Own the gap!
Once upon a time, having an employment gap on your CV was a liability. But times are changing. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, employers in the US are increasingly eager to interview candidates with gaps in their employment history.
The Australian labour market is different, of course, but many employment trends that start in the US are repeated here. Greater acceptance of career breaks is one trend that’s likely to catch on in our workplaces.
Why take a career break?
The most common reasons for taking a career break are for:
- education and retraining
- pursuing a passion or
- raising a family.
Education and retraining are good reasons for stepping out of the workforce for a while. They both lead to developing new skillsets – a selling point that is always attractive to employers.
Education is often necessary when your first career choice doesn’t fulfil your expectations. “Isobel”, a 29-year-old from Melbourne, followed a family tradition and went into accounting. Her career prospects were good, but after six years and two promotions, she knew she didn’t want to spend the rest of her working life sorting out her clients’ tax problems.
She took a career break and began studying for a degree in Occupational Therapy. During her degree, she landed a summer job where her role was to assist in running workshops on workplace health and safety issues. She loved the transition from helping businesses with their tax issues, to helping them provide healthier and more productive work environments. She has already received job offers in her new field, which she’ll consider once she finishes her degree. Go, Isobel!
Pursuing a passion
Other employees take a career break to pursue a passion. Sport, travel and art lure many people away from their jobs for a while.
“Lee” halted her career as a teacher to train full-time for a marathon. The time she spent running made her realise she wanted to work in the health sector. By the time she’d successfully completed her first marathon, she’d mapped out a plan to become a clinical nurse in aged care.
Raising a family
Women who take time off to concentrate on raising a family, are often at a disadvantage when it comes to re-entering the workforce.
In a 2017 survey conducted by Women’s Agenda, mothers said that employers often ignored their CVs specifically because of career gaps. Recruiters internal and external can, unfortunately, fail to take into account the invaluable skills these women had acquired through running a family. (I know first hand!)
At the same time, there is a growing number of forward-thinking employers who recognise underutilised resources when they see them. They develop actionable plans to get access to talented female employees.
The aim of actionable plans is to recruit, retrain and return women to the workforce. They can take the form of return-to-work internships and re-entry programmes. In the US, re-entry programmes are multiplying. Employers are discovering that recruiting mothers who haven’t been in paid work for a while, is well worth doing.
Own the gap!
Whatever the reasons for putting paid work on hold, job applicants need to own it, don’t hide it. This begins with being transparent about the reasons for taking a break. Practise explaining how you’ve been able to relearn, retrain and build new networks. Emphasise your flexibility, adaptability and initiative – and your enthusiasm for returning to work. Give your career gap the positive spin it deserves.
In the end, many people return to work successfully after a career break. And the personal growth they underwent during the time they spent away, feeds into their profile as highly valuable employees.
So own your career gap – it’s an asse