How to make the most of a career break

Resigning to ‘spend more time with the family’ is thankfully no longer just the favoured euphemism of politicians dodging scandal or facing the chop. First made infamous by Conservative MP Norman Fowler, and most recently by Alan Milburn, family is no longer a way out of a sticky situation but, for many, a real reason to take a career break.

Take Emap group finance director Gary Hughes. After five years with the company he recently announced his resignation, and plans to take a brief career break with his family.

Justin Irwin, a former senior executive of charity Childline, quit his £50,000 a year job in January to spend more time with his great love – a set of darts. But whatever the reason, a career break, if well planned, can reap real rewards.

For professionals wanting a pit stop, the world really is your oyster. It may be simply time away from a stifling office environment and an opportunity to potter in Patagonia for several months. For others, it’s a way of bridging the gap between one career and another and retrain, or simply about making time to put something back into society.

Planning your escape
For those seriously considering their escape route there are a number of things to consider.

Firstly be strategic. Have very clear goals for what you want to achieve. If you’re simply planning a round-the-world trip, or looking after family and intend to return to your profession, most institutes or associations recommend keeping up with training and professional development.

Compile a personal development plan outlining how the break could be used to further your professional and vocational qualifications and what courses you’ll need to keep up-to-date. This should have realistic timescales and, of course, costs.

Have a look at your current company’s policies. You may not have to necessarily leave. Some firms have career-break or extended-leave policies, although they may be under strict criteria.

It’s also worth considering different work options. If it’s the office grind that’s getting you down look into consultancy, becoming self-employed or working part-time.

If you’re lucky enough just to be taking a breather, think about the opportunities and what you can offer. Round-the-world trips are life enhancing, but why not put something back into society on the way round. This could include helping to rebuild countries damaged by the recent Tsunami, teaching English in outposts in China or volunteering in Africa? Those planning to branch out into entirely new careers should plan ahead, both in terms of personal development and their finances. Consider speaking first to a careers adviser or even a life coach to plan training and development. Look closely at the courses needed, the salary to expect, promotional prospects and work/life balance. It’s no use swapping one relentless treadmill with another.

It is important to know what you’re getting into first, so work experience or voluntary work could be essential. It will also prove invaluable as that first step into a new career.

And remember, taking a break doesn’t have to mean that career prospects are curtailed. Travel, voluntary work or looking after family are not negatives on a CV; they simply add a further string to a workers bow, which some employers welcome.

It certainly never damaged the career of former health secretary Alan Milburn who quit and was back spearheading Labour’s general election campaign 15 months later.

Or Norman Fowler who rejoined the Conservative cabinet once his former employer Margaret Thatcher was successfully ousted.

And Justin Irwin, who quit the voluntary sector to join Eric Bristow as a professional darts player, has a feeling he may well be back in the world of real work next year – once he’s hit a few bull’s-eyes, of course.

For more information, check out these links:

Volunteering in England

Volunteering overseas
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Sports volunteering

World wide travel


Careers and retraining advice




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