Why career breaks are likely to become better accepted but less common; and how they can be a positive on your CV

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June 2021

Written by Adam Richardson (adam.richardson@arresourcing.com), Managing Director and Owner of AR Resourcing. Adam has over 20 years’ experience recruiting procurement and commercial professionals across the built environment industries.

In the UK employers and recruitment consultants have typically favoured candidates with CVs that show steady progression and a commitment to a career path – on paper they are a safe investment. As a result candidates, worried it may harm their future prospects, have been reticent about stepping off the ladder. However, with so many employees made redundant or furloughed over the last 18 months, “messy” CVs are going to become far more common reducing the stigma associated with gaps, especially where candidates can show they used the time constructively. 

Why career breaks are likely to become better accepted 

However the impact of more messy CVs post pandemic is not the only factor increasing acceptance of career breaks. Over the last 12 months employers have learned how flexible and adaptable their organisations can be and the benefits that can bring. Employees who have not been furloughed have shown how they can take on additional responsibilities while organisations, needing to do more with less, have realised rethinking elements of their procurement and delivery can result in better outcomes. In other words, compared with recent disruptions, the idea of losing an employee from a role part time or full time for a period of months is relatively inconsequential and may even be considered as an opportunity for organisational development. 

Why career breaks are likely to become less common  

While organisations may be more willing than they were 18 months ago to offer career breaks, employees are less likely, at least in the short term, to want them. Many employees who only a couple of years ago wanted to spend more time with their families have had their fill of home schooling and, in any case, anticipate a better work-life balance as employers offer greater flexible working opportunities post pandemic; some people who would have taken career breaks to study took the opportunity of furlough to do so instead; others who simply needed a break to recharge have had exactly that; wanderlust, another key driver for career breaks, is likely to continue to be hampered by travel restrictions in the short term as countries around the world balance opening their economies with the risks of peaks in infection. And these trends are born out in the conversations we are having with candidates, many of whom want to get back to the office or on site in part for the sense of normality and stability that brings.

Parental leave is one type of career break which may see an uplift over the next couple of years. Birth rates in the UK plummeted during the pandemic and so there is likely to be a corresponding surge over the next 2-3 years. However, given 29% of women in the UK believe taking maternity leave had a negative impact on their career we may equally find that many parents do not take full advantage of what employers offer. 

How a career break on your CV can be a positive

If you are looking to take advantage of the greater acceptance around career breaks here are some ideas to help you ensure it is perceived as a worthwhile contribution to your career.

The key, whether you plan to return to your current employer or move jobs, is to ensure you have a positive reason for taking a career break and plan from the start how you will show ‘personal growth’. For example, although needing to recharge your batteries or rediscover your passion for your job are important, they are motivations born out of negativity. Even if they are the primary reason for your break, set yourself a positive goal, such as achieving a qualification, that will show growth to employers. 

If you are looking to return to your current employer after the career break then consider the organisation in your planning. How can you minimise the disruption your absence might cause? Will it give an opportunity to your colleagues to take on responsibilities and grow? Are there seasonal cycles that would make taking your break at a certain time easier for your colleagues? How will the organisation benefit from your new skills or experiences when you return? Are there positive examples of colleagues taking career breaks? Etc

If you are interviewing for a new role at the end of a career break, then be prepared for questions about how you used your time away from work. New skills and qualifications are easiest to demonstrate, however illustrating how your break improved leadership skills, creativity, integrated thinking etc are equally valuable. 

While the construction, infrastructure, oil & gas, consulting and house building industries may not change as rapidly as sectors like technology, even a short time off work can cause people to feel out of touch and lose confidence. Occasional contact with colleagues and continuing to read around your subject are both good ways to avoid such negative feelings. In fact, depending on how you choose to use a career break it may well accelerate your progression up the ladder. 

If you would like further details about any of the trends or would like to speak with us about how we can support you then please email me: adam.richardson@arresourcing.com or call 0330 174 6801.

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