Have a break and help your career

If the daily routine of work is becoming too much of a grind, a long career break could be in order.

If the daily routine of work is becoming too much of a grind, a long career break could be in order.

IT recruiters and employers suggest a long spell from the office or keyboard can greatly benefit IT professionals.

Richard Manthel, general manager of recruitment firm Robert Walters, says a candidate who has had six to 12 months off work is often looked on favourably by employers - if they have an established work history.

And a break, say after five years' solid work from university, is fine.

“Candidates who have just had some time off are quite attractive to employers as they generally start a new job with energy, enthusiasm and fresh ideas," Manthel says.

"People who have worked too long in one job or in one company can become tired, institutionalised and stale.”

Hewlett-Packard NZ chief Barry Hastings agrees, but then he recently took holidays overseas. "I’ve just had three weeks tramping in Tuscany. I still feel good about it."

HP encourages people to take long career breaks, he says, and sabbaticals, in which the firm sends them to its overseas divisions.

IT recruiter Ross Turner of Pinnacle agrees longer breaks can refresh: “I have taken the odd three months off and found it incredibly beneficial.”

Prior to founding Pinnacle last year, he took time off to improve his golf. “I regained my physical and intellectual strength and was prepared for the next stage of my life,” Turner says.

While taking a break is a good opportunity for candidates to consider a career change to look at their options and alternatives, for many taking a break is about making themselves a more "rounded" person.

Internet software firm Infolink chairman John O’Hara says such breaks are “good for life skills” and give people a chance to try something different. “Two years working in customer service for a Sydney-based computer bureau gave me empathy with customers,” he says.

Encryption software firm RPK head Paul Osborne worked for three years before travelling for 10 months across Asia, Australia, New Zealand and North America. He found the whole experience gave him more confidence. “It’s not a qualification [for a job] but a rounding thing,” he says.

R&D director for Symantec NZ R&D director Olivier Duhamel says sabbaticals are not new and in the 1970s and 1980s were common practice in France and Germany.

“The general idea was that well-balanced individuals are more likely to be effective contributors and that the pursuit of a career should not ruin other aspects of your life,” says Duhamel, who was born in France.

Building your house, completing a university paper, doing humanitarian work in Africa, protesting against whaling or the French military, or taking part in an election campaign, he says “are all enriching experiences from which you are very likely to learn new skills applicable to your life in general and to your professional career in particular.

"This also makes your CV stand out, makes you a more interesting individual, reflects an adventurous and generous temperament, hints of an open mind, all values attractive to a prospective employer,” says Duhamel.

However, you can have too much of a good thing. Women, he says, often take a year off every few years and as a result are paid less and less likely to be considered for promotion. He’s not saying this is just and fair, but a statistical observation.

“When I see a CV dotted with large gaps, I cannot help but wonder whether the candidate will stick around or save enough for his next trek in the Anapurna. There is enough staff turnaround in the industry not to take the risk of training someone who has a history of disappearing for extended periods. One constant worry for IT managers is preserving 'intellectual capital', the most valuable asset of any software company,” Duhamel says.

He believes breaks are best early in a career as personal development and too many breaks would be damaging, as would a break of over a year.

Manthel warns people cannot expect more money after a break, particularly if employers take advantage of people being keen to restart work, but Harris and others say professionals should be able earn the same pay for the same job and soon get back into the swing of things.

Darren Greenwood is Computerworld's human resources reporter. Send email to Darren Greenwood. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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