How to land an awesome job after your career break

January 31, 2011 · 8 comments

Itching to travel? Check out How to Take a Career Break to Travel.

Too many people don’t take the career break they dream about because they’re worried they won’t be able to find a job when they get back. It’s a valid concern, particularly in this tough economy. Especially because you don’t want just any job, you want one you’ll enjoy, one that’s a step up from your last position.

But taking a break from your job to do something else — like travel, write a book or have a baby — is not a career killer. In fact, if you play it right, you can turn it into a career booster.

This is your chance to make your own luck, something I write a lot about on this blog. You do that through preparation, by setting yourself up for the best possible outcome. Whether you’re in the midst of a career break right now (oh, how we envy you), have just returned home from your big trip or are still fleshing out the details of a travel dream you’re hoping to make reality, here’s how you can use that experience to help your career.

Go with a goal. Travel purely for the sake of travel is certainly a worthwhile pursuit. But giving yourself a goal will not only help you show your next employer how you gained skills and experience while on the road, it’s also likely to make your trip more rewarding. Your goal could be volunteering at an orphanage or producing an awesome travel blog or teaching English to kids, whatever you can do with your skill set.

My personal goal while traveling was to write several articles, to freelance from Africa. I left with stories in  mind but didn’t know exactly what I’d write or who I’d write for. You don’t necessarily have to have all the details in place, but make an effort to develop a focus and a goal as part of your pre-trip planning.

Show how the experience helped you grow. We all gain soft skills through travel, like maturity and perspective, and you can play those up when looking for a job. But the key is to go beyond those soft skills. What else did you learn? If you’re smart, you’ll incorporate this into your goals. Maybe you learned a language or became an awesome blogger or grew a large following on social networks. Those are all transferable skills, so figure out how they can help the company you want to work for, and add them to your resume.

This is all about your delivery, about how you spin your career break. When a hiring manager asks you what you did for the last two years, don’t shrug and tell him you were traveling. Turn that experience into something that’s relevant for your industry. I only wrote six freelance stories during my six months in Africa, but that’s enough to say I was freelancing while traveling. Don’t sell yourself short on this one. Be smart and strategic.

Network. You will meet interesting people during your travels. Interesting, connected people. And because of social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, it’s easy to keep in touch with them after you part ways. Each time you meet someone you want to stay in touch with, find them on Facebook or ask for their e-mail. Just because you’re not working a traditional job doesn’t mean you can’t network. In fact, traveling allow you to build an arm of your network that you might not have been able to cultivate from home. With that in mind…

Stay in touch. It’s nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the real world, but if you want to come back to a  job, it’s vital that you stay in touch with your network from home. If people don’t hear from you, they’ll forget about you. But if they realize you’re doing something interesting, they’ll likely want to follow along. It’s not always possible to write personal e-mails while traveling, but at least shoot out a mass e-mail once in a while with an update. Or better yet, grow a blog. You don’t have to update constantly, but at least keep it consistent enough that your network knows what you’re up to.

Consider other career paths. One of the greatest benefits of traveling is that it gives us time to reflect on what we really want out of life. And that includes what kind of job we want. Don’t assume that because you left a job in teaching, you have to work in that same industry after your time away. Maybe you discovered a new passion during your travels. Or unlocked a passion you always had but never gave time to breathe. Or maybe those new skills you learned can be applied to a new career you’ll enjoy more than your last one. Keep an open mind, and you might find yourself returning from your break with a new career dream.

Be willing to make sacrifices. Taking a career break requires rearranging your priorities. It requires deviating from society’s expectations, and maybe dropping out of the rat race, at least temporarily. To make your dream trip happen, you’ll have to save money, probably by giving up something that everyone else considers necessary, like cable or an expensive condo or eating out three times a week. You may also have to give up things that make our lives feel stable and comfortable, like a job or apartment.

Finding an awesome job after your career break works the same way. If this is your priority, you might have to make certain sacrifices to make it happen. For me, my sacrifice was moving in with my parents for a year and a half. This gave me the financial freedom to write a book and look for the right job — I’m working full time again as a journalist — as opposed to finding any job. Even if a sacrifice sounds undesirable, don’t cross it off your list; maybe it’s not as bad as you expect. (I didn’t expect to boomerang back home at age 28, but living at home came with a lot of unforeseen benefits.) Think outside the box on this one. Whether you’re willing to make a sacrifice or two may be the difference between finding an okay job and an awesome job.

So go ahead and travel, or write your book, or have a baby. Take time off. Approach it strategically, and that time away might turn into the best thing you’ve ever done — not just for yourself, but for your career, too.

Can you add anything to this list?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

alisha February 1, 2011 at 1:59 am

Great post Alexis! I like what you said about making sacrifices and rearranging your priorities. When my husband and I quit our jobs to move to the US, via 6 months with no income in NZ, it was so liberating! We had the time of our lives working on some projects we were passionate about, hanging out with his family and generally decompressing after working full-time in London. But moving to the US and living on a blow-up mattress at my parents house while figuring out what on earth we were doing with our lives (while friends had proper jobs and mortgages and babies) was where the real struggle was. But I agree, keeping your eyes on the prize of what you really want, rather than what our culture conditions us to want, is key. :)

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Alexis Grant February 1, 2011 at 9:18 am

Thanks for sharing this, Alisha! I think part of the reason it’s hard to make those sacrifices — or why those sacrifices feel bigger than they are — is because not many people around us are making them. A mortgage is seen as the more responsible route, but in my mind, the best route is doing what’s best for YOU.

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Lanham True February 1, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Well said. Did you experience any negativity from others regarding your career break? I have, & was wondering if dealing with this aspect of things might not make for a good post….?

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Alexis Grant February 1, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Yes — You’re so right. I think the negativity stems from two places. First, jealousy –people feel like they can’t take their own trip, though I’d argue they could if they got their priorities in line. Second, the perception of what’s “normal.” Sometimes it seems like when we step outside of the box, people who haven’t get annoyed, like we’ve broken the rules of life. They forget we get to make our own rules :)

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Andrea James February 7, 2011 at 8:48 am

Yay for you — Way to challenge conventional wisdom!! :)
Andrea James recently posted…Gracefully surrendering the things of youthMy Profile

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