Rachel Morgan-Trimmer is the UK’s leading expert on career breaks, sabbaticals and adult gap years.
We recently asked for Rachel’s insight on the pros and cons of career breaks and get her advice on planning one. Here’s what she had to say:
What is a career break? How do they work?
A career break is a period of time out of work. A sabbatical is similar but has a specific meaning – it’s an agreed period away from your job. Most sabbaticals are unpaid, but a few are paid.
A career break must be constructive – it’s time out, not time off! On a career break you can travel, work, volunteer or take a course – and in fact, most career breakers do a combination of these things. Whatever you choose to do, it will help develop you both professionally and personally.
How did you become interested in career breaks? Why are you passionate about helping others take a break?
When I took my career break, I was working for a gap year company. There was a lot of information on gap years, but none for those wanting to take a career break. There are so many more issues a career breaker has to consider – not just his or her job, but their house, car, pets, bills, etc. They also have more concerns over money, such as how much their career break will cost, how long they will be out of work and not earning, and so on.
Helping people take career breaks is a fab job! I’m helping people literally change their lives – they come back more confident, more experienced and with more developed skills. It’s not just career breakers either – by helping people work, train or volunteer abroad, we’re supporting some truly worthwhile projects, which wouldn’t exist without the career breakers going there.
What are the common reasons individuals opt to take a break from their careers?
The most common reason for people to take a career break is simply to do something different. They want to see the world (usually before they settle down)and with the volunteers, want to give something back, too.
What are the benefits of career breaks? What about the potential drawbacks?
The main professional benefit of a career break is that you get to do something you can’t always do in your day job – and that can even land you a promotion! For example, if you want to move up to a management position but don’t have the experience, teaching abroad, leading a team of volunteers or helping to manage a project abroad will get you that relevant experience. It can also give you useful transferable skills that employers really value – problem-solving, communication skills, and so on.
On a personal level, a career break can get you out of that “stuck in a rut” feeling, even if you’re returning to the same job, because you’re not the same person any more. You’ve had the courage to get out and do something different and simply having that impetus to do it can give you more confidence. You also have a wealth of experiences to look back on and loads of new friends, too!
The biggest worry that career breakers have is money. They’re not earning while they’re on a career break, and if they’re not on sabbatical, they don’t have a guaranteed job to come back to either. That’s not to say it can’t be managed – it can, quite easily, but it is something that needs to be carefully planned. Those on sabbatical need to think through all the possibilities too, such as what if they want to come back earlier or later than planned? What if they’re made redundant while on sabbatical? Again, it can be managed with proper consideration and planning, but all career breakers need a plan B!
How should professionals approach planning a career break? What are some dos and dont’s?
The No. 1 piece of advice I give to potential career breakers always surprises them. It’s “Do something you really want to do.” The point of a sabbatical is to go away and do something different and it’s a waste of an opportunity if you’re not pursuing your passion. Even with volunteering where it’s about who you’re helping, it’s important to be committed.
We also encourage career breakers to plan and budget as much as possible. It can get a bit dull to be honest – you want to be thinking about swimming with dolphins, not council tax rebates – but the more you plan before you go away, the better career break you’ll have, because you won’t have any loose ends to worry about. You’ll also have more money!
Our biggest “don’t” is to try not to worry. It’s a huge step, leaving your job and travelling halfway (or all the way) around the world and for some people it can be quite daunting. Being flexible, planning properly and having that all-important plan B can help ease any fears.
What types of conversations should individuals have with their employer about taking a break? Do employers typical have policies surrounding sabbaticals?
Many employers have career break policies these days. Your sabbatical will usually be unpaid and you will usually have to have worked at the company for a minimum period (two years is common).
If you apply for a sabbatical, the most important thing is to get it all in writing. You need to know exactly what you’re coming back to – for example, it might not be the same job, but a job at the same level. You will usually miss out on a pay rise and obviously you won’t be getting a salary (except in exceptional circumstances). You will also still technically be employed by your company, which gives you certain rights, but also means they can dictate what you can and do on your career break (most stipulate that you don’t do any other paid work).
If there’s no sabbatical policy, don’t despair! You can still request a sabbatical from your employer. Put the business case to them: they don’t have to pay your salary for a few months, and they get a more experienced, skilled and employee back!
What are some popular options for paying for sabbatical? What types of work can individuals do?
If career breakers want to work abroad, the easiest option is a working holiday visa – you can get these for the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The only downside is that these visas have age limits.
Working in Europe, as long as we’re still a part of the E.U. is an option too, as you don’t need a visa. If you take an instructor training course or sailing or yacht crew course, you can work while you travel.
Finally, TEFL is a really popular option for career breakers. You’ll need a TEFL certification (which you can get in this country – the course can be done online or at weekends) and your TEFL provider will often help you find a job abroad. It’s not just for teaching children either – some countries, such as China, need people to teach English to professionals.
Where are some popular destinations for those on sabbatical? What makes these places appealing?
The most popular destinations for career breakers are Australia and New Zealand. This is partly because of the ease of getting a working holiday visa (which in Australia, you can sometimes extend to two years), and partly because they are on most round-the-world flight routes. They’re great places to visit as well, of course, with loads of things to do, friendly people and lots of hostels and cheap bus travel for backpackers.
Volunteers tend to go to Africa, Asia or South America, as that where the need is greatest, but there are volunteer opportunities in Europe, too. TEFL teachers often go to Asia, especially the Far East. Other career breakers will of course go where their chosen activity takes them, whether that’s learning to be a ski instructor in Canada, or surfing in the Caribbean.
How should individuals prepare for returning for work following their break?
We advise career breakers to plan their return to work before they’ve even left! It doesn’t mean having everything set in stone, just having a plan of what to do when they come back, whether that’s looking for a new job, or returning to work. Before you go, keep a copy of your CV stored in the cloud so you can access it easily, and make sure you have relevant contact details, too. Tell people before you go when you expect to be back, and it’s always worth dropping them a line while you’re away to keep abreast of developments – and remind them that you exist!
What are we forgetting? Any other considerations individuals should make about their sabbatical? Tips for making the most of it?
If you’re thinking about taking a career break, do your research thoroughly! People are always surprised, for example, when they learn what a variety of volunteer opportunities are available throughout the world, and that they can use their professional skills in a huge range of placements. Basically, if you can do it as a day job, you can do it as a volunteer!
We also advise you check out the organization you’re thinking of going with. The Career Break Site has the strictest vetting process in the industry, because it’s so important to us that career breakers go with an organization that is trustworthy. The majority of organizations will be willing to answer all your questions and can even put you in touch with past participants if you ask!
Although I’ve talked a lot about planning, it’s important to ditch the plans once in a while, too. I don’t think I’ve met a single career breaker who’s stuck to their itinerary! You can usually change flight dates and so on, or add some time to your placement or course.
Finally, if you’re thinking about it, just go ahead and do it! People regret the things they didn’t do – but no-one ever regrets taking a career break.
Whether you’re returning from a career break or looking for a new gig, make sure to check out Paysa to ensure you’re paid what you’re worth. Sign up to personalize Paysa for you.