Will a career break help or harm my career?

JUN 8 2011

We sometimes get people telling us they would love to take a career break but they're worried it will have a negative impact on their career path. But will it really? Let's have a look.

A career break will help your career

For most people, a career break will actually help their career, provided they keep to the following rules:

  • The career break must be constructive. Even if you're 'just' travelling you must prove to a potential employer that you have developed by this - for example, by getting followers to your travel blog (proving that you can write), or by doing a course while you're on your trip. For people doing volunteering, TEFL, paid work or training, the constructive element is obvious.
  • You must make the most of your career break. If you've learnt to scuba dive, then carried out vital marine research which will protect a coral reef for generations to come, you should tell everyone! Putting your career break at the top of your CV (where everyone else writes that boring stuff about being a team player) will immediately make it stand out. You're not only showing that you've gained skills and experience, you're also showing that you've got the intiative to go out and do something different.

One rule you can break:

  • You must plan the coming back before you leave. Loads of career breakers who are at a crossroads and don't really know what they want to do take their break without formulating a 'getting back into work' strategy. Some return to their old career with renewed vigour, some change career, some set up their own business, and some don't come back! For these, it's the time out that gives them the focus and the vision to work out what they really want to do, which doesn't just help their career so much as sticks a rocket up it.

But is a career break really for everyone?

A lot of people in our industry would say 'Yeah! Take a career break!' But we're not everyone, and we recognise that for a handful of people, a career break isn't for them, at least, not right now. There are still some pockets in the working world where any time away from your 'real' job is frowned upon, and if you're climbing up a fiercely competitive career ladder, you might feel that a career break will put you at a disadvantage. We're not just talking about people like hedge fund managers - in any industry where there are loads of people and very few decent jobs (eg film, TV, advertising, beer-tasting, etc) you may feel that you can't afford to be away. This is particularly true if you're young and just starting to build a career.

How do I know if it will help or harm my career?

Unfortunately, I can't tell you that because I don't know what your job is. The best person to speak to is an older, more experienced person in the same industry - preferably someone outside your own company. Don't be afraid to send an email or phone them up asking for their opinion - most people love to be asked for advice. If you don't have anyone to ask, try contacting your industry body and seeing if there's anyone there who could help. If you belong to a union, you could ask them for help.

One final thing to remember

Your career is important - but it's not the only thing in your life.