How to Put a Sabbatical or Career Break on Your CV

You have two options when deciding how to put a sabbatical on your CV.

For a shorter period, you could exclude the sabbatical from your resume completely.

For a longer career break, you may decide to include it, be honest and call out the benefits.

In this post, I cover both options including:

  • Tips for each approach
  • Any risks attached
  • New formatting ideas for your CV
  • A simple rule for deciding when a sabbatical should be included or excluded from your resume

If you are looking for the best way to add a sabbatical to your CV then this is the guide for you.

Let’s jump right in.


1. Exclude the Sabbatical From Your CV

A graphic showing the word sabbatical with a crosscut through it being done by a pencil, on a blue background

The first option for putting a sabbatical on your resume is not to do it at all…

…I didn’t!

It’s not that I’ve got anything to hide – I’m very proud of the sabbaticals I’ve taken and what they’ve added to my life – but I just didn’t feel there was any reason to call them out directly on a professional document.

My sabbaticals have either been in the gaps between jobs or less than 12 weeks, so when summing up my career, which now spans over 15 years, they are a very small part of my working life.

If you feel like this approach is best for you, here are some tips for how to do the same.

Tips For Excluding a Sabbatical From Your CV

A Percentage Based Rule For Inclusion

A rule of thumb for this method is, if you took less than one month for every year of service, then don’t mention it.

For example:

You completed a job or role for four years, but within that time you took a sabbatical for three months.

A table showing the number of months you should take as a sabbatical vs years in the role

When updating your CV just put the job role and time frame, don’t mention the sabbatical. Unless there is something specific you wanted to call out, then why would you?

Switch to a Skills-Based Resume

A skills-based resume or CV (also known as a functional resume) relegates the traditional chronological job history and replaces it with a list of key skills and accomplishments from an individual’s career. A short work history is still included, but this is often at the end of the document.

Indeed, the number 1 job site in the world, describes a skills-based CV as being perfect ‘when you have gaps in your work history’ in their article How To Write A Skills Based Resume.

This could be a great approach if you are not looking to highlight your sabbatical on your CV.

Remove the Months From Your CV

A graphic showing two versions of a CV, one with months included, one without

If you want to stick with a chronological CV, another option is just to remove the months from your CV and just include years to make the gap less obvious.

Risks To This Approach

I see very little risk to this approach if your sabbatical wasn’t longer than 20% of the role you completed.

The only time it’s likely to come up is during a reference check, but even then it’s hard to imagine an interviewer having too many concerns if you handled yourself professionally at the time of the sabbatical.

It’s for exactly this reason that I think it’s key when asking for a sabbatical that you already have built up credibility in your workplace, you keep your foot on the gas until the minute you leave and that you’re focused from the minute you return. That way an employer would have little reason to raise your sabbatical as a concern.

Learn more about professional asking for a sabbatical here:
How To Ask For a Sabbatical (And Get One!)


2. Including the Sabbatical on Your CV

The word sabbatical on a purple background with a tick to the right hand side

If you do decide to include your sabbatical on your CV then here are some tips.

Most sabbaticals are about more than just escaping. You may have picked up new skills, learned about new cultures or set up a side-hustle.

This method involves thinking hard about what benefits you got from the sabbatical and preparing yourself for questions you might get at an interview.

Tips For Including a Sabbatical on Your CV

Call Out What You Learned & Key Activities

If you decide to include your sabbatical on your CV, list a few things you learned and how your break helped shape and renew your career goals.

That way, potential employers will be more likely to view the break in a positive light, because it shows you kept busy during your sabbatical, which reduces some of the risks associated with hiring someone who was out of the workforce for an extended period.

So portray your sabbatical as a growth and learning opportunity.

Sabbaticals are taken for a number of reasons (here are 30 examples), so the benefits added to your CV might be different for each, but let’s look at some examples:

Travelling

A man sitting on a wooden pier looking out at a lake surrounded by mountains

If you travelled, discuss what you learned by exploring other cultures and meeting people from diverse backgrounds.

Note foreign languages you mastered.

You could even describe the organisational skills that go into preparing a trip like this and any other skills you used during the trip, such as becoming a better photographer or documenting your trip (see side-hustle later on in this post).

Learning

If you took a sabbatical to learn new skills or take a course then this an easy one to add to your CV by describing the course you took and the skills you gained.

Volunteering

If you volunteered, describe any training you had to do beforehand (such as taking a Teaching English for Foreing Language course)the responsibilities associated with the projects and any job titles you held with volunteer groups or nonprofit organizations.

Add in any additional skills you picked up during the volunteering, it could be anything from public speaking to construction.

Setting Up a Side-Hustle

An Apple laptop on a desk, with a lamp in the background and a notepad in the foreground. It looks like the laptop is being used to edit photographs.

A side-hustle is essentially a hobby you love that you have decided to take more seriously and are now earning some money from.

This could be setting up and writing a blog, selling your photography, running a pet-walking service or having an Etsy shop where you sell hand-made crafts.

The key traits of a side-hustle are that you do it in your own time and it is flexible enough to fit around your main job.

You may think employers would see this as a negative thing but is actually opposite.

It has been proven that the most engaged employees in the world actually have side-hustles and that they are happier and more productive.

WATCH: Harvard Business Review “The Most Engaged Employee In The World“. At 2:30 they describe having a side hustle as being one of the key drivers of an engaged employee.

So why do people with a side-hustle make such great employees?

There are normally a few reasons cited:

  • Firstly the financial security the side-hustle gives them.
  • Secondly the additional skills they learn from the side-hustle. I’ve learned everything from copywriting to website design through running this blog!
  • Thirdly it increases their happiness which transfers over to their full-time job.

So if any part of your sabbatical was used to help you set up a side-hustle then it’s definitely worth calling it out on your resume and being really clear with the skills you have gained from doing so.

Keep it Simple

Another option is to include a simple phrase about your sabbatical rather than going into too much detail.

On your CV add a one-or-two-line section describing that you took a “professional sabbatical” and then include the dates.

It could be argued that not giving a reason is not being honest, but by simply referencing your sabbatical, you can still explain it in an interview if asked, where you can then explain it in a way which wouldn’t be possible in a few sentences.

This option means you are being upfront about the gap, but without the recruiter reading your CV misinterpreting the reasons for the break.

Use The Cover Letter

One way to reference your employment gap is by using a cover letter to your advantage.

Cover letters are more conversational and serve as an introduction to your resume. This letter allows you to explain why the sabbatical or break was worthwhile in a more personable way.

I think you should only use this option if the gap on your CV is a signficiant one, for example, a year or more. This would allow you to call out the break directly and go into more detail.

Below is an example of how you may include this in a paragraph on your cover letter.:

You may notice that during 2015/2016 I took a professional sabbatical which shows as a year long gap in my employment history. During this sabbatical I travelled extensively, took a Teach English as a Foreign Language Course and spent three months teaching English in a school in South America. I feel this sabbatical has actually enhanced my career and given me skills I wouldn’t have gained in the workplace, and if I am given the chance to interview for this job, I’d be happy to discuss this in more detail.

Be Prepared to Discuss at Interview

Two women sitting on opposite sides of a desk in what looks like an interview

If you choose any of the options above, you need to be prepared that you may get asked questions about your sabbatical at interview.

As an employer, they are likely to want to know why you took time off and how likely you are to do the same thing in future.

Being prepared for these questions is key.

If an employer should ask about you sabbatical be honest. Explain what you were hoping to achieve while away and the reasons you decided to take one.

Here are some of the questions you might want to prepare for:

  • Why did you take a sabbatical?
  • What did your boss think about you taking a sabbatical?
  • Are you planning to take time off again in the future?
  • What did you miss out on while you were away?
  • How did you catch up when you returned?

When I’m asked about my sabbaticals at interview I try and be really honest with my reasons, but also highlight the benefits it had to the company.

For example, when I took three months off from a role as an Area Manager in Central London I talk about how I gave six months notice, far more than the one month requirement, and how I used that six months to prepare two people to cover half of my role each whilst I was away. This training and the subsequent experience they got whilst I was away left the company with a stronger succession plan when I got back, as they now had two people ready to step up into an equivalent role.

Risks Attached

Not all sabbaticals are taken for life improvement or constructive reasons, so when you specifically mention it on your CV it can create an awkward conversation at interview.

After a period of intense pressure of stress, sometimes what’s needed is some downtime – meeting up with neglected friends, reading, learning an instrument playing with the dog or intensively binging the latest Game of Thrones season.

Bit it’s hard to turn that into much of a benefit when asked.

Adult life doesn’t always need to be about productivity and growth, there’s a reason some sabbaticals are called ‘mini-retirements’, however as a prospective employer weighing up the risk of someone burning out again, this could be seen as a negative.

Once again though, honesty is the best policy.

Ask yourself this:

Do you really want to work for a company where self-care isn’t encouraged, and a life outside of work isn’t seen as a good thing?

If you’ve taken a break like this because you were on the verge of quitting or burnout, do you really want to work for a company who’s likely to put you in that situation again?

No, me neither.

With modern attitudes to mental health and stress reduction, I think it’s unlikely to be called out as a problem, but remember interviews are a two way process…

…you’re assessing them as much as them assessing you.

If taking time off to live is a problem, it might be time to walk away before you’re in too deep.

Finishing Up

Hopefully, the strategies above have helped you decide how to record your sabbatical on your CV.

With the modern world of work, taking a sabbatical is less and less likely to be seen as a problem. 

Sabbaticals shouldn’t be viewed as a barrier in obtaining future jobs or an interruption in climbing the career ladder.

They are instead legitimate professional and personal endeavours that can be positively applied in any field or industry.

By reflecting on the advantages of a sabbatical, employees often realise they’ve picked up new skills, and re-energised from the experience when they return to work. Demonstrating that perspective on your CV is vitally important to show you’re proud of what you’ve done and you feel it brought overall benefits to both your life and your career.

Clearly there are exceptions. You’re not going to become president of the United States if they think there’s a chance you might take a sabbatical in the next few years, but in most scenarios and with any interviewer with a decent amount of emotional intelligence, it shouldn’t be a problem whichever option you choose.

Good luck, and let me know how you get on in the comments below.

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