Thinking of taking some time off? You’re not alone. Even the most career-driven is likely to take a break from their job.
Plenty have benefited from the break, too, either by changing directions slightly or pursuing completely different, more satisfying professions. The question, then, is not whether to take time off, but how to do it without damaging your career. Here are some pointers:
- Stay in touch with former colleagues. Don’t let your world shrink to such a degree that you exclude work — and your old colleagues — completely. Drop by your former office for lunch. Call to see what your ex-colleagues are up to. Ask them what they’re reading and which conferences they’re attending, and do your best to mirror their activities so you stay in the loop. Even though keeping up these contacts can be tough, especially if you have a new family to worry about, the effort will be worth it. Not only will you stay current in your field, you’ll stay on colleagues’ minds. When you’re ready to return, they’ll undoubtedly tell you about job openings.
- Find a mentor. These days, technology is changing so rapidly that even people in the thick of things sometimes struggle to keep up with the latest trends. So before you leave your job, ask a supervisor or someone else you trust and respect to help you stay plugged in on technological advances. You might say, “I plan to come back, and so I want to stay up-to-date.” Then ask if you could e-mail or call her on occasion to pick her brain about how to keep your skills current.
- Fill in for vacationing colleagues. Look into whether you might be able to sub for workers who go on vacation or take short leaves of absence. This will help you to brush up your skills and keep your “career edge.” Just don’t agree to work more days than you’re prepared for. After all, you left the job for a reason.
- Expand your horizons. Many people take time off not only because they want to spend more time with their families, but also because they’re frustrated. If you fall into the latter category, use your hiatus to discover what you’d really like to be doing. If you’ve spent your career as an administrative assistant in a law firm but think you would rather be working for an arts organization, consider volunteering for one; even the most prestigious organizations tend to welcome free help. And try enrolling in adult education courses to broaden your skills and knowledge.
•Savor your time away from work. Most important, don’t worry about what you may be missing at the office. Instead, do all you can to enjoy your time at home. That way, when you decide to return to the 9-to-5 routine, you’ll be energized and ready to jump-start your career — or even find a new one.