No matter our chosen profession, there’s the likelihood that – at some point in our career – we are going to take a break from working. Whether it’s a planned sabbatical for further study or upskilling, an extended break to travel or get insight into a career change, or an unplanned interval due to illness or having to care for a family member, career breaks have long been considered somewhat of a hindrance when it comes to finding a new job. In reality, employers are more likely than not to overlook any hiatus as long as it’s presented to them in the right way.
From positioning it on your CV to talking about it in cover letters, here’s how best to deal with a career break or sabbatical when job hunting.
What to say on your CV
If your career break was down to illness, a long spell of unemployment, or any other reason you might not want to highlight to your employer, it can be tempting to try and hide it by leaving it off your CV entirely. However ask any employer and they’ll tell you this is not the best course of action; a long, unexplained gap on a CV can look suspicious and an employer is likely to assume the worst if you don’t take the time to explain the hiatus.
The trick is to be upfront and to turn any time spent away from work into a list of positive reasons why an employer should hire you. The way you do this depends entirely on why you took a career break: if you took time out to study, list relevant skills you have learnt; if you decided to travel, talk about any languages acquired or how your experiences have broadened your horizons. If your career break was unplanned, you can still talk about how your experiences have helped you develop as a person or how you used spare time to stay in touch with your industry or learn new skills.
Brevity is also of the utmost importance; your sabbatical doesn’t need to take pride of place on your CV unless it involved study or research that is specifically relevant to your application. Instead, pop it in an ‘Additional Information’ section, accompanied by a brief list of career-relevant accomplishments achieved during your time out. Remember, your CV doesn’t have to be chronological. Reorganising your CV in order of relevance or by the positions that best show your suitability for your desired role can be much more effective, especially if you are looking for your first job after a break and your sabbatical would otherwise be the first entry on your CV.
What to put in your covering letter
Lots of people ask whether they should mention their career break in their cover letter as well as their CV. In fact, a cover letter can be a far more appropriate place to broach a past sabbatical as you have space to be a bit more explanatory. Again however, you don’t need to go into great detail if you want to; a list of achievements on your CV paired with a brief explanation of your time off and what it helped you achieve should be more than enough to satisfy a prospective employer.