There are a ton of questions on Programmers.SE about whether or not taking extended time off is a good idea and what to do during that time off to maintain your skill level:



If you take a year or two out from being a developer, is it really that hard to get back into it?


They've been really helpful, but I still have a question about the logistical details of take a self-funded sabbatical.

I'm coming to the end of a year off from working as a software developer (after 7 years in the field.) I've taken this year to let myself explore interests that I'd never had enough time for: baking, sewing, photography, and making new and interesting friends. During this time, I've also been working on pet development projects in technologies and disciplines that I would never have had the chance to explore otherwise. in addition, I've read all of those software development books I'd never had time to read and kept up with programming news and blogs.

The development projects have all had an eye towards being part of a Micro ISV, but only one of the projects has made it to any sort of production stage. That project is impressive, but not very successful (yet!)

I've got a reasonably active programming blog that I believe reflects a high dedication to software development and demonstrates that I haven't just put my programming skills on a shelf for a year.

My question is: What is the best way to transmit this information to a potential employer at the resume/cover letter level?

I'm reasonably confident that I can explain this sabbatical in an interview setting. I know that at the resume level though, hiring managers will use any excuse they can to throw my resume out (I've done hiring and I would probably have thrown out my own resume if it didn't handle this time off really well, maybe it's karma.) So I feel like the resume/cover letter is the really tricky part in getting a kick-ass new job.

I have a few ideas about what to do, but I'm not sure what the larger community sees as acceptable. Here are the approaches I'm considering:

  1. Put a special section on my resume for the sabbatical time in which I outline the personal projects. If I do this, what's a good way to label it?
  2. Create a personal company name and put these projects in the work experience section of my resume under that company. This seems like the most go-getter way to do it, but I'm worried it could be perceived as trickery when I get to the interview stage. Also if I do this, what do I put as my title?
  3. Leave my resume as-is and explain everything in my cover letter, with a link to my active blog.
  4. There's probably something I'm not thinking of, I'm open to any other ideas.

I know I've included a bunch of special-snowflake information about my personal situation, but I would prefer answers for the more general case. The personal details are here more as an example than as a request for answers designed specifically for me.

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    This problem could apply to any profession - not just software development. – ChrisF Oct 14 '11 at 18:45
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    @ChrisF it could, but hiring is different in the programming world than in many other fields, and programmers' resumes have different expectations than other people's. So even though it might be a generic sort of question, it still has potential to draw programmer-specific answers. – hobbs Oct 14 '11 at 18:57
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    @ChrisF: I wouldn't think that spending a year outside of the landscaping industry would have nearly the impact of spending a year outside of development. – Adam Robinson Oct 14 '11 at 22:40
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    Honestly if the rest of your resume is good enough to get the interview, I wouldn't worry much about it. Most hiring managers are only looking for the good stuff on the resumes and will give you the benefit of doubt, it's the interview where they are looking for the red flags. – Jordan Bentley Oct 15 '11 at 7:26
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    For those like me: sabbatical - A period of paid leave granted to a college teacher for study or travel, traditionally every seventh year – Bojan Kogoj Oct 15 '11 at 8:24

Honestly I think you're over thinking it a bit. If you were gaining relevant experience during your time off, then your resume should not even show a break in your work timeline. Instead of a company name just put something like Entrepreneurial Pursuits.

You don't even have to explain in detail each project. The important parts are the technologies you worked on and the business problems you helped overcome. In the end, majority of hiring managers are just playing a game of buzz word search anyways.

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What is the best way to transmit this information to a potential employer at the resume/cover letter level?

I've hired people for my team who had one or more sabbaticals in their resume. As a hiring manager I don't see this as a problem as such.

To me it is important that the candidate has a good explanation for the sabbatical. This explanation should be consistent with the overall story. It is not my business to judge, even if I personally wouldn't take a sabbatical for the given reason.

People take sabbaticals for all kinds of reasons. They could be working in a charitable organization, being a stay-home parent for while, using the time to learn new things, taking an extended trip, and a lot more.

I guess the important thing is that the sabbatical doesn't just happen but is a conscious decision by the candidate. It should not be the cover up for something else, e.g., time in jail.

You should definitely include the sabbatical in the resume. Don't blow it out of proportion compared to your other career steps. I probably wouldn't include it in the cover letter unless I was applying for the first job after the sabbatical.

Good luck!

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    Where/how would you include it on the resume? – ReadyToReturn Oct 14 '11 at 23:06
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    I presume that you are listing each job you held on your resume, e.g. "2008-current Software Developer". Similarly you would just add an additional line and/or section saying something along the lines of "2007-2008 Sabbatical, Voluntary work for xyz charity". – Manfred Oct 14 '11 at 23:47

Create a personal company name and put these projects in the work experience section of my resume under that company.

This is generally what folks do, or call it a start-up company that failed.

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    That would leave a candidate in a bad spot, because as an interviewer I'd ask about the company, what it did, what caused its failure and what was learned from the experience. – Blrfl Oct 14 '11 at 20:35
  • @Blrfl: Why would a start-up that failed be a bad spot? It means you've got experience with most aspects of running a business (controlling, customer acquisition, customer care, etc.), not just programming. And it probably means you'll understand your employers business decisions, even if you don't like all of them. – nikie Oct 14 '11 at 20:53
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    It wouldn't be if the time was actually spent starting and running a failed startup. I didn't get the impression the OP was actually going to have a go at that. – Blrfl Oct 14 '11 at 21:58
  • As a hiring manager I would not see this as favorable if I found out that the company was created "after the fact". I would doubt the candidates integrity. If, however, it was genuinely created for the purpose of those projects then I would certainly be interested why the company wasn't kept as a continued business. In that case I agree with @Blrfl. – Manfred Oct 15 '11 at 20:03

Don't worry about it. You can leave a gap if not too long and you have enough other significant background. When I'm hiring and see a candidate I'm interested in with such a gap, I'll just ask. It's not a dis-qualifier at all.

Caveat ... I would consider a year to be about the max for this technique.

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  • A coworker of mine took a year to tour Europe with his family. It didn't stop him from getting hired. Specifics in this field change, but theory has been sound for a while. Before his year in Europe, he was doing Java for a while and we're an MS shop. If you're good at what you do, a year off won't hurt. – Andy Oct 14 '11 at 21:46

I would record the year on my resume under a separate section titled appropriately ("Sabbatical" maybe), with each interesting project listed as appropriate.

In the cover letter, I'd treat the period as I would any other work experience - and mention any relevant components, as they relate to the work I am applying for.

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I'm on a sabbatical myself right now so maybe we can share notes. I'm going to start by agreeing with other answers that you're thinking too much.

First step is to have a plan and if you have a favorite recruiter or linkedin/monster/dice etc... accounts announce your plan and time off. Even if your plan is to surf all the California beaches or pub crawl Islay, you're doing something and not just loafing around and that's all anyone cares about. No one likes the surprise of you just disappearing for a year, many will want to hear your stories when you come back.

I would recommend doing personal projects, even if small it helps to keep the physical act of coding fresh and practiced plus it gives you a little something to show. Contribute to an open sourced project as an alternative, same reasons.

I update the recruiters I work with occasionally. When I reenter the coding workforce there won't be any surprises. I agree with other answers that this needs to be on your resume. On my resume it's going down as "sabbatical" with relevant projects and accomplishments listed.

So no, I don't think that taking extended time off is a bad thing and I think that breaking out of the intensely focused environment of software development can actually be a good thing.

You don't have to "explain" the sabbatical, you will want to describe what you did and what you learned during your time off. It's a great chance to show how your diverse experiences can add to any team, your wide interests can lead to creative solutions, and now that personal time is over how you really want to work at where you're applying and not there just because you need a job.

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My suggestion would be to talk to recruiters and fellow developers in the community so that you aren't having to get a resume past HR or other silly games when it comes to finding a place. With 7 years of experience in the field, you should have enough of a background that you can talk technical details and share battle scars while also knowing enough of what you want that headhunters could place you somewhere so that while you have a gap in your resume, it isn't a big deal if the managers know of you through another source.

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  • It does, if the managers knows of you through a recruiter the recruiter wants to be paid. So they don't hire you. Avoid recruiters until broke or desperate. – ZJR Oct 15 '11 at 3:03
  • @ZJR Avoiding recruiters as a general advice on this site could be problematic. Having worked for a while on three different continents I am aware that in some local labor markets recruiters play a vital role in the IT market (Note that I'm not a recruiter). While I agree with your advice for some locations I would tend to disagree with it as a universal statement. – Manfred Oct 15 '11 at 20:06

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