How to leave the workforce gracefully without the fear of permanent unemployment.
Taking a break from working, whether it’s to travel, recover from an illness or raise a family, can seem a daunting endeavour. How will you ensure you’ll still be a contender when it’s time to return to the workforce? With some careful planning and a few little tricks, a leave of absence need not be a one-way street to permanent unemployment-ville. Burn no bridges Make sure your departure is as smooth and friendly as possible – even if you’re not planning to return to the same workplace – and be as open as you can about why you’re taking off. “You don’t want to leave people guessing,” says Roberta Neault of Life Strategies Ltd. “These people are your network, whether you’re coming back to work there or somewhere else. They’re your eyes and ears about future opportunities and can keep you up to date on significant changes.” Collect evidence If you’ve been involved in important projects, don’t leave the office empty-handed. Take some work samples that exemplify what you’re capable of (without taking confidential company secrets). For example, says Neault, look for a brochure written to promote a project in which you were involved, or some photographs of an event that you helped put together. “People say the nicest things in thank-you cards,” adds Neault. “You could quote some of them in a cover letter later on. Be strategic about holding onto that.” Time your exit If you can, try to leave your post just after the new year and return just before the beginning of the next year. The reason? Your resumé won’t have any gaps. “Some people put months and years on their resumés,” observes Neault, “and that’s not really necessary” – just the year is enough. And if you can’t work into the new year, you could think about taking on some very part-time work, such as filling in to cover a colleague who’s on holiday, in order to keep your work history looking solid. Don’t drop out Just because you’re not reporting to an office every day doesn’t mean you have to drop out of the scene altogether. Attend a few seminars to maintain contacts and keep up to date in your industry, email your colleagues from time to time or get involved in some volunteer work that keeps your skills in shape, suggests Ian Christie of Bold Career. Plan your return If you’re heading back to familiar territory, get caught up on things before your first day back: find out what projects are on the go, read up on any new software or procedures and demonstrate your enthusiasm with a call to your boss. If you’re looking for a brand new scene, bone up on your interviewing skills, update your resumé and put out the word that you’re back in business. Address your absence from the workplace in a positive way: point out what you learned, how you stayed in touch and how you’ve kept up to date on the industry.