Updated: Jun 21, 2021
Returning to work after having kids? Job hunting can be a scary prospect when you're going back after a career break. This 'how to' and free template guides you step-by-step through writing a compelling career-break CV – to make sure it’s your application that will stand out from the crowd.
Written by Dr Emma Waltham | Maternity Returners Expert
If you’ve taken a career break, it’s likely you haven’t applied for a job for a long time. Your CV, if you have one at all, might seem totally irrelevant now. And the thought of sitting down and writing a CV can be overwhelming.
While it might seem like a mountain to climb, there's no need to despair. It will take a bit of effort, but download the free career break CV template and set aside an hour or two to follow my 12-step Guide. You'll soon have a CV you'll be proud of, wowing recruiters with just why you are great for the job.
1. Role Call
First off, start making a list of the roles you’ve done before. When you take a career break to look after your kids, the professional life you had before can quickly become lost in a foggy haze. Confidence takes a knock. You lose touch with what you achieved before and how much value you contributed. This first step will remind you just how much you have to offer.
"When you take a career break to look after your kids, the life you had before can quickly become lost in a foggy haze. Confidence takes a knock"
If you have old CVs or copies of documents like your old performance appraisals or job descriptions, dig those out. They’ll be useful as you work through these steps. List all the jobs you’ve had, making a note of the dates. Include any volunteer roles that a recruiter might be interested in, such as fundraising or committee positions. These could be the chance to show employers you have recent experience that is relevant.
2. Achievements and Skills Audit
Now, under each job, make two columns, one with the heading ‘Achievements’ and one with the heading ‘Skills’. Think back to what you achieved, starting with what you are most proud of, and write down what you accomplished. Describe what the result was. It could be something like ‘As an operations manager I saved Supply Co. over £100,000 in my first year. I devised a strategic plan for improving efficiency which I implemented, saving 15% in raw-material costs’. Next to this, list out the skills this achievement demonstrated, such as taking the initiative, strategic planning, budgeting and change management.
Do this for all the roles on your list. At this point, put as much down as you can. Don’t worry about how relevant it is, just write it all down. Once you start, you’ll be surprised how much you start to remember. If you are struggling to think back to what you did, look at job adverts and see what they are asking for. Do you have that skill or area of expertise? How can you demonstrate that? Add that to your list if it applies to you.
What qualifications and training have you had? Write all those down too. Include academic qualifications as well as those from professional bodies. Also think about what on-the-job training you might have had, such as presentation skills, IT or first aid.
3. Review, Review, Review
Read through what you’ve written and critically appraise yourself. Imagine you are a recruiter reading this. What impression would they have of you? Have you given them a rounded picture? Remember, if you don't tell recruiters what you are good at, they won't know! They won't fill in the dots, you have to draw the full picture. Are there any talents or skills you have that you haven’t included? If so, think of a time when you used those strengths and what you achieved, and add it to the list.
Remember, if you don’t tell recruiters what you are good at, they won’t know! They won’t fill in the dots, you have to draw the full picture.
4. Choose a Format
You’re making progress. You’ve reminded yourself what you’re good at and are comfortable with how a recruiter will perceive you. Now it’s time to format this into a CV template. There are two main ways of doing a CV. The first and most common is to use a reverse chronological format. Basically with this approach, you start with the most recent role first and work backwards. Another format, which can work well if you’ve had an extended career break, is a skills-based CV. With this you list out your skills and include examples showing the achievements using those skills have led to in your past roles. Download my free CV template to get you started.
The most common format is reverse chronological and this is usually the one to go for. Sometimes, when you’re returning after a career break, a skills-based CV can be a better way of showing employers that you have the right skills. It emphasises what you’ve accomplished rather than starting with a list of jobs with dates that can be a long time in the past.
You could try both formats and see what works best for you. Write down the headings of the sections. For a reverse-chronological CV they are typically:
Most recent role (this might be your career break)
Role 3 etc (working backwards)
You can add ‘References on request’ and a section on hobbies if you wish. They are not obligatory and may take up space that could be better used. If you include a section on personal interests, make sure you are comfortable talking about them in an interview.
Don’t include personal details such as your marital status, how many children you have or your date of birth. These are not relevant to the job you are applying for. You also don’t need to have a main heading that says ‘CV’ or ‘Curriculum Vitae’.
5. Address the Career Break
At this point you’ll need to consider whether to include a section dedicated to your career break. You don't ever need to be embarrassed about taking time out to focus on your children. The career break will have added to your life experience and does not detract from all the skills and expertise you developed previously in your professional life. You are not unusual – many people take breaks for all sorts of reasons, to travel, care for relatives or because of health issue. Keep this perspective.
You don’t ever need to be embarrassed about taking time out to focus on your children. The career break will have added to your life experience and does not detract from all the skills and expertise you developed previously in your professional life.
Be positive and ambitious for yourself. Being a mum has been a big part of your life over the last few years, but when you are job hunting, don’t be tempted to diminish yourself professionally because of this time out from professional work. Remember everything you have achieved in your career and be proud. You have so much to contribute.
Should you have a section describing your career break? On one hand, you need to be honest and you should always avoid having a gap on a CV, otherwise the recruiter might wonder what you are hiding! On the other, if the break was in the past and you’ve worked since, it is not so relevant and it may not be something you need to flag up.
Never try and hide a break by extending the dates you worked at. However, remember you were employed while you were receiving pay from a company while on maternity leave. If you do include a section on it, make it succinct. If you used this time to volunteer you could include it here:
2012 –2108 Career break to look after children
During this time I was the Chair of the Parents Association at my children’s school, initiating and overseeing a fundraising campaign that raised over £10,000 for new school play equipment.
6. Add Work Experience
Now you can dive in with your work experience. Add in your job roles using a heading like this, with achievements and skills and listed below as bullet points:
2004–2207 Database Manager at ReadyMeals plc
· Improved customer service satisfaction by devising and setting up a database to manage orders more effectively
· Reduced the cost of software subscription by 10% by recommending and negotiating a move to a new supplier
Avoid using cliched, wishy-washy language that doesn't really mean anything! Use action words like 'directed', 'delivered' 'managed', 'led', 'researched', rather than 'did' or 'was responsible for', which are much more specific and better describe what you did. Try not to throw in meaningless phrases, like 'I am a confident individual'. Instead, evidence why you are confident about that by using an example of how you demonstrated the capability in a previous role.
If you have had quite a few similar jobs that aren't that relevant, you might want to group some. For example, you could put something like:
Early career roles in customer service working at Supply Co., Energy Ltd and ReadMeals plc
7. Qualifications and Training
Add in your exam results, professional qualifications and training courses you’ve attended. You don’t have to include GCSEs or detail out your ‘A’ levels if you have a degree and post-graduate professional qualifications.
8. Write a Personal Statement
Now for a tricky bit. This next step is often the most difficult, because writing a personal statement can make you feel like cringing, but it’s key to writing a CV that will have impact. It comes at the top of the CV, under your contact details. Research has shown that recruiters read a CV for an average of 6 seconds and so what you write here can really make or break an application.
Look at what they're asking for in the job advert. What's most important to them? In your personal statement, you need to convince them that you have those qualities. Remember they know nothing about you and you’ve only got a few seconds to show them you are the best person for the job.
Tell them what they need to know to hire you. What sets you apart from other people? What differentiates you? This is no time for false modesty and it will make you cringe writing it, but you need to work through the squirm and hook that recruiter in!
Remember they know nothing about you and you’ve only got a few seconds to show them you are the best person for the job. Tell them what they need to know to hire you. What sets you apart from other people? This is no time for false modesty
Personal statements are most powerful when they are unique both to you and the job you’re applying for. The statement should be a paragraph, around 4 or 5 lines long and no longer than 150 words. It should include the 'who, what and why' – who you are; what you can offer and why the job is a good fit for your goals.
9. Final Check
Well done you, you’ve now got a CV that is nearly there. Now it’s time to review what you’ve written and give it a good edit. Use this checklist:
Read it through for sense, as if you were a recruiter and give it a good edit
Does it get your point across without waffling
Is it written in the same tense consistently, ie ‘I am a project manager’ or ‘Alice is a project manager’ or 'A project manager'
When you're tailoring your CV for an application, check that you have included the key words from the advert – many CVs are read first by an automated system and if you don’t include the key words it is programmed to look for, eg 'leadership', 'commercial', 'accredited' or 'finance', it will reject your application
Run your CV through the grammar and spell checker
Make the headings clear – style them consistently and put them in bold so the CV is easy to scan
Choose a clear font such as Arial or Helvetica. Depending on the font the size should be around 10 or 11 point – easy to read but not too big or too small
Check the text is aligned consistently throughout.
10. Pull in Favours
While you might feel a bit shy about sharing your CV, it is a really good idea to share it with a trusted friend or two before you send it out to recruiters. Even better if your friend has recruitment or relevant sector experience and can look over it with more critical eye. Take any feedback you get as an opportunity to get one step closer to your goal – that dream job.
11. Tailor It
At this point, you're building up a ‘Master CV’. When you apply for a job, don’t just send out this version. Chances are it will be longer than 2 pages, which is the first no-no. Instead, carefully read the ad and make sure you understand what each recruiter wants. Find the key words. Then tailor your CV accordingly. Make sure you show them you have the skills and experience they need by describing what you’ve achieved in the past while linking to your relevant skills and experience. Edit your personal statement so it is totally relevant to the job and has masses of impact. Convince them you’re a great candidate that they just have to interview.
Save this tailored CV using a format that makes it easy to find if you get offered an interview for that job, to refresh your mind on what you focused on for that particular application.
12. Covering Letter
If you have the opportunity to submit a cover letter, you should take it. It’s another chance to sell yourself. Use the cover letter to reiterate the key points you want to make. You might want to refer to your break in your cover letter, explaining that you’ve been away from work, and now you're excited about the role they are offering because you have the experience they need and it will give you the opportunity to restart your career. I've put together a free career break cover letter template to help you with the wording.
Follow these steps and you'll soon have a CV that will showcase your talents, no matter how long your career break. Any questions or comments on this blog? I'd love to hear what you think and what else you'd like to read about.