What Is a Career Break? (With Definition, Steps and FAQs)

Updated December 12, 2022

Sometimes, it's best to take some time off your work routine and re-evaluate your career plans and choices. Career breaks provide life-changing experiences that help determine one's future. With proper planning, you can take a career break to gain perspective and tailor your job search to match your situation and future needs.

In this article, we discuss what a career break means, outline reasons for taking one, list steps to help you plan for an effective break and provide answers to some frequently asked questions.

What is a career break?

A career break is an unpaid, purposeful leave of absence from work. People take career breaks for professional development or to manage other aspects of their lives. A career break can vary depending on your plans and how long you can afford to take off. For instance, you can take a career break for a few months, a few years or much longer.

Related: How To Take a Year Off From Your Job

Reasons for a career break

The reasons for a career break may include:

  • To reduce work-related stress: An excellent way to reduce work-related stress and burnout is by taking time off work. Consider taking a career break to escape a toxic work environment and regain the energy and enthusiasm before returning.

  • To spend time with family: A career break provides an opportunity to spend quality time with family and raise children. You can set priorities, enrich your family relationships and balance between family and work.

  • To care for ill family members or focus on your health: You may find it challenging to care for sick family members or live a healthy lifestyle when working full time. A career break can enable you to find ample time to attend to ill family members and focus on improving your well-being.

  • To start a business: Starting a business involves researching all relevant information, finding a suitable location and sourcing funds, which all take time. Consider the time off work an excellent opportunity to venture into business and increase your income.

  • To advance your education or expand your skill set: Career advancement requires gaining more educational qualifications or expanding your skill set to strengthen your competencies. Consider taking a course or enrolling in a certificate program, working part time or volunteering to develop new skills transferable to the job when you resume work or change careers.

  • To travel or work abroad: You may take a career break to travel or work abroad and transform your life with new experiences. This path can enhance your communication, interpersonal and critical thinking skills as you interact with people from different cultures. Traveling helps build an extensive global network that has long-term career benefits.

Related: How To Take Time off Work for Stress (Plus Tips)

How to plan for a career break

Here are eight steps to help you prepare for, take and return to work after a career break:

1. Increase your savings

Begin planning for your career break by saving to cover expenses while off work. The required amount depends on several factors, such as your current salary or circumstances, how long you expect the career break to last and your budget for bills, emergencies and other expenses. Consider saving more than the budgeted amount or developing ways to supplement your income just in case you take longer to return to the workforce than planned. Saving more also offers you ample time to find the desired job.

Read more: 8 Budgeting Methods To Help You Reach Your Financial Goals

2. Make a detailed schedule

Making a detailed and flexible schedule of things to do and their duration is essential to the planning process. An agenda or detailed calendar schedule may help organize your plans and determine the expected amount to cover costs or other necessary preparations. For instance, your schedule may contain details of places to visit in the case of travel plans, dates to connect with your professional network and courses to take to improve your skills or manage a business.

Read more: How To Organize a Schedule

3. Understand your obstacles

Challenges may arise during the career break, making it vital to understand their nature and how to overcome them. They may range from reduced income to little or no time to address critical issues. For instance, taking time off to raise children or care for an ill family member may involve spending more time with them but with an offset of facing financial challenges. Consider making plans early to get extra help if needed or a way to earn extra income while at home, such as doing freelance work.

4. Give enough notice

Giving enough notice before taking a career break once you've decided and set a timeline in mind is crucial to ensure you leave on good terms. You may find out if it's possible to return to your position after your break, and the company can better prepare for your departure. Consider giving at least two weeks' notice to make them feel more amenable to hiring you again if you wish to return to the same company or need a reference in the future.

5. Learn new skills

During your career break, take time and learn new skills that may relate directly or indirectly to your career, such as transferable skills. Whether traveling, caring for a loved one, volunteering or taking a course, you may learn new skills that become relevant when you resume working. Such skills include communication, negotiation, time management, problem-solving and analytical skills.

6. Maintain your professional network

A professional network plays a significant role in one's career life. Maintaining your network during a career break can benefit you when you're ready to return to work and make your job easy. Before going on your career break, consider ways to maintain your network, such as scheduling meetings with key people, blogging or staying in touch with them.

Related: 7 Networking Tips for Getting a Job

7. Prepare to discuss employment gaps

It's helpful to prepare to discuss gaps in your resume since potential employers often ask about them. You could include a comment about it in your cover letter, address it directly in your resume or come up with talking points for discussing your employment gap in any job interviews. Consider how the time off can benefit your new role, such as increasing competency through learned skills.

Read more: How To Explain Employment Gaps on Your Resume

8. Make a return-to-work plan

When intending to return to the workforce eventually, it's a good idea to make a return-to-work plan to stay prepared. You may make a list of professional development classes to take or books to read, as either of these would benefit you in the long run. You can also list down professional connections to remain in contact with or industries to send job applications to. Before the planned end date for the career break reaches, you may begin looking for a job early or reach out to your last employer to discuss returning to work.

Related: 9 Tips for Getting Back to Work After a Career Break

Career break FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about career breaks:

Is it acceptable to take a career break?

It's okay to take a career break for personal or professional reasons. A career break can help you refocus your career goals, decide which priorities may take center stage or create time to give back to your community. It might set you up for better success in the future if you take time off to develop yourself or address personal issues.

How is a sabbatical different from a career break?

sabbatical differs from a career break in several ways. A career break is unpaid, can last for as long as you like and may require resigning from your job. Sabbaticals are more formal and offer employees the security of returning to their position after the extended leave ends. Sabbaticals also exist in some industries like education and technology and typically last six months but can be shorter or longer depending on your situation or the company policy.

How long is an acceptable career break?

A career break can last from a few months to years, depending on your reason for taking time off and how you choose to spend it. While their acceptance is relatively subjective, employers may seek to know the benefits that accompany them. Consider different ways of explaining the employment gap and strengthening your resume, including personal and professional developments, once you look for work again.

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