Tips to navigate a career break with successFeatured

There are so many emotions and workplace constraints that feed into the big decision of whether to take a career pause or not.

Women hear refrains of, "You should never go part-time because you’ll work full time and be paid less.”

Or, my favorite, “If you leave, you'll never get back in.”

Oh, the fear-mongering!

The reality is that there can be tremendous value in taking a career break, whether it’s one you plan for, or one that happens to you unexpectedly. It’s how you manage it that matters.

1. Set boundaries on what a career break looks like for you. While we work with plenty of women who have taken extended career breaks of over 10 years, our research shows that women are taking shorter, more strategic breaks.

If you know that, say, being with your children before they head to kindergarten is important to you, consider setting money aside to supplement your time out of the workforce, and make a plan in your head of how long you would like to be out. One woman we coached targeted two years out and budgeted an additional six months to job search.

Make a plan in your head and take the time to bring any partners on board.

Sidenote: I disagree that part-time is a bad idea. Sometimes part-time jobs include benefits and keep your foot in the door. It just means the onus is on you to be firm on the time spent working, and communicating that effectively with others.

2. Quit gracefully. When you’re ready to return to work, your network of current colleagues could be invaluable. Don’t burn bridges on the way out, and check in with human resources to see if the company has any kind of alumni return program. Tell everyone your plan and timeline, and set expectations that you’ll stay in touch and will be reaching out when you’re ready to head back.

3. Prepare for and take steps to ease the identity crisis. Dishing up chicken nuggets and organizing carpools is not the same as leading a meeting or preparing for a product launch. There’s little feedback or reward, and you’re not getting paid for it. This can sometimes create imbalances in relationships – don’t let the lack of a paycheck undermine your value. Keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Read Eve Rodsky’s Fair Play together, or watch the documentary on Apple TV.

4. Protect your confidence. Data show that it takes less than one year of being out of the workforce for confidence to plummet. As I know well in my coaching business, this goes for former investment bankers and Ph.D.s alike.

To preserve yours, sit down and write out all your accomplishments - personal and professional. Keep the list in a place you can refer to when you need a little boost. Circle the accomplishments that filled you most and seek out events or podcasts or books that keep those interests alive.

5. Keep your network warm. Go to lunch, grab a coffee with previous colleagues. Engage and build new friendships and connections in this new phase of life. Be helpful to others along the way. When you’re ready to relaunch, it will be easier to turn to this group for help.

Your career is yours. Some will follow a straight line, others will ebb and flow. The important factor is to be confident in each phase, and try to enjoy it!

Feel confident that employers will value your transferable skills. With close to nine million open jobs in the United States today, rest assured there will be a job for you.

Thanks for putting this together. It seems to be geared at children/family driven career breaks. Does the advice change for breaks stemming from other causes?
@cgomez100100 - great question! In general while the stakeholders in your life may be different, the advice applies much the same. If the example in point #3 might feel less relevant, find different ways that will ease the identity crisis for you as you transition out of the paid workforce. Everyone's circumstances are unique. I hope this helps!
I also wanted to note that on we have job listings from employers who welcome career gaps in resumes. Best, Stacey
As a person who just decided to take a break to lean into family. I needed to hear all of this. Thank you!
Oh good! You've got this -- enjoy the time.