Returning to work after a career break can be a daunting prospect. From updating your CV and writing personalised cover letters for each application to networking and scouring the job portals – job hunting’s a job unto itself! But what many people struggle with, particularly after taking a career break is explaining employment gaps in their CVs.
There are several reasons why you could have breaks in your career. These can range from gaps in employment due to illness or time off to fulfil caring duties. They’re perfectly justified life events that you shouldn’t feel the need to defend or apologise for. However, there are other less ‘conventional’ career gaps that you probably need to explain when applying for a new role.
No matter the reason for your break, there’s always a way to spin a narrative in your favour. In this blog, we’ll share the top tips on how to explain gaps in your resumé and still get that dream job!
What Makes Employers Nervous about Gaps in Your CV
According to a report by Glassdoor, the average cost to hire a new employee in the UK is £3000. This probably explains why companies choose to err on the side of caution when screening applicants. A gap or multiple unexplained gaps in your CV can make employers curious. And assume the worst.
For example, it could raise questions about your credibility and how reliable you are to be entrusted with a role in the company. They may assume that you weren’t getting offers from other employers- a red flag. Or, they might have doubts that you’re serious about your career if your resumé has periods of unexplained breaks.
4 Tips to Explain an Employment Gap in Your CV
1. Be Honest
Most employers will have done a background check before calling you in for an interview. It’s therefore important to be honest about your employment background from the onset. You’re better off explaining why you have a 2-year gap than not addressing it. It’s a recruiter’s job to scan your CV so don’t assume they’ll have missed a time span that is unaccounted for.
Look on the bright side. If an employer calls you in for an interview despite spotting obvious career break(s), chances are your skills and experience weighed in higher. Besides, a career gap doesn’t have to be a disadvantage. In the time that you were on a break you could have picked up new skills.
So, if you took time out for caring duties you could highlight some transferrable kills you gained – like organisation and time management. The best place to mention this is your cover letter and you could elaborate further if asked at interview stage.
Consider this example:
‘I took a break between July 2018 and September 2020 to bring up my child. But now I’m ready to return to work. As a full-time mother I’ve picked up a few transferrable skills that I’m sure will be useful in my professional life.’
Then list the skills that apply to you. Read our tips on returning to work after caring duties.
2. Use Your Time Productively
There are multiple reasons for taking a career gap. What employers want to see is what you did with your time off. It’s always a good idea to try and learn a new skill or brush up your existing ones when you’re in between jobs. This shows employers that you’re constantly improving yourself. It’s also a good way for you stay up to date with trends. It ensures you’re ready to hit the ground running when you go back.
There are hundreds of online learning resources that you can access for free to upskill yourself. From learning how to code to mastering data analytics, you have a vast pool of options to choose from. Several online training resources like LinkedIn Learning (although not free) provide certifications after the successful completion of each course. Read this post about retraining at 40.
A good way to highlight the skills you learnt on your break is to match them directly to the job requirements. For example – you took time off to be a full-time mom and volunteered at your child’s school. There, you managed 10 other volunteers organising school fairs and events. This would be great experience for a job that requires managing teams and resources.
Or, if you helped raise funds for your local library, this could be a relevant skill to mention for a role that involves fundraising. Directly matching your skills to the requirements of the job shows employers what value you bring to the role.
3. Own the Narrative
It’s never easy to say that the reason for a career break was that you weren’t getting job offers. However, you can put a different spin on it. The trick to mentioning a difficult subject is to own the narrative. So, if you had an extended gap in between jobs, one way to word it would be that you were being selective about the next role you took up.
This could be reflective of your changing responsibilities and capabilities in your last role and how you wanted to explore them further going forward. You could also mention that you wanted to take time off to reassess your goals.
‘Having worked in a senior business analyst role in the financial services sector for five years, I was ready for a new challenge. Therefore, I decided to take time out to regroup and re-evaluate my strengths and goals.’
This explanation is not only justified but quite commendable because it shows that you’re willing to take actionable steps for your career development.
You could also create an equally compelling narrative for time taken for travelling. Focus on the things you learnt from the experience and how they added to your life skills. It could be anything from learning a new language or getting acquainted with a new culture. For companies with a global remit, this could be an added advantage.
For example, if you spent two years travelling around southeast Asia, this could give you an edge when applying to a company who have a presence in these geographies. A first-hand experience of local cultures is always a bonus when doing business with them.
4. Don’t Fret
Take a deep breath and relax! Not every gap in your employment must have a reason. A six-month gap between jobs for example can be easily attributed to job hunting. Another thing to remember is that career gaps that happened 7 to 10 years ago don’t really matter. You might still need to mention them. But companies don’t usually care too much about your employment history beyond then.
The idea is to be confident and not stress. Do your homework and research the company you’re applying to. Show employers how your skills and experience can help them do better and you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
Why a Career Break Can Be a Good Thing
A career break can actually be really helpful. Often, we get stuck in the same role for an extended period without any discernible growth. Taking a break allows us to review and take stock of our options and then pursue new goals. This leads to a more enhanced professional development. Also, life outside of work is just as challenging and as fulfilling. It’s important to take time out to experience life – whether to spend time with children or pursue a hobby.
We at FDM are committed to help people return to work. We don’t question career gaps. In fact, we welcome them! If you’ve had a career gap between 1 and 20 years and are looking to get back to work, check out our Returner’s Programme to see how we can help you land your dream role!