I (late 20s) last worked around January 2022 as an automation engineer and have since been out of work. Part of it was to clarify career direction through self-reflection and trying stuff out, most of it was for mental health reasons. I'm now at a point where I'm ready to rejoin the workforce, the issue is that some of the talks with recruiters/interviews I have been able to land bring up my sabbatical (how I'm framing it). I know it looks really bad on my resume, I also don't want to lie/fluff it up as something it's not. For quick background, I graduated from a top 4yr university with a bachelor's in CS back in 2019, I also have two projects I can showcase on my GitHub repo. I very recently set up a GitHub page as a free way to get a website of sorts. I have worked two relevant jobs in total (security engineer and automation engineer, former's title isn't quite accurate since it boiled down to tech support and reading a bunch of docs), I very much want to keep programming in a back-end or scripting capacity.

Any folks here that have been in a similar situation? I'm getting desperate and have started to apply for IT support related roles, I might start looking for stuff that's not tech-related but I'm worried this will reflect poorly on my resume or background checks. Should I just apply for something to help with finances while doing coding stuff on the side, focus on coding projects to pad resume/website while still applying, focus full-time on applying, etc?

Would love for any advice y'all can offer 🙏

  • 2
    Question: What did you do on your Sabbatical? I'm assuming you didn't go out to the Bar every night. There's ways to take the actual things you did and then write about them in a professional manner - so a recruiter sees it in a positive light. Jun 29, 2023 at 22:33
  • @TheDemonLord Recently I did a Coursera course and two projects, I've listed them on my resume. The issue is that I did that over the last few months. For about a year I honestly didn't do much of anything productive due to mental health issues. The ~1.5 year gap is pretty big and I'm not sure how to address that.
    – Yerp Derp
    Jun 29, 2023 at 22:46
  • @YerpDerp -- if you're willing to be creative, you might say you went on a backpacking adventure to <cool place>. It has no bearing on your ability to do work, but sounds more high status than "ruminated at home", and will be treated differently by recruiters and hiring managers. Jun 30, 2023 at 2:07
  • You lived 3 years with no income?
    – Kilisi
    Jun 30, 2023 at 9:20

3 Answers 3


Any folks here that have been in a similar situation?

I took over a year off due to mental health (had a full on nervous breakdown), had to close a thriving business as a result, cancel on clients etc. — everything work-related was just removed from my life. The story I've always told, and keep telling, is exactly that: I was working hard, pushing and with added life pressures, eventually something had to give. I don't mention that explicitly in the CV or cover letter, but I do address it very quickly during the very first call, I find that conveys the message much better.

In my case, the reception to that was overwhelmingly positive and sympathetic, especially as I can then talk about the lessons I've learned from it: recognizing and managing burnout, in depth and first hand, and use this to help spot and prevent it with people I work with and/or manage.

  • This seems similar, I've always been hesitant to explain exactly why I took such a long sabbatical since I didn't want to give the impression I could burnout with another employer (not the main reason but it was a big one). I haven't explained during interviews the lessons I learned as a result of leaving and how to prevent something similar in the future. Thanks for sharing!
    – Yerp Derp
    Jun 30, 2023 at 16:27
  • 1
    To explain my year+ sabbatical due to burn-out, I said something like "I went on sabbatical because I was burnt out. Now that I learned better ways of managing my mental health so I won't burn out in my next role, I'm excited to get back to using my expertise to tackle new challenges." And then I briefly covered the code challenges & projects I'd done most recently to refresh & improve my technical skills, which also moves the conversation forward. (Although I had 8+ years of experience between my degree & sabbatical, I think this type of answer would still be effective for you.)
    – Naomi R
    Jun 30, 2023 at 16:57

Your challenge is that you must find a way to convince hiring managers that you won't decide you need a "sabbatical" again and leave them.

First, get clear in your own mind why you dropped out of the workforce before.

If the reason was "mental health reasons", you can talk about the professional help you got that brought you back to health and gives you confidence that you can continue working now.

If the reason was to "clarify career direction through self-reflection", you can talk about the results of your self-reflection. You can express exactly how you see your career unfolding, and why that fits in with the job being offered.

If your finances are now tight, you may need to take on any job you can get just to pay the bills.

Consider doing some contracting. The barriers to entry are lower and the timeframes are shorter. If you can demonstrate hard, continuous work across a series of contracting gigs, potential employers may become less wary.

  • 1
    I was able to get full-time employee jobs after a period as a contractor, so that's a great way to go. I am/was in the US, may be culture dependent. Jun 30, 2023 at 16:55

I'd just apply for jobs, with a cover letter explaining that I had reached a point in my career where I could afford to take a sabbatical to focus on personal projects but am now returning to the workforce. If you can show that you didn't completely waste your time and that you've kept your skills up, this break certainly won't help you but shouldn't particularly hurt you either.

Depending on the open source projects you were involved with you may be able to spin that as community service (addressing an industry need that was being neglected), or as exploring whether your idea for a possible productization was worth starting your own company, or something of that sort. You might be able to make a plus out of those, if you can explain/defend them well.

  • Good idea about addressing it in my cover letter, I'll go ahead and do that. To be honest it does look on paper that I wasted my time and didn't do much to keep my skills up, a lot of my time was focused on improving my mental health (I did some things here and there but they're pretty sparse relative to the ~1.5 yr gap in total). My biggest concern is that my resume doesn't have an upward trend in terms of career progress...I graduated from a top university with a decent gpa, worked soon after graduation, last job as an automation engineer...then nothing
    – Yerp Derp
    Jun 29, 2023 at 22:54

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