A mid-career break is no longer an automatic red flag on a resume, and experts in the careers field say the pandemic accelerated that trend.
This spring LinkedIn, the leading business social media platform, decided to include a spot for a career break in the experience section of members’ employment profiles.
Career counsellors say a year or two off can be framed as a positive career move for those re-entering the job market.
“In the old world, if you had a gap in your resume, you had to have a way to explain that. Some reasons were acceptable and some weren’t. I think that’s really short-sighted,” says Trish Reay, associate dean, PhD and research, at the University of Alberta’s School of Business.
She says employers should be seeking employees with creativity, energy and enthusiasm, and those qualities may be greater for employees who have taken a re-energizing break.
The changes caused by the pandemic have created new ways of thinking, says Dr. Reay.
“Who are the people who look like they can handle whatever comes next? At least some employers are realizing a static resume may not be what they want from everyone in their organization,” she says.
Chris Yardy, who experienced the break and reinvention of the pandemic firsthand, agrees that employers may find the candidate with a resume gap is a good choice.
Mr. Yardy, 34, left his investment industry job in Calgary to help his parents in Toronto with health issues before the pandemic hit. But when he was ready to come back to the work force, the pandemic was in full swing and jobs had disappeared.
He didn’t get many callbacks from applications until spring 2021, eventually landing a position at Louisbourg Investments in Moncton in December.
He says employers can benefit from putting away biases about people who have taken time out of the job market.
“In the case of the pandemic, a lot of people went through some really difficult personal times and it’s an opportunity to pick someone who’s quite resilient. It’s someone who demonstrates the ability to recover and bounce back, regardless of how difficult things have been.”
While Mr. Yardy’s break wasn’t totally voluntary, he says he has respect for people who take a step back from their careers with a plan to reassess.
“My industry, the financial industry, can be really high pressure. I personally don’t see anything wrong with taking a step back. It can give you a chance to reflect where you are in your career and where you are in your life.”
Toronto-based career counsellor Fiona Bryan says the pandemic put a different spin on the mid-career break because of layoffs, mental or physical burnout, and family choices or constraints.
“Right now, I think many employers are much more open and empathetic to what’s been going on,” says Ms. Bryan, who worked with Mr. Yardy during his break.
She advises job seekers to explain the break to prospective employers and outline how it makes them a better candidate for the position.
“The fact someone has taken a break is incidental to their skills,” Ms. Bryan says. “It’s a blip in a 35-year career.”
Ms. Bryan has clients taking a break to do career pivots.
“It allows employees to come back with that focus, that determination,” she says, adding that they resolve issues that may have been getting out of control and come to the table with a fresh perspective.
Mr. Yardy found employers were receptive to the fact he continued to do work on his own.
“I tried to keep up with my industry, doing my own investment research. I managed my family’s money. Speaking to portfolio managers, my hope was it was clear I was staying on top of things and staying sharp,” he says.
He also took the opportunity to look at what sort of a position and work-life balance he wanted.
The Moncton job was the right fit, he says.
“It was clear as I grew into the role there would be an opportunity to mentor others on the team and to be able to teach, and I think for me that was a huge selling point.”
Vida Thomson, founder of Flourish Career Consulting in Vancouver, says her clients who have taken a break assessed what wasn’t working in their last job, what they weren’t enjoying about their life and then found something they will enjoy.
“When you’re not happy, your engagement tends to go down,” she says. “Engagement is a huge advantage for employers. Employees are more productive and it’s just a more interesting place to work.”
She says the new LinkedIn profile “career break” option highlights the broader acceptance of career breaks.
Still, she cautions job candidates looking to get past initial application screenings to explain the gap in their cover letter, rather than slip in a description such as personal development to cover the resume gap.
“One reason you don’t want to have personal development as a position is that can affect you negatively with applicant tracking systems. It won’t show as a relevant job title,” she says.
Dr. Reay says even if top management is open to workers with different career paths, there can be resistance in middle management and other parts of the organization.
“They need to make sure the HR systems and teams are in line with it. They can tamp down someone who has an unusual break.”
She adds that business needs to develop ways to assess candidates with a career break, and it’s likely through discussion rather than resume analysis.
“The conversation process helps those hiring to best evaluate the richness of that potential employee’s mindset and the way in which they can add to the organization.”