Brushing up your CV after a career break

Woman writing CV

Applying for jobs after you’ve taken a break to have children is understandably nerve-wracking, even if you could have reduced Alan Sugar to a quivering wreck in your previous role. Follow our advice and you’ll be back in the boardroom in no time.

How to explain a gap in your CV

The first thing you'll need to do when you dig out your old CV is decide how to word the part that explains you've been a stay-at-home parent (SAHP) for a while. The general consensus is to keep it brief and simple. It isn’t something you have to hide or feel ashamed of and plenty of people take career breaks, so don’t try to cover it up. As a recruiter, I'd be put off by CVs that list the skills you have used at home, such as managing household finances or childcare – working mothers do these tasks, too. Keep it brief and to the point, and list your hobbies so I can see you're an active person with interests.

Something like “2012 – 2017: took a career break to look after my children” will suffice. Do NOT try and “sell” your skills as a parent. It will only make employers cringe. “Financial Manager” only looks good on a CV if it’s an actual job – and not “to the Jones family”. Likewise leave out “diplomat with conflict resolution skills” – unless you are Kofi Annan.

How to stand out to employers when returning to work

Remember to talk up all the things you can bring to a potential employer – particularly the relevant skills and specialities that you learned in your last job.

“Evidence-based CVs always stand out. If you say you have a particular skill, always back it up with an example.”

Try to match your CV to the job description of the position you're applying for, too. You should write a few different versions of your CV for different applications. It’s time-consuming, but worth it if it results in you getting your dream role.

I’m returning to work after a baby what should I include on my CV?

“See it as a marketing document for your experience and achievements. Keep it to two pages maximum, and use bullet points.”

  • Employers spend an average of 30 seconds looking at your CV, so it needs to be simple, clear and get your message across quickly. Poorly formatted CVs will not cut it. As a bare minimum include a complete and accurate employment history and make sure your spelling and grammar is immaculate. If you’ve any worries about that get someone to check it for you. A CV with typos says you are sloppy and may go straight in the bin.
  • Keep it relevant. GCSEs or A-Levels aren't really of interest after a couple of years, but skills acquired in previous roles definitely are.
  • Try and get all your personal details on one line to allow maximum space to talk about the important stuff. You only need your name, email and phone number. Date of birth, marital status, number of children, and other domestic details don't need to be in your CV.
  • Finally, think about how to appeal to your potential employer. Match your skills to the job description exactly – the hiring manager won’t have time to comb through it looking for the bits that are relevant to the role. Do their job for them and make your CV shout about how perfect you are for the position.

“If you're applying for a job in a creative agency, you can make your CV look really quirky to stand out, but if you want to be an accountant, keep it formal.”

Where to look for jobs when returning to work after children

Remember you don't have to wait for a job to be advertised – it's fine to email a company you'd like to work for and ask if they have any openings – employers will be keen to recruit someone who is already interested in the company. It’s also estimated that 70% of jobs are not advertised – so getting your name out there is important. After all, they can only say “no” – and they might just say “yes”.

Start by emailing your CV in or checking a company’s website for their own application form. Don't deliver it by hand unless it's a very small company, like the local cafe (and even then make sure it’s not a chain). Prospective employers and recruiters need to be able to email CVs round to relevant people, so a paper CV will often be left languishing on someone’s desk.

If your industry has significantly changed or you don't have much prior experience, you might have to go back at a slightly lower level than you'd like or complete extra training to get yourself back up to speed. So do some research into how much the industry has changed before deciding which sorts of jobs to go for.

How can I improve my chances of finding work after a career break?

Aside from ensuring your CV is up to date and positively sparkling, it’s worth putting out feelers and dipping your toe in the water ahead of actually applying for jobs. As well as making the return to work less of a leap, it may also give you an ‘in’ to a job.

Take up chances to add to your CV while you’re off

If you get the opportunity, take on small, work-related tasks while you're a stay-at-home-parent, such as freelance projects or volunteer work. This shows you're keen to use your skills and keep up to date with any advances in the industry. It also suggests to recruiters that you've had one eye on getting back to work. And it’s a good way to secure a recent reference for when you come to apply for jobs.

Remember it’s all about who you know

Don’t be afraid to use your contacts. If you’re still friendly with your old boss or a colleague, or you’ve got friends in your preferred industry, then don’t be afraid to make the most of them. They should be happy to help you out and, in a tough jobs market, you need to make the most of anyone who can get you through the door.

Whatever you do, do not tell any porkies

It’s tempting to ‘exaggerate’ (or downright lie) on your CV or application if you’ve been out of the workplace for a little while or you’re feeling under-confident. But it’s actually fraudulent to do so. It won’t get you anywhere either – your employer will see right through it, be it at interview or when they come to check your references. Trust us, it’s not worth it.