job jumper tip #5: take a break

I’ve started out the job jumper tips talking about WIDD files, being a discriminating networker and remembering it’s not all about the money and leaving on your own terms. This week, we’re taking a break – so to speak.

Tip #5: take a break.

When was the last time you took a break from working? Not a vacation, but a complete break – a pause between jobs. One of the greatest advantages to job jumping is the ability to take a break between jobs. In today’s busy world, even a vacation is filled with emails, voicemail and “just checking in.” Part of this is due to insecurity (people are afraid that while they are out on vacation they’ll be perceived as “not hard working” or slackers) but part of it is just the inevitable blending of career and personal time. The only time most people are ever separated from the need to stay connected to their office is when they switch jobs.

In my pre-consulting career I took anywhere from one week to four months off between jobs. That gap has become longer and longer each time I’ve switched jobs, with the exception of my most recent switch to consulting. Once I switched to consulting I realized I could actually take breaks between clients, so my “break time” could be even greater. Last year I took off more than two months between my three consulting projects.

Your first reaction might be to say “I can’t do that, I have responsibilities!” or “I have bills to pay!” Many people – even though they may not admit it – are afraid of that time off. “How can I explain wanting to take off four weeks before starting my new job?” Americans are particularly concerned about the appearance of laziness. The idea of telling a new employer that you want to wait one month before starting strikes most people as madness. The paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle also causes some nervousness; people are worried that missing one paycheck may mean they won’t be able to pay their bills. While this may be true for some people, for many people it’s just an excuse to avoid giving up luxuries they don’t need in exchange for free time that terrifies them. If you are careful with your spending, you’ll be amazed at how your expenses plummet when you aren’t going to work (no dry cleaning, no lunches out, no expensive gas tank fill-er-ups, no rushed Chinese take-out dinners).

So why should you take a break? Let me give you a few reasons:

  1. Rest. The almost-alien concept of resting is hard to absorb for many people, but imagine just having a few weeks to do nothing. Sleep late, drink some coffee, go for a walk or play catch outside. Imagine no cell phones ringing, nobody calling you for an “emergency” – you can recharge yourself for your new job.
  2. Clear the to-do list. Even though you might leap directly into your new job, your personal to-do list won’t go away. Need to see the doctor? Take your car in for service? Clean the gutters? Imagine if you took a few weeks off between jobs to completely clear as much of your personal to-do list as you could. The first few weeks at your new job – a critical time to impress people – you can be a whirlwind of productivity, a warrior of focus. You won’t have to worry about asking your new boss off to go to the dentist.
  3. Explore other interests. There are few times in your life where you can really explore non-work related interests with your full attention. I started this blog while taking five weeks off between clients. I never would have done it during the normal day-to-day busy routine of commuting, working and taking care of house chores and my family.
  4. Take a real vacation. Here’s an idea: instead of a hurried weekend in Florida, take a week to go somewhere and really experience it. Pick a random city in America or Canada and explore it. Take the train. Not every vacation needs to be a sprint to the finish line.
  5. Network. You will be amazed how well people respond to networking when they find out you are between jobs but you already have your next job set. Go to some professional assocation meetings, or have a few business lunches. If people know you’re not trolling for a job, they’ll be happier to see you.
  6. Learn. Taking a break is the perfect opportunity to brush up on your professional education. Take a short course, or buy a few books on a subject that interests you. Don’t assume that learning should stop with college.
  7. Spend time with your family. I know it’s a terrifying idea for many career-focused individuals, but spend time with your family. Play with the kids. You may find it more rewarding than working, believe it or not.

So don’t worry about the money, or the appearance of laziness, or the nervousness about filling those long days with activities. Scale back on some non-essentials for a few weeks (for example, eat at home!) and make the best use of your free time during your next job-jumping break. Remember that a work-life balance means devoting some time to life, too.

Check out the rest of the job jumper tips:

(photo by Joe Shlabotnik)