Can I Call a Career Break a "Sabbatical" on My Resume?

A job seeker asked me if he could write "Sabbatical" on his resume to fill in a career break. His work gap had nothing to do with an academic or professional pursuit, it was just time off between jobs. My answer -- No, don't do it!

Look, there's nothing wrong with taking a career break -- many people do it to travel, take care of parents, grieve after a personal loss, or conduct a big career change. But unless your time off was spent in an academic or professional project, do not call it a "sabbatical."

Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia's definition of "sabbatical":
In recent times, "sabbatical" has come to mean any extended absence in the career of an individual in order to achieve something. In the modern sense, one takes sabbatical typically to fulfill some goal, e.g., writing a book or traveling extensively for research.

A Non-Sabbatical Career Break on a Resume

If you have a period of unemployment on your resume that is not related to your career, follow these tips:

  1. List years (no months) when stating the dates for jobs in your work history. If your employment gap is just a few months long, this may avoid the need to address the gap.
  2. Consider what you did for no pay (volunteer work, school, family management, personal projects) that supports your job objective. Create a "job title" from your relevant unpaid work and use it to fill your employment gap.
  3. List an unpaid activity that shows good character. If you didn't do anything that's relevant to your resume objective, list an activity or position (such as Parent) that suggests you're a good person.

Putting a Real Sabbatical on Your Resume

If your time off really was for your career and falls within the Wikipedia definition above, state what that project entailed. Write bullet point statements under that "Sabbatical" job title to briefly describe your sabbatical achievements.

The Long and the Short of It

Don't use the term "sabbatical" to mean "time off that I don't want to talk about." Trust me, they'll ask you about it in a job interview.

Resume Examples:

Resume Examples That Solve the "Employment Gap" Problem
Resume Examples That Solve the “Unemployed Now” Problem
Examples of Problem-Solving Resumes