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Three Ways a Gap Can Boost Your Career

Three Ways a Gap Can Boost Your Career

There’s been a lot of talk, rightly so, about how the pandemic is hurting women’s careers. The data is clear – women are dropping out of the workforce voluntarily and involuntary in record numbers.

As a mom of four school-age children, I am living this myself. It is nearly impossible to work while doing Zoom school with a first grader or helping your high-schooler with Geometry, so I have cut back on work in order to support my family through these challenging times.

Part of why I feel okay doing this is that I know that it is only temporary: I keep telling myself that things will be “normal” soon. But I also have been through this drill before, personally and as a career coach.

In fact, my previous gaps have helped me to find greater focus in my career, pivoting toward roles that are better suited for my skills. Here are three ways that all of us can truly thrive after a career gap.

1) Rethink your goals.

It’s very easy to get caught up in a linear career progression, where we get 3% raises every year, promotions every few years, and continue up the chain in Corporate America. And if those are your goals, then I completely understand, as this has been the desired career path of many Americans for years.

But if you have ever thought of owning your own business or freelancing, a career gap is a great time to explore these opportunities. I have a friend from MBA school who had an eighteen-year career with a top company, but decided during the pandemic that she liked working from home and the flexibility that comes with remote work, so she’s starting her own healthcare business.

[Related: Moving Forward: Real-Life Work Lessons to Bring into Post-Pandemic Life]

2) Stay current with volunteering.

I always tell my clients to never hide a career gap – any company that doesn’t understand the need for a career gap is not a company that you want to be working for.

Use this time to contribute to your community and make sure to share your contributions on your resume and LinkedIn profile. You can grow your skill base in new ways while gaining a better understanding of what you enjoy. When you are ready to reboot your career, you can position yourself for new roles in a new industry or field.

[Related: Seven Strategies to Transform Your Career and Boost Your Success]

3) Use skill stacking to your benefit.

I love using “skill stacking” as a way to continue growing in your career, even with a career gap. Let me show you how skill stacking works by using my own, non-linear career as an example:

  1. My undergraduate degree is in Mechanical Engineering, so I developed analytical and problem solving skills early on.
  2. My initial job out of college was as an Engineer and Production Manager for consumer products leader Procter & Gamble, where I developed coaching skills in managing operations teams.
  3. Next I earned my MBA, focusing in finance and strategy but building on my analytical and leadership skills from my undergrad degree and work experience.
  4. In my next role as an Analyst for FedEx, I learned about product pricing and advanced financial analysis (new skills, but still building on my past experience).
  5. I left my role with FedEx in order to care for my daughter. At the time, I had no plan for what I would do next. I had always loved to write (although I hadn’t taken an English course since high school). So I started freelance writing about the topics that I knew best (business, problem solving, analysis).
  6. I pivoted into career coaching, consulting, and freelance writing, where I use ALL of these skills to help my diverse range of clients.

Don’t let your past experience keep you from moving into new and diverse areas. You can always grow and pivot. And, while career gaps aren't always easy, they can be a perfect time to make a change and can move you into a better place than where you started.

[Related: Use Uncertainty as a Tool to Spark Your Cognition at Work]


Colleen Paulson is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and career coach based in Pittsburgh, PA. She helps clients to position themselves in this competitive job market.

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