So you’ve taken a career break to be a full-time parent, but your child has grown up all too quickly and it’s time to return to work. The trouble is, the last role you held was years ago – how on earth can you frame the gap on your CV so that it looks appealing to recruiters?
Well, your approach depends on a lot of variables, including how long you’ve been away from the workplace, the type of role you’re applying for and what else you’ve done while you’ve been away.
Decide what you’re aiming for
Firstly, you need to have a clear idea of the job you want – that way, you can tailor your CV to demonstrate the skills relevant to that role. There’s no benefit in coming across as a Jack of all trades but master of none. Armed with your list of skills, think about when you last used them and what the outcome was.
Don’t waffle about your parenting skills
Obviously the more recently you’ve used the skills, the more weight they hold – but this is where your timeline is critical. If you want to show excellent negotiation skills on your CV, a recruiter probably doesn’t want to know about how you persuaded your toddler to use the blue bowl rather than the red bowl last week. A CV entirely focused on your successes in raising your child, lovely though she undoubtedly is, is unlikely to appeal.
Write a chronological CV
If you decide that skills you gained since leaving the office aren’t relevant to your new career direction, that’s fine! Simply write a chronological CV as usual, but instead of detailing your current job, state that you’ve been on a career break and give the dates. This approach is probably best suited to short or mid-length gaps. There’s no shame in being a parent, so you can even state the reason for the gap, to save the recruiter from jumping to incorrect conclusions about unemployment, redundancy, prison…
Identify new skills
Depending on your target role, you may find it beneficial to highlight skills or qualifications gained whilst away from the workplace – maybe you influenced change at school by representing the PTA, maybe you developed leadership skills whilst running a playgroup or maybe you planned events for a community organisation. Think carefully about all the little things you’ve done in between the parenting – you may be surprised at what you’ve achieved. If you’ve acquired or developed any such skills whilst on a career break, by all means illustrate them on your CV alongside some positive outcomes.
Career break to raise a family April 2016 – date
• Planned, organised and managed a successful community event to raise funds for victims of an earthquake, generating £10,000
• Led a local playgroup, doubling membership by arranging visits from photographers, crafters and musicians
Write a skills-based CV
Many roles, however would benefit from a more professionally-focused CV. For longer career breaks, a skills-based CV could be more appropriate. To create a skills-based CV, identify the skills you wish to highlight and give bulleted examples of how you’ve previously used each of them – preferably with quantifiable results against each one. This eliminates the need for including dates which could make your skills look outdated. You will still need to give a chronological summary of your career, but this can be as simple as Job Title / Employer Name / Dates on the second page.
• Wrote operating procedures and drove compliance, resulting in a 50% increase in productivity
• Developed and implemented operations strategies which reduced costs by £100,000 Leadership
• Managed teams of up to 100 staff, motivating them to improve performance and achieve KPIs
• Turned around an underperforming team by providing training and listening to staff concerns
Be selective with dates
If your career break has been relatively short, remember that you’re likely to have left the office but still been technically employed for several months after the baby arrived. It’s absolutely fine to put the date that your employment officially terminated on your CV, rather than the date you actually left. Giving only the years you started and finished each role, rather than the month, is another easy way of covering short periods away from paid employment. Using these techniques means you can often avoid or minimise a career gap.
Include personal and professional development
If you’ve found the time to develop yourself during your career break, so much the better. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only paid work is valid; there are other ways to show a recruiter your value. You might be able to add information about courses you’ve undertaken, voluntary work you’ve participated in, even interests relating to your desired career path. If you’re keen to work in IT, for example, add an Interests section and say that you enjoy fixing faults on friends’ computers. Add a Professional Development section and mention the online course you did while the baby was sleeping. Add a Voluntary Work section to highlight that you helped at the after-school computer club.
Remember, a career break is now a perfectly normal part of many careers. If you have a valid reason for being away from paid work – and full-time parenting is certainly a valid reason – employers won’t necessarily see this as a negative. What is more important is proving that you have the skills and experience to successfully perform the role they need to fill.
You may feel like you’ve been out of the workplace for ever, but just by thinking about exactly what you’ve achieved in your life and incorporating this into a CV you’re likely to give yourself the confidence boost necessary to get your job hunt off to a flying start.
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