Take a Career Break, but Stay in the Game
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Take a Career Break, but Stay in the Game

Lay the groundwork for a return to work when you want by networking, setting boundaries and getting recruiters to come to you.

By RACHEL FEINTZEIG
Tue, Mar 15, 2022 11:39amGrey Clock 4 min

You got burned out. Your kids needed you. You became a crypto millionaire overnight.

Whatever the reason—congrats. Welcome to your career break, length TBD.

Time off by choice can be wonderful if you can swing it, a chance to recalibrate your priorities and detox from the stress of the working world. It can also be a kind of limbo. How to keep your edge without getting sucked back into corporate overwhelm? How do you know when it’s the right moment to job hunt again? And what comes next, anyway?

“It’s the ‘I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up’ kind of feeling,” says Tami Forman, the executive director of Path Forward, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people re-enter the workforce.

Those on work breaks can flounder, unsure what to do once they’ve stepped off the corporate conveyor belt that for years powered their careers, she says. And hiring managers, flooded with job applicants and their own work, often opt for the easiest choice: picking someone who’s currently doing the same job somewhere else.

Don’t be cavalier about what it will take to get back into the workforce, Ms. Forman advises. Start looking before you’re ready.

Carve out five minutes every morning to send a relevant article to two former colleagues, saying why it made you think of them. Ask that parent on the sidelines of the soccer game, the one with the cool job, if they have time for coffee. Explain that you’re on a break and not looking yet, but you’d love to learn more about their role and experience.

“People will be much more open to talking about what’s going on at their company if they don’t think you’re going to say, ‘Can you put my résumé on someone’s desk?’ ” Ms. Forman says.

Brett Delgado, 37 years old, stays in touch with former co-workers via Instagram comments, Discord video chats and online gaming. He left his job at a professional-services firm in the Los Angeles area last April, moving in with his parents in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

Working 80 hours a week in L.A. while studying for his CPA exam had left him exhausted and anxious. He decided to take a year off to focus on passing the exam, improving his health and connecting with his parents.

So far he’s lost 60 pounds, passed three of the four exam sections (he takes the final one this month) and thought about where he might want to live next. But he won’t start looking for a job until his CPA certification comes through.

“It’s easy sometimes to become preoccupied with, what’s the future going to look like?” he says. “I’ve been trying really hard to take things day by day.”

Even if you’ve been craving funemployment, it’s normal to have some pangs of, “What have I done?” after handing in a resignation, says Ethan Kross, a professor of psychology and management at the University of Michigan.

“We like to know that we have control of things and that they’re certain,” says Dr. Kross, the author of “Chatter,” a book about the internal messages we give ourselves.

If you’re feeling adrift, talk to yourself as you would a friend, addressing yourself as “you” or by your name as you dispense advice. Think about how you might view the situation in six months or 10 years. Will you wish you obsessed more over the next entry on your résumé, or spent time with family? And set boundaries from the beginning of your career break, rehearsing how you’d react if someone, say, offered you a freelancing assignment.

Kristen Witte, 32, left her job with a healthcare software company last June after her younger daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects the lungs. She pulled her older daughter out of daycare, and is thankful for time spent colouring and moulding Play-Doh at her Houston home. Still, when LinkedIn job alerts land in her inbox, or she hears of others in her field receiving lucrative offers, she sometimes has second thoughts.

“Am I missing out? Is this the right time for me not to be working?” she wonders.

Taking on a 10-hour-a-week contracting gig in January has been “freeing,” she says, helping her feel as though she’s keeping one toe in the professional world, while still staying flexible for her girls.

If you’re open to jumping back in for your dream job, set up your LinkedIn profile to do the work for you, says Omar Garriott, who previously worked for the company and co-authored “Linked,” a book about using the social network.

The brief description right below your name should match your ideal job title, even if you haven’t held it yet, he says. For example, you could write, “aspiring product manager,” “future product manager,” or “taking work hiatus—seeking product manager opportunities.” In the longer “About” section, include a list of your skills, especially ones that are being used as key words in the job descriptions that interest you most, so the algorithms can find you.

Recruiters will start coming to you, Mr. Garriott says. They’re used to people saying no, he adds, so it’s fine to open your profile for them to search even if you don’t think you want a new job anytime soon. Just make sure to reply to their messages with a yes or a gracious no, and let them know what opportunities you would consider.

Blake Lawson, of Costa Mesa, Calif., initially turned down a job offer he got from a tech company in December. A few months into a career break prompted by burnout and the desire to try something new, he was intent on learning improv, earning his pilot’s license and laying the groundwork for his own consulting business.

Then the hiring manager came back with a 19% pay bump from the initial offer, plus the opportunity to learn skills that Mr. Lawson was eager to expand. He said yes.

He started the new job, leading a product team, in January, and likes having more structure in his days. But he misses the time and freedom that came with not having a 9 to 5 and says he’s intent on seeing his side hustles through.

“There’s been a little bit of sadness in knowing what I left behind,” he says.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: March 14, 2022.

 

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How 20 Seconds Can Make You a Better Investor

Investors are taming impulsive money moves by adding a little friction to financial transactions

By IMANI MOISE
Tue, Mar 14, 2023 4 min

To break the day-trading habit that cost him friendships and sleep, crypto fund manager Thomas Meenink first tried meditation and cycling. They proved no substitute for the high he got scrolling through investing forums, he said.

Instead, he took a digital breath. He installed software that imposed a 20-second delay whenever he tried to open CoinStats or Coinbase.

Twenty seconds might not seem like much, but feels excruciating in smartphone time, he said. As a result, he checks his accounts 60% less.

“I have to consciously make an effort to go look at stuff that I actually want to know instead of scrolling through feeds and endless conversations about stuff that is actually not very useful,” he said.

More people are adding friction to curb all types of impulsive behaviour. App-limiting services such as One Sec and Opal were originally designed to help users cut back on social-media scrolling.

Now, they are being put to personal-finance use by individuals and some banking and investing platforms. On One Sec, the number of customers using the app to add a delay to trading or banking apps more than quintupled between 2021 and 2022. Opal says roughly 5% of its 100,000 active users rely on the app to help spend less time on finance apps, and 22% use it to block shopping apps such as Amazon.com Inc.

Economic researchers and psychologists say introducing friction into more apps can help people act in their own best interests. Whether we are trading or scrolling social media, the impulsive, automatic decision-making parts of our brains tend to win out over our more measured critical thinking when we use our smartphones, said Ankit Kalda, a finance professor at Indiana University who has studied the impact of mobile trading apps on investor behaviour.

His 2021 study tracked the behaviour of investors on different platforms over seven years and found that experienced day traders made more frequent, riskier bets and generated worse returns when using a smartphone than when using a desktop trading tool.

Most financial-technology innovation over the past decade focused on reducing the friction of moving money around to enable faster and more seamless transactions. Apps such as Venmo made it easier to pay the babysitter or split a bill with friends, and digital brokerages such as Robinhood streamlined mobile trading of stocks and crypto.

These innovations often lead customers to trade or buy more to the benefit of investing and finance platforms. But now, some customers are finding ways to slow the process. Meanwhile, some companies are experimenting with ways to create speed bumps to protect users from their own worst instincts.

When investing app Stash launched retirement accounts for customers in 2017, its customer-service representatives were flooded with calls from panicked customers who moved quickly to open up IRAs without understanding there would be penalties for early withdrawals. Stash funded the accounts in milliseconds once a customer opted in, said co-founder Ed Robinson.

So to reduce the number of IRAs funded on impulse, the company added a fake loading page with additional education screens to extend the product’s onboarding process to about 20 seconds. The change led to lower call-centre volume and a higher rate of customers deciding to keep the accounts funded.

“It’s still relatively quick,” Mr. Robinson said, but those extra steps “allow your brain to catch up.”

Some big financial decisions such as applying for a mortgage or saving for retirement can benefit from these speed bumps, according to ReD Associates, a consulting firm that specialises in using anthropological research to inform design of financial products and other services. More companies are starting to realise they can actually improve customer experiences by slowing things down, said Mikkel Krenchel, a partner at the firm.

“This idea of looking for sustainable behaviour, as opposed to just maximal behaviour is probably the mind-set that firms will try to adopt,” he said.

Slowing down processing times can help build trust, said Chianoo Adrian, a managing director at Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America. When the money manager launched its online retirement checkup tool last year, customers were initially unsettled by how fast the website estimated their projected lifetime incomes.

“We got some feedback during our testing that individuals would say ‘Well, how did you know that already? Are you sure you took in all my responses?’ ” she said. The company found that the delay increased credibility with customers, she added.

For others, a delay might not be enough to break undesirable habits.

More people have been seeking treatment for day-trading addictions in recent years, said Lin Sternlicht, co-founder of Family Addiction Specialist, who has seen an increase in cases since the start of the pandemic.

“By the time individuals seek out professional help they are usually experiencing a crisis, and there is often pressure to seek help from a loved one,” she said.

She recommends people who believe they might have a day-trading problem unsubscribe from notifications and emails from related companies and change the color scheme on the trading apps to grayscale, which has been found to make devices less addictive. In extreme cases, people might want to consider deleting apps entirely.

For Perjan Duro, an app developer in Berlin, a 20-second delay wasn’t enough. A few months after he installed One Sec, he went a step further and deleted the app for his retirement account.

“If you don’t have it on your phone, [that] helps you avoid that bad decision,” he said.

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