Career Break Advice: A few things to think about before you trade your office chair for a seat on the plane and your briefcase for a backpack

Jan 19, 2014

Taking a career break to travel is every office monkey’s dream. Leaving the dull hum of computers and eye straining glare of the florescent lights reflected in your monitor behind always seems tantalizing, especially on Tuesdays. The mere thought of it brings a smile to my face. Actually doing it isn’t that hard and today, I’m going to share my story and tips for leaving your job behind.

Before I get started, I should point out that leaving my career behind has been the number one thing on my mind lately. I’m only about 4 weeks away from giving my notice and my employer certainly won’t be expecting it. I’ve told no one I work with about our plans and I have been dutifully steaming ahead as if my career were not being put on hold in a few months. To complicate things a little, I took a promotion recently that offered higher pay and much more responsibility. The last thing anyone expects is for me to announce that I’m leaving to travel.

So how do you leave your career? Do you just wait until the time is right and fly the coop? Do you beg your boss for a sabbatical? What about taking a short-term leave? All of these are viable options but some consideration and planning is strongly advised. That brings us to tip number one, considering your options.


1. Consider your options:  Sabbatical, humbly resign or go out in a figurative blaze of glory?

A sabbatical is a safe option, assuming your employer will grant one. It seems that many employers are not open to the idea at all but it can’t hurt to ask. Heck, your fallback option can always be to simply quit so don’t completely rule that out. The best approach here is to look for some way in which your employer might benefit from your career break. For example, you might point out that you will be learning a foreign language or taking courses to improve your skill-set. I personally don’t see my employer going for these ideas but if I were in an individual contributor role and not a manager, I would probably spin this as a way to reduce labor expense for a period of time but retain my skill-set. I’d spin this as follows:

“I’d like to take unpaid sabbatical for one year. During that time, I plan to gain experience in foreign markets and learn Spanish. I will be available via-email and for scheduled phone calls to offer support to the team and would expect no compensation in return. My only request is that when I return, you have a place for me in the organization. I realize that may not be in the role I am in now and that you may not be able to guarantee a position but having your assurance that you would make every reasonable effort to find me a position in the organization would set my mind at ease. I would love to stay with company X and continue my career when I return.”

Who knows, this might just work. I’d give it a 30% chance if I were an individual contributor at my place of employment. That being said, if it didn’t work out I would humbly announce that I must resign then.

Which brings us to the next option, resigning. This is a pretty simple concept and the one I am most likely to go with. I’m taking this route because I don’t know when I will return and want the freedom of mind that comes with severing ties but I’m doing this with some forethought. I’ll get into that later but resigning your position should be done gracefully and humbly. Show empathy towards your employer and the position this will put them in and offer to help in any way that you can. Just remember to think carefully about the amount of notice you give. I’m giving 6-8 weeks. This can be risky though as your employer could feel offended and give you the boot early or, they could find your replacement quickly and ask you to leave to save on the payroll expense. Whatever the approach, giving your notice will certainly marginalize your position so be prepared to get some bad assignments or be cut out of the loop.

 A blaze of glory is not recommended. We’ve all fantasized about it but you should not act on it. You never know who you might run into again in your career and, who knows you may be coming back sooner than you thought begging for a job. So pull your pants up, get off your bosses desk, and hope no one saw you.

2. Think about your return to the workforce: Once you’ve made up your mind and you’ve begun to save and plan for your adventure, you should immediately start thinking about your return.

I know this sounds like you’re putting the cart ahead of the horse but steps you take now to prepare will make life easier when you come home. A great way to do this is to think about your resume, your network and your story.

Your resume should be as strong as possible and a good way to build it is to rack up those accomplishments and measure your successes. For example, you want to be able to tell your future employer that you actively identified and solved problems and, by measuring those wins, you can put some quantitative results behind your claims. I recommend looking at job openings in your field to see what other employers are looking for. You never know, you might be applying for one of those jobs when you return. Knowing what those employers are looking for and tailoring some of your work today will help you highlight your strengths in those areas when you return. A great example from my career is my implementation of a very structured and results driven approach to one facet of Workforce Management. I’ll use this success in my resume and future interviews to point out my focus on consistent and measurable results. 

Your network is the single most important tool you’ll have when you return. You should look for ways to network with people who you work with for sure but equally important is networking with others in the same field of work. For example, when I started building my network I was in the field of Workforce Management, a somewhat specialized and niche field related to large-scale customer service organizations. There are several professional organizations related to this field that I joined and actively participated in several of them. In one instance, I was able to become a member of the group’s Board of Directors and in another, I attended an annual conference where I volunteered myself as a presenter. Both experiences were great resume builders and grew my network tremendously. 

To remain connected with those I met, I used LinkedIn and take a little time each month to connect with a few people by sending them a personal message or commenting on one of their posts. These connections will be hugely important when I return, as I’ll use them to search for a new job.

Your story is what you’ll discuss in your interview with your next employer when they ask why you left your career to travel. Think about what you’ll say in this conversation now and how you’ll make sense of your decision to someone who may be skeptical. The spin you give it could make or break your interview and, depending on what you plan to say, you may need to do things today that improve your story. For example, I plan to point out that I was experiencing great success in my Workforce Management career when I made the decision to leave and accomplish some very personal goals of mine. I’ll most likely say that having experienced both professional and personal successes, I am now looking for another successful career with an organization that can match my energy and desire to achieve. A portion of this story hinges on my success with my previous employer so, as I mentioned in the resume portion of this post, I’ve been wracking up and keeping track of my success in preparation for this conversation.


3. Preparing to leave: Put your employer in the best possible position for success without you.

Put simply, preparing your employer for your departure is just the right thing to do. Think ahead about what they might need to be successful when you leave such as documentation of your work and processes. If you’re in the middle of a project when you plan to leave, consider keeping others on your team in the loop on your progress and up to speed with the project itself. You might even write up a document that will help you hand-off your responsibilities more seamlessly. You want to leave a positive legacy and be remembered as someone who, even in their departure, put their team in the best possible position to succeed.


4Announcing your departure: Going out gracefully.

I’ve covered some of this already but leaving with grace and dignity is very important. When you announce your decision to your boss, it’s important to show empathy towards the hardship they might face in filling your position and offer support while they do so.  Don’t come across arrogant or disrespectful; instead explain your decision as a deeply personal one which you did not come to lightly.

I plan to tell my boss that I am leaving by first explaining that I’ve made a major decision to chase a dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember. I’ll point out that while I very much enjoy the work I am doing and would love to continue doing it, this may be the only time in my life where the conditions are right for me to accomplish this personal goal. I’ll then reassure him that I have been preparing for this for quite some time by documenting process and projects I have been involved in so that they may be easily handed off to whomever replaces me. Lastly, I’ll assure him that my efforts at work will double as I wrap-up and that I will work tirelessly to assure the team is not negatively impacted by my departure.

Again, the main point here is to be respectful and professional. Assuring your boss that you have considered this carefully and have already taken steps to lessen the impact of your departure is the right thing to do.

5. Your final weeks on the job: Don’t slack, double your efforts.

As mentioned above, this is a period of time when you should be putting forth a tremendous amount of effort to hand-off your work. Slacking off and relaxing in those final weeks can seriously tarnish your reputation and all but destroy your legacy. You may need these later and it would be a shame to undo some of that work by being a slacker in your final weeks.

6. The last day: Say thank you and goodbye.

Ok maybe not your very last day but in your final days anyway, make a conscious effort to say thank you and goodbye to those you have worked closely with over the years. This will be your final network building effort before you depart and can have a huge impact on your future return to the workforce.  Make a special effort to reach out to people in key positions who have been particularly helpful in your career or could be helpful in gaining employment when you return. These should not be insincere though so don’t go reaching out to every VP or Director saying how much they have inspired you. Focus on the people who have looked out for or mentored you during your career and cite specific examples or ways in which they have helped you. 

I’ll finish this post by saying that you should leave your options open. I personally have no idea if I will get right back into my old career field when I return but I want to have the option to should I make that decision later. So leave yourself in the best position to return. Even if it means swallowing some of your pent up gripes. You'll be rid of those worries soon enough. Remember, it’s better to leave those bridges in tact and not need them than to burn them down and realize you need them later.

Tags: Career Break

Please add a comment

Leave a Reply

(Your email will not be publicly displayed.)

Captcha Code

Click the image to see another captcha.