Making career breaks the norm

Career breaks, whether parental leave, furlough or whatever, will become more common in the years to come so how can we normalise them more?

Sign saying back to work


How do you normalise career breaks, including extended parental leave, furlough or extended sick leave? One way is to change the way employers view returners through returner programmes and initiatives. These tend to be small scale, however, but the idea is that even a small initiative can help to change hiring managers’ views and show them that those who have taken career breaks have much to offer, not just from their years of experience before the break, but from what they have done and learned during that break.

Also returner programmes, though they have broadened a lot in recent years and the pandemic has meant many onboard online, are not available in all sectors or all parts of the country. So many are resigned to applying for jobs in the traditional manner. But how do you get past the application process, which may syphon you out based on lack of recent ‘relevant experience’, and at least get to the interview? Many candidates choose to rewrite their cvs so that they are not chronological and focus instead on their skills, rather than highlighting their career gap.

But is there a way to make that career gap a positive and not something you have to hide? I was talking to Manpower the other day about the assessment tool they use. It’s called ROMA, is designed to assess people’s functional and soft skills and focuses on predictive performance. The aim is to assess people for their behaviour rather than their experience – the kind of behaviour needed to be successful in particular lower and middle level skilled roles. For instance, for customer service roles empathy and a sense of calmness might be more important than experience. For sales, passion, tenacity and resilience could be vital qualities.

When it was launched a few years ago there were skills shortages, but not to the degree that there are now when employers in many sectors are having to be more creative in how they recruit and explore different talent pools. One could argue that that approach is even more needed now.

One of the key aims is to ensure people are not kicked out of the recruitment process by online automated systems as is often the case. The idea is that bias among hiring managers about career breaks can then be addressed through training and they can be coached to ask the candidates for more on what they have done during their gap at the interview stage. It can also help those seeking to switch sector.

It’s definitely a step in the right direction and other assessment tools do similar things. The wider issue, however, is to change how we view career breaks – not just how employers view them, but also how returners see them. So often, for instance, new mothers dismiss their time off as if they have essentially done nothing much, and certainly nothing of any relevance to work.

While people sometimes laugh at the suggestion that they have gained anything from the maelstrom and sleep deprivation that is often the experience of early parenthood,  when getting out the door is a major achievement, they have surely learned all sorts of things about themselves – even if these are things they didn’t want to learn – and about human psychology. To write it off as being irrelevant to anything else is surely wrong and plays into the way we value caring and other human skills, the invisible glue that keeps the world turning.


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