By Carol Fishman Cohen
While a career break may be the furthest thing from your mind, there are expected and unexpected reasons why you may end up taking one: anything from childcare to an illness to a wish to travel or pursue a personal interest.
1) Document your Experiences and Accomplishments. Create a file and whenever you hit a work milestone, achieve something significant, learn an important lesson or simply have an interesting experience, write it down. Include anything noteworthy – negative or positive. Years later, when prepping for interviews, these recollections will provide you with the specific anecdotes and knowledge base from your prior work and volunteer experiences to impress a prospective new employer. You will be very happy you have this file!
2) Keep in Touch with Your Network; Nurture Those Relationships. It’s no secret that you can benefit from strengthening your relationships with your boss and peers, but don’t leave it to chance. Find ways to actively interact with them so you stand out in their minds once you’ve left for a career break. Ask a senior person to walk you through his or her career path. Share an article about your company or industry with your peers and ask what they think about it. Think about how to make yourself even more connected to them than you would be from just doing your job. And don’t limit your efforts to co-workers in your office. Maintain your connections to customers, clients, co-workers from prior employers and anyone else who might someday be in a position to help when you’re ready to return to work.
3) Don’t Forget the Junior People. The younger people in your office who you informally mentor, who report to you or who you just know from working together can be your most helpful contacts when returning to work. While you’re on career break, these junior people will continue to move up the ladder and someday may be in a position to open a door for you. And they’ll remember you as someone knowledgeable, important and to whom they looked up! We are seeing more cases of “relaunchers” coming back to work for the very people who used to work for them (it happened to me!).
5) Explore All Your Options. Employers today are more open to non-traditional hours and remote work than ever before. So, if you’d like to defer your career break, and small changes in your work schedule would make that possible, then just ask. If you have “paid your dues” by establishing yourself as a high performer, your employer may be more than happy to make the accommodations you need.
If a career break is in your future, or even if you think it might be, review these steps and start implementing them now. You will be glad you did.
Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of career reentry firm iRelaunch, consults to some of the world's largest corporations on career reentry strategy and programming. She relaunched her career at Bain Capital after an 11-year career break before co-founding iRelaunch. Her recently posted TED talk "How to get back to work after a career break" has been viewed over one million times and translated into 16 languages.