Let your employment gap work for you, not against you
There are many reasons why you may need to take an extended break during your career. Maybe you were made redundant, maybe you want to take a year off to travel, perhaps you need to care for a family member. Whatever the reason, it's important that your career break doesn't negatively affect your job prospects when the time comes to return to the workforce.
So, how do you productively fill a career gap so that it can help ‒ not hinder ‒ your future job search?
Let's be clear: It's not about lying or stretching the truth on your CV (honesty is always the best policy). Rather, it's about planning ahead and using your time away from work wisely. If you're thinking about taking a career break, or if you've suddenly found yourself in the middle of one, here are five things that you can do to stay focused and prepare yourself for a return to the job search.
Upskilling is a great option for professionals who experience an unexpected career break, such as redundancy or sudden termination, and want to rejoin the workforce sooner rather than later. Take a short course in a particular skill or software, sign up for online training, or take a professional development course. There are so many options, both online and offline, that you can use whilst on a break that will help you to stay productive and focused as you search for your next opportunity. The fact that you've used your career break to further your skills and reposition yourself as a competitive candidate will reflect positively on your ability and work ethic.
Travel is a great way to fill a career gap, as many employers now view travel breaks or "gap years" as a positive attribute for job candidates. Whether you take off on an extended holiday, spend a year working in a foreign country, or simply take some time to explore closer to home, travel can be a wonderful conversation starter and a great way to gain a new perspective.
3. Volunteering or interning
A career break can be a good opportunity to get involved in your community by volunteering for a local charity. Alternatively, if you want to keep your career in focus, you could try applying for internship positions within your field or volunteering at industry events. Sites like 10times will show you upcoming events and you can run a Google search for volunteering opportunities in your city. Not only would this look great on your CV, but it could also be a wonderful opportunity to meet new people and make important connections.
4. Freelancing or pursuing a side business
Ever thought of turning your hobby into a side business? Or maybe you have a certain skill set that you could use to freelance? Just because you're on a career break doesn't mean you can't explore other avenues of work to keep you occupied. Keep the momentum going by offering your services in a freelancing capacity or launching a side business that aligns with your passion or hobbies ‒ whatever it is, it will look and sound great when you're ready to return to full-time work.
If you're on a career break and you know that you'll eventually want to return to work, staying social and pursuing networking opportunities is crucial. Whether that comes in the form of staying active and building your brand on LinkedIn by commenting on posts and sharing articles or regularly catching up with past colleagues for coffee, finding a new job is much easier when you have a referral. And when an HR manager asks what you've been doing on your break, you can impress them by talking about your networking prowess and how up to date you've stayed in the industry.
Focus on the positive
Despite what you may have heard, a career gap doesn't have to work against you ‒ it's all about how you use your time. If you can stay productive, career-focused, and actively pursue opportunities that come your way, there's no reason why it should hinder you in your job search.
Incorporating an employment gap on a CV isn't easy. Find out if you did it well by submitting your CV to get free, objective feedback.