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What You Need to Know Before Taking a Career Break

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While corporate-sponsored sabbaticals are still rare in the United States, they are on the upswing, with nearly 17 percent of companies offering some type of short-term plan for employees. However, anecdotal evidence indicates a majority of working Americans want to take a longer-term career break. What's the difference? Typically a sabbatical is a short, agreed-upon time away from your job (sometimes paid), while a career break usually involves quitting your job for anywhere from a few months to a few years to travel, raise children, or work on a side project. The thought of quitting your job, leaving behind a secure income source and waking up without an alarm clock may seem terrifying, but there are ways to do so responsibly without hurting your career. Here's how.

Create a plan

If you're considering taking significant time off from work, you're probably already working on a financial plan to pay off debt, create a nest egg, and potentially even set up a small income stream while you're away from work. But do you have a plan on how to stay focused at your job while you save up enough money to quit? How and when will you give notice? The planning and savings process could easily take a year or more, so it's wise to remain engaged and on good terms with your employer. Keep ticking off career goals and enjoying promotions even though you have a end date in mind. The more success you can show pre-break, the easier it will be to find work when you return.

Ask your current employer about taking an unpaid break

This might seem counterintuitive, but if your time away is short and for a specific reason, say you want to take two months to sail the islands of Croatia, talk to your manager before giving notice. You'll likely know if your company is one of the few offering paid sabbaticals, but many other employers are flexible when the request if for a specific time period. You'll of course need to have an in-depth conversation, spell out a proposed plan for how to help ease the workload burden on others while you are away, and detail the benefits of time away, such as boosting productivity or creative output when you return.

Widen your professional network

It's always smart to grow and tend to your professional network, even while employed. If you plan to take time away, you'll find that connecting with fellow colleagues and industry peers is your greatest asset when you return. Use LinkedIn, to showcase new skills acquired while out of the office (perhaps you managed vendors on a volunteer break), and as a way to network with other like-minded folks who changed careers or took a break. As someone who recently returned for a mid-career break to travel, former co-workers and other people I met while on the road have been the biggest source of new job leads and moral support.

Keep your skills current

When it comes to skills, be sure to keep up to date on industry best practices, technical standards or new trends. Coders, who haven't been working while away, should consider a class, while marketers could contribute to industry blogs or newsletters to demonstrate their up-to-date knowledge and use the posts when applying for jobs. Another great way to do this, and do good for the community is to volunteer. The experience can introduce you to new skills, widen your professional network, and help you explore other industries if you think you want to make a career change after your break.