The pros and cons of taking a career break

Taking a break from work is attractive.

For those who are fortunate, and have the means to, reasons for doing so can include celebrating a significant milestone by going travelling or becoming less career focused (at least in the interim) to focus on raising a young family.

There are a number of ancillary benefits to taking a career break. However, those wishing to partake in one themselves should be aware that it will not necessarily be possible to make a smooth transition back to the world of work. This is a particular challenge for women, with recent research by PWC, revealing that two thirds of professional women who return to work go into lower paid roles. PWC’s report also highlighted that when returning to work women are on average each taking home £4,000 less.

Pros

1. Personal relationships

Travelling overseas for an extended honeymoon, or for a trip with old friends can bring you closer together. Being able to devote all of your time to people who you are close to is likely to benefit your relationships by being able to spend a prolonged amount of time with them, free from the distractions of work. If you are taking a break to bring up a young family this will create the time to catch up with and deepen friendships with those in your social circle who are also bringing up children.

2. Learn new skills

If your job is process driven you are likely to benefit from learning new skills during a career break. When travelling you are likely to encounter a number of situations in which your problem solving skills are pushed to the limit due to a lack of resources and home comforts.

Neil Terry, a Chartered Accountant, who took a career break to go travelling when he qualified lists this imperative to become resourceful as one of the main benefits to his break:

“You have to learn to think on your feet and not worry about your plans being disrupted. In remote countries such as China, not a word of English is spoken and you have to learn to communicate with body language and hand signals.”

3. Refocus

A career break gives you the mental space to refocus and reassess your priorities, both from a personal and professional perspective. Being taken out of a daily routine affords you the opportunity to question everything that you do rather than go through the motions.

During his time travelling, Terry found that the cultures in Asia, New Zealand and Australia were more relaxed and less corporate than a number of western cultures. This resulted in him changing his career focus:

“It made me realise I no longer wanted a corporate role such as working in financial services, and would prefer to work in more relaxed/exciting industries rather than just going for the highest paid roles.”

Cons

1. Financial

Taking time out from work normally requires a significant drop in income. In most circumstances travel will result in both higher expenditure and a loss of income. This generalisation also holds true with people raising children. Outgoings are likely to rise due to associated increased costs associated with bringing up a young family, and having to rely on one income. An additional problem likely to be faced by mums returning to work is being forced to take a pay cut. The best way to mitigate against this risk is to plan ahead. Make sure to save up as much money, and cut down on unnecessary spending, before you take your career break.

2. Confidence

Many women who take time off to raise children find that confidence is a major issue when returning to work. A reason for this is that mum’s returning to work feel that there is a trade-off between taking a lower salary in return for a flexible working arrangement.

Mandy Garner, from Working Mums, a website that helps parents re-enter the workplace, recommends returning mums researching their market worth in order to overcome confidence issues and in order to make sure they are remunerated appropriately.

“It’s a question of doing your research and it links back in part to the confidence issue. If you lack confidence, you are more likely to devalue your worth.”

3. Explaining gaps

Taking a career break will create gaps on your CV, which could prove to be a hurdle when you choose to return to work. Whilst any gaps will need to be explained, they can be dealt with by spinning them in a positive way.

Gaps through travelling can be explained by accentuating how the collective experiences resulted in you being independent and adaptable to change.

Mandy Garner recommends that an alternative approach is to submit CVs which are skills based, as opposed to being  based on work history.

“It might be a good idea to write [your] CV in a way that emphasises skills first rather than the chronological order of jobs done. It is also a good idea to mention any skills or voluntary work acquired during any work break or courses completed.”

Nick Levine is a chartered accountant and freelance journalist, with a background in fin-tech who has written for Accounting Technician magazine.

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