If you’ve been away from the workforce for a little while (or a long while), and you’re now looking for way to step back into the game and pick up where you left off, you’re not alone. Here are a few resume and cover letter related questions from our readers who are facing similar challenges.
“My wife has been stationed in Japan for the past four years, and since our future has been uncertain during this time, I’ve been supporting her at home and I haven’t been looking for full-time work. Now we’re coming back to the United States and I need to step back into accounting. I still have my certification. But how can I make sure my resume emphasizes my skills, not my four years off the market?”
Don’t address the gap directly in your resume. Simply create a summary that focuses on your professional experience and your most valuable and relevant skill sets. Document your work history just as you would if you hadn’t experienced the gap. Format your resume professionally and present your dates of employment clearly.
But when you move onto your cover letter, you’ll need to offer a little more information. Keep your explanation simple and short, but also honest and complete. Put yourself in your potential employer’s position and determine exactly how this four-year gap might concern you, then address those concerns directly. Make it clear that while you’ve been away, you’ve kept on top of changes in the field.
Also emphasize that you’re technology-savvy, and that during your gap, you’ve stayed in contact with your professional network. Then move on.
“I’ve been away from the workforce for 10 years while my children were young. Now that they’re more independent, I’m ready to go back. Though I see many people around me who take a child-rearing break for a year or two, there are very few who have been on hold as long as I have. What should I do?”
Above all, you’ll need to accomplish two goals:
- You’ll need to let employers know that you still understand how your industry works.
- You’ll need to make it clear that you’ve been active during this time in ways that demonstrate relevant skills.
For example, leadership. Have you headed any community organizations or committees during this time? Have you held board positions with local groups or professional societies? Have you done any volunteering? Have you launched or supported any public campaigns? Have you been involved in fundraising efforts?
As for your industry knowledge, have you been keeping up (or contributing to) any industry-related publications or blogs? Have you joined any open source groups, attended any professional events, or gained experience with any relevant software platforms? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, this experience will need to hold a prominent position in both your resume and your cover letter. Your letter should move quickly over the gap—simply explain that you’ve been sidelined by family obligations and then move on. (Trust that any competent, experienced, intelligent employer won’t be confused by this.)
Your most difficult challenge won’t be explaining or apologizing for the gap, so don’t dwell on that. Instead, focus on allaying concerns about your skill sets, professional readiness, and cultural fit.
The First Hurdle Is a Strong Cover Letter
If you’re concerned that your long gap might raise red flags in the minds of your potential employers, your interview will provide the best possible opportunity to address these concerns. But to gain this opportunity, you’ll need an effective, attention-getting resume and cover letter. LiveCareer can help with this step. The site’s Resume Builder and Cover Letter Builder can offer professional formatting guidelines and a great place to start.
by Michael Cheary
There are many reasons why you might need to take some time away from your career.
But whatever the reason you decided to take a step back, re-entering the workforce and getting your career back on track can seem like a challenge.
We’ve already focussed on how to write the perfect CV after a career break. But underestimate your cover letter at your peril. After all, it’s often the first impression a recruiter will get of your application, and a valuable tool to help get your personality across and put your career break into context.
If you think you know the basics of how to write a cover letter, but want some more tailored advice, look no further. Here’s our cover letter template specifically designed for people looking to return from a career break.
Just here for the template? Click the link below:
Download Career Break Cover Letter Template
Opening the letter
Always play it safe when it comes to the opening paragraph.
Quite simply, the best way to start is with a brief explanation of the position you’re applying for and where you found the vacancy. Name-dropping is fine.
Keep it relevant and to the point. Remember: it should be a short sentence introduction, not a prolonged paragraph.
I wish to apply for the role of Executive PA, currently being advertised on reed.co.uk. Please find enclosed my CV for your consideration.
Second paragraph – Why are you suitable for the job?
After the introductions are out of the way, it’s time to go on the offensive.
Ignore your career gap at this stage and use your previous achievements and/or specific academic or vocational qualifications to help sell your suitability. This will demonstrate that, regardless of the break you’ve taken, you still possess the capability and mindset to undertake the role.
Always make sure your examples are as quantifiable as possible. ‘Increased revenue by x%’, for instance, sounds a lot more impressive than simply stating you ‘Increased revenue’.
Leading with the positives will help show what you can do for the company and ensure your contributions are front of mind before moving on.
As you can see from my attached CV, I have over four years’ experience as a PA, as well as experience in office management. In my previous role as an Executive PA, I worked closely with the managing director, providing administrative support and representing her in any meetings she could not attend. My role also included full diary management, working with a budget of £5,000, and organising training events for upwards of 50 members of staff.
Third paragraph – Explain the gap
The third paragraph is your opportunity to briefly explain the reason for your career break.
However, more important than explaining the gap, you need to define the reason you feel this is the right role for you to return to work.
One of the main objections you’ll face is that recruiters may worry you’re not ready to return. Alleviating these fears will be key for your application to be a success.
At the start of 2008, I had my daughter and took some time out to be with my family. However, she has now started school full-time, and I am ready and determined to resume my career and take up a new challenge.
Fourth/Fifth paragraph – What can you do for the company?
Once you’ve addressed your career gap, use practical examples of how you’ve tried to keep your skills relevant during your time out.
This could include volunteering, work experience or any events you may have attended to broaden your knowledge of the subject. You may also want to include any books you’ve read, courses you’ve undertaken or any other qualifications or experience relevant to the role.
Reinforce your credentials and show you can hit the ground running, and your gap can easily be overcome.
During my professional break I have done my best to refresh my skills and keep up-to-date with the latest industry developments. For example, I’ve recently been working as a voluntary Administrator at a local charity, which has really helped me re-acquaint myself with the sector.
I have also completed a great amount of independent study, in particular completing my Executive PA Diploma, allowing me to expand my knowledge of the subject beyond my previous work experience.
Fifth paragraph – Reiterate
Here’s where you reiterate your interest in the role and why you would be the right fit for the company.
I am confident that I can bring this level of expertise with me to your organisation and help Well Known Company LTD build upon their reputation as one of the brands in the UK. I am available to start immediately.
Closing the letter
To finish the letter, always thank the employer.
Sign off your cover letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ (if you know the name of the hiring manager)/’Yours faithfully’ (if you do not), and your name.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to meeting with you to discuss my application further.
Remember: Just as with our basic cover letter template, this is a template, not a ready-made cover letter. Without tailoring what you write to the role in question, you’ll run the risk of looking underprepared and disinterested, whilst also passing up a key opportunity to really sell yourself.
Never be tempted to try and hide your career gap. Even if you make it to the interview stage, you’ll often easily be found out and run the risk of undermining your entire application.
Remember: taking time out from your career to concentrate on other things is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not a reflection of your work, and many employers are often incredibly understanding when it comes to gaps in employment history.
Place precedence on the positives and assure the employer that you’re ready to return to work, and your career gap shouldn’t prove to be as much of a hindrance as you may think.
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