For some employers, a glaring gap in your work history is a red flag. When you’ve been out of the workforce due to a sabbatical, however, you can often present it in a way that enhances rather than detracts from your image. The key is to describe how you kept busy and demonstrate how your break contributed to your skills and knowledge.
Use a Functional Format
Draw attention away from your career break by using a functional rather than chronological format. With a functional format, you devote the bulk of your resume to your skills rather than a description of your job duties. Start your resume with a skills summary that showcases how you’ve used three or four skills crucial to the job you’re applying for. Include your work experience underneath this summary, listing only job titles, dates of employment and location. Employers will see your strong qualifications before they notice your employment gaps.
How to Disclose
If you pursued a career-related or educational endeavor, list it along with your full-time work experience. This prevents a gap in your work history and presents your sabbatical as simply another stage in your career development. If your break isn't directly related to your career goal, you may want to list it in a separate section so it won’t detract from your professional experience. You may also want to bring up your sabbatical in your cover letter first, where you can explain it in more depth. This puts your absence in context so employers don't become alarmed when they see missing time in your work history.
Letting employers know that you kept busy during your sabbatical reduces some of the risk associated with hiring someone who’s been out of the workforce for an extended period. If you took a sabbatical for a specific reason, such as to write a book, travel or volunteer, describe the responsibilities associated with these projects. If you volunteered, for example, note job titles you held with volunteer groups or nonprofit organizations. If you returned to school, list the degree you pursued or individual classes.
Focus on What You Learned
Portray your sabbatical as a growth and learning opportunity. If you traveled, discuss what you learned by exploring other cultures and meeting people from diverse backgrounds. Note foreign languages you mastered. If you returned to school, discuss your coursework and class projects. Demonstrate how your experience prepared you to return to the workforce. For example, tell employers that the research you conducted while writing your book gave you additional insight into the needs and challenges of your industry. If you left work to care for an ailing relative, describe how the experience changed your outlook on life and inspired you to commit to your career with renewed enthusiasm.