• Tue. Mar 28th, 2023

Why it’s time to unpack the taboo ‘career gap’

Feb 3, 2023

It’s the one thing many want to do  but with so much controversy around career gaps, we asked an expert whether it really can negatively impact our careers in the long run.     

The idea of taking a break from work is something many of us desire.

Whether it’s to go travelling around the world or to focus on other creative endeavours, signing off from Slack for an extended period of time and doing whatever you want to do certainly sounds ideal in theory – but the reality of coming back to work and explaining what you did during your career gap, and why you did it, can certainly put a dampener on things.

According to research by Applied, a third (33%) of employees have taken a career break of six months or more. However, 53% said they would feel more confident applying for jobs if they did not have to share the gap on their resume with employers, highlighting the challenges faced by those who take employment gaps and are presented with challenges when they’re ready to return to their chosen field.

With so many desiring a career gap but battling concerns it may impact their careers, we spoke to careers expert Robbie Bryant to get down to the nitty-gritty on career gaps, how to do it and whether it’s truly worth it.

What is a career gap?

According to Bryant, a career gap essentially refers to “any length of time taken away from a person’s career” – whether for personal reasons or a result of professional circumstances.

Why do people have career gaps?

The purpose of career gaps can range from personal to medical reasons. In fact, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data found that there are a half-million more UK workers out of the labour force because of long-term illness since the pandemic while another 1.75 million UK employees have paused their careers due to caring responsibilities.

“Some of the most common reasons for taking a career gap include a break to go travelling, or some people may choose to take a break to spend time with family,” says Bryant. “It could also be due to redundancy and being in-between jobs. There are many variables, and a multitude of reasons behind why one might want to take a career gap.”

What are the benefits and risks of taking a career gap?

“Pros of a career gap usually vary depending on the person,” says Bryant. “A lot of people can return to work feeling motivated and fulfilled having taken that break from potential stresses at work. However, cons may include a struggle to return to work on a personal level as they get into a new routine.”

Bryant adds that taking a career gap can also mean your role may not be quite the same as it was before leaving and it can occasionally limit people when applying for jobs. 

“If a career gap is taken for personal reasons, eg mental health or caring for a loved one, then this will most definitely not be analysed or questioned by employers,” he states. 

How to explain a career gap on your CV in an interview

Bryant says that a career gap is generally not seen as a bad thing for employers, but it’s important to be upfront about what took place during that time. 

“You just need to be honest about the time spent away from work and what skills or training you feel you may need a refresh on in order to fulfil the job requirements,” Bryant advises.

“Also, highlight the positives. Were you able to learn something new or overcome difficulties? These are things that can be highlighted in your interview when discussing your career gap. Also, employers will  be assessing your personal traits, not just your professional skills.”

How do you make the most of a career gap?

Bryant says one way to fill that gap is by taking on online courses.

“Online learning is a brilliant way to not only keep the mind active but to show initiative and drive,” he says. “It’s also easy and convenient to fit into your time away from work. Volunteering is another great attribute. You could also show some creative skills by maybe documenting your experiences online or writing a book.”

Should we have career gaps?

Taking a career gap can come with many benefits and challenges – and ultimately, there is no right or wrong. However, assessing where you’re at in your career could help you decide whether you want to take a career gap and when would be the best time to do it.

“If you’re looking to really drive your career, then maybe focus on that first and then think abouttaking a break later on,” Bryant suggests. 

“However, if you’re longing for a career gap, for whatever reason, keep in mind that it’s not a bad thing on your CV – especially if you can fill that time with some impressive tasks and gain invaluable experience that will be beneficial to your future career.”

Image: Getty

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