Career breaks are common. So why are we still hiding them on resumes?
Bobbie Bain had been working at American Airlines for less than a year when she received devastating news.
Her son died.
She hadn’t worked long enough to qualify for unpaid family leave, she said. So she decided to quit.
“I worked my two-week notice that I barely remember,” she said. And “that’s that.”
Bain said it took about six months to recover, during which time she was caring for a sick family member.
“About the time I got my head squared back away, the pandemic came around and there was just no work anywhere,” she said. She said she starting applying for jobs when the airlines started hiring again. By that time, about two years had passed, she added.
“I started applying for jobs … but almost everybody said, ‘Well, what have you been doing?'” she said. “I don’t even know how to answer them.”
Surveys show that most people have at least one event during their lifetimes that requires time off from work.
According to a LinkedIn survey of 23,000 workers in 2022, nearly two-thirds (62%) of employees have taken a career break at some point — and 35% would be interested in one in the future.
That same year, LinkedIn rolled out its “Career Break” feature, allowing members to indicate breaks in their profile’s work history for 13 reasons, ranging from full-time parenting to travel and bereavement, to relocation and career transition.
“We are hoping this new feature will make it easier for candidates and recruiters to have open conversations,” Jennifer Shappley, VP of Talent at LinkedIn, wrote when the feature was announced.
To date, just over 1 million LinkedIn members have added the “career break” feature to their profiles, according to the company.
Nick Gausling started using it shortly after it was rolled out. After dealing with health issues caused by chronic Lyme disease, compounded by a mold outbreak in his house which forced him to move, he resigned from his job, he said.
Today, his six-month “health and well-being” career break is noted on his LinkedIn profile.
“Rather than just leaving a gap … this is much cleaner,” he said. “It’s a lot more in line with the realities of the modern workforce. A lot of people have those types of moments where they need to step back for a little bit.”
According to a survey of 6,000 workers, aged 25 and older, in six countries in Southeast Asia, the top reasons for taking a career break were health and wellness issues (17%) and job transitions (17%), according to the market research firm Milieu Insight.
People also took career breaks to travel (13%), to raise children (12%), and care for others (10%), the data showed.
Less than a third (29%) said they hadn’t experienced events that warrant a break, the survey showed.
Despite their ubiquity, employment gaps are often viewed negatively, said Jenn Lim, CEO of the organizational consultancy Delivering Happiness.
“The assumption is you were fired, struggle to get hired, or are a poor performer,” she said.
But that’s not the reality for most working people today.
“People are more open to taking career breaks and pursuing non-linear career paths,” said Pooja Chhabria, LinkedIn’s head of editorial in Asia-Pacific. “It’s set to become almost the norm.”
Thomas Baiter was laid off from Microsoft in late 2022, just as his father’s dementia was worsening.
“He lives alone, and my wife and I took on the responsibility of managing his care,” he said. “I can’t imagine the stress we would have been under if I’d try to do what we did for him while working 40-plus hours per week.”
When he decided to seek employment again months later, he wondered whether he should disclose his time off.
In CNBC/Milieu’s survey, only half of respondents who took a career break said they disclosed it on their resumes or in job portals. One common tactic is to fudge the dates of past employment — blurring start and end dates to minimize the break. But Baiter decided honesty is the best policy.
“In the end I figured any company that doesn’t have empathy for my situation wouldn’t be one I’d want to work for,” he told CNBC. “My hope was that anyone looking at my profile would see that I’m more than just the collection of my career accomplishments and job titles.”
He said most interviewers were empathetic to his situation, but added that companies may have hesitated if his break had been longer.
“Perhaps companies fear someone who’s taken more than a couple of months off wouldn’t have the drive they’re looking for,” he said.
As for Gausling’s “health and well-being” break, he said it never even came up in his interviews.
“I spoke to companies ranging from a small firm where I was looking at being their CFO, all the way up to another very large multibillion dollar company,” he said. “Nobody mentioned it.”
Tavy Cussinel took a career break from public relations for seven years, while she had three kids.
“You can’t nurse the baby and take a call with the global CEO. I tried and I was like, no, no, I’m stopping. I’m stepping out and I’m dedicating this beautiful period of time to my newborn,” she said. “And then I did it again and again.”
By the time she decided to start working again, her family relocated from the United Kingdom to Singapore, which made finding work “doubly hard,” she said.
She discovered that PowerPoint had changed (the “keyboard hacks that I used to know had changed”) and social media was now a vital tool of the PR trade. “I was like — I have to really brush up on my … technical skills.”
Monster career specialist Vicki Salemi said employers are now more flexible about career gaps than they were in the past.
“Many people have gaps,” she said, “Especially as people have made so many career changes during the Great Resignation.”
She also chose to be forthcoming about her time off. According to LinkedIn, half (51%) of employers say they are more likely to call a candidate back if they know the reason for their career break.
“I gave my heart and soul into raising those babies,” said Cussinel.
Though career breaks are becoming more popular, LinkedIn data shows a stigma still exists with some hiring managers. Company surveys show one in five hiring managers reject such candidates.
“Viewing resume gaps as a lack of seriousness … is an outdated mindset,” said Nicole Price, a leadership coach and workplace specialist. “It fails to recognize the complexities of modern life and the multifaceted nature of skill development.”
Plus, as mental health and work-life balance are increasingly prioritized, it’s essential to understand that taking a break doesn’t indicate a lack of commitment or ambition, she added.
“On the contrary, it demonstrates a high level of self-awareness and a proactive approach to personal development,” said Price.
Respondents in CNBC/Milieu’s survey agreed, with 52% agreeing that health and wellness is an acceptable reason to take a career break — the highest of the 13 factors in the survey.
Still, 89% said they would worry about what a break would signal to potential employers. And 78% said that career breaks are generally seen as unfavorable in their societies.
But respondents overwhelmingly agreed (92%) that there should be more empathy for those who need career breaks, with more than nine out of 10 respondents saying they would be more willing to take one if they were accepted by more people.
“Someone who’s taken time off just might be a better employee than someone who has never stepped off the corporate hamster wheel,” said Baiter, who has since found a new job.
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