Once typical in the careers of tenured professors, sabbaticals aren't just for academics anymore. Millions of people across industries leave the workforce each year, pausing their careers to pursue other interests.
Reasons for such a break may include returning to school, traveling, volunteering, conducting research, writing a book or caring for a family member. Some sabbaticals are planned, while others are forced due to unexpected unemployment or a change in personal circumstances. Sabbatical lengths can vary greatly, from a few months to a year or longer.
If you are ready to reenter the workforce after a sabbatical, we’ve got answers to common questions about how to best handle this period of time on your resume.
Should I Mention My Sabbatical on My Resume?
"Your resume should portray you in the best possible light, so the answer to this question is different for each person," says Linsey Levine, career coach and president of CareerCounsel.
Levine points out that for many people, an unexplained gap could hurt a person's chances of finding a job. "Some employers may even speculate that you were incarcerated or incapable of working if a time period is left unaccounted for on the resume," she says.
But Ford R. Myers, an outplacement expert and president of Career Potential, has this take: "You can turn a potential negative (a gap in employment) into a positive and present yourself as a more knowledgeable and energized employee."
Michelle Dumas, a certified resume writer and executive director of Distinctive Documents, recommends including most sabbaticals on your resume. Dumas has worked with many clients who have taken time off to volunteer, care for a sick relative, write a book or help with a business endeavor. "In nearly all of these cases, we can find a way to present the time off as a positive and show how these activities enhanced the person's qualifications," she says. "Even if the work-history gap was a forced sabbatical, most job seekers can come up with ways in which they stayed productive.”
Should I Mention My Sabbatical in My Cover Letter?
Jewel Bracy DeMaio, certified resume writer and president of APerfectResume.com, considers the cover letter to be the optimal place to mention your break, citing that cover letters are more conversational than resumes.
Levine adds that even if your sabbatical isn't directly related to the job you are applying for, you can still mention it in your cover letter to explain the time gap. "You can say something like, 'I would enjoy discussing my recent sabbatical with you when we meet,'" she says.
What’s the Best Way to Explain a Sabbatical?
"The best strategy for justifying this break in your formal employment timeline is to present legitimate professional endeavors that you pursued," says DeMaio. "That's what a sabbatical is. It's not a vacation. So if you conducted research, for example, illustrate what you did, the findings and their implications.”
Dumas recommends presenting the sabbatical as an advantage, "using it to illustrate creativity, self-reliance or other brand-enhancing qualifications.”
Adds Myers, "No one wants to hear, 'We always wanted to live in France.'" He emphasizes that the explanation of a sabbatical on a resume or cover letter needs to focus on the potential advantages to the employer.
Myers advises job seekers to keep the sabbatical description brief. "State when you did it, why you did it and the outcomes, but succinctly and without a significant amount of attention," he says.
You can be strategic in terms of where you place your sabbatical on your resume, adds Levine. Just because your sabbatical is your most recent experience doesn't mean you have to list it first on your resume -- especially if it’s irrelevant to your current career goal. "Often, an additional information section toward the bottom of the resume can cover a sabbatical nicely," Levine says.
The bottom line, according to the experts: Your sabbatical won't sabotage your job search if you focus on how it adds value to your brand and your future employer.