Present your sabbatical on your CV in the best way possible

You've toiled away for the last 10 years, giving the company your all throughout that entire period. You're feeling washed out and exhausted. What's the solution? A change is as good as a rest, so they say, so how about a bit of time off? Taking a sabbatical from work can be a life-changing experience. Think of it like a gap year, but instead of being a student on the cusp of university life, it's for those people with an established career, who want to take a break from the rat race and discover new experiences - maybe even learn a few more skills. Let's call it an adult gap year - though it doesn't have to be as long as a year, of course.

And the good news is, if you play your cards right, you should be able to return to your job, no questions asked (apart from, “did you have a great time?”)

But before we discuss how best to present your sabbatical on a CV, let's delve a little deeper into what it all entails.

What does “sabbatical” mean?

What is a sabbatical and what does the word actually mean? The definition of the word, according to the Collins English Dictionary, is “denoting a period of leave granted to university staff, teachers, etc., approximately every seventh year.”

The actual word “sabbatical” is derived from “sabbat,” which is another word for the Sabbath, seen as a day of rest from work according to Judaism and certain parts of the Christian church.

So, a sabbatical is a period of time away from your career or place of work, but it's not a career break, and it's not when you decide to change industries. Don't confuse it with garden leave either. That's when an employee is leaving a job, having either resigned or had their position terminated, and they've been asked to stay away from the workplace whilst serving their notice period but remaining on the payroll. It's a way for the employer to prevent a soon-to-be ex-employee from taking any sensitive information, especially when moving to a competitor within the chosen industry.

So the meaning of sabbatical leave is very different from any other sort of career break.

What does taking a sabbatical mean?

Taking a sabbatical year is ideal if you've worked for a company for a decent amount of time - and that time will vary depending on the company - and you deserve a break, but want to return to your role afterwards and pick up from where you left off.

Because of this, it's more likely to be the older workforce who are able to take sabbaticals. They've built up a good reputation within the organisation, worked hard for many years, and can be seen as deserving of a bit of time out. It's not so common to see a sabbatical presented on the CV of someone with less than five years of experience, as they haven't established themselves or been seen as worthy of being granted this luxury yet.

How long is a typical sabbatical?

How long is a piece of string? A sabbatical can be anything from a month to a year. Less than a month would be counted as annual leave, and more than a year can be seen as rather stretching the goodwill of your employer! If you're away from your job for over a year, you might find yourself out of touch on your return - plus your place of work might have realised, by then, that they can do perfectly well without you!

It comes down to how long your employer can manage without you and if there are special processes or bank staff that need employing to cover your role while you're away. The onus of deciding the timeframe is also on you, as an employee, as you've got to figure out what you want to do during your sabbatical and how long it will take you to do it. You've then got to find a balance and length of time that fits for both you and your boss.

What are the rules of a sabbatical?

There are no hard and fast rules to taking a sabbatical… though, like a gap year, it's advised that you do something productive or beneficial during your time out. Not only could that help in furthering your career, but it can also build and cement new skills along the way.

Do consider these points as well:

Be upfront. Honesty is the best policy here so, if you're considering taking a sabbatical, be open with your boss. After all, they're going to be the one who finds cover for you or delegates in a different way in order to make up for your absence. You don't want to be accused of taking a hush trip, so you must be totally upfront when requesting a sabbatical from your employer.

Identify a reason. Having a reason for taking a sabbatical is key. You don't want to take time off just to sit on the sofa, catching up on box sets while consuming copious amounts of chocolate biscuits (though that does sound quite appealing!). It would certainly get boring after a while.

Research. Take the time to conduct thorough research into what you want to do with your free time.

Budget. The likelihood is that you won't get paid during your sabbatical, so you'll need to work out your budget beforehand to check if you can afford it.

The advantages of taking a sabbatical

As mentioned before, building new skills can be hugely beneficial, as well as taking a refresh by shaking off the responsibilities of work for a while. It's a time where you can truly re-evaluate your life and where you're headed on your career path.

Embrace a change of scenery. It's a great way to put the spark back in your job. If you feel stuck in a rut, the time away will sharpen your senses, meaning you'll return to the work place with a new sense of purpose and a clear vision of where to go next.

Discover new talents. Embarking on a course or starting a project that means a lot to you will help in both your career and personal development.

Explore. Seeking out new places, whether that's at home or further afield, can offer up different cultures and experiences, especially if you really immerse yourself by learning a new language.

Make a difference. Undertaking voluntary or charity work will tick those boxes of making you feel good while helping others.

Improve your health. Work burnout is real, with stressful jobs putting a strain on both your mental and physical health. Taking time out to re-energise yourself with a sabbatical can give you a boost as well as help to adjust your work-life balance.

But don't get too comfortable on your sabbatical. It's not retirement. You will have to enter back into the world of work eventually!

How to navigate having a sabbatical on your CV

If you've been lucky enough to have taken a sabbatical within the last 10 years, then you'll need to know how to present this on your winning CV. As you only need to go into detail about your career over the last 10 to 15 years, there's no need to include a sabbatical on your CV if it was longer ago than that.

It's slightly different to presenting a career gap on your CV when you're unemployed, as technically you aren't out of work whilst on a sabbatical. It's a bit like when you have to explain a time away from work while bringing up a family. In days gone by, it was rather frowned upon to mention this on a CV and just the phrase “career break” would be added in, almost as an afterthought and with little explanation. Nowadays, taking time out to raise a family and enjoy a sabbatical are seen as positive elements that can add to your worth, while extending your skill set.

Ways in which to present a sabbatical on your CV

Updating your CV to include a sabbatical is worth the effort.

Emphasise the advantages

Showcase the worth that your sabbatical brought by highlighting the positives that came out of it, such as picking up new skills. You can then present them in a short list of bullet points on your CV.

For example:

  • Masterminded vital research for a project

  • Volunteered with a non-profit organisation for six months

  • Experienced new cultures and ways of life while travelling through South America

  • Completed a training course

Focus on newly-developed capabilities

Think back to what you learned during your sabbatical and illustrate how this has either enhanced existing skills or driven you to acquire new ones, or both, on your CV.

Did you develop team management skills on your sabbatical which you hadn't been able to explore before?

Example: Motivated and led a dedicated team of five while volunteering on a project to build a well, supplying fresh water to a small village in Uganda

Did you realise you're very competent at analytical reasoning or resolving problems?

Example: Grasped new skills and demonstrated tenacity in resolving problematic customer experiences to maintain satisfaction

Were you given the opportunity to present to a group of people, something you would have baulked at previously?

Example: Adapted communication style to present to an audience of over 30

Keep schtum

If you feel that having your sabbatical on your CV isn't going to be beneficial, there's a way round this. Delete any months in the career section and just have the years you've worked at different places. With a sabbatical, you're still technically on the payroll of the company you work for, so there doesn't need to be a gap there at all and it's not massaging the truth in any way.

Do you get paid while on sabbatical?

A fairly important question! Of course, there's no right or wrong answer here, as it will depend on who you work for. For example, Adobe offers a four-week paid sabbatical to employees who've worked there for over five years, and five weeks paid for those who've been with the company for more than 10 years. So it can work, but it's more likely to be with multinationals who have the financial backing to be able to do this.

Most companies can't afford to pay workers to take sabbaticals, though some might offer partial payment schemes. It's probably one of the first things you should check before planning a sabbatical.

Next steps

Tailoring your CV each time you apply for a role is essential. If having a sabbatical on there just isn't going to work, leave it off. However, if you can present it in such a way that it adds to your skill set, then go for it.

Still unsure about how to present a sabbatical on your CV? Submit your CV for a free CV review to gain some useful feedback on how to navigate this area and improve it overall.

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