Taking a career sabbatical to learn new product management skills

Taking a career sabbatical to learn new product management skills

In 2019, Emma Rosen wrote the book "The Radical Sabbatical: The Millennial Handbook to the Quarter Life Crisis", for the 72% of millennials who want a complete change of career.

In her book, Emma offered ways for people to rethink their careers and figure out what is right for them, by answering the following questions:

  • Why don't they like your current job?
  • What would they like to do instead?
  • How might they make the move from their current job to dream job?

There is an acknowledgement these days that careers are not what they used to be. My father spent more than thirty years working in the frozen food industry, but these days thirty years in one industry seems just beyond us.

Portfolio careers and career pivots are now becoming the norm, but even that might seem beyond us when we're seemingly tied to our salary in order to pay for crazy rents and high costs of living.

If we like the idea of working in product management, but we're not sure, and we can't find the time to figure it out then the answer to our problem might be a sabbatical from work.

What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is an extended period away from work – organised and agreed upon by you and your employer. Some people refer to it as an ‘adult gap year’, as you are taking time out from the standard way of life to explore new experiences and opportunities.

Depending on your employer and your financial situation, a sabbatical could last anywhere from a couple of months through to year. Your employer typically agrees to such an arrangement with the expectation that you will return to your current role on your return.

What are the benefits of having a sabbatical?

Although a sabbatical isn’t for everyone, taking time out from work has its benefits:

  • To shake up the routine - Taking a sabbatical can be a great way to get back your enthusiasm for your job. By taking time out, you’ll be able to return with a clear head and a new sense of purpose.
  • To make a difference - Sabbaticals are the perfect opportunity to do any charity or voluntary work you may not have previously had time for – without sacrificing your career.
  • To travel - One of the most popular reasons for taking a sabbatical is travel. Not only could you see the world and experience new cultures, but you might also be able to gain practical skills you can bring back to the workplace.
  • To learn new skills - You could choose to do anything from taking a course to starting your own individual project, and it's this that could help you get started in a new product management role.

What should I do on my sabbatical?

Of course, it depends on your reasons for taking a sabbatical, but we're focusing here on learning new skills with a view to becoming more involved in product management.
Being free of your work responsibilities, gives you the freedom to:

  • Sign up to some courses to fill some of your product management skills gaps. Maybe it's looking into product design, data analytics or becoming more technical.
  • Attend conferences and meetups to expand your network and widen your experiences through listening to experienced product professionals
  • Intern in a product role within another organisation, where you can get on the job experience in the kind of role you think you want. This allows you to test the water before you make your career pivot.
  • Start up your own product and see how far you can take it on your own. By only focusing on your own product, you can dedicate time to push it forward following your strategy and not that dictated to you.

Sabbatical tips

However you choose to take your sabbatical, there are some basic tips to follow in order to make the most of this opportunity:

  • Research what you’re passionate about and figure out what you want to do
  • Set your sabbatical goals
  • Determine a plan of how you can best go about what you want to do
  • Find the money and set a date
  • Consider the logistics of how you can achieve your goal
  • When you return, review what you've learned and where you will go next

When it comes down to it, managing your sabbatical this way is really just product management. Set a goal. Figure out a plan to achieve it. Deliver and review.