Secret to staying employable when you take a break from work
CAREERS' panel of expert recruiters answers a reader's question each week. Have a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
What should people do while on extended parental leave/a career break to show future employers they have kept up to date?
Head of Organisational Psychology Consulting,
Stillwell Management Consultants
If feasible and desirable, those on parental leave can use 10 "keeping in touch days" without losing access to parental leave pay to attend work for part or whole days, for example to attend strategic planning or team building days, participate in training or development or be present for key project briefings. Participating in relevant study, maintaining mandatory professional development requirements, upskilling in technologies that are changing rapidly in your area, keeping a journal of research on industry trends or doing some volunteer work will all be impressive if on any form of leave, as will realising a project that you have always wanted to do. Engaging in ongoing reflection about transferable skills you are acquiring no matter what your leave involves and being able to articulate these skills will also be valuable.
If your career is temporarily on pause, it can be an invaluable opportunity to intentionally step back and reflect honestly on your skillset. Most of us have skills that we can improve or learn that will benefit our career in future, so consider how you can refresh existing skills and gain new ones while on your career break. For example, you can refresh or develop new skills remotely through online courses, events, conferences and webinars. Or you could join a professional association, follow industry leaders and thinkers on social media and network with others inside and outside your industry, either online or offline, to keep up to date with the latest industry developments. Finding a mentor, or training or mentoring others, can also add to your learning journey during this time. Such steps allow you to show a future employer you not only kept your skills and knowledge relevant while on your career break, but you learned new ones.
Most employers are likely to simply want to know that somebody has been kept busy with a purpose as opposed to simply doing nothing. If employment is in a regulated environment/industry, then it will be important to have stayed abreast of any changes. Participating in or maintaining contact, even passively, with industry association events and newsletters/mailing lists can also be good sources to stay up-to-date with any changes or emerging themes or trends. Maintaining your professional networks is another. Look for opportunities to demonstrate your proactivity in keeping up to date.
When taking a break from the workplace, whatever the reason, it is essential to be able to demonstrate how you have been maintaining your skills, experience and network in this time. Even if you plan to return to the same employer, it's good to be maintaining awareness of trends within your industry, competitor movements and other changes that may affect the business. Doing this will also help you demonstrate your continuing connection with the industry to potential future employers. You could also work on developing areas from your last performance review or take on a volunteering role to keep your skills and experience up to date.
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Originally published as The secret to staying employable when you take a break from work