How to Explain a Career Break

How to Explain a Career Break

Whether it's caring for relatives, traveling, or starting a family, people have many reasons for needing a career break. Typically, they are three months or longer and for reasons other than redundancy. Let's get this straight - career breaks are NOT taboo. Breaks are not only very common but also necessary. To avoid discouraging employers, it's important to know how to address them professionally on your job application.

Why Were Career Breaks Once Considered Taboo?

Have you ever been told that taking time off work will affect your chances of future employment? Career breaks have long held a negative stigma. It stems from the uncertainty of why someone has gone without work. This assumes that the break was involuntary.

Seeing a career break in an applicant's work history can discourage an employer. It may raise concerns about the longevity of your commitments. They may also assume that you haven't been getting job offers, therefore raising red flags.

As it's difficult and expensive to hire someone for short periods of time, employers need to be certain that the applicant they hire isn't temporary. Nowadays, more people understand the necessity of career breaks. Taking a break shouldn't be taboo. What's really important is addressing it the right way when applying for a job.

Why People Take Career Breaks

People take career breaks for all sorts of reasons. You may experience an unfortunate event, like a relative getting ill. Perhaps you've chosen to shift your career focus and spend some time brushing up on necessary skills. Maybe you're doing the travel you always said you would. You could be choosing to be charitable and give your time to volunteer work. It could also be the only way to chase your creative pursuits.

If you feel like a career break is on the cards for you, don't hesitate. More people appreciate the importance of taking a step back and slowing down. Remember, you can always re-enter the workforce. But you do need to know how to talk about a career break to avoid putting employers off.

How to Address a Career Break When Returning to Work

There are a few approaches to addressing a career break. You can present it as time spent necessarily for future employment. You could also make the break seem motivational. If you're telling a recruiter about it, the number one rule is honesty. Be honest and upfront. Never apologize for a career break.

Alternatively, depending on your experience, you can even just avoid the fact. Let's dig deeper and see how to do this.

1. Necessity

One approach is to show an employer that a career break was necessary. Presenting it as a tactical move can even come across as impressive. Everything is a learning experience in life. Dissect how you spent your break and find the transferable skills you gained. This could include confidence or communication skills. Link these to the position's requirements to demonstrate readiness.
This is an especially good approach if you're really struggling to be hired and inevitably experiencing a longer career break. Demonstrate to an employer that you were being picky about your next role as you wanted to align it perfectly with your values and career goals. Explain that career development was more important to you than any old salary. You will demonstrate maturity in decision-making and sacrifice.
The other unavoidable reasons for taking a break can involve family commitments. If you needed to look after an ill relative, identify some skills you gained or beneficial activities you engaged in. If you were starting a family, describe the challenges and how they developed into transferable skills.

2. Motivational

The next approach is positive and motivational. Make your career break come across as a life-changing event. Honesty is the best policy, but positivity is the cherry on top. If you spent time traveling, describe what you gained from the experience. If you needed a break mentally, explain how the break allowed you to better yourself.
The way you describe the break is crucial. Keep the explanation short but informative. For example, “I achieved a personal goal of solo traveling around Asia for a year to better my knowledge of Asian culture and specifically the Chinese language.” This shows that you grew as a person from your break, and gained language skills.
Here's another - “I found the opportunity to leave my job after a long-term commitment and step away from work temporarily. It allowed me to reset my mind and be better prepared for the next role.” This demonstrates that you're in touch with your well-being needs, chose a responsible time to take the break, and strive to do well in your next opportunity.

3. Avoid it Entirely

Be cautious if taking this approach. Don't just extend your working time in previous employment. If an employer does a reference check, they'll quickly find out. A career break may not be necessary to mention if you've got an abundance of experience. List your work history with years of employment rather than months. If the career break was over seven years ago, employers probably won't care.
An alternative is to have a skill-based resume, rather than a chronological format. Build a resume that demonstrates your skills and bullet points about where and how you used them. This way you can avoid mentioning when you worked. This is a great option for someone who spends sporadic periods of time not working, or who has little experience.

In Summary

Career breaks aren't taboo. Employers want to know you're ready and enthusiastic about the job you're applying for. Demonstrate that your career break was positive, motivational, and necessary. Spend the time productively - volunteering, completing courses, or writing a blog. Reassure that the break wasn't irresponsible to ease any hiring worries and your break won't be a cause for concern.

Written by Career Specialist Jan 23, 2023
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