Planning your career break

What to consider when planning a career break and the types of career breaks available.

Professionals in a row When planning your career break you need to decide if you are leaving your job permanently or whether you are planning to return. Before making any decisions work out how long you can afford to take off without this affecting your career and finances, and also what type of career break you want to take.  

If you are planning on returning to work, you will need to negotiate the time off and the conditions of your return. Obtaining this agreement in writing should guarantee that you can return to the same role.

Types of career break

Mini career break

A mini career break, which tends to last a month or less, can be an alternative to a simple holiday or a way of sampling a new role or country without having to fully commit.

Mini career breaks also allow you to keep your job, as they tend to be easier to negotiate. They can also be easier and cheaper to organise. You may take a mini career break for family reasons, to travel, to do voluntary or paid work, or to learn new skills.

You may choose to use all your annual leave at once to take a mini career break, or negotiate unpaid days off, but you should be prepared to discuss alternatives with your manager. Explain how the break will benefit them: you may learn a new skill that will benefit the business or return to work with fresh enthusiasm. You may need to plan this well in advance to allow for provisions to be made to cover your job while you are away.

Mini career breaks can be more secure than giving up work completely and you can still do some of what you want without missing out altogether.

Sabbatical

The term sabbatical originally refers to taking a year out every seven years, but can be tailored to meet your needs. Some companies may offer this in their benefits package. As engineering can be a stressful career choice, these companies realise that offering some form of paid time out is a good way to give their employees a break. However, you may choose to take a sabbatical that is unpaid if this is not offered by your company.

Some universities and organisations offer funding and opportunities for sabbaticals and fellowships. The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust [new window] offers people taking a sabbatical the chance to do a worthwhile project that benefits the community abroad by providing monetary assistance.

Voluntary work

Some people use a career break as an opportunity to do volunteer work. CSV [new window] offer voluntary placements that could are very rewarding, but could also help with employment opportunities later on.

Volunteering abroad can be very rewarding, allowing you to put your engineering skills into practice in a new environment to benefit the people that live there. EngineerAid [new window] allows engineers to volunteer their time and skills to assist in developing countries.

Unexpected career breaks

Sometimes life throws something at you that may lead to an unexpected career break, such as illness, family commitments or even redundancy.

Although unexpected, they may provide a positive outcome by giving you the chance to learn a new skill or revisit your career plans. If, however, your career break creates some issues, do be aware that there is a service - IET Connect [new window]  - that offers information, advice and financial support to individuals and families affected by illness, disability, unemployment and bereavement.

Career break finances

Finances can be the biggest hurdle in a career break, so be sure to plan well ahead for any payments you will need to make while you are away, such as mortgages, standing ordered and direct debits.

If you are taking the time off to do a course, you may well be entitled to a student grant or career development loan.

Cancel anything that you do not need while you are away, such as newspaper delivery. It is also worthwhile trying to pay off your credit card before you depart as this will leave your maximum limit available for any emergencies that may arise while you are away.

Other career break preparations

In addition to finances, you need to decide what to do with your house and your belongings. You can choose to let your house out to earn income or you could arrange for a house sitter. If you own a car, you will need to decide if you will keep the car on the road and, if you have pets, what arrangements are needed for their care.

The timing of your career break should also be considered alongside the impact this may have on your employer. In difficult financial times companies may be less inclined to give you permission to take a career break, or be able to offer you a guaranteed job on your return.

Equally, it is best to avoid asking for time off during periods which will have significant impact on major projects or when there are staff shortages.