“Eighty-four percent [of millennials] foresee significant breaks along the way” when considering their long term career paths, according to a recent report by Manpower Group.
While a career break may be the furthest thing from your mind, there are expected and unexpected reasons why you may end up taking one: childcare, eldercare, an illness or that of a loved one, infertility issues, a wish to travel or pursuing a personal interest.
Happily, since you are early in your career, you are uniquely positioned to boost your chances for a smoother return to work after a future career break if you take these five key steps now:
1. Document your experiences and accomplishments.
Create a file and whenever you hit a work milestone, achieve something significant, learn an important lesson or simply have an interesting experience, write it down. Include anything noteworthy – negative or positive. Years later, when prepping for interviews, these recollections will provide you with the specific anecdotes and knowledge base from your prior work and volunteer experiences to impress a prospective new employer. You will be very happy you have this file!
2. Keep in touch with your network; nurture those relationships.
It’s no secret that you can benefit from strengthening your relationships with your boss and peers, but don’t leave it to chance. Find ways to actively interact with them so you stand out in their minds once you’ve left for a career break. Ask a senior person to walk you through his or her career path. Share an article about your company or industry with your peers and ask what they think about it. Think about how to make yourself even more connected to them than you would be from just doing your job. And don’t limit your efforts to co-workers in your office. Maintain your connections to customers, clients, co-workers from prior employers and anyone else who might someday be in a position to help when you’re ready to return to work.
3. Don't forget the junior people.
The younger people in your office who you informally mentor, who report to you or who you just know from working together can be your most helpful contacts when returning to work. While you’re on career break, these junior people will continue to move up the ladder and someday may be in a position to open a door for you. And they’ll remember you as someone knowledgeable, important and to whom they looked up! We are seeing more cases of “relaunchers” coming back to work for the very people who used to work for them (it happened to me!).
4. Make your mark; know when to quit.
Early in your career is the time to test-drive a range of industries and roles because the opportunity costs of switching positions are lowest. At the same time, it is important to begin making your mark and strategizing to advance your career. All this can be tricky territory for Millennials, especially those contemplating a possible career break at some future date. While there is no single formula for navigating among these objectives, the best advice is simply to do your best work. Then, when you get closer to seriously contemplating a career break, try to leave at the top of your game. The people around you will keep this most positive view of you “frozen in time” and will remember you at your best, even if you don’t return for years.
5. Explore all your options.
Employers today are more open to non-traditional hours and remote work than ever before. So, if you’d like to defer your career break, and small changes in your work schedule would make that possible, then just ask. If you have “paid your dues” by establishing yourself as a high performer, your employer may be more than happy to make the accommodations you need.
If a career break is in your future, or even if you think it might be, review these steps and start implementing them now. You will be glad you did.
Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of career reentry firm iRelaunch, consults to some of the world's largest corporations on career reentry strategy and programming. She relaunched her career at Bain Capital after an 11-year career break before co-founding iRelaunch. Her recently posted TED talk "How to get back to work after a career break" has been viewed over one million times and translated into 16 languages. A version of article was originally published by Ellevate Network.