In a recent blogpost, Fiona Colligan explained what a career break is: a period when a person leaves their role with the intention of returning, which includes maternity or paternity leave, absence to meet family commitments, a break for personal health reasons, among other types. Sometimes such a break might be supported by an employer, and sometimes you might be on your own.
By that definition, I am not on a career break. However, as a former lecturer in the Philippines before moving here to the UK, I am certainly on an academic career break — the jobs that I have had for the past three years were only barely adjacent to what I trained to do, and have been doing before. Although I enjoy what I am doing at the moment, I have a strong urge to return to the academia sometime in the future.
A career break can pose a significant impact on the speed and ability with which a person can progress in their career. Women are known to take career breaks much more commonly than men. Most typically this can be attributed to taking time out to start (or develop) a family.
In academia, it has been observed that career breaks can influence career progression, as Fiona’s earlier blogpost identified. There are other factors involved, and this is why jobs.ac.uk has campaigned for survey respondents as we build a picture of the ramifications of academic career breaks. The survey is live until 18th March 2016.
Nonetheless, whether you were on an academic or a non-academic career break, returning to work (or to education after a break), requires careful planning to ensure that the transition back to working life happens as smoothly as possible. Whatever your reasons for taking a career break, there is no reason to be scared as you relaunch yourself into the job market. Here are some tips that I’ve come across to help with the transition:
- Seek support from organisations. For those who were on academic career breaks and looking to relaunch their careers, there are a host of organisations that you can look into, like The Daphne Jackson Trust, Women Returners, or perhaps you can also find some profession-specific assistance like the one offered by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. These organisations realise the struggles of returning to work after a career break so they offer as much assistance as they can, just like Wellcome Trust which offers Career Re-entry Fellowships for postdoctoral scientists who have recently decided to recommence a scientific research career after a continuous break of at least two years. The Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena Swan Charter is another initiative established in 2005 to “encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in STEMM employment in higher education and research”.
- Update and refresh your knowledge. You might have been very good at your job before you had your career break, but things change rapidly so it will be a challenge to feel capable of picking up your career where you left off. Some quick ways to educate yourself on new developments include subscribing to blogs, networking via social media, reading the news or talking to peers. This daily dose of knowledge will soon add up and will equip you with a refreshed perspective about your field before you get stuck into reading academic papers.
- Be prepared to explain the reason. Let’s face it, gaps in employment can often be off-putting to recruiters and as jobs.ac.uk puts it: “If you’re lucky, recruiters will wonder what you were doing during that mystery period as your CV is folded into a paper aeroplane and whizzed towards the bin.” You won’t be the first person to have had a career break so don’t cover it up; just be honest and open about it. Also, come prepared for your job interview and convey the impression than you want career progression and not stagnation.
- Capitalise on newly-acquired skills. It might be because of a career break that you have discovered new interests, acquired new skills, made new contacts, learned a new language, or even written a book! So acknowledge these benefits that you’ve acquired as a result of your career break. Let these experiences contribute to your strengths, when returning to work.
- And lastly, be prepared to keep looking. Carol Fishman Cohen describes how career goals can change, and as that article describes: “If that first job after your break makes you unhappy, leave it. Even if you’re working out of financial necessity, don’t settle for something you can’t stand. Keep looking.” This is a perfectly sensible piece of advice. After all, you don’t want to feel like you are being punished for returning to work!
I hope these tips will help to get you started in rejoining the workforce and good luck with the journey!
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