Reframing your Career Break: Unearthing Value and Articulating Transferable Skills

Taking a career break, whether by choice or circumstance, often carries a complex mix of emotions and implications for professionals. While the reasons vary, including caring commitments, health reasons, relocation, redundancy and professional development to name but a few – returning to the workforce can feel daunting. However, what if we viewed a career break not as a gap in a CV but as a rich period of growth and learning? This post aims to help you reframe your career break by identifying its inherent value and learnings, and articulating your transferable skills in a way that resonates with potential employers.

Identifying the Value and Learnings

1. Personal Development: A career break often leads to significant personal development, including improved resilience, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. Reflect on how you’ve grown personally during this period and consider how these traits are valuable in a professional setting.

2. New Perspectives: Stepping away from the workforce can provide new insights into what you value in a career, your preferred work culture, and the type of work-life balance you seek. Your experiences on a career break may also help you to bring a different way of thinking and problem solving, which is hugely valued by teams.

3. Skills Acquisition: During a break, many individuals acquire new skills. Whether through exploring a hobby, formal education, volunteering or other employment, these experiences contribute to what you can offer a new employer.

Articulating Transferable Skills 

1. Communication: If your break involved coordinating activities for family, volunteer projects or other employment, you likely honed your communication skills. Employers value clear, concise communication, so this is a key skill to highlight.

2. Project Management: Organising any event such as leading a community project or planning a relocation can enhance your project management skills. Highlight how these experiences have taught you to manage time, resources, and expectations effectively.

3. Problem-solving: Life outside the traditional workforce is full of unexpected challenges requiring creative solutions. Reflect on moments when you had to think on your feet or navigate complex situations, demonstrating your problem-solving abilities.

4. Adaptability: Successfully managing a career break requires adaptability—a skill highly prized in today’s fast-paced work environment. Consider how adapting to new circumstances or learning new technologies during your break has prepared you for the dynamic nature of the workplace.

Making It Relevant to Your Role 

1. Tailor your CV: When preparing for your return, tailor your CV to the specific role. Mirror the language used in the job ad to describe your skills and experiences, making it easier for hiring managers to see the relevance.

2. List your transferable skills: Under your professional profile, list your key skills including your transferable skills developed during your career break as relevant to the role you’re going for now.

3. Confidence in your Career Break at Interview: When you land that interview, discuss your career break with confidence! Clearly articulate how your unique experiences have equipped you with a diverse skill set and a fresh perspective.

By reframing your career break as an opportunity for growth and learning and articulating your transferable skills effectively, you can make a compelling case for why you are not just a suitable candidate, but a valuable asset to any team.

 

Top 10 Tips for your Return to Work CV

If you’re thinking about returning to work this year, you may be wondering about updating your CV and how best to go about this. Getting started can often be the biggest hurdle, particularly if it has been a while since you last updated your CV and you are struggling to reconnect with your professional self. These tips will hopefully make the task ahead more manageable and enjoyable!

Getting started

1. Chronological CV

We’d recommend a reverse chronological CV which shows your career trajectory from what you’ve done most recently, over a functional skills based one. Your goal is to make the recruiter’s job as easy as possible to follow your career. If they need to work hard to piece together dates and work experience, they may lose interest and you may not get past the 1st hurdle.

2. Achievement and evidence based

Your CV should focus on your actual achievements and what you delivered in each role rather than read like a list of responsibilities. The recruiter will be looking to see the value you delivered so any evidence of your achievements will be useful to highlight e.g. % cost savings, improved efficiencies, £10m project managed on time and to budget.

3. Clear and succinct

Maintaining the recruiter’s interest is key so keep your CV to 2 pages. Avoid tables or photos, to ensure that you can upload it easily to any online platforms. Your aim is for your CV to be clear and succinct with bullet points pulling out the key info, rather than long winded paragraphs of text. It should also be written in third person.

4. Tailored CV for each role

Once you’ve created your template, you’ll need to tailor your CV for each role you’re going for. Pull out the key words in each job ad and ensure that you’re mirroring them in your application as well as highlighting your key relevant strengths and skills. The more targeted your CV, the higher your chance of getting through to interview.

CV Structure

5. CV heading

Briefly detail your name, email address and LinkedIn URL. Most recruiters will look you up on LinkedIn if your CV is of interest, so including your profile will give you an additional opportunity to impress! You don’t need to include your date of birth or home address, though including the city where you’re looking to work may be helpful in recruiters matching you online to an opportunity.

6. A professional summary

This is your opportunity to pack a punch and impress! Your summary is a paragraph of narrative and should capture the depth and breadth of your key strengths, skills and experiences across your career. You should include your years and fields of experience along with well-known companies you may have worked for as well as specific headline achievements relevant to the role you are applying for. Your professional summary will help you tell your career story – the threads that make up the narrative of your career and the key information you want to get across. This is important in your CV, but will also help you think about how you may want to introduce yourself professionally in networking conversations and in interview.

7. Key skills and experience

One way to highlight your relevant skills, strengths and experience and make your CV leap out, is to include a key skills section beneath your professional summary. You could include 5 specific skills and bullet point your relevant experience against them. This could also be a good place to highlight any relevant transferable skills gained during your career break which would be valuable for the role.

8. Career History

As you list each of your roles, consider what your purpose was in each role, what you undertook and what you achieved. Demonstrating what you did through the lens of your achievements will highlight the value that you added.

9. Positioning a career break

Our key message with a career break is not to hide it or apologise for it! Where you’re applying for returner programmes, recruiters will want to see evidence that you’ve had a career break, so it’s important to make sure it’s detailed on your CV. You would simply include it as your 1st entry under your Career History. If your career break activities gave you valuable relevant transferable skills, then detail them here. If not, just include the dates of your career break, and skip straight to your last professional role.

10. Education and Interests

Focus on your most relevant qualifications, including your degree and any relevant professional certifications. Showcase interests that highlight transferable skills or competencies or anything impressive that would capture the reader’s attention!

Updating your CV can feel a little overwhelming. Chunk each section down into small manageable tasks, maybe one section each day, to help you make progress. Once you have your template to work from, applying for future roles will become a lot easier as you’ll just need to tweak and tailor for each job.

 

Six Common Errors to Avoid in your Return-to-Work Job Application

When you are applying for a job or a returner programme after a career break, you may be totally focused on crafting and perfecting your CV. At the other extreme, you may be aiming to quickly apply for as many opportunities as possible. If you’re in either camp, it’s easy to make simple mistakes that reduce your likelihood of success. Here are 6 common errors to avoid in your job application process.

1. Don’t apply too late

Don’t leave it to the last minute to apply. Sometimes adverts/applications close early because there has been a lot of interest, or the advert link breaks, or you have problems with your internet connection. If you leave it to the last minute, you may miss out!

2. But don’t apply too early

Don’t apply as soon as the advert opens. You need to make sure that you have tailored your application to the job/programme. You want your CV to be adapted to clearly show why you are a good candidate for this opportunity, and any cover letter to be specific about both your fit and your motivation to join this specific organisation.

3. Don’t neglect the detail

Ensure that you check for grammar, spelling, and consistency. Make sure that your layout is consistent across the document. Recruiters will view lack of attention to detail in your application poorly. Double check that your contact details are correct: typos in your phone number could result in you missing a call for interview!

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Ask a friend or family member to proofread your CV and cover letter. It’s easy to miss your own errors. If you give your proofreader the job description, they can also check off the desired competencies, qualities, and skills against your CV, to highlight if you need to add more evidence.

5. Don’t send to the wrong person

If you are applying via email, double-check the email address for typos. If the job advert has a specific name to send your application to, ensure you are spelling it correctly. Avoid “Dear Sir or Madam” as this sounds very dated now. Instead you can use “Dear Hiring Manager”.

6. Don’t forget the attachments

Before sending your email, confirm that you have attached all the documents that are required. Have you been asked for a separate cover letter, proof of right to work, or other documents? Name these attachments in a professional and helpful way, for example YOUR_NAME_CV, YOUR_NAME_COVER LETTER.

Building a Winning CV

Victoria McLean, CEO of City CV, shared her advice on how to write a professional and effective CV in a recent free webinar for our Women Returners Professional Network. We’ve summarised some of her top tips below.

The Basics

  • The aim of your CV – to show employers and recruiters that you will meet their requirements. Your CV answers the question of whether and how you will deliver what they need.
  • The look and feel – aim for conservative, professional and corporate. Have consistent formatting and show attention to detail. You want a clean feel with white space, no logos or tables. Aim for 2 pages long.
  • The format – use a reverse chronological CV, rather than a functional skills-based CV. Recruiters prefer this format as they can understand your career history more easily.

Preparation

  • Prepare your Pitch – understand the ‘return on investment’ you bring to an employer. Showcase your expertise and strengths and include what’s unique about you.
  • Key Word Research – 80% of online job adverts on the open market use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). The ATS typically does the first screen for recruiters, by matching applications that contain the desired key words to those sought in the job ad. While it’s reassuring to know that the majority of applications for returner programmes are screened by a human and not an ATS, you should still tailor your application to the role, being as specific as possible about mirroring the language required (e.g. Financial Accounting, Balance Sheet, Cashflow and Management, rather than ‘Accounts’).

CV Structure

  • Headline – when you’re returning to work, this should be your preferred job title. ‘Seeking …’ or ‘Candidate for a returner programme’ can also work well. Aim for a headline with presence and impact.
  • Summary/Profile – start with a bang. Your executive summary needs to capture the breadth of your sector experience and achievements, as relevant to the role you’re going for. Include relevant examples. This should hook the reader in and encourage them to read on.
  • Professional Experience – provide a brief organisational and role overview and ensure that you align the experience you highlight to that required in your target role. Demonstrate the arc of your progression and detail your remit and what you delivered. Where you can, include the size of projects, timeframes, budgets, global reach.
  • Showcase your Career Break in the following places:
    • Summary – the last sentence could read ‘Following career break, now seeking / looking for ….’
    • Professional Experience – Career Break (with dates). Include your career break to demonstrate that you qualify for returner programmes. Do include under Career Break any activities of a professional nature that you may have done while you were on your career break, if they’re relevant to the role you are applying for or give valuable transferable skills e.g. short term consultancy projects, running a home-based small business, senior volunteer work (eg. charity trustee)
    • Career Break activities – this is a stand-alone section after Professional Experience that captures other interesting experiences that provided transferable skills (e.g. project managing a relocation or house-build).
  • Interests – add in anything that has a WOW factor or is directly relevant to the role.
  • Qualifications and training – include succinct details on any degree, professional qualification and relevant professional development.

Overall, make sure you are showing your credibility to take on the role and aim to be differentiated to make yourself stand out from other candidates. Your CV should make an impression at first glance – it needs to pass the ‘5 second test’ and make the recruiter want to read on!

Your CV needs to showcase and align your professional experience to the results required in your target role, so do invest time in tailoring your CV to each role you apply for – it will reap dividends!

 

LinkedIn’s New Career Break Feature

In March 2022, LinkedIn launched a new feature to enable users to include a Career Break within the ‘Experience’ section of their LinkedIn profile. At Women Returners, we are really excited by this development, as it is a big step towards normalising career breaks and recognising that lives – and careers – don’t always go in straight lines. It helps us to tackle our mission to make extended career breaks a normal part of a 40 to 50 year career, removing the ‘Career Break Penalty’. And it helps our returner community to highlight some of the fantastic skills and experiences you have gained during this life stage.

LinkedIn’s Research on Career Breaks

LinkedIn carried out a global survey of 23,000 workers and 4,000 hiring managers. They found that 46% of hirers felt that candidates with career breaks are an untapped talent pool. This is huge progress compared with 2014 (when we started Women Returners) when career returners were largely invisible to recruiters. Further insights from their survey revealed that :

  • 64% of people wish there was a way to positively represent career breaks to hirers
  • 50% of hiring managers believe people returning from a career break have often gained valuable soft skills and 46% believe candidates undersell them
  • 74% of people who have taken a career break believe employers valued the skills they gained during it

Why should you add a Career Break section?

  1. By adding a career break to your ‘Experience’ section of your profile, you can easily explain your “CV gap” and address any potential concerns employers may have about what you were doing since your last role.
  2. It allows you to highlight experiences from during your break, with any relevant transferable skills you’ve gained. These may be skills from parenting or caring, or from other activities you’ve been involved with during your break. You may have run a small business from home or done some consulting for a friend or ex-colleague; been involved in skilled voluntary work such as being a Charity Treasurer or Trustee or a School Governor; organised a community-based activity like a children’s sports team; taken courses to upskill in your specialism or learn about something new; travelled or relocated, experiencing different cultures and learning a new language. Each and every experience contributes to the wealth of skills you can offer to a future employer.
  3. As employers running returnships or supported hiring programmes are explicitly looking for people who have taken a career break (usually a minimum of 18 months – 2 years), you can clearly show your eligibility for these programmes which provide such valuable supported routes back to work.

How to add a Career Break section?

To add this exciting new feature to your profile simply go to your profile, click on ‘Add section’ and ‘Add career break’. You’ll be cheered on by the message that greets you – ‘Experiences outside a linear career path can make people better colleagues, thought partners and leaders. Share these moments that make you unique’

You’ll be given the opportunity to add your career break dates and to include the reason for it if you feel comfortable doing so. There are 13 options including full-time parenting, caregiving, health, a gap year, bereavement and other life reasons. For a step-by-step guide see https://www.linkedin.com/help/linkedin/answer/a597655

Now, there’s a reason to celebrate!

How do I explain the gap on my CV after a career break?

‘How do I explain the gap on my CV?’ is one of the most frequent questions we get asked. It’s a good question and one that causes many of our returners considerable angst. But, not anymore…

Victoria McLean, CEO of City CV, gives us her top tips for writing your return to work CV and making the most of LinkedIn. Here’s what she had to say before her session at our 2020 Conference:

Top Tip #1: Never undersell yourself on your CV

I feel a lot of people, women returners in particular, undersell themselves on their CV. It’s not about bragging, but a stand-out CV really needs to demonstrate the benefits you’ll bring to an employer. Your added-value needs to sing out from every line. Most people find that a bit daunting at first, especially after a career break when so many women forget just how great they are. My advice is – don’t panic, we’ll cover loads of ideas in the conference session.

There are several ways to turn a gap on your CV into a positive selling point – make sure to include all the relevant skills and experience you’ve acquired. I’ll talk about this in more depth at the conference. We’ll also be looking at how to hone in on those key strengths and skills. And, how to optimise your CV with key words to get past the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

Top Tip #2: LinkedIn is a valuable tool

When it comes to LinkedIn, I feel very few people are really making the most of it. That’s a shame because it’s a valuable tool. Around 99% of recruiters use it to search for suitable candidates and to check you out before inviting you to interview.

It’s really worth investing in your LinkedIn profile because it’s not enough to just copy and paste your CV. LinkedIn requires a different approach; it’s less formal and more dynamic than a CV. And, as you’d expect from a search engine run by algorithms, key words play a massive role. Your LinkedIn summary is the most important part of your profile and it should set out your business case with keywords and using all of the 2,000 characters available. It’s really important to get the first two or three lines just right so recruiters are motivated to click ‘see more’.

Even if you’re completely new to LinkedIn, don’t worry. The conference session will boost your confidence and get you going in the right direction. If you’ve already got a LinkedIn profile but feel you could be doing more with it, we’ve got some ideas for that too.

 

 

Why your career break is a positive not a negative

There are lots of reasons for a career break – to care for young children or other relatives, for health reasons, to study, to travel or simply to recharge your batteries.


Far from being something to try to hide when you want to return to the workplace, there are very good reasons why you – and your potential employers – should celebrate your break.

We know from experience that returners re-enter the workplace with a fresh perspective, together with renewed energy and motivation. Employers value this too. At our Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’ Conference 2019, O2’s Andrea Jones told the audience:

“There’s so much experience the returners have before their career break and they’ve gained so many skills on their career break. They come in with a really fresh pair of eyes….they can look at our processes and our systems and the ways we work quite differently. I think it’s a real breath of fresh air – and that’s what we hear from our managers.”

Other employers spoke about the enthusiasm of the returners they had hired, the fact that they are incredibly efficient as time management comes more naturally to them, and their desire to contribute more broadly to the organisation rather than just doing their job. Returners were also valued as role models for younger employees of people who had taken a non-traditional career path.

Dependent on the reason for your career break, you are also likely to have developed a variety of new skills. For example:

  • If you’ve taken time out to care for others you will have honed your communication, time-management and organisation skills. And nothing improves negotiation ability more than getting to a compromise with a teenager! 
  • If you’ve done skilled voluntary work you will have developed both teamwork and leadership skills – managing volunteers is much harder than paid staff.
  • If you were travelling or studying, this can signal an openness to experiences and a motivation to learn and develop. 
  • If your break was because of a personal trauma or health issue, you will have developed resilience and fortitude.

When writing your return-to-work CV and cover letter and preparing for interviews consider everything you’ve done during your break. Make sure the skills and experience you’ve acquired come across – they are an important part of who you are now. 

Switch your focus. Rather than seeing your career break as a negative to employers, focus on how it differentiates you and makes you a better employee,  gaining maturity, perspective and many new skills. You will be an asset to your next employer because of, not in spite of, your career break.

Sign up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities.You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.

Five tips for writing your back-to-work CV

The end of the holidays and the new school year will be with us in a few weeks. If that’s got you thinking about re-igniting your own career Victoria McLean, Founder and CEO of career consultancy City CV, has some tips to get your CV in great shape.

Returning to professional life can be daunting. But a career break should never hold you back. The first step in your back-to-work plan is to make sure you have a professional, targeted and compelling CV that highlights your relevant strengths, achievements and skills.

Here are my top tips for creating a CV that will convince prospective employers of your value to them:

1. Tailor your CV to your target role

Think about what the employer really needs. What skills are they looking for? Why would they pick you over potentially hundreds of other candidates? Be positive and make a list of your skills and achievements from previous roles and personal experiences that demonstrate you have what it takes to match their requirements.

2. Get up to speed on Applicant Tracking Systems

If you’ve been out of the job market for a while, you may not know about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). These work like a search engine – scanning CVs for key words. If your CV is to get past the ATS and onto the desk of a real human, you need to identify the key words from the job description – and then use them.

3. Don’t start with a gap

Mention your career break, but keep it simple and lean. Include a short ‘Career Break’ section under your work experience, with dates, including any professionally-relevant activities such as skilled volunteering or a home-based business.

4. Cherry pick

It can be a challenge to distil a long or varied career into two pages. But, it is possible if you highlight exceptional projects, skills and experience that align with your target role. Facts and figures are a great way to reinforce your results and achievements.

5. Don’t forget about the six-second test

On average, recruiters take just six seconds to decide whether to reject a CV or read on – so it needs to be compelling. Would your current CV pass this test? If you’re not sure, sign up for our next CV webinar below.

 

Advice from Employers to Returners – How to Make Yourself Stand Out in CVs and Interviews

At our 2019 Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’ Conference, Claire Cohen, Women’s Editor of The Telegraph, interviewed five of our employer sponsors who have experience of running successful returner programmes: Bloomberg, Credit Suisse, FDM Group, Fidelity International and O2.

Read some of the highlights on CV and interview advice from the panel’s responses below (and see our previous post on recognising your value too).
How can you write a great CV for a returner programme? “Make sure you bring out your career break on your CV – the experience that you’ve had and what you’ve done, the skills that you’ve learned. Some people leave this out and just put the dates in instead of explaining what they’ve done during that period.”

“Most people have amazing backgrounds. Demonstrate the skills you want the employer to see, bring those out with some real-life examples on your CV.”

“What I really look for is experience – make sure this is fully explained on your CV and at the interview as well, because the experience you bring is so different from other candidates and that’s what really sets you apart.”

“Put your career break front and centre of your CV. There’s no point in trying to hide it – why should you? It’s absolutely part of who you are and the experience you’re bringing to the role so draw that out at the beginning.”

“If you want an employer to give your CV time, to give you time, you need to put the time in yourself. Before you press the send button read it a second, third time and just make sure that it makes sense.”

How can you present yourself well during an interview?

“It’s very important to come to the table with what you are bringing to the organisation and not to focus on what you may not have, such as technical/digital skills.”

“Be prepared. When you go to that interview know your CV, know your skills and don’t dismiss the soft skills.”

“Articulate what your top strengths are – this can be powerful in an interview.” (see What’s your Unique Strengths Combination)

“Don’t define yourself by what you’ve done before. Think about transferable skills. Break down what you’ve done into elements that will help an employer understand what you bring to the table.”

“Try to be succinct. Articulate exactly what skills you bring.”

“Don’t undersell what you’ve been doing – a lot of people undersell what they’ve done during their supposed ‘time out’.”

Sign up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities.You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.

How best to use LinkedIn

Recently we spoke to Victoria McLean – CEO and founder of City CV – to find out the best way to optimise your Linkedin profile. But once you have followed Victoria’s excellent advice, what happens next? Do you know how to use LinkedIn to its full advantage?
We asked Victoria for some tips:
Connect with people – spend time making connections and growing your network. The more first-degree connections you make the more second and third-degree connections you will then have, which will increase your chances of coming up in searches. And, of course, building your network will encourage more people to connect with you directly.
Join LinkedIn groups – every region and industry sector have their own groups and they are a great way to increase your visibility and connect with people who may be able to help you achieve your goal. You’ll be able to raise your profile by posting and commenting in groups, and LinkedIn allows you to message other group members free of charge. So, if you see someone in a group you belong to who is already working in a job/area that appeals to you – or even someone who has hiring responsibilities – you can contact them for advice.
Join LinkedIn career groups – these groups are often set up by recruiters so that they can make potential candidates aware of roles they are recruiting for without having to use LinkedIn’s paid-for service. Use LinkedIn’s search engine to find these groups and join them so that you’ll be the first to hear about new opportunities – once you have optimised your LinkedIn profile, of course!
Use LinkedIn Jobs – you can search for vacancies by job title and location, state where you are in your job search and select what kind of role you are looking for – eg, full-time, part-time, contract etc. You can also set up alerts and save jobs that appeal to you. If you are interested in working for specific companies, you can also choose to receive alerts when they post new job vacancies. Your activity in LinkedIn Jobs is not made public.
Ask for recommendations and endorsements – recommendations are similar to testimonials or references and can be from former colleagues, bosses or clients – you just need to send someone you have worked with a friendly request to provide you with a recommendation. And when you have listed your key skills, you can ask first degree contacts to endorse these skills on your profile. Both testimonials and endorsements are a great way of validating your profile and showcasing your experience. If you’re nervous about asking for support in this way, why not offer to endorse the skills of others and provide them with testimonials if you can? More often than not they will offer to do the same for you.
Sharing content and posting blogs – sharing useful content or even posting blogs you have written yourself are great ways to increase your visibility and credibility. You could even set up your own LinkedIn group if you spot a gap and feel it would be useful for your job search/future career.