Taking a career break to travel will be one of the best things you ever do. Making the decision doesn’t come lightly though, and the uncertainty of finding a job after travelling might be what holds you back from doing it in the first place.
I can tell you from first-hand experience that it isn’t as scary or difficult as you imagine. By taking a structured approach and applying some simple measures, you can make sure you are ready for the job market when your trip is over.
My experience was even better than I hoped; I was offered a fantastic job within six weeks of returning. If I did it, so can you! Let me show you how.
Before you leave: get your house in order
Regardless of whether you are taking a sabbatical year, or quitting your job with a plan to find one when you get back, there are several steps you should take before you leave for your trip of a lifetime.
I had to learn this the hard way. This part is a list of things I *wished* I’d done before we left.
- Save examples of your work. Whatever you do for a job, there will be documents that you use to plan, examples of what you’ve done and outputs you’ve created. Upload all of this material to cloud storage. All of it.
- Write down all of your achievements. This should already be a section in your CV (resume), but write down all of the things you’ve achieved in the last few years, including the successes of the teams and organisations you have worked for. After all, without you they wouldn’t have achieved those things.
- Get references from your current workplace. Ask your current line manager, previous line managers and other members of your team to write you a little reference. Ask them to list what they think you contribute to an organisation, and save these alongside your documents.
- Update any professional networking profiles (like LinkedIn). Don’t be afraid to say that you no longer work at your current place, or that you’re taking a career break to travel. If you can, include when you’re going to be back and the sort of position you’ll be looking for.
- Get your one-page CV in order. Make sure you list out your professional work experience, education, skills and reference contacts. There is loads of information out there about how to build a CV. I’m not a recruitment specialist, but you can have a look at mine as a reference. Don’t bother trying to write a personal statement. This will change by the time you’ve been travelling.
Preparing for the job search: before you return
As you enter the final stages of your career break there are steps you can take to make the transition a much smoother one. Don’t worry – this won’t detract from your enjoyment of wherever you are in the world.
- Plan your returning budget and accommodation (all the fun stuff). You will need at least two months (probably) when you return home to find a job. You will need to answer the following questions: do you have somewhere to stay? Do you have enough money to look after yourself while you search for a job?
- Reflect on what you’ve learnt. Travelling teaches you all kinds of things. Think about what you’ve enjoyed most, and what you’ve missed about work. Consider what makes you the most stressed, and what you don’t enjoy. Write these things down and build a list of what you’re looking for (and what you’re not looking for) in a job. Don’t expect a career break to fix a failing career! Instead, use your career break as an opportunity to learn about what you like to do.
- Save descriptions and person specifications for jobs you like. I wouldn’t advise trying to apply for jobs while you’re still enjoying the last few weeks of travel (it’s extremely time consuming), but it’s good to start exploring what’s out there. Saving job descriptions for roles that look appealing to you will make it easier to write your personal statement when you’re back home.
Getting back and looking for a job
Searching for jobs is a challenge, especially when you’ve just returned from a huge trip and you’re still adjusting to being home again.
To succeed at any challenge you need to have a game plan. If you’ve followed my tips for before you leave and preparing to return, you will be in a good position. Now comes the most important part.
- Set a date for when you will start applying for jobs. It isn’t realistic to think you’ll be doing it as soon as you get home. You’ll want to see friends and family, enjoy visiting the places you’ve missed and share all of your stories. You’ll also probably have a bunch of other life admin to sort out. Depending on your budget and accommodation situation, take as long as you need to get yourself adjusted before you start applying for jobs. New jobs are listed daily. And, like people, there is no ‘one’ job for you.
- Rewrite your CV (a few times). Spend a few days working to perfect this. Write and rewrite to ensure you’re saying everything you need to. Most important of all, get a few people to proofread it. There are a few free online CV-checking services out there and they can be useful, but take them with a pinch of salt – they are usually trying to sell you further services.
- Sign up to all of the recruitment agencies in your area. Don’t waste your time filling out individual application forms. This was my mistake in the beginning. I could get through one in a day, and I didn’t even hear back from 80% of the applications. Sack that off and go straight for the big timers. Send your new, amazing CV to all the recruitment agents and set up introductory meetings with them. Tell them what you’re looking for and let them do all the hard work. It’s what they get paid to do. Only when you have done this should you devote any time to individual applications.
- Set ‘working’ hours. Create a timetable for applying for jobs to avoid becoming completely consumed by the process. I ‘worked’ a normal 9am to 5pm day. After a day’s efforts, switch off and do something you enjoy. Look after your physical and mental health during this time of many, many rejections.
- Don’t compromise. Remember that list of things you said you liked and didn’t like? And remember all of those lessons you learned about yourself and your priorities while you were travelling? Yeah, just don’t forget that. Don’t compromise on a job that will make you unhappy. Keep going for one you actually want.
- Don’t play down your career break. People will ask you why you have been out of work for a year. Tell them about all of the amazing things you’ve learned and have a pitch ready about how it will make you a better employee because you’ve become a more rounded person and been able to step out of your comfort zone.
- Be patient. It will take time for interviews to materialise. Don’t be downhearted if you don’t get one in your first couple of weeks of searching; that’s perfectly normal. Keep putting in the groundwork and the doors will soon start to open.
- Stay positive. Unless you’re staggeringly lucky and get the first job you apply for, you’re going to be faced with rejection. It can be brutal, and at times I found it overwhelming. It helps to keep everything in perspective. You might be up against hundreds of people for each job, and you were probably overlooked for an arbitrary reason. Don’t lose that self-belief. Look after yourself, keep going and I promise you will get there.
Be prepared for job-hunting even if you’re on a sabbatical
My experience of finding a job after travelling wasn’t a typical one. It was never part of the plan.
When we set off on our round-the-world trip I had signed a sabbatical contract and was due to return to my job a year later. So, how is it that I can write this article, you ask?
Three weeks before we flew home, we were enjoying ourselves in Vietnam and I eagerly anticipated my first call with work. We had planned this as part of my sabbatical contract. The call was to confirm the finer details and arrange a proper return-to-work date.
I felt excited. I loved my job. I’d been there for five years, working with a team of great people to turn a failing organisation into one of the best in the country. And my year out had only confirmed that I had made the perfect career choice.
But the call didn’t go quite as planned. I was informed there was to be a restructure. A week later, it was confirmed that my job was one of the ones to go.
I had the option of taking voluntary redundancy. I had to make this decision two weeks before we were due to fly home. It felt like a smack in the face. You can imagine what ran through my mind: would this be happening if I hadn’t left? Why couldn’t they have told me earlier, we could have carried on travelling? How were we going to afford to live when we got back when this wasn’t something we had planned for?
With two weeks of our trip left, I went from being a little nervous but excited, to a whole bag of emotional mess. I was faced with a job search and I wasn’t prepared at all, mentally or physically.
I didn’t have an up-to-date CV, I hadn’t taken note of any of my past achievements and I didn’t have any saved examples of work to build a portfolio.
Once I got over the initial shock I tried to enjoy the last two weeks of our travels. I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy and I would like to return to Vietnam again to see it in a better frame of mind. I gave myself a week after returning home to just enjoy being back and seeing everyone. After that, I joined the millions of people on the job search train.
Finding a job after travelling: my experience
I started by applying for jobs in the same sector as my previous one, but after hitting brick walls I expanded my search. At first it’s exciting, then it gets tedious, then it becomes downright soul-destroying. My best friend kept reminding me that it was a numbers game. In the end I submitted about 60 applications. I was getting rejected for jobs I could do in my sleep.
It’s hard to keep going when all you face is rejection, but the drive to get a secure job to enable Alex to work on this blog full-time was what kept me going.
After a couple of weeks things started to look up. As soon as I had one interview, more started coming in. I got a call every day from a new recruitment agency suggesting new jobs.
In the end, it all happened so quickly.
We’ve been back in the UK for just over two months now and, after a stressful return, I am in a fantastic new job and living in a beautiful new place where my commute is only a 12-minute walk. (Seriously, I was commuting for three hours a day before we left.)
My career opportunities have never looked better and I’m starting to wonder if the voluntary redundancy was a blessing in disguise. I haven’t forgotten everything I knew before. In fact, I know more.
Being in an office isn’t boring, but I’m also making sure that I have time for other things in my life to achieve the balance I want. I went for a job that allows that flexibility and I made sure I got rid of all the things I learned made me unhappy (like commuting).
Different experiences, same principles
Everyone’s experience will be different. The aim of this article was to share what I have learned and to show you that it is possible to get a job you love after taking a career break. Of course, if you have anything you would like to share to make this experience better for others, please do so in the comments below.
Next time I’ll be writing about my first few weeks at work: how my approach has changed, how people react when I tell them about my travelling career break, and changes I’ve made to make my job work better for me.
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