Ask The Travel Coach: Should I Leave a Good Job in a Bad Economy?

Lost in the Mail — By on October 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Last month we announced the launch of our newest  feature, Ask the Travel Coach!  Life Sabbatical Coach Tara Russell has joined the Lost Girls team to act as our resident Travel Coach in Residence to answer questions from readers in our brand-new monthly feature. Similar to past Lost Girls feature Lost in the Mail, readers will submit questions here, and one will be answered in each month’s column. Here’s October’s question, with a focus on career.

Question:

I’ve been dreaming of quitting my desk job to travel for several months, but worried that it will be committing career suicide, especially in this economy!  Are there any steps I can take increase my chances of getting a job once I return home?  —Ronnie M; Anne Arbor, Michigan


Tara’s Response:

Hi Ronnie,

Thanks for your question.  This is a great inquiry because career concerns are some of the most common pre-travel apprehensions I hear from coaching clients.  (So rest assured that you’re not alone!)  It is only natural that career be front of mind for many aspiring world travelers, especially in a down economy.  The good news is that there are many proactive steps you can take before, during and after your travels to assure that your global adventure – quite on the contrary from being “career suicide” – will be a beneficial experience for you both personally and professionally.  Read on to learn more…

Step 1:  Before You Leave

Shore up your networks well before your departure date

Once you are ready to make your sabbatical intentions known, be sure to let people in your professional networks know about your plans for time off.  Be open and honest about how much time you plan to spend away and whether or not you are interested in returning to a similar career path upon your return.  This way they can keep you in mind if job openings or project opportunities arise for which you would be a good fit.  If you are considering working from the road, also spread the word that you are interested in opportunities that would be appropriate for telecommuting!  While discussing your career break in professional circles, look for ways in which you can frame your trip as more than just an extended vacation.  Pitch your sabbatical as a career-building vehicle by talking about your bigger goals for the trip and how you want to grow personally and professionally while you are away.  (More on this in Step 2.)

Update your resume

Give your resume a fresh coat of paint before you leave, making sure that all your professional and educational achievements are up to date.  Doing so now means that your recent accomplishments are front-of-mind and your revision will be thorough.  What you do with your resume depends in part on the estimated length of your sabbatical and/or whether you anticipate returning to your current career path when you return.  If you are planning for a shorter trip, you may choose to keep your resume posted on job boards so that is still in circulation while you are away.  Otherwise, you can file it away for your return.

 Step 2:  On The Road

 Look at ways to enhance your professional experience while traveling

Many people you talk to will probably assume that a life sabbatical or long-term travel experience is just a really long vacation.  Not so!  I encourage all of my clients to look at ways to go beyond “traditional” tourism.  Lazing around on the beach may feel great for a while – especially when exiting a stressful corporate environment – but (believe it or not) after a while you will be yearning for ways to connect and give back to the communities and people you encounter during your journey.  Bonus?  Doing so is one of the best ways to make your career break look great on paper when you come home.  Seek out work and/or volunteer opportunities while you are traveling that really speak to you and the values you want honor during your trip – and then be sure to include these experiences on your resume when you return!

Survey Your Skills

When discussing professional development and career growth, we often look at job and/or project offerings as opportunities to build specific, marketable skill sets down the road.  Guess what?  Your career break is a chance to do this as well!  Think of your sabbatical the same way you would think of a job by looking at the ways in which you are growing and changing (read: the skill sets you are developing) during your trip.  Is there personal growth going on?  Absolutely…but professional development as well!  Have you learned a new language?  Become masterful at web design or copywriting?  It’s pretty much a given that you have become more self-reliant, patient, risk tolerant, curious, kind, sensitive to cross-cultural communications, etc.  Start looking at how your travels have changed you and consider what skill sets you are strengthening and/or building from scratch…then strategize about how you can pitch these newfound talents during job interviews after you get home.

Network proactively before re-entry

If your trip is winding down and you feel confident that you wish to return to your previous field, reach out to former colleagues and networking contacts a month or two before you get back.  Let them know of your plans to return and ask if there are any opportunities opening up for which you might be a good fit.  Setting up some informational interviews ahead of time is another great way to get back in touch and back on radar so that you can hit the ground running when you return.

Step 3:  When You Get Home

Do Some Soul Searching

Take some time before coming home and during your re-entry transition to look inward and be really honest about how your trip has changed you and what the ramifications of that growth might be for your professional life going forward.  Some of my clients enjoy their time on the road thoroughly but in the end yearn to get back to a more structured corporate routine.  Others experience significant transformations during their trip that pull them in a different direction and they decide to change their life’s trajectory significantly as a result; either going back to school, making a major career shift or even starting their own business!  Dig deep and look at where you are in this arena, being open-minded about your options.  If you’re ready to dive back into corporate life, great!  If not, don’t force it – start looking at ways you can shift your career path going forward. 

Flaunt It

Clients often ask me how they can “hide” a sabbatical on a resume.  My answer?  Don’t!  Trying to camouflage your trip on paper is trying to hide a huge part of who you are.  You earned this trip and worked hard to make it happen…so flaunt it!  A long-term travel sabbatical is a significant accomplishment so make sure that it earns pride of place on your resume – and then be ready to discuss why your travels make you an ideal candidate for the job.  (See “Survey Your Skills” in Step 2.)  Be prepared to talk about not just where you went but the experiences you had while traveling and how your trip was more than just a vacation.  (Want to stand out from the pack when you get the old job-interview-standby “Tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult situation?”  Let them know about the time you got hopelessly lost in Cairo and had to ask for help.  Or the time you missed your ferry to Mykonos and had to sleep on the beach.  Or the time your train to Varanasi was 10 hours late…  You get the picture.)

If you see (and discuss) your trip as a meaningful growth opportunity, others will follow suit.  Displaying it proudly on your resume means that your journey will prove to be – at the very least – a unique conversation starter during a job interview and could at best even land you your next dream job.

Tara Russell, CPCC, CDC is a “Life Sabbatical & Long-term Travel Coach” – a Certified Life and Career Coach with a passion for working with clients who dream of taking time off to travel, live, work, study or volunteer abroad. As the Founder and President of Three Month Visa Coaching and Consulting, her mission is to empower her clients to transform their lives (and ultimately the world at large), through meaningful international travel experiences.  She is widely considered to be a national thought leader on the topics of career breaks and travel sabbaticals and has been featured in myriad online and print media outlets including New York Magazine, USA Today Travel, The Huffington Post, Travel & Leisure, The Christian Science Monitor and msnbc.com.  She can be found at www.threemonthvisa.com.
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