Returning to work after a sabbatical or career break

Are you returning to work after a career break? I want to briefly outline a big difference between a sabbatical and a career break. A sabbatical is a formal process agreed by your employer to have an extended (and unpaid) period of time off work (usually up to 12 months) but able to return to the same company at the end; a career break is as it suggests and is a break from your career whereby you resign from your job and therefore are not tied to a time limit nor the company in any way.

Whether a more formal sabbatical or chose a career break, taking a break from your career can be beneficial, giving you much needed 'time out' to do something completely different. Perhaps you travelled or pursued a qualification? Maybe you took on a big project? Whatever you chose, now, you are ready to return.

Are you feeling nervous? If you are, it's normal. After taking an extended break it's easy feel like you have lost your professional self, that you are rusty or that technology (or some other part) will have moved on. Perhaps your self belief is lacking.

Start by focusing on your strengths, it's common to undervalue what you are able to offer. I would recommend five things:

  1. Ask your friends and family what they think your strengths are (get examples!)
  2. Do a SWOT analysis on your career experience
  3. Use an assessment tool such as Strengths Finder
  4. Write down 5 (at least) of your achievements
  5. Refresh your skills and update your CV and social media profiles

Then, and I know you are sick of hearing this, but, network, network, network! Start telling people what you want. Whether it is staying in touch with your managers and colleagues before returning after a sabbatical or talking to people in your industry of choice before taking a new role.

If you are looking to change industry or if you have had a long break you may feel like you need to retrain or boost your skills. Be creative in your approach - can you shadow someone, do some work experience, volunteering or help out on a short project? It is not always necessary to go and do a qualification or pay for training.

Going back to work after a break can bring mixed feelings, sometimes people say to me that everything and nothing has changed when returning to the same place. Taking a sabbatical or career break can be a life changing experience for you, remember to maximise the effect it has had on you and the benefits for you and for your employer. Remember that employers are usually positive about a career break as they understand the benefits they provide from the soft, transferable skills from volunteering for a charity abroad to hard skills gained through education and/or experience.

So, whatever you have done, shout about it! Get all the skills on your CV and social media profiles (Linkedin is a good place to start) and make the most of your experience.

P.S. If you are struggling, talk to a career coach, like myself, to help you work out the best path for you. I offer free coaching through a LinkedIn group and my newsletter in addition to the coaching packages I offer.

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4 thoughts on “Returning to work after a sabbatical or career break”

  1. Hi there,
    Thanks for the advice.
    I am preparing to return to work after a sabbatical leave and am feeling nervous. Especially, because I have not accomplished the planned activities for which I took the leave. This was due to limited mobility caused by the Pandemic.
    I will try apply your suggestions to pull my strength together

    • That can feel really frustrating can’t it? I would encourage you to focus on what you did achieve and remind yourself that the pandemic has played a big role in changing plans!


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