How to Explain a Career Break in Your Cover Letter

Returning to work following a long break can be tricky. Employers often view a substantial gap in your CV as a negative; you’ve missed out on technological advances and industry trends and you’re out of touch with progress that’s been made in your particular field. Perhaps you’ve become accustomed to a more flexible lifestyle without the discipline of a 9 to 5 role. Not only do you need to convince a potential employer that you are ready and able to return to work but that you’re also the best candidate for the job.

Getting your cover letter right is essential if you are to make the right impression and secure a place on the recruiter’s shortlist. Before you start, think about the following questions and use your answers to create your cover letter.

Why do you want to return to work?

It’s important that you explain exactly why you haven’t been working as any unexplained gaps on your CV can look suspicious. Common reasons for long periods of absence include:

  • time off to have children and to bring them up
  • a gap year spent travelling
  • a sabbatical taken to pursue a personal project or to carry out voluntary work

Whatever the reason for your absence from the working world, go into brief detail about what you’ve been doing but stress clearly and emphatically that now is the right time for you to resume employment and explain why. It’s vital that you convince the employer or recruiter of your total commitment to a long-term position, so make sure you sound enthusiastic about a return to work.

What transferable skills did you learn during your career break?

Regardless of what you were doing during your career break, there’s a good chance you will have gained some new skills that can be applied to the position you are applying for.

If you were bringing up a family, you could describe how you’ve got the art of forward planning, organisation, time management and budget control honed to perfection. While you were travelling, you may have learned to communicate with new people in diverse cultures or picked up a new language. If you were working on a personal project, your self-motivation, discipline and time management skills are probably very strong.

What were your main achievements before the break?

It’s important to mention what you achieved in your career before your break, ensuring that you highlight quantifiable achievements and occasions where you added value to your role. This is particularly important if you are planning on returning to the same or a similar industry; stress why you are so keen to return to that sector.

If, on the other hand, you want to move into a completely new field, avoid negativity and focus on why you’re ready for an exciting new challenge.

What are your ambitions for the future?

Having established that you’re keen to get back into the working world, it’s important to explain what your goals and aspirations are for the future both in the role you’re applying for and further down the line. This demonstrates to the recruiter that you are committed to a long-term career and are unlikely to take long periods of time off again in the future. Show that you are ambitious but don’t go over the top.

Highlight your ability to start immediately

A huge advantage you will have over the competition is that they are more likely to have notice periods to observe whereas you are available for an immediate start. Always point this out in your cover letter and include any flexibility you have; willingness to work weekends, bank holidays or unusual hours etc.

A cleverly crafted cover letter can not only explain a career break in a positive light but can even present you as an ideal candidate for the job by effectively changing a possible disadvantage to a distinct advantage.