Whatever you have had a break in your career for, whether it's to look after children, to care for a sick relative, to travel the world, time off for illness (physical or mental) or even time away at her majesty's pleasure, it’s happened so there is no point in trying to hide it. That said, it is important to consider how to deal with it on your CV or application form to maximise your chance of getting selected for interview (or at least minimise your chances of being rejected!)
The two most important things:
1. Don't ignore it
2. Don't be embarrassed or ashamed of it
Recruiters are a generally suspicious bunch and gaps on CVs provide as much of a question mark as serial job hoppers. So fill the gap; simply state the dates and provide a short explanation. For example:
- May 2008 – July 2013 career break for bringing up a young family
- February 2011 – January 2014 career break to care for terminally ill parent
During your break if you have had some new experiences such as gaining new qualifications or done some voluntary work it is worth adding the details to your CV. Whilst it might not be formal work it provides evidence that you are willing to step up, are proactive and if you have any significant achievements during that time they are definitely worth noting as well.
Try and think about what you did and the outcome or benefit to those you helped.
Some great examples I have seen include:
- Voted chairman of the Parents Teacher Association (PTA) and successfully led the committee from 2008 – 2010 achieving an increase of 10% in donations
- Organised a charity ball including arranging venue, relevant licenses, entertainment, catering, volunteer staffing, marketing and PR resulting in a successful and enjoyable event raising £5000 for the local hospice
- Participated in local school enterprise initiative – assisting sixth form students prepare business plans and forecasts for a “Dragons Den” competition, resulting in a first place win for the team I assisted.
If you haven’t done anything tangible, don’t panic. I would suggest keeping it short and simple as you want your previous relevant experience to be close to the top of your CV and be amongst the first things the recruiter reads.
- 2010 – 2016 Career Break for family
- 2005-2010 HR Manager for Blue Chip Company
I would advise against embellishing the day to day duties during your career break……
- Responsible for domestic organisation
- Diary management for teenage children incorporating numerous sports clubs and other social activities
- Provided nutritionally balanced food, including catering for allergies
- Ensuring provision of clean laundry for multiple family members to tight timescales
Whilst it can highlight transferable skills…. multi-tasking, organisation, efficiency, and probably creativity….. I personally feel it looks a bit try-hard; a bit like calling a Bin Man a “Waste Management and Disposal Technician.” (I love this article on the top ten most ridiculous job titles)
It’s worth adding some further detail in the personal profile section to provide some explanation as to how things have now changed to enable you to re-enter the work place. We all know that employers can not discriminate on the basis of whether you have children or a sick relative but we may all have had experiences where you might suspect that it might have influenced a recruitment outcome. Try to mitigate that risk from the outset – show that you’ve addressed it, sorted it and are ready to work. You will look organised, in control, efficient and no-nonsense – excellent attributes to be shining through on an application.
- Having had a sometime at home, my children are now settled in school / nursery and I am looking forward to returning to the workplace and I am seeking an opportunity to……
- I took some time away from work to look after my mother, she unfortunately died in January. We have now dealt with the probate arrangements and I am looking to……..
In an ideal world it would be nice to think that all employers should have empathy with the personal reasons for a career break but they also have a job to be done and want to ensure they make the best appointment. It's a risk management strategy; if you’ve been out of work for a while you may be perceived as a higher risk than someone who has been doing exactly the same role the week before for a different company. (You might be perceived as needing more training, more support and development).
However, you can’t change it, so embrace it.
Frame it in the most positive way and focus on the many employers who will value the life experiences and responsibilities that taking a break from work has given you. Life is a complex and varied journey, by showing that you have been adaptable and resilient (albeit in a personal capacity) is a very positive strength.
Flexible Minds is a recruitment agency specialising in recruiting professionals on a part time and flexible basis in the West Midlands.