Whatever career you choose, breaks in employment are natural for everyone. Whether you’re taking the time to care for a new arrival, enjoying a sabbatical to travel or missing extended periods of work due to illness, there are plenty of reasons to take time off.
This article will give you the top tips for explaining your career breaks, preparing for your re-entry and rejoining the job hunt to increase your confidence, find a great job, help you combat those jitters and let you hit the ground running in the new role.
Explaining your career break and re-entry
If you have an obvious or recent career break it is usually a good idea to be upfront and honest. This means mentioning it on your resume and cover letter. For details on the best approach to take, keep reading.
Keep it simple
Regardless of the reason for your hiatus, it is best not to dwell on it or make it a significant part of your conversations, resume or applications. Keep your explanation as succinct and straightforward as possible and then steer the conversation away from this subject.
It is a good idea to prepare a simple explanation for your hiatus and find a few reasons why you want to get back to work and how the new role relates to your previous experience and the work you were doing before you took the break.
Here’s an example of how to casually change the topic:
‘I took two years to raise my children, but I always thought it would be temporary. When the kids were old enough and I started to concentrate on my career again I saw this job advertised and thought it looked like an exact fit for the experience I gained in my last role.’
Depending on the reasons for your career break, it may be easier to explain. The examples below are quick, simple approaches to explaining a career break that would work well on your resume and applications as well as during interviews.
- ‘I spent time caring for a sick relative’
- ‘I was volunteering at a homelessness charity while studying bookkeeping classes’
- ‘It was important to me to be home with my child until nursery school’
- ‘I spent the past few years traveling the world and improving my language skills.’
Update your resume
When it comes to describing your career break on your resume, it is important to make it clear and not make it seem like you are covering it up. However, this does not mean that you need to make it the first thing someone will notice. Play with the layout and move your previous work experience further down, it’s often a good idea to focus the first half of your resume on skills and achievements rather than your work experience, career history and gaps in employment.
Explaining a recent break
If you took a recent break off work, in the last 2-3 years, it is inadvisable to try and hide or disguise it. However, you could outline your hiatus in years rather than months on your resume, just be prepared to give further details if asked. But please keep in mind that a break of 8 months or more may seem dishonestly represented by a vague description like ‘2018 to 2019’, and you definitely don’t want to seem like you're hiding the truth.
Another important point to mention is that you should always aim to frame your current situation in a positive light. Make it clear that you view the new role as the perfect way to get back to work and reflect on the ways in which your break may have prepared you for your re-entry.
Perhaps you took an online course, learned a new skill, or had time to keep up with industry news? Of course, if you do have some relevant achievements gained during your hiatus another option could be to describe the break as a set of dates and a short description of your experiences on your resume, just as if you were outlining another job in your work experience section.
Explaining a gap in your resume from two years ago
Although honesty is still the best policy, if you have held several roles, or worked for a decade or more since your career break, you can certainly dial bacon the detail in your resume. Employers are unlikely to be that interested in your experiences this long ago unless it is particularly relevant to the role and there is often no need to mention your career break on your resume unless you think it is necessary.
That being said, it is always important to be upfront if the conversation heads in that direction and have a short answer prepared.
Career breaks due to illness, disability or injury
Taking a break from work to raise your children is unlikely to raise concerns. But, when it comes to career breaks due to illness or injury things can get a little complicated. If you are disabled or have a chronic illness you are not required to declare this to your employer, unless they will need to make accommodations for you.
It is recommended that you don’t disclose the details, unless you feel you have to. If you do disclose that your break was for an illness, disability or injury then this could put employers off as they may feel this means you are accident-prone, mentally unstable, a health and safety risk, or likely to require more time off in the future.
Remember that if you do reveal your illness or disability you are not legally obliged to answer any further questions from your employer on the matter - in fact, it is illegal for them to ask.
Career breaks due to travel
If you took a hiatus to live in another country or travel the world then, depending on your age, it can make you seem uncommitted to your career. If you are so keen to get back to work, then why did you quit in the first place?
The last thing you want to do is make it sound like your traveling was a way to ‘escape’ or ‘take a step back’ from your work. Instead, you should frame it as an experience to help you gain valuable life skills and experiences to make you a more well-rounded person. It is therefore important to be succinct and positive in your description of your travel career break and current situation.
Here are some examples of things to focus on that demonstrate the positive impact a travel break can have on your career:
- Problem solving and learning how to adapt to new and difficult situations
- Understanding and developing a new respect for other cultures and people from different backgrounds
- Learning a new language: a great way to show your independence, motivation and and example of you abilities to learn new things quickly
- Ability to think creatively and take calculated risks.
Preparing for your re-entry
Despite how successful you were at your previous job, taking a break is always going to leave you with a lot to catch up on. Plus it is always a good idea to consider what you want to do differently this time whether that’s changes to the role, industry, or responsibilities before you start applying for jobs.
Consider your wants and requirements
When rejoining the world of work there are several important things to consider, the following questions are an excellent place to start:
Would you like a similar role to the one you had before you took your hiatus and, if not, how would you like it to differ?
-> Consider daily duties, time commitments, responsibilities, and your level of authority.
What type of job do you think you will find fulfilling and gratifying?
-> Think about how your interests, commitments, and goals may have changed.
What would you like to get out of the job?
-> That doesn’t just mean the salary, think about the working hours, flexibility and any other benefits you feel you need.
Have you increased your skill set during your break?
-> Think about anything relevant that you may have learned since you were last employed.
Study your industry
If you have had a long career break, or your industry is particularly fast-paced, there is a high probability that your role will have changed to some degree. Therefore, it is important to do your research.
This can mean many things and depends a lot on your role and industry. However, there are some good examples for what you should look into that hold true for most roles. Start researching on industry-specific news sites or Google:
- Any significant new products or businesses that have entered the market
- How the pandemic may have affected your role or industry
- How the requirements, salary, and competition for the role may have changed
- The latest software you may need to use in your new role
If you are struggling with your research, try reading industry-specific new sites, having an open discussion with a recruiter about the changes, or reconnecting with old colleagues and contacts still in the business.
Refresh your skills
If you have taken a long hiatus, the chances are some of your industry-specific skills have grown rusty. If this is the case you will most likely gain an understanding of the areas you need to refresh during your research. Take a look at the following for ideas on the common skills you may need to improve upon:
- Knowledge of specific software and processes you used in your previous roles
- Understanding of industry jargon and key terminology
- Professional communication skills: negotiating, selling, customer service, presenting etc.
Brushing up on those vital skills will not only mean you can hit the ground running in your new role, but increase your confidence, demonstrate your enthusiasm and high-level of due diligence that will help you impress in your interview. Here are some of the best ways to refresh your vital skills before regaining full time employment:
- Online research, courses and video guides
- Doming new products and software
- Volunteering in a similar role
- Taking a temporary job
- Assisting or shadowing a relevant contact for free.
Just as you will need to refresh your industry-specific skills, the same is true for your interview technique. To avoid those pre-interview nerves and prepare yourself to make the best impression possible try to practice your upcoming interviews.
This can be anything from acting out your responses on your own to asking a friend or family member to play the role of the interviewer or, if you are working with professionals at a recruitment agency, asking them to support you in arranging a mock interview. It’s not just about practicing your responses to questions you are likely to be asked, it will also help to remind you of your previous duties and accomplishments.
Taking the time to reconnect with old colleagues and industry contacts will go a long way towards helping you secure your next role.
Offer to buy an old colleague, contact or acquaintance from the industry a coffee and ask them to fill you in on the latest changes and developments. It is commonplace for those re-entering the job market to arrange informational interviews like these.
The aim of these informal chats is not necessary to directly lead to a job offer, but rather offer valuable insights into your career options. Try to arrange a couple of these as part of your prep, ideally one with an employee at one of the industry-leading companies.
Here are some examples of questions you should be ask:
- What are the biggest changes in the industry since your break?
- How have your roles responsibilities, requirements and processes changed since your break?
- How competitive is the current job market for your type of role?
Other options for getting that insider knowledge to prepare you for your career re-entry include:
- Attending webinars and live conferences
- Subscribing to trade magazines, newsletters, and podcasts
- Completing relevant classes and courses
- Joining industry groups on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Aside from providing valuable research opportunities, LinkedIn is also the ideal way to network with minimal effort and from the comfort of your home.
As the leading professional networking site, LinkedIn has really taken off recently doubling its user base in the last 10 years alone. Nowadays, 67% of companies will check the social media profiles before deciding on new hires and, in 2020, 122 million people reportedly received an interview through LinkedIn with 35.5 million users having been hired by a person in their LinkedIn network.
LinkedIn is a fantastic way to reconnect with old colleagues and contacts, arrange those informational interviews, and quickly increase your network of productive industry contacts. You can even do specific searches for the team leaders, HR, and hiring managers in your ideal companies and send them personal messages about upcoming job opportunities.
If you don’t have a profile already, now is the time to set one up.
Rejoining the job hunt
Once your resume is up to date and you are ready to start actively applying for jobs there are several things to consider as a job seeker looking to re-enter the job market.
Use your network
We have already explained how useful your professional network can be for your preparation; and it can often be even more important for helping your job search too. Delve into your old professional network and touch base with old contacts to enquire about any work opportunities.
They may know of a suitable position for you and recommend you for the job or refer you to another contact who could help you find employment. You may have even met some useful contacts during your break who you could ask for help.
Focus your search
It is easy to become frustrated if you receive few or zero responses after submitting a lot of applications. Unfortunately, this is a normal part of the job search so try not to get too discouraged.
To avoid, or at least minimize, this heartbreak and help save you time on your applications it is best to know what you are looking for, be targeted in your search and apply for relevant, attainable jobs.
This can mean anything from careful use of filters and keywords on internet job boards or being specific in your discussions with recruiters and other professional contacts.
Consulting can be a good idea if you are lacking any recent professional references. Perhaps you can volunteer to help on old contact with their business or volunteer at a local school, sports club, charity or community project. Think about the ways in which these activities can provide proof of your abilities to re-enter the workplace. For example, they may give you the opportunity to exercise your presenting, teamwork, leadership, creative thinking or numerical skills.
Look for re-entry programs
In more industries there are usually few different types of re-entry programs available to support career-breakers looking to rejoin the world of work. Consider the following:
- Irelaunch and organizations like it are designed to help professionals with their re-entry by offering helpful programs, advice and resources.
- Many industry-leading companies offer re-entry programs. Searches for ‘return to work programs’ and ‘returnships’ will reveal many options including big-hitters like Fitch Ratings and PepsiCo.
- Internships are also a great way to re-enter the workplace and are commonly available in companies big and small.
Find temporary employment
Signing up with a temping agency or finding a temporary role at your old workplace or another relevant company is the perfect way to start your re-entry. You will brush up on your skills and start making money immediately, while still giving you enough free time to look at longer-term employment opportunities.
Plus, if all goes well, one of your temporary employers may ask if you would consider joining them full-time. In the worst case scenario, even if the temp job is not that related to your career, you will at least be able to practice general skills relevant to the job you want and get a fresh work reference for your future applications.
Although the thought of returning to work can be overwhelming, finding the right role will give you a new sense of purpose, financial stability, independence and confidence - and these are things nobody should miss. Regardless of your reasons for taking a break, with a little effort you can find yourself improving your skills and exceeding your previous career achievements.
Take the time to carefully consider how to describe your break, what you want out of the next step in your career and what you can do to give yourself the best chance of success.
As a recruiter, I have been helping candidates find a new job for over ten years. On this website I share my knowledge to help you make a good resume.