Routes back to work after a career break

Once you’ve made the decision to return to work, the next big question to ask yourself is HOW? There are many different routes back into the workplace. Here are some ideas to help you with your job search:

Employed Roles

Returner programmes – this is a generic term for initiatives targeted specifically at returning professionals, eg, returnships, supported hiring programmes, returner events, return-to-work fellowships and returner training programmes. You can read more about what these terms mean and find listings of both open and past programmes on our website. And don’t forget to sign up to our free network to hear about the latest launches.

Applying for advertised roles – if you apply for online jobs, be aware that you may be competing with thousands of others for attention, so be selective and keep realistic expectations. Most organisations now use their own website as a recruitment vehicle, so identify those you are most interested in and see if you can sign up for alerts when new roles are posted. Some employers are now welcoming returner applications for a variety of open roles (for example, see O2 Career ReturnersM&G Career Returners and Willmott Dixon Welcome Back). You can also search for roles which are advertised on LinkedIn, making sure your profile is up-to-date. Another more focused channel is specialised job boards and recruitment agencies such as those listed here: recruitment agencies specialising in flexible/family-friendly roles.

Interim roles – joining an organisation in a distinct role for a defined period of time can be a great way to use your skills and experience without making a long-term commitment to returning to work. Short-term roles also usually receive fewer applications than permanent jobs. Opportunities arise as cover for maternity and long-term sickness and also when organisations are in transition and need someone on a temporary basis. There are established interim management agencies (such as Russam GMS and Alium Partners), however returners with longer career breaks usually find these kinds of roles through networking.

Apprenticeships – there is usually no upper age limit for apprenticeships and the advantages for employers – who are able to bring in new expertise and experience by hiring older apprentices – is clear. You can find information on higher and degree level apprenticeships on this Government website.

Self-employed options

Freelancing – this can give you flexibility and may be an ideal solution for those of you with significant family commitments. However, lack of security can be an issue and many freelancers find they have peaks and troughs in their work. For practical advice, see our blog on how to set yourself up as a freelancer and the freelancer resources page on our website.

Associate work – if you have a specific skill or expertise that you want to offer, associate work can provide advantages over freelancing: as an associate, the company you contract with is normally responsible for winning new work. However, companies which use associates rarely guarantee the amount of work, so consider having different associate relationships.

Project-based work – although organisations rarely advertise this kind of work, offering to work on a project can be a great introduction to an organisation. It may open doors to a full-time role or you could discover that you enjoy working in this way and develop your own consultancy.

Starting your own business – sometimes this can develop from freelancing or project work, or you may have an idea or a hobby that you want to develop into a product or service. In previous blogs, we gave some tips for starting a home business and advice for starting your own service business. You’ll also find links to many useful resources for starting your own business on our website.

Other routes

Strategic Volunteering – Volunteering can be a great way to refresh your skills and networks. a LinkedIn survey found that 41% of the professionals surveyed said that when evaluating candidates, they consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience. Do think strategically if you decide to look for a volunteering role, looking for opportunities to develop new skills or brush up on the ones you already have. You could also use a volunteering role as a way to explore a new area that you may be interested in working in.

Retraining/further study/updating your skills – if you decide that study is the best route for you, you’ll find links to useful websites here. There are also many vocational retraining options, such as those listed here.

There are many examples of different routes back to work in the Success Story Library on our website. Remember that the route back can be a windy one and that it’s likely to take more time than you think. If you’ve already returned to work, we’d love to hear your story too – please email info@womenreturners.com.

Note: updated from a 2104 post

I’ve been on a career break for over 10 years – is it possible for me to return to work?

So, you’ve had a long career break and now want to return to meaningful work that builds on your skills and experience. It’s only human to feel daunted by this and we won’t pretend your route back to work will be a stroll in the park. But do believe in yourself – it is possible and there’s lots of help out there. You’re still the same capable person you were before your break – just a little out of practice.

First of all, check out the advice hub on our website – this will help you throughout your return to work journey. And for inspiration, and to show it’s possible, here are some real-life examples of women who have returned to work after a break of 10 or more years. Enjoy reading their stories – they have some great advice and tips!

 
M – Software Developer (14 year break)

M, who worked as an IT contractor, had a 14-year career break on and off. During her time away from the world of IT she did some teaching of basic IT skills and ran a business with mixed results. She decided to return to work as a software developer using recruitment companies. She is now a full-time PeopleSoft software developer.

Here are M’s top tips:

  • The best advice I have is to just go for it
  • Be determined if you have made up your mind that you definitely want to go back to work
  • Even after I received the standard rejection emails from the recruitment agents, I still phoned them to ‘check whether they had received my email’ and tried to show some personality, drive and ambition in a two minute phone call! It worked and the agent who sent me for the job interview had initially rejected my CV

Sarah-Jane – Portfolio Manager (15 year break)

Sarah Jane worked in asset management for 17 years before taking voluntary redundancy in 2002. During her 15 year career break she trained as a homeopath and worked for a small printing company. A change in family circumstances in 2017 prompted her to re-establish her career in asset management. She returned via the Fidelity New Horizons Programme.

Here are Sarah-Jane’s top tips:

  • First and foremost, believe it is possible!
  • Be organised, do your research, brush up on skills that will be needed once you are working
  • Contact old colleagues and ask for advice – they will be happy to give it
  • Receiving rejections is hard, but learn from each interview and treat each setback as a chance to consolidate and assess your next move
  • It may take time to find the right role in the right company but it will have been worth the effort when you do

Jill – In-house Lawyer (12 year break including career change)

Jill worked for 8 years as an in-house lawyer. After a 7 year career break following the birth of her third child she re-trained as a family mediator. Although she enjoyed her new career, she didn’t like working from home and realised how suited she was to being an in-house lawyer and how much she enjoyed it. She began with a returner course for solicitors and after plenty of setbacks and dead ends, six months later she was offered her first interim in-house role.

Here are Jill’s top tips:

  • Be determined in pursuing what you want and don’t be afraid of trying new areas, even if it is not exactly what you think you are looking for
  • No experience is wasted and you will learn a lot along the way
  • A very practical point: take the earliest interview date possible. In one case the company stopped interviewing after they saw me
  • Returners are often more positive, motivated and enthusiastic than other people, which is great for any business

Sara – Software Developer (13 year break)

Sara graduated with a BSc in Computing and pursued a career as a software developer. She became a full-time mum when her first child was born. Sara returned to work 13 years later via the Capgemini Returners Programme.

Sara says: “Software development has changed immeasurably, but the problem-solving mindset remains the same and it is this ability to problem solve that makes a software engineer. I’ve learnt that I can go back to work, and my family won’t fall apart. My children can survive.”

Sara’s advice is: “Go for it! You know more than you think you do and the maturity and diversity that you bring to a team is immeasurable in adding to its success.”

Nina – Mobile Technology Specialist (11 year break)

Nina worked for a variety of multi-national mobile technology firms before her 11 year career break during which she retrained as a secondary school maths teacher. She returned to the mobile phone industry via Vodafone’s six-month Return to Technology programme.

Here are Nina’s top tips for technology returnships:

  • When selling yourself, focus on your skills, not your knowledge
  • There are loads of technology jobs out there, someone is looking for your skills set. Don’t worry about having been out of the industry for some years, they are looking at what you can do for them
  • Don’t wait for the perfect job that matches your long-term ambition. Get your foot through the door and you can look around once inside
  • Get yourself a LinkedIn account and get back in touch with old colleagues. Someone is most likely looking for help on some project or other so you can get some recent experience under your belt

You can check out all our return-to-work success stories here.

And why not sign up to our free network for advice, support and job opportunities.

Updating your digital toolkit for your return to work

Are you worried that your digital skills may be out of date? Our guest blogger, Nikki Cochrane of Digital Mums, gives advice on updating your digital toolkit if you’ve had an extended career break.
Returning to work – whatever your situation – is a daunting process. Couple that with the dreaded imposter syndrome us women seem to feel more than our male counterparts and it’s a surprise any of us pluck up the courage to dust off our LinkedIn profile and put ourselves out there.

But as the well-used saying goes, knowledge is power, and in today’s ever-advancing world of digital, it’s confidence-building too. With government predictions showing that 90% of jobs will require some digital proficiency within 20 years but a quarter (23%) of adults still lacking basic digital skills, it’s time to take control of your career and bring your digital toolkit right up-to-date so you can dazzle prospective employers with your digital know-how and feel empowered in the 21st century workplace.

Here are Digital Mums’ top 5 digital tools for surviving in today’s Brave New World: 

Slack
“Do you remember when we used to send emails?”  Those are the words you’ll most likely be hearing in a few years’ time. Email is dying in many workplaces and in its place are new communication tools like Slack, which operate like WhatsApp on steroids with the ability to set up public and private chat groups all under the same roof, share documents and link to your Trello board…
 
Trello

Post-its meets wallchart meets calendar. Finally there’s a collaborative tool that allows you to organise your weekly and daily tasks, tag in work colleagues, link to documents, colour code by priority (goodbye, highlighter pens), add notes and checklists to yours and other people’s boards and change priorities with a quick click and a swipe. It’s so effective at getting even the most disorganised organised that you’ll be using it to sort out your life admin in no time. 

TouchCast

Forget standard video updates and past-it PowerPoints, TouchCast puts the fun into presenting. Best described in their own words: “TouchCast looks like TV and feels like the web”. There’s a newsroom style backdrop for company updates or you can turn instant pro by using a green screen to transport you to any backdrop in the world. To aid engagement and bring to life presentations, you can share documents, web pages, and other media from within the video to get people interacting – the best way to learn. 

LinkedIn

OK, so it’s not the newest of digital tools, but used correctly and it is your key to finding the job of your dreams. As well as making sure you’re picture perfect (your profile is 14x more likely to get views with a photo than without one), LinkedIn is all about attracting the right people and growing your network to achieve your career goals. As well as following companies you’d like to work for and engaging with people who can help you get there, share articles on your chosen subjects and spark conversations by adding your own spin on what you’re sharing to attract like-minded people. 

Google Suite

Head in the cloud? That’s exactly where it should be in today’s working environment. Google’s free suite of Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Outlook equivalents are saved in the ‘cloud’ meaning you never need to worry about forgetting to press ‘save’ again.  It automatically saves as you go and let’s you share documents with other people to work on at the same time. You can even chat in the document while you’re working. Google Meet meanwhile, makes remote working less remote through group video calling where you can share screens to get as close as possible to an ‘IRL’ meet-up. 

Nikki Cochrane is co-founder of digital training academy, Digital Mums.

If you want to learn more about these tools and more, Digital Mums has launched a new 12 week course, the Digital Retox, which aims to empower women with digital confidence in the workplace. As well as updating your digital toolkit, you’ll learn how to develop your own personal online brand so you feel current, relevant and empowered to return to work. For more information and an Early Bird discount, click here.

Summer Return to Work Action Plan

With the holidays started or just around the corner,
you could be forgiven for focussing solely on the long, (hopefully) hot summer
to come. It may be tempting to push thoughts about returning to work to the
back of your mind. However businesses tend to start hiring again (and launching
returner programmes) in early September. There are a variety
of simple ways in which you can lay strong foundations now – while
taking a much-needed break – so you’ll be in a good position for an autumn
return to work *

Here are some ideas to help you make the most of the summer months:


Build up your Network Map
It doesn’t matter if you’re not yet ready to start networking,
building your network map* takes time and the sooner you can start the better.
This is an ideal task to tackle during the holidays as it can be done in small
chunks whenever you have some spare time.

Begin by creating three lists. In the first, put everyone you can think
of from your past: people you knew at school and university, friends you may
not have seen for a long time, former employers, colleagues and employees. In
the second, list everyone you know now: neighbours, friends, school-gates and
local community acquaintances, other parents, people you’ve met through your
hobbies or volunteering. In the third, try to think of future networks and
groups it would be useful to join: professional associations etc. See this post for more
details.

Even if you start by thinking that you don’t have a
network, you’ll be surprised how your map grows. You’ll be
surprised how quickly your map will grow and how many people you can
potentially network with when the time comes.

Get Targeted
Whether you have too many choices or too few, a useful way to
think about what to do next is to think back to a work role, or part of a role,
that you found fulfilling and reflect on what made it so (see this post for
a process to uncover more about what gives you fulfillment). Digging
out old appraisal forms (if you can find them) can help with this.

Job factors that you found fulfilling are related to your strengths and values
and they will continue to be of great significance to you in the future.
Working out what’s important to you will give vital clues as to what to do
next. You may want to return to your old field of work; you may decide to take
elements from your past roles and identify a new one or you may find you have
an idea for a new business or a desire to retrain in a new area.

If you’re able to identify new skills you’d like to acquire or skills you want
to refresh, summer is also a good time to research courses which often start in
September.

Practise your Introduction

Meeting new people while on holiday or day trips
provides a low risk way to practice telling your story. You can test out
and refine your answer to the often-dreaded question – ‘What do you do?’ Try
using our Career Break Sandwich model,
starting with your past work experience, then talking about your career
break and finishing with what you want to do in the future. Hopefully by the
end of the summer you will feel much more confident about talking about your
skills, experience and aims for the future.

Prepare your Family

If you’re a parent, your return to work will be a lot smoother if you
have the support and co-operation of your partner and children. The long summer
holiday will give you plenty of time to consider what changes will need to be
made and how best to prepare your family. For younger children, think about a
new school dropoff/pickup routine or new after school clubs. Older children may
need to take on more responsibility such as organising their sports kit or
preparing their own packed lunches. The holidays are a great time to teach your
children new skills that will help them adjust to your return to work. And
don’t forget to think about ways you can make the transition easier on
yourself, eg, internet grocery shopping or hiring a cleaner. Read our posts
on combating guilt feelings
if these get in the way of making the changes that will help you.
These are just a few ideas – the main thing is to keep
taking small actions to move you forwards. We hope you have a great summer!

Thanks to our friends at iRelaunch for the Network Map concept
Ideas adapted from earlier posts

How to Write a “Back to Work” Cover Letter

We find that returners often struggle with cover letters, which can raise a lot of questions:

  • How do I introduce myself when I’ve been out of the workforce for so long?
  • Do I mention my time away from my career and how do I explain it?
  • Is my previous work experience relevant when it was so long ago?
  • How do I avoid just repeating my CV?

We’ll give you our top tips and help to answer these specific questions below.

General Principles

  • It’s essential to create a new cover letter for every application. Employers sometimes receive hundreds of applications for each job role, and will be quick to disregard generic applications. It’s your job to make it as easy as possible for the hiring manager to understand how you would fit into their organisation.
  • Length: No longer than a single A4 page. Your cover letter shouldn’t rehash your CV, but is the opportunity for you to pick out the most salient points for the role and put them across to the hiring manager in the most succinct way possible.
  • Address your cover letter to the hiring manager if you can find his/her name.
  • Your email address: As you’re likely to be emailing your cover letter, make sure that you have a professional email address that ties in with your CV. Don’t use your husband’s or family’s email address, or an email based on your married name if you’re applying using your maiden name. We would recommend creating your own personal email address for job applications, based clearly on the name in which you are applying.
  • Check for grammar and spelling mistakes – it’s easy to miss these, so try to get someone else to proof your letter too.

Suggested Structure

Start with a clear introduction

  • Start with your background and your target role, not your career break (e.g. “I am a marketing professional with 10 years of international experience and am writing to apply for the position of Senior Marketing Manager advertised on your website”).
  • Then mention your career break. Keep mention of your career break short, simple and factual (e.g. “Following a 5-year parental career break…” is sufficient) and emphasise that you are now motivated and enthusiastic to return to work in the relevant field.
  • Briefly mention anything you’ve done during your career break that is relevant to the role (such as further study, refresher courses, volunteer or paid activities and projects), stating how it has kept your knowledge/skills up-to-date and/or allowed you to develop new skills.

Explain your suitability for the role

  • Show how you fit the top 4-6 requirements of the role (in the job advert), using evidence from your previous work experience and relevant activities from your break. Resist the temptation to list other skills that are not specifically mentioned in the job ad.
  • Avoid stuffing your cover letter with meaningless buzzwords, such as ‘team player’ or ‘good eye for detail’ and instead, give concrete examples of your accomplishments that match the role requirements.
  • Remember that, however long ago it was, you did lead a department, manage projects, produce reports, negotiate contracts or whatever your former role required. You still have these skills, even if you haven’t used them for a while.
  • Your former experience includes both what you did and how you got it done, i.e. both your technical abilities and your soft skills. Even if your technical knowledge feels a bit rusty, you have the same capacity to learn as you always did and you will get back up-to-speed. Your soft skills don’t go away, and many will have grown during your break. For example, although we don’t recommend using parenting as a direct example in your cover letter, if your break was to bring up your children, you will have enhanced skills such as time management, empathy and negotiation!
  • You might be having trouble remembering some of the details of your earlier career. If so, dig out your old performance reviews and any other reports you might have kept. Re-reading these can also remind you of what others valued about your contribution in the past: these will be the qualities that you offer a new employer too. You could also contact old colleagues, who will have a more objective view of your achievements and could provide you with a much-needed reminder of what you did.
  • If you are applying for a role where you are overqualified, address this in your cover letter. Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager, consider the possible concerns from the company’s side, e.g. that you may be too expensive, that you might get bored, etc. and explain why you are applying for a less senior role than you previously held.
  • For returnship programme applications:
    • Make sure you mention that you have been on a career break, including the length of your break at the time the programme starts. This is a key criterion for candidates and you risk being excluded from these opportunities if you try to cover up your break!
    • There may not be specific role requirements, beyond ‘significant experience in one or more relevant areas’. If this is the case, use this space to list out 3-6 bullet points explaining the experience you have in the relevant area(s).

Finish with your motivation

  • Explain why you are interested in the role and why you would like to work for the organisation. Make this specific to show your interest and understanding. Base your comments on your research into the company and the job/department, using social media such as the company LinkedIn page, Twitter account and Facebook page alongside the website.
  • For returnships and/or flexible/remote working roles, it’s very important to show that you’re motivated by the organisation (and the specific job role if relevant), and not just the opportunity to get back into the workforce and/or work flexibly/remotely. Show how you can benefit the company, not the other way around!

Good luck!

 
For further advice and support in your return-to-work journey, you can sign up to our free network here.

Note: This is one of our most popular posts from 2015; updated in April 2018.

Sarah-Jane’s story: Returning to financial services after a 15-year break

My advice for anyone trying to get back to work is, first and foremost, believe it is possible!” Sarah-Jane, 15-year career break

Before my career break, I was a portfolio manager, a Director of Fixed Income at Merrill Lynch Investment Managers, for 17 years. In addition to managing global fixed income portfolios, I was responsible for front office IT development (electronic reporting, trade order management and compliance monitoring) and new product development, which included launching a High Yield CBO. I took a voluntary redundancy package in 2002. During my career break, I focussed on my family as well as training as a homoeopath, establishing a small practice. I also worked for a small printing firm, concentrating on contract management and corporate governance. So I was definitely not putting my feet up!

Changing family circumstances in 2017 provided the impetus for me to re-establish my career in asset management. This was a tough thing to do, so I contacted my old boss to ask for advice and guidance and he suggested investigating women returner programmes. Finding the Women Returners website was the turning point. It provided me with information about current programmes as well as being a valuable resource and support. I didn’t have a clear idea about the role I was looking for, because I didn’t know how to value my previous experience in the context of such a long absence from the workplace. Fortunately, potential employers did. The real revelation came when I was interviewed for a role as a Fixed Income Portfolio Manager on the Fidelity New Horizons returnship programme – my previous work experience was still very relevant!

When I approached Fidelity International, I was initially interviewed for a role in Fixed Income before being asked to interview with Multi Asset. Multi Asset offered me an extraordinary opportunity: to become a Portfolio Manager in a dynamic, growing part of the business and learn new skills in an exciting area of asset management. They offered me a position that would stretch and challenge me – an opportunity that would have been exciting 15 years ago – and one that I grasped with both hands. There was a real job opportunity behind the 20-week contract and a chance to carve out a new career. I’m pleased to say that I now have a permanent role with Fidelity.

It is difficult to exaggerate the magnitude of returning to the workplace after such an extended period away. There were moments when it was completely overwhelming. However, the Multi Asset team was very welcoming. Whilst I was very much in at the deep end from the start, there was plenty of help and people willing to answer my questions. I only had to ask and support was there. This remains – I still ask questions and I still receive fulsome answers.

Fidelity has given me the time I needed to find my feet. As well as receiving help from my colleagues within Multi Asset, there has been good support more generally. I needed to sit the IMC exams and was given the resources and time necessary to do this. Other returners have helped by sharing their experiences, but probably the greatest support was the individual coaching received from Women Returners. This was superb. Anna, my coach, ensured that I managed my work/life balance and reassured me that the gamut of emotions I was experiencing was normal and to be expected. She had the enviable ability of being able to listen to my thoughts, order them and come up with a strategy. Whatever topic I chose to cover, I received measured advice and would leave each session with a list of steps to follow. Anna ensured that I could concentrate on my strengths and what I brought to the role. It is all too easy to focus on what you perceive as your weaknesses.

I am so glad that I made the giant leap back into the workplace. It has been challenging but stimulating and enjoyable. There is a renewed spring in my step and I am determined to make the most of every opportunity presented to me. My advice for anyone trying to get back to work is, first and foremost, believe it is possible! Be organised, do your research, brush up on skills that will be needed once you are working. Contact old colleagues and ask for advice – they will be happy to give it. Receiving rejections is hard, but learn from each interview and treat each setback as a chance to consolidate and assess your next move. It may take time to find the right role in the right company but it will have been worth the effort when you do.

If you would like support with your own return-to-work journey, you can sign up to our free network here.

Note: Fidelity’s latest returnship is now open for applications: Fidelity New Horizons Global Platform & Advisory

Lowri’s story – An alternative route back to work

“I wanted to share my story to show that, whilst the path to returning to work following a break can mean a more circuitous journey than might otherwise have been undertaken, the rewards of doing so can be great.” Lowri

At the age of 26, I finally found what I
wanted to do with my career when I enrolled on a part-time PGCE course at
Goldsmith’s University to become a secondary school English teacher. I then
promptly managed to get pregnant with my first child only two months into the
course, throwing my plans into disarray. I was able to complete the first half
of the course before my daughter was born and I returned to finish my second
school placement and graduate when she was around one year old. However, I did
not look for a job after graduation as I was unable to see how I would manage
to juggle my first years in teaching with having a very young child.

Once my daughter had started attending
nursery school, I made some tentative steps towards returning to teaching by
joining a pre-school organisation running classes to teach children about the
natural world. This made me re-assess my decision to work at secondary level
and I was able to see that teaching younger children would be very rewarding
and would fit in better with caring for my daughter. Once I had reached this
decision, I began to apply for jobs in primary schools, but I often would not
even get a response to my applications, presumably overlooked in favour of
candidates with more experience; no gap between qualifying and starting work;
and with a qualification that related specifically to primary, rather than
secondary education.
When a post became vacant at my daughter’s
school, I applied and managed to get down to the final shortlist of candidates,
but again lost out to someone with more relevant qualifications and more
experience. Whilst I was buoyed by getting so far in the interview process, I
also had to confront the fact that, without gaining additional experience in
the primary sector, I was unlikely to be able to find a primary teaching job.
Fortunately, my daughter’s school were also
advertising for another vacancy for the post of teaching assistant. Despite
being over-qualified, I applied and was accepted and began a wonderful year of
getting to understand the rhythms of the primary classroom and the various
curricula for which the teacher is responsible, whilst not actually having to
shoulder the responsibility for the teaching itself. When a teaching post
became free the following year, I applied and became the teacher in the year
group for which I had been TA the previous year. The year after that, I was
able to make use of my English degree and secondary training to become Head of
English and to move from teaching a broad curriculum to, once again, being a
specialist English teacher, preparing children to sit for senior school
entrance exams.

I wanted to share my story to show that,
whilst the path to returning to work following a break can mean a more
circuitous journey than might otherwise have been undertaken, the rewards of
doing so can be great. I have been exceptionally lucky in being able to teach
at the school where my daughter is a pupil, meaning that child care has not
been problematic. Even so, I have found juggling having a young child with a
full-time career challenging, especially during those times when I have been
aware of prioritising the needs of my class above the needs of my own child as
she spends yet another evening or weekend in work with me! However, whilst the
hours are long and the pace can be relentless at times, working in a
female-dominated, child-centred industry means that the needs of mothers are
recognised and catered for more than perhaps they are in some other jobs. My
job is stimulating and rewarding, giving me the opportunity to share my love
and enthusiasm for my subject in the hope of inspiring the next generation.

If you would like support with your own return-to-work journey, you can sign up to our free network here.

Return-to-work CV Tips and Ideas

Last month we hosted a free webinar for our Network members on how to create an effective CV for your job search. We offered many tips and insights about what recruiters look for and addressed questions such as how to present your career break, whether to write a functional CV rather than a chronological one and how to take advantage of open questions in job applications. We have collected the key insights in this post, for those of you who missed the webinar.

How should I structure my CV?

Recruiters will expect to see three key sections:

  • Profile / Executive Summary: this describes your background, expertise and role you are seeking in 2 -3 sentences
  • Key Skills: list your 5 or so key skills, with brief evidence. Avoid generic skills like team player, leader, highly organised. Use specific skills such as strategic planning & implementation, procurement, digital media marketing
  • Professional Experience in reverse chronological order: state your achievements and contribution, not a role description. If you have a long career history, it’s fine just to list early career role titles.

Following these sections include your Education & Professional Development, Memberships and other skills/activities (fluent languages, interests etc). Keep your CV to two pages in length.

Avoid functional CVs – recruiters don’t like them because they make it hard to piece together your employment history.

What should I include/exclude?


When deciding the content, think about the business case you are making:

  • Why should they hire you?
  • What expertise will you bring?
  • What sets you apart from other candidates?

How do I describe my career break?

  • Don’t try to hide it, particularly if you are applying for returner programmes where having a key break is one of the eligibility criteria
  • Call it a planned career break
  • Include any work (paid or voluntary) and training you have done which is relevant to the role you are seeking
  • You can include a reason for your break (e.g. parental career break; career break for caring responsibilities) but you don’t have to

How do I answer the ‘tell us about you’ question on online application forms?

This question gives you the opportunity to do more than just repeat what is in your profile statement. You can use it in two ways:

  • to highlight aspects of your skills and your expertise that are relevant to the role you’re applying for, to encourage the recruiter to look in detail at your CV
  • to express your motivation for and interest in the role which you don’t otherwise have the chance to do

One final tip
As 97% of recruiters will reject a CV with 2 or more typos, take plenty of time to check your CV carefully and get others to read it through with a fresh eye, to spot errors you might have missed.

For more advice on CVs check our previous posts:
How to write your post break CV
The ‘CV gap’ barrier: evidence it exists & how to get over it
What about the gap in my CV?

Posted by Katerina

How to avoid the Top 10 Return to Work Job Search mistakes

Over the years that I have been working with returners, I’ve noticed how many women make the same job search mistakes that can completely derail their return to work. To stop you falling into the same traps, here’s my summary of the Top 10 and a few tips on how to avoid them.

1. Relying on headhunters and recruitment agencies to find you a role
Headhunters and other agencies are paid for filling specific vacancies and if your profile doesn’t exactly match they won’t be interested. And a long career break labels you as a risky candidate. Do let any headhunter contacts know that you are looking for work, & look for agencies sympathetic to returners, just don’t make this your sole strategy or be deterred by the negative reception most will give you.

2. Sitting at home scanning LinkedIn, job boards and website for vacancies
Only an estimated 20-30% of vacancies are ever advertised, so if this is your approach to finding a role, you are missing out on the the majority of positions that are filled through recommendation, word of mouth and former colleagues. To access the ‘hidden job market’ you need to be more active, start networking and tell everyone you meet about your search.
3. Defining yourself too narrowly by your previous role
It’s easy to restrict ourselves to roles similar to our last job title or specialist qualification. This narrows your options and can make you feel that you’re not qualified for any role that fits with your life now. Instead, look out for roles that ask for the broader skills and strengths you possess within fields that interest you.
4. Sending one application at a time…
If you get excited about having found The Ideal Role and wait to see what happens with it before making other applications, you could be waiting a very long time. Hiring decisions are rarely quick, company priorities can change and you may not ultimately get the job for a variety of reasons. Keep networking, and seeking and applying for other opportunities in the meantime, until you actually sign the contract.

5. … Or making scatter gun applications

Don’t fire off applications or direct approaches to everyone you can think of. You waste time applying for roles that aren’t a good fit for you and you’ll appear unfocused in your application & under-motivated in an interview. Decide what to target and treat each application with care, researching the organisation and the specific requirements of the role and tailoring your application accordingly.

6. Applying for roles that are too junior

If your confidence in your abilities is low, you may apply for ‘less demanding’ roles as a way of easing yourself back into work. The trouble is that you will appear over-qualified to the hiring manager and are likely to become rapidly frustrated once you’re back up to speed. If you have a strong reason for choosing this route, clearly explain the rationale in your application.

7. Looking just for part-time or flexible roles
You might have decided that your job needs to be part-time or flexible. However many employers will consider flexible working ‘for the right candidate’ even though they don’t state it in the job ad. Consider whether the content of the role appeals and whether there could be a business case to do it flexibly.


8. Apologising for your career break

Explain the reason for your break on your CV (eg. parental career break) and in interviews and then don’t dwell on it, justify it or apologise for it!
9. Undervaluing what you’ve done in your break
If you have done something that has built your broader skills or opened new perspectives to you during your break, this is valuable to a potential employer, so don’t minimise or ignore it on your CV.

10. Not asking for feedback after rejections

When you are rejected after online tests or interviews it is easy to blame yourself and to become dispirited. By requesting feedback you can find out what you need to work on to make future applications stronger.
Other useful posts:
Posted by Katerina