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How to manage a career break and return to work with confidence

How to manage a career break and return to work with confidence

Around 90,000 people in the UK take some kind of career break every year, whether to raise a family, travel the world or look after an aging relative. Though these experiences teach us a lot about our values and our priorities, it can be intimidating to return to the labour market after an absence. To support you through this transition, we've created a series of tips that'll help you to maintain your employability and improve your confidence.

Tip 1: Get ready for your return to work

Reassess your priorities. What has your experience taught you about your values? What type of work do you really want to do?

It might be tempting to start applying for roles in a panic, or send out as many CVs as you can. However, save time (and energy) by understanding the answers to these questions beforehand. Then, when you're in front of a potential employer, you can convey your interest in the role with far greater certainty.

Once you're sure about the career and sector you'd like to return to, it's time to do your research. Make sure you're aware of both the internal environment (if you're returning to a previous employer) and the external environment (the external factors or market trends affecting your industry).

Getting this information can be a relatively low-maintenance process. Blogs, social media and newsletters provide you with a trickle of information to read at your leisure.

There's also the option to update your skills by studying a CIPD training course or qualification, or using the Career hub - a member-only CIPD resource designed to help you up-skill, which provides information on prepping for interviews, and much more.

Tip 2: Take control of your continuing professional development

At work you might have relied on your organisation to structure your learning and professional development, so it’s vital you create this structure for yourself when you're away from work.

When planning your continuing professional development (CPD), take into account the knowledge and skills you hope to gain through the experience. Regardless of whether your career break's planned or unplanned, you could leverage your learnings to create a real impact when you return to work. Highlight these up front; it'll help you become more aware of examples you can use as evidence.

You may have taken a career break specifically for the purpose of having new experiences, but if you’ve taken time off for maternity, paternity or to care for a sick relative, you may not have the luxury of time. Luckily, our CPD policy allows you plenty of flexibility to select the forms of professional development activity most suited to your current circumstance, and there are lots of ways to learn that aren’t expensive or time consuming. Take a short amount of time out regularly to develop the habit of reflective practice. This can ensure you get the most out of every learning experience - professional or personal.

Our Community, LinkedIn group, branch networks and events all provide invaluable ways for CIPD members to focus on their CPD.

Tip 3: Articulate the value of your experience

People generally understand the personal gains that can come from taking a break from employment, but often undervalue the professional gains. In reality, there are plenty of skills that you'll have developed which are valuable to employers.

If you've been caring for young children or elderly relatives, there's no doubt that you'll have developed a resilience in coping with new challenges, not to mention communication skills and problem solving skills. If you've been travelling you may have developed an understanding of different cultures or a more well rounded world view. Whatever the experience, you'll return from it a different person with a fresh outlook.

You may feel apprehensive in explaining gaps in employment history. If so, there are two main ways to combat this. Firstly, you can opt for a functional CV format as opposed to a chronological format. This will help you to highlight the skills and experience you want to put forward. It's also a good idea to be upfront about the experience, and use it as a leverage point. Treat your career break as a role in itself, with clear dates and if possible, a CAR (challenge-action-result) approach to explaining what you've achieved.

Tip 4: Maintain (and even grow) your network

Make sure you maintain some level of visibility within your professional community whilst you're away. Once you’re ready to rejoin the market, these networks will ensure you can take advantage of the types of opportunities that don't always appear through agencies or recruitment sites.

Even if you're returning to the same organisation as before, it can be invaluable to keep an awareness of the shifting nature of the social landscape. That way you can hit the ground running on your return, instead of playing catch up.

Staying involved doesn't have to mean attending events. Webinars are increasingly used for networking and can offer you far greater flexibility. It may also be a good opportunity to develop your social media presence, through connecting with like-minded people on forums and social networking sites.

Tip 5: Tap into available support

It's estimated that 90,000 people in the UK take some kind of career break every year, so it’s likely that you know someone who'd be willing to offer their own insight to help you.

As a member, you're also able to access the huge range of resources available on the Career hub to help prepare you for the next stage of your career. If you're a member who's been out of work for six months or longer, you can take advantage of free advice through our outplacement scheme.

Take a look at our back-to-work support resources too, designed to support you if you're returning to work after a period of absence.