Writing a cover letter is about being able to show that the skills and experience you possess make you the ideal candidate for the position on offer. This can be tricky if you’ve recently taken a career break and feel you need to address this in the letter.
However, taking a break doesn’t need to be negative. People take a career break for many reasons, but in this situation, it’s important that you highlight the value of the break and point out the experience and skills you have already amassed that make you a strong candidate. How you structure your cover letter is important in ensuring you do this effectively.
How to structure your cover letter
The way you structure and format your cover letter is important, because if you do it well, it will allow a recruiter to read it quickly, pulling out the relevant points in a logical progression. It’s important that each paragraph links together in a way that flows naturally from one point to the next.
Follow this structure for maximum effect:
1. Address and date
The top of your letter needs to include your address and the address of the company (if it’s being sent by post). If your cover letter is being sent by email, a date is sufficient.
2. Recipient and greeting
Address the letter clearly (including the name of the hiring manager, if possible) and start with the reason you are writing. For example, a line under who the letter is for, before the body of the letter, works well. For example: “RE: The position of project manager for ABC Company”.
3. Opening paragraph
This should make it obvious why you are applying for the role and why you are a great candidate to be considered. Make sure this section is not generic. Talk about why you want this role specifically and give a summary as to why you are an ideal candidate to back it up.
4. Body of letter
This section will have 2 or 3 short paragraphs going into further detail about why you are perfect for the position. Address all the essential criteria mentioned in the job description and make sure you elaborate on what’s in your CV or résumé, rather than just repeating it. This is also where you will mention your career break, including the skills you gained during the break and examples to show what you have to offer in the role.
The end of the letter needs to summarise why you should be considered and should finish with a clear call to action, such as asking for an interview or giving contact details and inviting the reader to contact you.
Tips for writing a cover letter for returning to the workforce
How you address the break you’ve had in your career is important. It needs to be framed in a positive way with a brief explanation, but it shouldn’t be the focus of your cover letter. Here are some actionable tips:
Focus on achievements first
Before mentioning your career break, bring out the big guns and show the reader what you’ve done in the past that makes you a good candidate for the position. Write about your achievements, qualifications and experience that are relevant to the role you’re applying for.
Don’t make the break sound negative
You don’t need to apologise for having a career break or explain the reason for having one. It will have brought benefits, so make sure you frame it in a positive light. Highlight what it has helped you with and any skills and experience you picked up from it.
Don’t dwell on it
Your break is a small factor to consider, so don’t make it the focus of your letter. Mention it and move on.
Make it clear you’re ready to be back
When addressing the gap in your CV/résumé from your break, do so by making it clear that the break has ended, and show that you are ready for your next challenge. Be confident about this, rather than showing any anxiety about a return to work.
Align your letter with your CV
Your cover letter should act as an extension of your CV or résumé. Your CV is your sales pitch, and your cover letter allows you to elaborate on your most relevant skills and experience. They should be aligned in terms of tone, presentation and information presented.
Keep to the point
Don’t write pages and pages. A cover letter should be one page — ideally, no more than 500 words. Everything you need to say should be able to be condensed into a page, even if you have a long career history.
Keep it relevant
Everything you write should be directly related to selling yourself for the role you’re applying for. It’s tempting to write about all you’ve done, but if it isn’t relevant, it isn’t benefitting you. Keep it clear, simple and to the point.
Remember your soft skills
It’s important to show your achievements, but you must link these back to the soft skills you possess, so the reader can see how these are transferable to the role you’re applying for.
Give a call to action
When you end your letter, invite the recipient to take the next move by giving a call to action. This might be asking them to call you, or confidently telling them you are looking forward to meeting them at the interview stage. This is far more effective than thanking the reader for their time and allowing them to move on to the next application. Be bold, it will pay off.
Career break cover letter template
Use this sample cover letter to help you craft yours. Details will obviously need to be changed, but it is a great example of how to structure the letter, how to mention your career break and what to include in each section.
25 January 2022
Dear Mrs Jones,
RE: Application for the position of Remote Customer Service Advisor as advertised via XYZ. Please find my CV/résumé enclosed for your consideration.
Several of the attributes required for your role resonate personally, given my career thus far in the field of customer service. With 10 years’ experience as a customer service advisor, and with recent experience working in a remote position as a call centre operative, I believe my next natural career step is to combine my customer service experience and remote working in order to serve customers more widely in a home working environment. I am excited by your forward-thinking working arrangements and company focus on work-life balance.
My customer service experience spans several companies, covering retail, insurance and telecommunications, demonstrating my ability to serve the customer and put their needs first in a variety of situations. I was awarded ‘Top Agent’ whilst working for [name of company] two years running. This was due to my ability to solve problems quickly, being able to think on the spot, and come to a solution for customers with minimal upheaval, which is ideal when working remotely without the physical presence of a team.
I am a natural communicator with the ability to build rapport with customers, in order to build trust and to get to the root of the problem confidently, calmly, and in a way that makes the customer feel heard and valued. On one particular occasion, a customer contacted management to inform them of the great service I offered and to commend me on my work. I pride myself on coming to a solution that benefits all and keeps relationships intact.
During the past year, I have taken a break from my career to raise my young family. During this time, I have continued to build strong, lasting relationships with people, and volunteered in the setup of a new baby and toddler group, taking on the role of communication and host. This has aided me further in the development of my people skills, and I am now looking forward to returning to the challenge of a role in customer service.
I am most excited at the prospect of a new challenge within ABC Company and would be honoured to lend my expertise to such a forward-thinking organisation as your remote customer service advisor.
I look forward to meeting you in person to discuss my application further.
[Your contact details]
Addressing a career break can seem like a big deal, but as long as it’s framed in a positive way, it doesn’t have to be. Think about all the ways a career break has benefitted you and mention these, or if you don’t think it has, don’t point out the negatives. Appear confident in your abilities and highlight all that you have done prior to the break, achievements you have recorded and the skills you have to contribute to the position you’re applying for. Do your research on the company and let them know what you admire about them, as well as why you are ideal for the role.
Let us know your thoughts! Have you ever taken a career break? Did you feel it affected you when applying for jobs? Join the conversation in the comments section below.