I have just wrapped up a successful job search and embarked on a great new opportunity. I feel like this is the first "real" job search I have ever performed, because my prior jobs had been a long string of being recruited into the next job. I learned a lot about the process and a little about myself along the way.
One interesting aspect of this is that I took a long break, just over a year. Many people will tell you that leaving your job before you have a new one is something to be avoided at all costs. I challenge that notion.
Here is what I learned about taking a break between jobs.
Taking A Break Is Not Inherently Disastrous
Certainly, if you cannot afford to take a break, then you should avoid it at all costs. However, if you can afford to take a break, it can be beneficial for you and your career.
About a year ago, I left my last job. I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish before I pursued my next opportunity. We had a number of trips planned and I had a rather ambitious volunteer effort planned and I was committed to doing it well. I fully expected that I would not be ready for a new job for at least six months, but it was likely that I would be around a year before I was ready for the next opportunity.
Time passed. Trips happened. I snorkeled with penguins, sea lions, sea turtles, and sharks. I swam from Greece to Turkey. I went to my first GenCon. I wrapped up my volunteer work. I formed fantastic memories and learned a lot.
I went into finding-a-job-is-my-job mode almost exactly one month ago. In spite of the long break, I found an exciting new opportunity with a new company and I start Monday.
Taking a Break Can Lead To Higher Job Satisfaction
If I had jumped into a job right away after leaving my last one, it would have looked a lot like what I was doing. I would probably be okay, but I would definitely not be as excited as I am about my new job.
The length of my break gave me the time to ponder a host of job listings. The distraction of the various activities I had planned helped me overcome the mental inertia that framed my perception of what work I should do. This helped me step back and think more about what type of work I enjoyed and, revise and refine my goals, and shoot for opportunities that should result in a higher job satisfaction.
I go into any new job with a sense of excitement, but this time I am excited about the work, the goals, the people, and the path.
It Helps If You Have A Sensible Story
I took a break for a reason. I had things to do. I can articulate that in less than a minute. And it makes sense to people.
Sure, a long break might give someone pause, but any capable leader trying to find the best resources will not let that stop them. If you seem to be a good match, they are going to give you a shot. But they absolutely will ask about that break and you should be ready.
Don't get too worked up about it. It's just one of the many interview questions you will be asked.
It Helps If You Are "Marketable"
I work in the technology sector. The industry I primarily serve is healthcare. I also have experience as an airborne combat medic and a nurse, so it is much easier for me to speak to both the business and technology audiences when I go about my work.
And the demand for talent in healthcare information technology (HIT) has been growing steadily. If you work in HIT, you can probably find a job pretty easily. If you have a resume filled with HIT experience, it will be even easier.
As a result, I am very marketable in that field. I can expect to have many opportunities at any given time.
If you have a very specialized, niche skill with very few opportunities associated with it, you may need to stick with the "don't quit your job until you have another job" advice. But if there is a demand for your skill set / experience and a good market for it, you should have some freedom in choosing when you want to resume employment.
As Always, Luck and Timing Help
We are human beings. When we are successful, there is a part of our brain that desperately wants us to give ourselves as much credit as possible. It's natural, but it's an impulse we should fight, because that self-delusion can be counter-productive at best, self-destructive at worst.
Personally, the break was the key timing issue. My volunteer work revolves around a suite of web services I created for a convention. This year I made sweeping changes and implemented some key innovations that carried some heavy business risk. Until that event had executed successfully, I would simply not be able to bring my desired level of focus to a new job.
You Should Do What Makes Sense For You
If you can't afford it, then it's moot. Get that next job first or, if you were unexpectedly unemployed, get the next job as quickly as possible.
If you, personally, need to have your next job before you quit your current one, because that is how you are wired, then everything else is moot. Do what makes you happy. It's your career and your life.
If you are in a place in your career where a break would sabotage it (and it's a career you want to continue pursuing), then keep at it.
But...if you feel you could use a break and you can afford to take one, then not only can it be quite safe for your career, it might even benefit it.