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Chandler Bing did it. He did what I always wanted to do – quit a boring job to pursue his dream. The F.R.I.E.N.D.S character quit his high-paying but a mind-numbingly boring job in data analytics to start at the bottom as an intern in an advertising firm because that is where his heart was. I too quit a teaching career – something I had entered because of family pressure – to follow my dream of becoming a reporter. But then, came other aspirations.

Taking a break is as much a norm as having a career itself. Three years ago, my friend, Shruti, decided to step back from work. She had become a mom and wanted time off. Some time ago, when she started job-hunting again, she was unable to convince recruiters about her professionalism because of the career gap. But she did not let that deter her. She joined a distance learning programme and added a Master’s degree to her resume which helped her to change track and enter a different field. 

I took a leaf out of her book when I took a break from hard news reporting, it was difficult for me to return to the demanding 24×7 news cycle. So I decided to take up freelance content writing jobs and working from home. At the end of my sabbatical from a ‘regular job’, I had edited two books, helped fund-raise and organise a charity car rally, done corporate media-training workshops – basically added a variety of experiences to my portfolio. 

This seems to be a universal problem. A UK based organisation ‘Workingmums.co.uk’ surveyed 2300 mothers (who had taken a break) to find out that half of them could not find a position in their field of work. Furthermore, a fifth of these women had to settle for a much lesser position. There is a general tendency to question skillsets after career gaps (whether due to maternity, health, change of interests, change of place or even a break from the monotony!) and it’s hard getting back. But, if you are willing and ready, it’s do-able. Here are some possible scenarios and what you need to keep in mind.

You want to join the same industry you were working in before:

While you already have the expertise needed here, you may have to go the extra yard to prove that you still belong. 

  • Take stock of your skillset. Make a list of all the duties you were responsible for previously and tally with available job descriptions. This will give you a fair idea of what employees are expecting.
  • Rekindle with your industry. Check up on all the industry news, sign up for newsletters about the topics you are interested in.
  • Update your CV. Interpret your career break in a positive light, and don’t forget to mention all the activities you took up during the gap.

You want to explore a new career path:

My friend Shruti opted for this. While her career as a Marketing Manager was rewarding enough, she reskilled herself and joined as a Content Manager in a PR firm. If you wish to explore a different avenue, here are a few things you can try:

  • Training programs in the field of work you choose. It also looks good on your CV.
  • Try your hand at freelancing, before joining a company. Even a little bit of experience may help you understand the demands of the role. Plus, it’s good money.
  • Research. It’s a new field altogether, so you need to prepare for it as much as possible. Attend conferences, even beyond just online platforms. These events will help you build a network as well.
  • Be prepared to answer questions about your gap year or change in career paths. Be honest but avoid negative answers. Start your sentences with ‘I want(ed) to explore/I feel I am better at/My true inclinations lie in’ and so on. 
  • Keep a back-up plan handy. Just in case.

Figure out a financial plan till you get a job:

If you’ve been on a break – whether for 6 months or 6 years – there will be a dip in your savings. Plan ahead and prepare for the worst.

  • Start investing early into your break. This will help you with a source of profit when you need it most.
  • Save more than you are expecting to spend. When you’re on a break, you need to start being a little stingy. 
  • Keep working – take up part-time jobs or freelancing projects. Try going the digital route. 
  • If you are a new mother, prepare for childcare much in advance, so you can be comfortable leaving your toddler in good hands.

Negotiate your way back:

If your new job is great, but offering you a lot less than you expected, Don’t ‘Settle’! 

Yes, everything from – ‘what’s at stake?’, ‘what is available?’, ‘how much is the commute?’ and ‘any job is better than no job’ – are the things that will cross your mind when negotiating your salary. But know this, negotiating is always the correct thing to try.

  • Research is your friend. You should know exactly how much the current market for your role is. Try browsing through job searching websites and check out their salary expectations. 
  • Reach out to peers and mentors in the industry who are currently working and have a finger on the pulse when it comes to jobs.
  • Have a negotiation that will leave both parties with a feeling of win-win. Speak on how you can bring value to the position and build a case, rather than simply quoting a number.

So go ahead, FULFILL your dreams and live!

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