Why your career break is a positive not a negative

There are lots of reasons for a career break – to care for young children or other relatives, for health reasons, to study, to travel or simply to recharge your batteries.
Far from being something to try to hide when you want to return to the workplace, there are very good reasons why you – and your potential employers – should celebrate your break.
We know from experience that returners re-enter the workplace with a fresh perspective, together with renewed energy and motivation. Employers value this too. At our Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’ Conference, O2’s Andrea Jones told the audience:

“There’s so much experience the returners have before their career break and they’ve gained so many skills on their career break. They come in with a really fresh pair of eyes….they can look at our processes and our systems and the ways we work quite differently. I think it’s a real breath of fresh air – and that’s what we hear from our managers.”
Other employers spoke about the enthusiasm of the returners they had hired, the fact that they are incredibly efficient as time management comes more naturally to them, and their desire to contribute more broadly to the organisation rather than just doing their job. Returners were also valued as role models for younger employees of people who had taken a non-traditional career path.

Dependent on the reason for your career break, you are also likely to have developed a variety of new skills. For example:

  • If you’ve taken time out to care for others you will have honed your communication, time-management and organisation skills. And nothing improves negotiation ability more than getting to a compromise with a teenager! 
  • If you’ve done skilled voluntary work you will have developed both teamwork and leadership skills – managing volunteers is much harder than paid staff.
  • If you were travelling or studying, this can signal an openness to experiences and a motivation to learn and develop. 
  • If your break was because of a personal trauma or health issue, you will have developed resilience and fortitude.

When writing your return-to-work CV and cover letter and preparing for interviews consider everything you’ve done during your break. Make sure the skills and experience you’ve acquired come across – they are an important part of who you are now.

Switch your focus. Rather than seeing your career break as a negative to employers, focus on how it differentiates you and makes you a better employee,  gaining maturity, perspective and many new skills. You will be an asset to your next employer because of, not in spite of, your career break.

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What does success mean to you?

What does success mean to you? It’s an interesting question to ask yourself from time to time – especially when you’re considering returning to work after a career break.

Often we judge how successful others are in their career by looking at their salary level or how far they’ve progressed up the corporate ladder. If you’ve taken a long break and so haven’t progressed as far as your peers who didn’t step off the career ladder, it’s easy to label yourself as ‘less successful’.

However, research shows that the majority of people tend to use more subjective measures when judging their own success. A classic study* by Jane Sturges found that factors such as enjoyment, accomplishment, influence, expertise and personal recognition rated highly in a group of managers’ descriptions of what success meant to them. For all of the women in the study, the content of the job was rated as more important than pay or status. Some people considered how effectively they balanced their work and home life as a key measure of success – a definite marker of success in our view but one we rarely hear or speak about.

Defining what success means to you can help you to feel more positive about the choices you have made in your career/life to date, and can point you in the right direction for the future.

Ideas to clarify what success looks like for you

1. Fast-forward
A useful exercise is to mentally fast-forward to your 70th birthday. To put yourself in the right frame of mind, imagine who is there with you, where you are, even what you’re wearing. Now imagine you’re giving a speech discussing what you’re proud of having achieved in your career and – most importantly – in your life as a whole. What comes to mind? What will make you feel you have succeeded in your life? Write down whatever comes to mind and you’ll have a good starting point for developing your own personal view of success

2. Think-back
Consider the proudest achievements in your life. What were the moments that made you feel really good about yourself? Can you see any common themes? Could these past accomplishments help you define what success will look like in the future? Has your perspective changed during your career break?

Once you’ve decided what success means to you, you may find yourself stuck on how to get there. Read our blog on the various routes back to work for ideas.

And don’t forget to build your self-efficacy so that you believe you can succeed!

*What it means to succeed – Jane Sturges (1999)

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