Returning to work? Here’s how to address a career break on your CV

by Kath Sloggett @ RunnethLondon

If you have taken a career break for any reason, it can be difficult to know how to show it on your CV. Career Expert Kath Sloggett of Runneth London will explain how to avoid two common career break CV mistakes and what you should do instead.

Spring is the time of year when the whole world is reinventing itself  with new leaves budding and wisteria blossoms dressing even the most ordinary streets. So it’s perhaps not a  surprise that many people feel the Spring sense of change and renewal. This could be in many ways like moving or renovating their homes, detoxing their diets, re-discovering their trainers, and changing their jobs etc. And for those not currently working, it could be thoughts if returning to work.

When the “return-to-work” inspiration hits, the first essential thing many people do is dig out their CV. How does one show a career break on their CV? How do we make it professional? What is the best approach to secure the best chance to get the job?

Common Career Break CV Mistakes

Firstly let’s start with two Career Break CV mistakes regularly seen, and understand how these could hinder the returning to work efforts.

1. Ignoring Your Career Break on Your CV

The biggest mistake many people make is to completely ignore their career break in their career history and this leaves an unexplained time gap on the CV. Recruiters typically scan the mountain of CVs they receive for each advertised job, not looking for a reason to shortlist candidates but in retrospect do the  exact opposite. They often think, “how can I reduce this huge pile of CVs into a short list of perhaps 5 or 10 CVs, so that I can actually spend my valuable time reading and digesting the few best candidates?”

The candidate might hope that the time gap isn’t noticed but it is likely to be the most obvious issue on a CV to an experienced eye. Many recruiters start with a very quick scan of a candidate’s most recent employer, job title and employment dates. So one missed time period will stand out and can rule out an otherwise good candidate.

Keep in mind that a recruiter, employer or recruitment website is very unlikely to contact you with a question about your CV, or give you a chance to explain anything on your CV, unless you are a truly outstanding candidate. They simply don’t have the time to make enquiries, and they have plenty of other candidates to take your place on their shortlist.

2. Fudging Your Career Gap on Your CV

Another issue I often see is people hoping to fudge or cover their career gap by filling in the gap with other experience. Typically, they might show their voluntary roles or non-career related roles (eg renovating a property, managing a family trust or investment, running a side business) to demonstrate that they weren’t idle during a career break. This approach can work as a strategy but only if the experience you are including is directly relevant to the type of job you want. Otherwise it is a distraction and, even worse, can lead to a devaluation of your previous professional experience.

Research from the LeanIn Organisation proves this point. It found that just three words on any CV makes the candidate 79% less likely to be hired. Those words are “member of PTA”. While we all know that these types of roles can be just as demanding as most career roles – politically, if not technically – they are simply not valued in the world of work. It may not seem fair but it’s a fact. My advice is to keep your CV relevant to the role you want next, and do not include any professional or voluntary experience which is not directly relevant to your desired job.

The Best Way to Show A Career Break on a CV

So now we know what not to do, how should you show a career break on your CV? The quick answer is that you should state any career break clearly and provide any level of further information you feel comfortable with and that might be useful to position this career break in the mind of a recruiter. With no further information offered, recruiters can assume the worst. A headhunter I spoke with said that an unexplained career gap immediately made him think that the person had spent time in prison, or that they had a physical health or mental health issue that they preferred not to explain. Whilst that particular headhunter’s view may be a bit extreme, I have heard similar themes from a number of recruiters. Part of the problem is that they do not have the time or inclination to find out about someone’s career gap – partly because it can be potentially discriminatory to ask for further details and partly because they have other, equally good, candidates they can put forward. So for most people returning to work after taking a family career break, I recommend that they simply write “Family Career Break” and show the appropriate dates. You can do the same on LinkedIn.

Some of my clients question whether this information is likely to impact on their employability but, from our experience, it doesn’t seem to. Certainly it is far better than leaving an empty gap or an unexplained gap. If you took a break for any other reason, then a simple three or four word explanation is usually sufficient and still looks professional. Examples might include: “Career break to travel: Asia and Australia” or “Career break for family International relocation to Singapore”. Keep it brief and professional, and consistent – use the same formatting as all your other roles on your CV. For more advice on updating your CV, you can:

– access our free Runneth Career Bootcamp, including this CV Sort Out Task (https://runnethlondon.com/january-jump-2018-13/)

– join one of our 2-hour CV Workshops, our next one is on 22 nd May 2019 (details here: https://www.runnethlondon.com/events/ ), or

– contact us to arrange an expert personalised review of your CV.

Kath x

www.runnethlondon.com
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Find out more

Kath Sloggett is an entrepreneur, career coach and start-up adviser. She started her career in large organisations – including PwC, Coca-Cola and BT – before branching out into smaller businesses, becoming the CEO at Everyman Cinemas. Using this wealth of experience, she began coaching entrepreneurs and professionals, and launched her own businesses including Runneth. Kath is a working mother so she can speak from personal experience on managing parenthood and career.

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