Once taboo in job interviews, career breaks – for a wide range of reasons – are in fact commonplace, especially now that career paths are less linear than they used to be. Read on to hear what our Creative Access recruitment team, and a real-life employer partner have to say about explaining a career break.
Acknowledge the gap head-on in your CV, briefly referencing the reason – be it caring responsibilities, health issues, travelling, or studying. Often employers aren’t trying to catch you out by asking about your career break and just want to understand the reasons behind it and what you’ve learnt from it, just like any other experience you’ve had.
It can also be helpful to be honest from the outset with a potential employer if you want to disclose any reasonable adjustments or caring responsibilities that they’d need to be aware of if they hired you. You can read our advice on navigating disclosure as a job seeker here.
Think about the skills your career break has taught you
No matter your reasons for your career break, you will have likely learned something along the way about yourself, or picked up some transferable skills along the way that will help you in the next step of your journey. So, make sure to reference them with examples in your application and interview.
You can use the experiences you’ve had during your career break: if you’ve taken time out to raise a child, or due to redundancy, work drying up as a freelancer during the pandemic, or illness, what have you learnt from that? Did you undertake any courses or volunteer at all during this time? You should also mention this!
Career breaks – and your return to work – can also demonstrate your ability to overcome challenges. Don’t forget that personal growth is just as valuable as professional growth.
Here’s a few examples of skills you might have picked up on the way:
- Perseverance – your return to the world of work itself demonstrates a great amount of perseverance
- Resilience – if you’ve lost your job or have caring responsibilities, you might have learnt a lot about resilience in order to keep calm in moments of crisis
- Organisation – if you yourself have been ill or have been caring for a love one with an illness, you may have picked up organisational skills from communicating with healthcare officials and making caring arrangements
EXAMPLE: “Caring for my disabled sister throughout my life has meant I’ve had to take career breaks quite often. As you can see, in 2018 I took two months off to help her recovery from surgery. I’ve developed organisational and time management skills from these responsibilities such as scheduling, making phone calls, writing funding applications, that align with what the qualities needed in this project management role.”
What an employer has to say…
Greg Jones, European CEO of Smarts Agency:
“If I’ve ever asked a candidate about a career break on their CV I’m keen to hear more about how that time was spent and what they may have taken from it, whether personally or professionally. I prefer to see CV gaps as interesting areas to explore, rather than potential areas of concern and I’d encourage candidates to take a similar perspective.”
Practising for interviews is super helpful for everybody, particularly those who have been out of the interviewing game for a while and need to get back into the swing of talking about your skills and experiences. It will also be beneficial to help you practise explaining the reason for your career gap. This is especially true if the break was for a sensitive reason such as a health issue or the loss of a loved one.
Ask a friend or family member to role-play a job interview with you so you can get comfortable with the format again.
Interview Warmup by Google is also a great tool for practising.
You can read more in-depth advice on interview techniques from us here.
Talk about your future goals
Demonstrating a passion and drive to re-enter the workforce, specifically the role you’re applying for, is key. Make sure to talk about your enthusiasm, interest in the industry and what skills and experiences you hope to gain from the role.
You can even prep beforehand by brushing up on new industry trends and networking with others in your field. Has your career break given you a fresh perspective on your ambitions? Make sure to talk about this.
Your career break, ultimately, can show your strengths and skills; see job applications and interviews as an opportunity to show how committed and excited you are to re-enter the world of work and how driven you are about succeeding in the industry with a renewed focus.
Check out our advice on putting together your CV and acing an interview, no matter what stage you’re at in your career, here.