James Green, a founding partner of an ad serving company that sold for $70M, quit at what appeared to be the pinnacle of his career. You'd assume that the founding partner would have no reason to quit, right? However, according to this article, due to unfortunate circumstances, a downward spiral rapidly followed his success and Green quit his job to captain a sailboat traveling across the Atlantic. Quite an ambitious goal! While Green's sabbatical created a year long chasm on his resume, what he gained was a compelling experience that reenergized his attitude, readying him for his return to work.
Have you also returned from a sabbatical ready to reenter the workforce? The productive value of a sabbatical may not be obvious to potential employers at first. It is up to you to leverage the experience to promote your candidacy for the position you seek.
But first, read Carol's story and see how her sabbatical experience revitalized her in a most unexpected way.
From Retail Management to Carpentry Apprenticeship
After working as a successful manager at a large-scale culinary retailer store, Carol (name and details changed) had a professional hiccup. Much to her disappointment, a few of her poorly-made business decisions surfaced and significantly lowered her confidence. She decided to take a strategic step back from retail to pursue something altogether different. Carol took a year off to explore a trade she had always been curious about: carpentry. She used this time to regroup, explore and learn. What she came to discover is what surprised her most -- that even though her sabbatical experience was profound, she was ready to return to retail. "I got clarity [that] I wanted to work on complex problems," she said, "and be pushed and challenged to solve them with committed teams across the globe. Most importantly, I didn't want to simply climb the ladder, which I had been doing for 10-12 years prior to that." With her feet firmly planted and confidence reestablished, she was ready to reenter the workforce.
However, Carol quickly learned that a personal readiness to return to work requires substantial work beforehand.
To best leverage the unique benefits of your sabbatical during an interview, use these 5 tips to help prepare for your triumphant return.
1. Determine how the skills you used and experiences you had during your sabbatical specifically readied you for the position you seek. Spend time writing down specific answers to questions like these:
● How did this sabbatical make you better?
● What skills did you learn during that time?
● In what ways did you have to become more resourceful?
● What did you do to make ends meet -- did you take on odd jobs or make quality of life sacrifices?
2. Use your cover letter to explain. The hiring manager will notice immediately a significant gap on your resume. Explain concisely the purpose and benefit of your sabbatical and specifically how it made you a more competitive candidate for the job.
3. Consider how taking time away from your career provided you greater career clarity. More than newfound skills and unique experiences, be prepared to answer the question of how it led you to re-entering the workplace, and to the job you seek. In Carol's case, she realized, "Once you step out of an organization, you gain [a much needed] perspective."
4. Practice explaining how the skills and experiences during your sabbatical readied you for the position you seek. Carol sat through multiple mock interviews where she was put on the spot to answer questions to help define the impact of her sabbatical. Expect to answer a multitude of questions. How you answer these questions can make or break your candidacy.
● When did you choose to take your sabbatical?
● Was it after an amazing year?
● Or after a business downfall?
● Was it professional or personal?
● What was your motivation for changing careers?
● How do you know that you are now ready to return into full-time employment?
5. Seek out others who have done the same. As you network your way back into your field, speak with other professionals who also took time off or have nontraditional career paths. You may even consider pursuing a job where they work, as their employers hire employees despite resume gaps.
"It turned out to have been a brilliant marketing move," James Green said of his sabbatical. "I was immediately positioned completely differently, as someone having the courage to go out and do something."
Did you have the courage to take a sabbatical? Use this experience to your advantage, as a way to market yourself as not only a uniquely qualified candidate, but a bold and courageous individual.
Melissa Llarena's craft is coaching top executives on how to strategically dissect and deliver the perfect job interview. Get instant access to a 20-page interview preparation kit that will give you an edge. Join the thousands who've read her career insights in Forbes and The Huffington Post. Follow her at @CareerOutcomes.