Returning to work - having confidence in your career break

Jun 12, 2019

Many of us worry a career break can count against us on the CV or at interview. But, according to career and leadership coach, Olivia Lansberg, career breaks can enhance employability. The secret is knowing how to position your break to your, and your potential new employers, advantage. 

Here are some of the ways to help you do it. 

Writing your CV

Your CV is a tool used to get you an interview. But there’s only a limited amount of time to impress. You need to ensure your break is framed in a positive and professional way; making sure all your time is accounted for. When writing your CV it’s important to identify your technical and transferable skills - but it’s critical to back these up with evidence. 

So, for technical skills, describe the operational capabilities and knowledge you have to perform a specific job including processes, systems, tasks or specific sectors. 

During work:

“Saved €1m in 6 months”

“Reduced unpaid debts from 60 to 30 days”

During my career break:

“Attended networking events”

“Completed a training course in…”

For transferable skills, describe the skills from all areas of your life that are relevant to work. Examples could be teamwork, leadership, communication, people development, project management, problem-solving, conflict resolution and so on.

During work:

“Initiated cross-function forum to build internal relationships”

“Mentored a trainee accountant for 1 year”

During my career break:

“Raised 1K for my tennis club”

“Managed my family through the grief process following the death of a loved one”

Accounting for a career gap

It’s important not to leave empty spaces on your CV. So mention the years you have taken a break, and the roles and responsibilities you may have had, in the same layout at the other jobs:

-Job hunting following redundancy (2013-present)

-Homemaker (1997-present)

List any activities you undertook during this time that developed your technical skills as well as one transferable skill that you used with a relevant example. 

During the interview

Discussing your career break

The interviewer’s priority is finding out whether you can fulfil the current role so you don’t go into too much detail about your break. There are various ways to approach the subject: some people prefer to remain silent until asked, while others like to demonstrate transparency and mention it briefly after they’ve made their first impression:

-"As you will see, I have been out of the financial job market for 5 years and I'm happy to answer any questions you may have about it later"

-"In the spirit of transparency, my 5 year career gap centred around raising a family"

Always speak about your break with pride. And having mentioned it once don’t mention it again unless asked about it. 

Dealing with tough questions

Remember, the interviewer is not asking these questions to try and catch you out. They want an authentic answer to understand and build a relationship with you to see if you’re committed to and up to the job. So answer honestly. By doing so you’re demonstrating self-awareness. 

Addressing your weaknesses

Nobody is perfect and we all have weaknesses. Being able to address them in a positive manner during an interview is an excellent skill to have. In order to answer these questions it’s a good idea to get an understanding of your preferred style vs weaknesses.

Preferred style: adjectives that describe how you best execute your skills. Are you a people person or task orientated or intuitive, for example? 

Weaknesses may be the opposites of your preferred style. For example, you may be more task orientated rather than a people person, or intuitive rather than analytical. There may be gaps in knowledge, like an understanding of certain software or a lack of experience in influencing senior management. Or a dislike of doing something, like making rapid decisions - although you understand the importance of being able to do so. All of these can be categorised as weaknesses, but they’re not “wrong”.

Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.