Career Break – How Long Can You Take?

career breakCan you take a career break – time off from work to do other things like travel or be a full time mom?  If so, how long can you safely take a career break if you want to come back to work afterwards.  These are popular questions among new mothers with young children as well as from anyone who is burnt out by their career and need a break.

My answer is you can absolutely take a career break.  I actually think we can all take several career breaks in our lifetime.    Here are my detailed thoughts about how long you can take a career break based a specific reader question below.

After answering Eleanor’s questions about mid career change, she followed up with these questions about taking a career break.

Hi Lei,  I have a follow up question. If I were to eventually move into something totally different anyway,  how much more difficult would it be if I actually left the work world and take a career break for 6 months,  1 year, and 5 years?  I would think after a certain amount of time, it could be easier to try something new since lesser pay and lower level would no longer be an issue.  =)  But how open are employers to hiring a woman who has taken a sabbatical from working?

Eleanor,  There seem to be two parts to your question.

I think your first question is: Do you need to take some time off to make it easier to try something new with lesser pay and lower level?

My thoughts are: From the employer’s point of view, no. As long as you are willing to take a lower pay and level, tell a convincing story of why you are a good fit for their job and are willing take the entry pay, someone will be interested in you. I think the more important question is do you need a break from work to adjust to potentially having much lower pay and level in the new job. If you, then take a break. It’s ok.

As for your second question, “How much more difficult would it be if I actually left the work world and took a career break for 6 months, 1 year, and 5 years? How open are employers to hiring a woman who has taken a sabbatical from working?”

To answer the second part first: Employers are fine with hiring someone who has taken a sabbatical, especially since you are willing to take a less pay and level. Again what you need is a story of why you took the time off. What most employer may worry about is how long will this employee work for me once I hire her. Will she all of a sudden leave for another Sabbatical? Good reasons are: spending time with your kids while young or working for a non-profit part time, etc.

As for how long you can take, six months to one year is easy to explain. You can easily say a combination of burning out from your previous career + spending more time with the kids. Longer than a year can be problematic as employer may care whether you even want to work again at all. So your story have to be stronger, more convincing.

At the end of the day, the longer you stay away from work, the rustier you can be at networking or interviewing for a job. You also need to consider, changing careers can take time. If you want to take 1 year off, then you should start networking probably six months in already and interview as it may take another six months before you are hired.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any more questions. Best wishes,


Leave a Reply