When the three of us – Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett and Amanda Pressner – decided to quit our Manhattan media jobs to embark on a yearlong, round-the-world journey, we knew that it would be the opportunity of a lifetime, and one that we couldn’t possibly have passed up.
But still, we couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps we’d be committing career suicide. It had taken us over a half a decade to start feeling as if we’d achieved success within our industries, and we certainly didn’t want to tarnish our professional reputations after years of dedication by appearing to our bosses as unfocused drifters.
Our fears turned out to be unfounded: Our trip actually made us more valuable to prospective employers—and all three of us received offers almost immediately upon return. And, because of the attention garnered by our travel blog, LostGirlsWorld.com, our career break opened up the door for a book deal to write a memoir about our career break, The Lost Girls: Three friends. Four continents. One unconventional detour around the world.
Sure, the job market was in a bit better shape back then, but even with today’s tough economic climate, there are three simple ways you can use your career break to help you get (re)hired:
1. Expand Your Skill Set. Make a list before you go of all the skills you wish you had, and then brainstorm ways to acquire them. If you think learning more about digital and social media is important for your field, what better way to illustrate to prospective employers how adept you are than to start your own blog documenting adventures? If you’re interested in picking up some medical experience, try volunteering at a clinic so you can see if its something you’d really enjoy.
Being bilingual (or at least able to carry on a conversation in another language) makes you more marketable to employers across many fields. You don’t have to sign up for language school to score conversational Spanish — a month spent in Latin America seeking out friendly locals with a phrasebook can be better than a classroom. Be sure to remember to add all of your new skills acquired during your time off to your resume.
2. Never Stop Networking. A huge upside to being out of the office is that you have so many more opportunities to meet people when you’re out in the world compared to when you’re tied to your desk. We encountered so many different professionals traveling who have helped us out, from writers and teachers to lawyers and environmentalists.
Try making it a priority to go to events for things you’re passionate about, whether that’s visiting a photography exhibit or a farmer’s market, and leave yourself open to meeting new people. If you’re staying in one place, start a book or cooking club and ask your contacts to invite one person each outside your social circle. Have personal cards printed up with your name, phone number, and email address so it’s easy to slip a new acquaintance a card instead of awkwardly fumbling around for a pen and paper. You never know if that person might be your ticket to a new job or career track!
3. Return Recharged. Potential employers can usually sense burnout right from the start — that half-dead, glazed look in the eyes of those they interview stemming from years of pushing themselves to hard. Work has a point of diminishing return where the hours you put in doesn’t necessarily payoff in productivity after long.
When landing an interview after a career break, don’t worry about your enthusiasm coming across as over-eagerness. Instead, use it your advantage by pointing out that time away from the office has given you time recharge and pinpoint your passions so you’re more than ready to hit the ground running. And the more motivated and energized you are, the better you’ll perform for the company.