What Is a Career Break? (And How to Explain It to Employers)

Updated December 21, 2022

Career breaks are essential for many people who require time off before resuming routine work activities. There are various reasons why people take an extended break from work. Learning more about these can help you effectively discuss the employment gap with a hiring manager and improve your chances of securing a job. In this article, we explore what a career break is, why people take one and provide tips on discussing this topic with a potential employer.

What is a career break?

A career break is a period of unpaid time off from work which could be taken for many different reasons. The duration of a career break depends on why they require this time off. This break differs from a sabbatical, where you return to an accumulation of work awaiting your attention. It's a way for many people to spend some personal time they otherwise would have missed due to their job.

There are no laws or policies about taking a break from one's career. People may take a break because of familial reasons or personal and professional development. Potential employers are generally receptive to such employment breaks, especially if the candidate can explain it clearly during the interview process.

Related: Everything You Should Know about Taking a Sabbatical

Personal reasons for taking a break from your career

Taking a break from work can be a great way to gain more time for yourself and your family. It can also be a chance to reflect on your personal life and decide what you want to do next. These are some personal reasons for taking an employment break:

Get a fresh perspective on life

Several years of work can lead you to immerse yourself in pursuing your career objectives, limiting your perspective on life. An extended break from your career can give you a renewed outlook on life outside work. It can help you identify new career opportunities and explore paths to achieve your personal and professional goals. You may pursue a new career path or discover a better opportunity in a new organization.

Bond with family

A break from work is an opportunity to spend more time bonding with loved ones. People enjoy a work-life balance that allows them to cultivate meaningful relationships with those they value. You can extend the holidays or annual leave to maximize time with your family. This could involve caring for your children or elderly parents or going on long family trips.

Related: A Helpful Guide to Having a Great Work-Life Balance

Enjoy your hobbies

A career recess can be the beginning of exciting new experiences. This could be spending time in the tropics or travelling to a place you have dreamt of visiting for a long time, learning about other cultures and lifestyles different from those you're familiar with. While this experience may not be possible with a weekend break or sabbatical, an indefinite hiatus can allow you to immerse yourself in activities you enjoy. Practising hobbies and travelling can improve your personality, self-esteem, and social skills.

Devoting time to pursuing your hobbies during your break can also improve your chances of employment. Hiring managers may ask about your hobbies and interests during a job interview and use these to determine if you're a good cultural fit for the organization. The ability to answer such questions honestly and clearly can impress potential employers.

Related: Determining the Answer to “What Are My Interests?”

Start a passion project

Investing time and effort in a passion project is another reason people take a break from their careers. A passion project is an endeavour that brings you great satisfaction and has little or nothing to do with your work. This could be writing a book or screenplay or spearheading a months-long volunteer project. If your workload prevents you from pursuing what you love, then taking time away from work may be a sensible choice.

Related: What Is a Gap Year? (Definition, Examples, and Benefits)

Health-related reasons for taking a break from work

Your health and well-being are crucial to your quality of life. Ensuring that you're healthy and happy is a priority, and it's a good idea to take time off work to look after yourself. These are some of the health-related reasons for taking a break from your career:

Recover from illness or injury

Recovering from an illness or injury can be a lengthy process. Taking time away from the office to seek medical treatment or get the rest you need to heal can be beneficial. An employment break can allow you to recuperate in a healthy environment, with ample time dedicated to your recovery. This is crucial for your long-term health and can help to prevent any permanent damage that may reduce your quality of life. It can also give you the clarity of mind and body to take on the demands of a job.

Manage stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety are the two most common reasons people take a break from work. These may result from a hectic schedule or a toxic work environment which can lead to various health issues. These include physical and mental exhaustion and conditions such as insomnia and depression.

An extended break can help you manage stress effectively by allowing you to relax and even have a renewed perspective on life. It can also help you to identify the source of your stress and develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with it. Taking the time to manage your stress and anxiety can help you improve your mental well-being and become better equipped to handle work and life demands.

Invest in your mental health

It's crucial to prioritize your health before work, irrespective of the financial rewards of your job. While a short break, leave, or sabbatical can help, an indefinite hiatus from your career can sometimes be the best option depending on your needs and feelings. During your break, you can schedule regular visits to a therapist, write in a journal, or try meditation. These might help you feel better so you can take on a new job with a healthier mindset.

Related: How to Deal with Toxic Coworkers (And Why It's Important)

Reasons for taking a career break for professional development

Taking a break from your career can also help you develop professionally. This can allow you to identify and explore your goals and opportunities. Here are some of the reasons you may want to take time off work to advance your career:

Reassess your career goals and plans

Your time away from work can be an opportunity to reconsider your career plans and switch to something you find more exciting and fulfilling. Since you're not returning to your previous job when the break elapses, you can pursue new career growth opportunities. You can explore options in other industries and organizations that align with your professional goals during this time.

Related: SMART Goals: Objectives for Your Career


Being away from work enables you to acquire more skills. This often involves participating in training programs, registering for short courses or certifications, or pursuing a degree or diploma. Upskilling is a great way to return once you feel ready to get back to work.

Skill development plays a significant role in enhancing employability. It also makes you more competitive in the job market if you desire to transition to other positions. Your skills demonstrate your abilities in a specific field and can help you attract potential employers.

Related: What Are High-Income Skills? (With 13 Skills to Develop)

Try out entrepreneurship

Exploring entrepreneurship can be an excellent use of your time off work. You can set up and run your own business or invest in a start-up. This can help you explore your ideas and potentially create a profitable venture. This is a chance for you to redefine your career path and work in an area that you're passionate about or interests you. It can also allow you to develop new skills and knowledge that could benefit your career later on.

Tips for explaining a career break to an employer

If you took a break from working, discussing this with hiring managers during job interviews is essential. You can cite the reasons for your decision and mention details about how you spent your time during this period. Here are several tips on how to discuss your break with potential employers:

  • Mention the break on your cover letter and resume when applying for a job to let potential employers know the reason for an existing gap.

  • Ensure that you're ready to answer any questions about this period during your conversation with the interviewer.

  • Cite any role-specific and valuable qualifications or new skills you obtained during your time away from work.

  • Highlight any activities and hobbies you pursued during your break that demonstrate your positive qualities, such as volunteer or charity work.

  • Talk about your break from work candidly and openly to show that you're confident of your decision.

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