A New Way to Explain the Pause in Your Career

A New Way to Explain the Pause in Your Career

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In 2021, LinkedIn added “Stay at Home Parent” as a job title. In 2022, it’s added a “Career Break” label that lets people designate periods of time when they left the paid workforce for travel, volunteer work, caregiving, or just time off. The new category option will help job seekers better represent their experiences while also allowing recruiters to better identify and target candidates for return-to-work programs.

LinkedIn recently introduced a new category — Career Breaks — for users who are building profiles. The new label helps normalize the idea that careers are not always linear — and will give an enormous boost to the recruiting efforts of employers running career reentry programs or otherwise targeting the pool of professionals returning from career breaks.

The Career Break category allows individuals who have taken time away from the traditional workforce not only to call out their career breaks on their LinkedIn profiles, but to describe the highlights of their career break experiences — including travel, family responsibilities, or volunteer work — just as they would a traditional work experience.

Employers are launching career reentry programs at unprecedented rates. Recruiters are recognizing that people who’ve temporarily left the workforce are a “hidden” talent pool — and that in most cases, their decision to take a break from paid work has nothing to do with job performance. Recruiters expanded their targeting of these candidates during the pandemic: LinkedIn’s own data shows the share of U.S. job postings mentioning career breaks up 63% from 2020, and up by nearly 100% from 2018.

For job seekers, the LinkedIn Career Break designation solves the problem of how to label or classify a period of time when they were not in the paid workforce. It also solves a growing problem for employers trying to recruit relaunching professionals. That’s because most formal career re-entry programs require that applicants have a minimum of a one-to-two-year career break to be eligible. However, many job seekers account for their time out of the workforce by listing volunteer work or other activities. If mistaken for current employment, these candidates could be deemed ineligible.

Consider the case of Simone, a software engineer. She has a master’s degree in computer science and seven years of experience in database development, and she last held paid employment in 2015. Simone is a perfect candidate for a reentry program, but when she applied at a well-established company career reentry program, she received an automated rejection within an hour.

Baffled by the instant rejection, Simone got in touch with our team at iRelaunch. Seeing her obvious qualifications, we wanted to understand what happened, too. We contacted the employer, a long-time partner of ours. They looked more closely at Simone’s excellent technical credentials, her efforts to stay current with technology, and her long career break, and she ended up receiving an offer. If Simone hadn’t pushed back, she would not have been hired — and the employer would have missed out on an outstanding candidate.

Why was she rejected? For the period since 2015, Simone’s resume showed volunteer work and recent technical coursework, but did not clearly state that she had taken a career break. Newer recruiters on the employer’s team who hadn’t been fully trained to spot the resumes with career breaks missed that Simone was eligible.

Between electronic screening and recruiters less familiar with relauncher profiles and resumes, it is not uncommon for recent volunteer experiences and coursework to be mistaken for current work experience, instead of a valid career break. There’s an irony here: by taking steps to camouflage their career breaks on resumes, job seekers are inadvertently setting themselves up for rejection by employer career reentry programs because their career breaks are not obvious enough.

Now LinkedIn has given relaunchers the perfect mechanism with which to call out the career break on their LinkedIn profiles and employers the means to avoid missing another Simone.

From a recruiting perspective, the new Career Break designation presents employers with an additional benefit: If relaunchers start using the Career Break category in the experience section of their LinkedIn profiles, employers will be able to do a keyword search for “Career Break” to identify eligible candidates for their career reentry programs.

Choosing the “Career Break” category may even make sense for people who’ve gone through a period of part-time employment or underemployment. In fact, most employers running career reentry programs encourage relaunchers to define the career break loosely. The eligibility definition of career break may allow for some income-producing activities, such as occasional consulting, substitute teaching, or a side gig that is unrelated to the primary career. We recommend individuals err on the side of applying to a program rather than self-selecting out of it because they are worried their income-producing activity makes them ineligible. Lead with the Career Break category at the top of the Experience section, and call out the income producing activity either as part of that section or as a separate entry right below it.

LinkedIn’s move is the latest in its evolving approach to helping people document non-linear careers. Back in March 2021, as a precursor to the new Career Break category, LinkedIn announced that stay-at-home mom, dad, and parent leave designations had been added to the pre-populated dropdown menus for profile-building.

I recently interviewed Bef Ayenew, the engineering leader behind the LinkedIn Profile page. He explained that the new Career Breaks category is much more intuitive than the previously announced “Stay at Home Parent” designation. “Career Break” is an optional entry in the experience section and includes built-in options indicating the type of career break — examples include caregiving, extended travel, and retirement. Just as when posting a role at an employer, the Career Break category provides the opportunity to highlight activities during the career break that are relevant to career goals, or are significant standalone experiences.

While the Career Break category is a step forward, some relaunchers may be leery of using it. As common as career breaks have become — especially during Covid— there are still plenty of managers who exhibit bias or think it’s risky to hire someone who’s stepped away from the workforce. LinkedIn stats bear this out: “While half (50%) of hiring managers globally say that career breaks are becoming more common, almost 60% (59%) of people believe there is still a stigma attached for career breaks.”

By our count, nearly 40% of the Fortune 50 have an in-house career reentry program. As employer career reentry programs continue to expand in number, and as the existing programs scale and run longer, there will be more relaunchers inside organizations — people who may be more likely to favor hiring someone else who took a career break.

For years, LinkedIn has helped relaunchers rebuild their networks by making it easy to find and connect with long-lost colleagues from the past. And with 800 million members, LinkedIn plays a powerful role as the arbiter of career path profiling. LinkedIn’s decision to make “Career Break” an official category in the LinkedIn profile Experience section validates the career break as a standard part of career paths for those who elect to take one — and recognizes the value of the career break experience itself. This marks a major leap forward in the gradual progress we’ve been seeing in the nearly 20 years since the concept of reentry programs first took hold.

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