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Career breaks - are they worth it?

Jono Culibao

An alarming thought comes to you on a lazy Sunday night as you iron your clothes for the week ahead in front of reruns of Friends

'Is this all there is?' 

You’ve worked hard throughout school, university and now at your dream job to reap the comfortable pleasures a working life can provide, but you can’t seem to shake the feeling that there may be more to seize out of life. Exotic cultures to explore, new romances to be made, the self discovery that comes with throwing oneself into the new and unfamiliar... 

However, alongside these thoughts there is also that other voice, the one that tells you to stop dreaming. After all, not only is a career break likely to have a negative impact on your career, but it seems to be a mammoth task to prepare for. 

But is that really true?

This ain’t the 70s, boomer!

Luckily for you, this is the 21st century which means unlike your grandparents, you can have your cake and eat it too.

Alright Houston, what’s the solution?

In this guide, I’ll cover everything you need to think about, including: 

  • How a career break may impact your career
  • When to take your career break
  • How to budget for your break
  • Internal career break options
  • How to prepare for a seamless return to working life
  • What to do during your career break

How a career break may impact your career

The idea that a career break will adversely impact your career is quite simply a myth. Career breaks are becoming the norm and employers often look at these breaks favourably as additional life experience. 

However, one area to consider is how extended breaks (one year or longer) may impact your ability to find a job upon return due to the element of ‘ring rust.’ With a year or more off, it may take a few weeks to get back into the rhythm of working life. However, as long as you can demonstrate your proficiency as a candidate, this will almost definitely be one of the last factors employees will consider when comparing you to other candidates. 

When to take your career break

From a career perspective, there are two main factors to consider when deciding when to take a break. They are: 

  1. How many years of experience do you have in your role and in your field ?
  2. What have you achieved in that time and what domain knowledge and tangible skills have you picked up along the way? 

Having a solid base of experience and tangible skills before you leave will make it much easier when you come back. I would suggest at least three years of experience out of university before considering a break of six months or more. This gives you enough time to fill out your CV with achievements and skills that demonstrate proficiency in your field. 

Another factor to consider is what level you are at. If you have just been promoted, you may want to consider developing the base level skills required at that level to ensure you can comfortably return to that level once you are back. 

Two important personal factors to consider are:

  1. Existing obligations, such as a mortgage, partner or pet. It may seem like there is plenty holding you back, but with a little creativity you will realise that most obligations can be managed at a distance. 
  2. Your age. While many profess that age is ‘just a number,’ consider how old you want to be when you want to start a family, buy a house, etc. and if those decisions will impact your ability to take a similar break in the future. 

How to budget for your break

If the time is right, your next step should be to start thinking as the modern day philosopher collective Wu-Tang Clan do, encapsulated by their dictum, 'Cash Rules Everything Around Me.' This universal truth doesn’t change when it comes to career breaks, as this will dictate what you can do with your time off and how long you can go for. The table below highlights the two time periods to consider. 

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Now simply add these two numbers together and you should have the amount of money you will need. If the amount you have is less than this, consider shaving some time off your planned break, changing what you want to do or waiting until you have enough saved up. 

Pro tip: If you plan on stopping work before the tax year is done, you may also receive a higher than usual tax return which you should also factor in. 

Another budgeting consideration is how much cash you have versus what money you have tied up in other assets. While not all of your money needs to be readily accessible throughout your career break, some of it should be in assets that can be converted to cash at short notice in case of emergency. A good rule of thumb is to have one to two months of expenditure in cash and at least two to four months of expenditure available at a few days notice.

Cheat Sheet: Internal Career Break Options

Many companies these days offer a cheat-code in the form of extended leave options. These options often let you return to the same role or another position within the company after taking a set period of time off (months to even years).  

Explore this at your company by following these steps: 

  1. Discover all the options you have available through your HR department BEFORE discussing with your direct manager. 
  2. Prepare for your conversation with your manager. You want to be able to: 
    1. Demonstrate your value to the company
    2. Ask for what you want and outline your preferred options
  3. Have the conversation! The three points to be aware of are: 
    1. What you want
    2. What you are willing to accept (eg a shorter time period)
    3. What your decision will be if you are refused a or b (ie are you willing to quit your job)

How to prepare for a seamless return to working life

Once the wheels have been set in motion, it is quite tempting to dive straight into planning for the break ahead. However, you should first undertake some career related pre-departure preparation that will make life much easier for you when you return. 

The main items you want to have covered include: 

  1. Maintaining professional networks and contacts. They can help you find a position or be used as references once you return. LinkedIn makes this easy! 
  2. Updating your CV. This will be much easier with your more recent accomplishments fresh in your mind. 
  3. Prepare some notes for future interviews by writing down key experiences and what skills you demonstrated. It will be 10x more difficult trying to remember these months down the line!

Once prepared, these can lie dormant until a month or so before returning to work. By then, you should get the ball rolling by reaching out to contacts to let them know you’re ready to get back in the game. Refreshing yourself on your CV and prior experiences is also necessary to ace your interviews. 

What to do during your career break

When people plan for their career break, they mostly consider the big picture items. The off-the-beaten-track countries they can visit, the dying baby turtles they can save or the number of Japanese infants they can teach English. 

However, an often overlooked consideration is what smaller activities you can pursue on your break. It is unlikely that you will have as much spare time again in your life pre-retirement, which makes it the perfect opportunity to pursue any interests you wouldn’t have time to pursue while at home. While you can’t go wrong trying out activities that interest you most, such as learning an instrument, you may also want to consider learning skills that can be looked at favourably in the job market. Hobbies such as learning a language (including coding languages), improving your writing skills (such as with a blog) or deepening your knowledge in a relevant field (such as psychology or AI) can be both fun and practical. 

Let’s wrap it up mission control

Now that I’ve shared all of my knowledge on the subject, the gears should be turning in your head and a little voice in your head should be affirming that ‘it seems very possible!.’ The only thing left to consider now is how badly do you want it. Is there a flame inside you that won’t go out until you listen to that little voice encouraging you on? Or is a career break something that sits a few ranks below some of the other priorities in your life? 

Stay tuned for upcoming topics or check out or other useful articles here. We’ve got plenty more gold to help you make the leap from top student to top professional!

Got feedback? We’d love to hear from you! Shoot us an email at [email protected]


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