Here's how to go on a wild career break and come back more employable

Thursday 18 December 2014 12:10
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You might be at a stage in your life where a career break or sabbatical could be the perfect way to disrupt the familiar beat of the 9 to 5.

Anything between one to six months away from the day job won't just give you fun memories, but can also offer a fresh perspective on what really matters to you, and also offer an invaluable chance to learn new skills for when you return.

Vanessa Robinson, head of research at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, says that they give workers the "ability or skill set to be agile and are a really opportunity to try out different things and see what skills you have".

As expert Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, of the Career Break Site (www.thecareerbreaksite.com) says "some people refer to them as career steps rather than career breaks because people come back and they do get promoted".

These are all the wackiest things you could do on a career break but still come back more employable.

An Asian elephant. Image credit: Yathin S Krishnappa/Creative Commons

Collecting elephant poo

It’s dirty work, but it might just get you a promotion - or at least improve your analytical skills. As Morgan-Trimmer explains of working with elephant conservation: "If you haven’t had any research of analytical skills in your job so far but it was something you needed to get promoted, having that experience in learning how to collect and analyse data - whether it’s in the form of poo or numbers - that could help show it’s something you’re capable of."

Machu Picchu in Peru. Image credit: Shawn Allen/Creative Commons

Bottle-feeding monkeys and sleeping with pygmy hippos

If you don’t like the sound of sifting through elephant poo, there’s always volunteering to help orphaned animals.

When working with creatures who have lost their parents, volunteers often have to mimic their main caregivers, undertaking activities such as bottle-feeding monkeys and even allowing some of the more traumatised animals in their beds at night. As Morgan-Trimmer explains: "There was even one instance when two volunteers had a baby pygmy hippo in their bed to keep him warm at night."

It might not sound like ideal water-cooler conversation, but this can make volunteers more employable by teaching them two key skills: adaptability and flexibility.

"Your work in conservation might involve an element of office work and you might not have reliable computers so there’s all those sort of problems of adaptation that you’re facing all the time," Morgan-Trimmer says. "Another part of volunteer jobs involves working alongside local staff and educating people about conservation so your communication skills are developing as well."

A Sundari tree in the jungle in Bangladesh. Image credit: Sundarbans /Creative Commons

Leading a group through the jungle

It’s not all monkey business. Volunteering on a career break can often give you that extra bit of leadership expertise.

"Although volunteers might not have a management position at work, they are often put into a management role and proving they can do one. It’s not sitting round a board meeting it’s trekking through the jungle or building a school," Morgan-Trimmer says.

"Sometimes people are stagnating in their careers. You can’t get a promotion until you've got the experience but you can’t get the experience without moving into another job."

Machu Picchu in Peru. Image credit: Rtype909/Creative Commons

Learning an ancient language

In one conservation project in Peru near the Amazon rainforest, career breakers often end up learning parts of an ancient Inca language in order to communicate with those around them. "The simple fact someone has at the top of their CV that they've learnt this obscure Inca language - the fact that you've learnt it in order to communicate better is a big selling point," Morgan-Trimmer says.

Get inspired

Some people even love their career breaks so much they end up starting their own companies. Morgan-Trimmer is one of them: she set up her own business advising career breakers after embarking on a four-month round-the-world trip on a career break while working for a gap-year company.

Spending six months picking up elephant poo but somehow coming back more employable? That's unexpected. Just like first direct, the bank with award-winning customer service.


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