Are career gaps common?
How do I explain career gaps in my CV and interviews?
Do employers care about career gaps?
These are some questions about career gaps I keep getting asked on repeat! And in fact, these are questions that I used to obsess with before I had a career gap in my career.
So I have a few pieces of advice with hindsight
1. Your first career break is the only time you will worry about a career gap
So I'll start off with some good news- your first career break is the only time you will worry about a career gap. If you are a top performer, have some faith in that.
And if this is your first time taking a gap year, you probably will not believe me, like I didn’t believe the folks who tried easing my anxiety before my first employment gap. BUT...
Think about it. Who are the people who worry about career gaps?
Generally, ambitious people, top performers who are diligent. They want to get results. They are quite responsible and serious about their career. These are the people who worry about career gaps, not the average person who is day to day and working job to job. So just the fact that you are worried about a career gap says a lot about your work ethics. Have some faith!
2. You only need to worry if you have not “grown” during a gap
The next bit is a bit counterintuitive. When do you really need to worry about a career gap?
It is when you know you're not acquiring any skills during that gap.
No life skills. No tech skills. No soft skills.
Basically, you are not growing during the gap.
That is when I would worry about things.
As long as you have grown in a gap and can demonstrate that in your CV and interview using those transferable skills, I would not worry.
3. You don’t need to worry about short breaks when you’re in a creative job that’s future proof
But if you have a job, that is future proof, i.e. if you work in a job where you are quite creative you don’t need to worry to much. By creative, I don't mean you have to be an artist or a painter or a musician. If you are quite creative at problem-solving, which I know most of you are, you don't necessarily need to worry, because creative jobs will always have a place. And creative problem solving will always be valuable.
But then who needs to worry?
Say, for example, if you are a customer service agent who is basically looking up a ton of sheets and information and giving answers back to their clients. Or if you are doing some sort of a data entry job, or very process-driven software testing job… that is when I would worry.
If your job is mechanical, it can be automated, and that is exactly why I am so passionate while talking about the future of work and what it means to all of us.
And that is also why I'm so passionate about learning and constantly developing ourselves for the new job market to be a better person, a better human being, a better professional. And also to future proof and risk proof our careers.
But I digress… Anyway! When can you stop worrying about your career?
As I said, if you are in a creative problem-solving sort of an environment, do not worry. You will always be in demand.
4. Try to be in touch with your network of people even through the gap years
You also constantly need to be in touch with your network. You need to operate your career’s sales and marketing machine all through that career gap. And your network is a HUGE part of your career’s sales and marketing machine.
Hopefully, when taking the career gap, you would have at least 2 to 3 years of work experience behind you. At that point, once you have had some good work experience behind you, and your network is starting to expand with colleagues and ex-colleagues venturing out to do different jobs, you suddenly become more attractive to any market, whether or not you currently have a job.
So all those friends you made while in your years of work, keep a tab on them. Maybe send them some pictures of what you have been up to. Write a blog and share it out. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It just needs to come from a place of wanting to share your happiness or sorrow or whatever has made you take the break.
Or just be a bit active on LinkedIn. If you are someone who genuinely loves their job but is taking out some time for other priorities, it might not be too much to hang out on LinkedIn for a bit. But even that’s not mandatory! Ideally, you want to set your LinkedIn up once and set it up for good, like a well-oiled machine of your career’s sales and marketing machine.
5. No, you don’t need to prepare for setbacks!
After I patiently explain all of this, the next question that I get asked almost immediately is “Oh wait! But does that mean that I'll have a setback in my career?”
No, you won't!
You won't if you actually grow during the gap.
And when I talk about growth, it doesn't necessarily mean technical growth.
It means growth in all aspects of your life. And sometimes the biggest professional growths actually come from your very personal growth stories.
Believe that you are growing in your career gap as well.
What did you take the gap out for?
Were you pursuing a passion?
Did you go and travel?
Were you on compassionate leave?
Were you just trying to overcome an illness?
Whatever be the reason, all of these very personal crude stories actually make you a bigger person, a better person.
And when you bring that back to work, you have had tremendous professional growth whether you acknowledge it or not.
So I would say on that bit on, take the gap into your stride and show your hiring manager when you are actually interviewing for the next job that, yes, you took a career break, but actually, you grew by much more.
Own your gap, own your growth. Demonstrate to them how you have grown. If you do that right, I’m willing to bet money that 90% of the hiring managers won’t bother about your career gap.
And the 10% that do?
Well, ditch them! We live in a modern society where we have the fortune and freedom to choose what we do with our time, when we choose to grow when we decide to take time out for other things. After all, any boss who thinks career is and should be your single point of focus is probably not worth working for.
And finally, yet I again wanted to reiterate the fact that believe me, if you are worried about career gaps, this is the only time that you will worry about a career gap.
If you are a top performer, you will get a job just like that when you want. I didn’t believe this till it happened to me. But it happens like magic. And the next time you decide to take a sabbatical, it won't be this hard.
Still unsure? Get the CV and LinkedIn checklists that will keep you on your networking game through the gap, so that you are on top of mind even when you are taking a break.