There are various times in your life when you may consider taking a career break, whether it's to raise your family, travel the world or look after an aging relative. Experiences like these can be very necessary and often teach us a lot about ourselves, our values and our priorities. However, it can be intimidating to return to the labour market after a career break. To help support you through this transition, we've created a series of top tips that will help you to maintain your employability and improve your confidence.
Tip 1: Get ready for your return to work
The first step to take involves reassessing your priorities. What has your experience taught you about your values? What type of work do you really want to do?
It might be tempting to start applying for roles in a panic, or send out as many CVs as you can. However, you could save time (and energy) by understanding the answers to these questions beforehand. Then, when you're in front of a potential employer, you can convey your interest in the role with far greater certainty.
Once you're sure about the career and sector you'd like to return to, it's time to do your research. Make sure you're aware of both the internal environment (if returning to a previous employer) and the external environment (the external factors or market trends affecting your industry).
Getting this information can be a relatively low maintenance process. Simply by following activity on blogs and social media sites or signing up for newsletters can provide you with a trickle of information to read at your leisure.
Tip 2: Take control of your CPD
Whilst at work you may rely on your organisation to structure your learning and professional development, so it’s vital that you’re able to create this structure for yourself when away from your working environment.
When planning your CPD, it’s important to take into account the knowledge and skills you hope to gain through the experience. Regardless of whether your career break is planned or unplanned, there will be considerable learnings that if leveraged can create real impact upon your return to work. Highlighting these up front will help you become more aware of examples you can use as evidence.
You may have taken a career break specifically for the purpose of having new experiences. However, if you’ve taken time off for maternity, paternity or to care for a sick relative, you may not have the luxury of time. Luckily, our CPD policy allows you plenty of flexibility to select the forms of professional development activity most suited to your current circumstance, and there are lots of ways to learn that aren’t expensive or time consuming.
For example, simply taking a short amount of time out regularly to develop the habit of reflective practice can ensure you get the most out of every learning experience, professional or personal.
Tip 3: Articulate the value of your experience
People generally understand the personal gains that can come from taking a break from employment, but often undervalue the professional gains. In reality, there are plenty of skills that you'll have developed which are valuable to employers.
If you've been caring for young children or elderly relatives, there's no doubt that you'll have developed a resilience in coping with new challenges, not to mention communication skills and problem solving skills. If you've been travelling you may have developed an understanding of different cultures or a more well rounded world view. Whatever the experience, you'll return from it a different person with a fresh outlook.
You may feel apprehensive in explaining gaps in employment history. If so, there are two main ways to combat this. Firstly, you can opt for a functional CV format as opposed to a chronological format. This will help you to highlight the skills and experience you want to put forward. It's also a good idea to be upfront about the experience, and use it as a leverage point. Treat your career break as a role in itself, with clear dates and if possible, a CAR (challenge-action-result) approach to explaining what you've achieved.
Tip 4: Maintain (and even grow) your network
It's important to make sure you maintain some level of visibility within your professional community whilst you're away. Once you’re ready to rejoin the market, relying on these networks will ensure you can be proactive and take advantage of the opportunities that never reach agencies or recruitment sites.
Even if you're returning to the same organisation as before, it can be invaluable to keep an awareness of the shifting nature of the social landscape. That way you can hit the ground running on your return, instead of playing catch up.
Staying involved doesn't have to mean attending events. Webinars are increasingly used for networking and can offer you far greater flexibility. It may also be a good opportunity to develop your social media presence, through connecting with like minded people on forums and social networking sites.
Tip 5: Tap into available support
It's estimated that 90,000 people take some kind of career break every year, so it’s likely that you know someone who would perhaps be willing to offer insight from their own experience to help you.
As a member, you're also able to access the huge range of resources available on the Career hub to help prepare you for the next stage of your career. In addition to this, if you're a member who has been out of work for 6 months or more, you can take advantage of free advice through our outplacement scheme.
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