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How to Prepare for a Career Break

Perhaps you’re feeling burned out at work, or you’re not sure you still love your career, or an impending life event has you wanting to shift your work/life balance—in any of those cases, a career break could be just the thing for you. To embark on a career hiatus successfully requires careful introspection of motivations and financial planning.

Here are six steps to incorporate into your career break planning.

Step 1 – Pick the start date and duration

“Tomorrow” probably isn’t a realistic start date, but that doesn’t mean you should leave the answer at “someday.” Goals are dreams with deadlines, remember? Consider aligning your start date with another life event (a milestone birthday, the birth of child, etc.) or with a natural pause in your career (after a big project is finished, a promotion achieved, or training accomplished). Just remember to remain flexible—the date is most important as a starting point you’ll revise several times while you hammer out concrete details.

It will be helpful to talk about the intended start date and duration of your career hiatus with those closest to you: your partner, family members, close friends, and even colleagues. They can support and encourage you, or give insightful feedback about your plan. They’ll also act as accountability partners to keep you from backing out when challenges arise.

Step 2 – Budget your finances

This might be the most fear-inducing step, but once you tackle it, formerly impossible-looking financial obstacles become manageable! It can be easier if you break down your financial needs on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis and work your way to a budget for as long as you’d like your break to be. Here are some questions that will help you refine your budget, can show when and if you need to create some kind of income stream, and may alter your start date or career hiatus duration.

  • Do you have any debt? If possible, eliminate it before the break. At the very least, ensure you won’t add any new debt during your break.
  • How will you pay for health insurance or any other benefit you might have received through your employer? Don’t forget to continue to save for retirement during your hiatus.
  • How will you pay for lifestyle expenses? Your partner’s job might be enough for the two of you, especially if you trim the fat from your budget and cut back on spending. Other options include saving enough to pay yourself a salary during your break or establishing a side income through part-time work, consulting, or investments.
  • How will you handle an unexpected expense? Now is a good time to grow your emergency fund.
  • Are you prepared to adjust your lifestyle to afford this break?

Step 3 – Plan what to do and what you want to achieve

Even if you want to return to the same career, and maybe the same employer, after your break, you should still have a clear plan for your time. You could:

  • Pursue your passions—travel, writing, volunteering, woodworking, theater, etc.
  • Discover a new passion that will be your next career.
  • Raise your family.
  • Return to school.
  • Try a new career in entrepreneurship, freelancing, etc.
  • Focus on health and wellness.
  • Complete a dramatic lifestyle change that you’ve wanted to pursue.

Step 4 – Plan your current career exit strategy

This part of your plan will look different depending on if you will be returning to your current career or starting a new one. In either case, the following points should help.

  • Investigate your company’s policy regarding this type of break, especially if you want to return. You may get some help from your employer or be able to negotiate an unpaid leave of absence.
  • Speak with your boss about your plans. When and how you do this depends on your circumstances, but allowing your manager plenty of time to plan for your exit reflects well on you. Provide the required two-week notice.
  • Continue to do your best at work.
  • Don’t burn your bridges.
  • Train your replacements.
  • Write a cordial resignation letter and hand it in personally.
  • Be professional with your exit interview.

Step 5 – Make a re-entry plan

So that you can focus on your personal goals during your break, plan out how and when you want to re-enter the workforce before you leave it. Perhaps this means keeping one toe in the water with freelancing or consulting work, or attending networking events. Consider keeping your resume up to date with the skills you’re learning or developing. It may be advantageous to rework your resume structure from chronological to functional, which puts focus on your skills and achievements.

Step 6 – Jump in!

There will come a time when the planning is done and it’s time to commit! Feelings of doubt or anxiety are normal. Check in with your support group of friends and family if you need a confidence boost. It may help to ease into your transition by working fewer days a week for a little while. It will definitely help to have your first few weeks planned in detail. Having a schedule is still important! Finally, don’t forget to socialize—meet old work friends for lunch, join interest groups, become a mentor. It will all help you get the most out of your time away from the office.

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