Taking Time Away From the Workforce? Here's How to Protect Your Career

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Whether you're taking a break from the workforce to look after a child, care for a loved one, or recover from an illness or injury, it's a change that can impact you on multiple levels. For one thing, taking time away from work can constitute a major blow to your finances. But in some cases, an extended break could also set back your career in the long run.

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Think about it: Skipping even a year or two of work could mean missing out on key advancements in your industry. It also means potentially letting certain skills slip away. If you're worried about taking time off from the workforce, here are a few things you can do to minimize the long-term impact.

1. Keep your skills current

One challenge of having a gap on your resume is needing to prove to prospective employers that you still have the knowledge and capacity to do the job you used to do. So if you make a point of keeping your skills up to date, you'll have an easier time selling yourself when you're ready to get back in the game.

If you're taking time away from the workforce, be sure to pay attention to developments in your industry throughout your absence. So if you're an IT person, get your hands on new software that comes out and learn how to use it. If you're an accountant, familiarize yourself with updates to the tax code. Also, be sure to maintain any certifications you have, whether that involves taking continuing education classes or attending the occasional seminar.

2. Start a side business, or consult in your field

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Maybe your circumstances are such that working full-time isn't feasible. That doesn't mean you can't squeeze in a little work on the side. Use the time to start your own business, whether it's a variation of what you formerly did or something totally new. For example, if you're a teacher, you can try tutoring a few hours a week as time allows. Not only will this help you generate some income, but it'll also help you avoid having a glaring gap on your resume. And depending on what you do, you might even get away with not having that gap at all.

3. Stay in touch with your former boss and colleagues

Whether you're taking a year-long break from the workforce or are planning a much longer hiatus, one of the best things you can do for your career is stay in contact with the people you used to work with. Set a calendar reminder to email your old boss once every month to check in, and make a point of meeting up with old coworkers several times a year. The same holds true for industry contacts outside your company you've gotten to know. This way, when the time comes for you to return to work, you'll have a solid network of people to reach out to for help or leads, and you won't have to worry about the awkwardness that comes with asking for favors out of the blue.

Taking a break from the workforce doesn't have to hinder your career. If you maintain your skills, do a little something to put on your resume, and continue to uphold the strong relationships you've built with your professional associates, you'll be better positioned to jump back in when you're ready to do so.

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