How to impress with your career break skills

Your cv may have some gaps, but your life skills are all the better for it 

Returning from a career break can be daunting – there are several websites and blogs devoted to the topic, covering the many background circumstances e.g. redundancy, illness, parenthood etc. You need to be prepared to explain a gap in your career record to people who may not have taken time out themselves and are not necessarily aware of the challenges and indeed the benefits that time out can bring.

The first thing to realise is that cv writing may have changed since you last looked, depending on how long it was since you last did a job hunt. Don’t be put off – gone is the long list of job titles and descriptions back to the year dot, and it has been replaced by a much more user-friendly and practical approach, homing in on keywords for the convenience not only of the human reader but also the machine reader. This focuses the cv on the skills you have that are relevant for the position that you are applying for. For more advice on what’s changed in cv writing, see my earlier post.

Write a personal statement

Personal statements will be familiar to any UK student applying for University. It’s a summary of who you are and where you want to be. No need to mention that you are a returner to the workplace, or how long you’ve been away – that’s not your career, that’s just a biographical detail you can cover elsewhere. You need to describe what you have to offer and to whom. Focus on your career before your break – what were your outstanding achievements? What kind of companies/clients/people did you work best with? These are the anecdotes you need to bring forward and capitalise on. Write a personal statement which explains why you love doing what you do and what you aim to achieve in your career. You are already putting your career front of mind and not the fact that you have been away from it for X years. See this LinkedIn post for additional guidance on personal statements and cv templates.

Work experience

In terms of employment history, start with your most recent experience, however long ago. Include only the roles that are relevant to the role in question – you can cover off earlier years in a couple of lines indicating the employer and dates, and any qualifications or promotions gained in that time. Reference any careers breaks similarly in short rather than leaving a gap.

What have you learned in your most recent time out?

When you come to write about your time out of the workplace, focus on relevant skills you can demonstrate that you have kept up to speed on, or learned in your own time. Make sure you link these back to the requirements of the role you are applying for, to get the maximum impact. These can include:

·        IT skills – especially social media as this has boomed in recent years and with a focus on user generated content, it is not unlikely that your skills as a keen user are desirable to an employer. Make sure your online presence is positive and professional – it may be viewed by a potential employer

·        Interpersonal skills – mentoring, coaching sports, local politics, first aid

·        Organisation skills – planning events, fundraising, Parent Teacher Association, School Governor

·        Financial and administrative skills – running a household, sticking to a budget, negotiating healthcare and benefits, especially if you have been a carer, relocating the family to/from another country

·        Volunteering can provide you with opportunities to learn or develop many of these skills – it’s never too late to volunteer for a cause. By having made a commitment however small and however recent to an organisation outside of your home you will demonstrate an eagerness to interact with others and use your skills. I have volunteered for two organisations during my career break, and the time commitment has been minimal but the effort has been appreciated and I have been able to feel that I’ve ”kept my hand in” as far as my profession and my skills. It goes a long way to proving that you are ready to re-join the paid workforce. Turn any volunteering experience into cv speak using a great app called "Gro".

Adding personality

Hobbies and interests are worth mentioning if you think they could possibly translate to work-related benefits such as teamwork (team sport achievement), accountability (social club treasurer), project management (refurbishing a home or car), design (building your own computer), creativity (landscaping a garden) and ambition (cycling across Europe). Make sure you do have a thoughtful and relevant piece to say at your interview about your hobbies to indicate your passion and achievements and how they demonstrate your suitability for the role – people hire people, and employers are keen to see how you might fit in with the company socially as well as operationally.


You need to think about who can provide a reference when requested – details of references do not need to be included on your cv. Tee up a couple of people who can speak about your work or study related activity, however many years ago, or your recent volunteering, if applicable. An old boss as a reference can work – it is a testament not only to the fact that you left a previous job on good terms, but also that you have managed to stay in touch over time. Apart from anything else, getting in touch with old contacts gives you an opportunity to get guidance and support, and even some insight into potential vacancies.


Set up a good LinkedIn profile for the job you are aspiring to and are qualified to apply for. Let head-hunters know you are “open to opportunities”. For tips on LinkedIn, see my earlier post on using social media in your job hunt.

More reading

For more inspiration on skills that you can refer to whilst out of the workplace, these two articles from the Talented Ladies Club website apply whether you are male or female and whatever the reason for your career break:

  • Cv writing tips
  • Typical parenting skills you can refer to, around time management, planning and problem solving, as you would imagine, but also people management figures highly. There isn’t an employer who wouldn’t want employees who have the ability to build relationships and trust.

Great example cvs of returners are posted from time to time on LinkedIn by recruiters – ask your local recruitment firm for examples and advice. They will usually advise against some of the more florid suggestions – e.g. calling yourself the “CEO of the Smith family” (unless you think that will work for the job you are looking for!). The skills you need to shout about are the life skills useful in any industry and those which can’t be taught. Write the best possible cv you can then read it just before you go into your interview and you will impress with your confidence in yourself and your preparation skills.

Next week, I will be looking at the power of the “thank you” and why we should say it more often in the workplace.

Until next week!