The Dallas Morning News
Sabbatical or a career break?
Q: I worked for seven years in the chemical industry. I had a chance to travel so I left my job and ended up taking about three years off. I’m trying to get back into the job market, but I’ve gotten negative responses; I’m not sure whether it’s due to my reason for taking off or the actual amount of time taken. I think most people would have done the same if they could have, so I wonder if the negativity stems from jealousy. How do I respond to an interviewer who is openly negative, but not detailed as to why?
A: Certain fields approve time off for a sabbatical, but you left your job to satisfy a desire to travel, so it isn’t the same as a professor taking a sabbatical to study, write and publish for the benefit of his or her career at a university. Calling it a sabbatical may sound better to you, but to everyone else it sounds like you quit to have fun traveling and returned when you felt like it, which is a career break. Traveling can certainly be a learning experience, but you now must make up for the time lost from your career.
With three years off from working, you are not ready to interview until you create a plan of return. You should be able to show how you’ve kept current in the field, and how you can now contribute to the chemical industry. List the dates of your “sabbatical” on your résumé and describe what you learned and how the experience adds to your value in the field. Be a creative thinker in your explanation, as you will have to show that you’re above an entry-level position.
Keeping current is required for all who take off for extended periods of time, for whatever reasons. You may need to take additional courses or write a white paper on the industry to show your involvement. When you interview, present yourself as a determined, highly motivated worker who is focused on making significant contributions to your field. Discuss your travels as an educational experience and avoid glamorizing your time to alleviate fears interviewers may have about you taking off again.
Others may have saved or had family members covering their expenses for such extended travel, but even with the financial help, many would not have chosen to leave for three years. Sabbaticals and career breaks can last from a few months to a year, and the standard time off from work is six months. Your answers to interviewers will show your maturity, or lack of, and will likely be the determining factor in a company hiring you.
To ensure your success, meet with an experienced career counselor to practice your answers pertaining to the time off. When he or she says you’re ready, send your résumés with confidence. And if you start working and are bit by the travel bug again, meet with the counselor first so you will learn what you’ll be up against next time when you return.