Taking a Career Break

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Have you ever dreamt of stepping off the treadmill of working life for a while? Of doing something completely different? We’ve all heard of sabbaticals for academics, but what about the rest of us?

A planned career break could allow you to:

  • Try out a potential new career
  • Enjoy being a full-time parent for a while
  • Volunteer and give something back to the community
  • Spend time with a loved one at a critical time
  • Study a subject or devote time to a personal interest which you are passionate about
  • Take a grown up ‘gap year’ to travel and explore other cultures


As a careers coach, many clients tell me that they long to take a careers break but that they;

  • Can’t afford to give up their job
  • Don’t think their employer would allow it or
  • Are worried about the impact on their career prospects

Here are some ideas on how to make it work:


“I Can’t Afford It”

The first step is to work out how much you will need to finance your career break. Don’t forget that your living costs may be lower (no commuting, work lunches or smart clothes). If your break starts part way through the tax year, you may even receive a tax rebate. If you are travelling, you may be able to rent out your home for extra income. Consider savings that you can make by, for example, managing without a car for a while.

If finances are still tight, consider;

Continuing to work for your employer on a part time or freelance basis. You could come in to cover peak work periods only or provide some services from home (such as marking assignments, online research or training colleagues).

Working whilst travelling. You might apply for a temporary job at an overseas University followed by a period of travelling. You may be able to use your professional skills in a part time role such as a visiting lectureship, office temping or working remotely for a UK institution. Teaching English or working in the travel or leisure industries are also popular options.

Asking whether voluntary redundancy is available from your employer, moving to a new job on your return to work.

Moving to reduced hours working or taking a secondment into a new department are also options if finances don’t allow for a complete break from work.


“My employer would never agree to it.”

You might be surprised. Many HE Institutions have policies and formal application procedures for career breaks for those with a minimum period of service – usually unpaid. Even where no policy exists, a period of unpaid leave can often be negotiated as employers are reluctant to lose an experienced and committed member of staff. It helps if you can

  • Put together a formal proposal for a break for a defined period of time, ideally no more than one year, for a specific purpose.
  • Can articulate the benefits to your employer, identifying the skills and experience you will gain and how you will apply them on your return.
  • Are flexible about the timing to fit in with your employers’ needs and any handover required.
  • Can show how you will keep your knowledge and skills up to date during your absence and
  • Have given some thought about how the employer could fill your post (e.g. a colleague’s secondment)

Just make sure that you discuss any implications for your pensionable service and incremental progression, and that you secure any agreement in writing. You may be offered a job at the same grade on your return but no guarantee of returning to the same job.

Of course, you can simply resign and find a new job on your return. You will need to weigh up the demand for people with your skills and qualifications in your field, but this may not be as difficult as you think. You can also freelance or take a temporary contract whilst you look for a permanent post.


“I’m worried about a gap on my CV”

This is only likely to be an issue if you are changing jobs immediately on your return. Employers are often impressed by applicants who show initiative in taking a planned career break, especially where they can articulate how the skills developed relate to the new job (even caring for young children or elderly relatives can really improve your problem solving skills!). If you are worried about a break in your professional experience, think about taking on a part time volunteer role at the same time.

Treat your career break as if it were a job on your CV, with a clear title, dates and bullet points on what you achieved. “Unpaid sabbatical to travel across India and China – Sept 2013 to Sept 2014” with a description of how you project planned the trip, taught English to fund your travel and volunteered in the local community en route is likely to enhance rather than diminish your CV.

Who knows? Perhaps your career break may lead to a better understanding of what you want next in your career and to a whole new direction. For more inspiration, visit www.thecareerbreaksite.com

Career Development Toolkit for Higher Education Professionals

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