burned out? Do you want to explore a different path? Do you want to raise your newborn to kindergarten or through high school? If these are true, you may just want to move on for now.
Don't leave your employer hanging on. Give proper notice and leave on the most positive terms possible.
Put yourself in your manager's shoes. Is hiring a temporary employee or having others pick up the slack a viable option? If not, they may not have a job to offer you when you come back. If you really want to keep your job, consider whether you could shorten your career break to work with your managers' needs.
Write down how the career break helps you and the company. If your reasoning is “to see the world,” for example, be ready to frame that reason in a way that benefits your employer. Focus on how this can improve your productivity, performance, and perspective.
There’s no way around it. Some reasons will be a hard sell if you want to keep your job, and you may not be able to. Be prepared for objections and have constructive counterarguments ready.
Other benefits you can offer up for the employer include:
- Retaining a knowledgeable, proven, fully trained employee
- Avoiding expensive recruitment costs
- Demonstrating employee - centric culture
- Bringing new valuable skills to the team
Important Insurance Changes if You Are Taking a Break from a Nursing Career or Other Healthcare-Related Profession
If you're in a litigious profession like healthcare, it's important to understand how your liability insurance works when you take a career break. If you let your insurance lapse during your break and then someone files a claim, you may not be covered.
Some liability insurance is "claims-made" coverage. This type of policy covers incidents only if they happened — and the claims were filed — during the policy period. It means that if you leave your employer and no longer have your policy — and a previous patient/client says they now are impacted by a decision or mistake you made when you treated them, you won’t have your policy to lean on for your defense. If your insurance is claims - made, you will want to buy tail coverage, which will extend your claims - made policy.
The alternative to claims - made coverage is an occurrence policy. If you have an occurrence policy, you will not have to buy tail coverage.
The idea of a career break is becoming more normalized, and it may be precisely what you need. But it’s important to put some thought into it. And the longer career break you plan to take, the more time you should likely dedicate to planning. You may have personal, financial, and legal items to consider. And taking this time will help you get the most out of your break.