How to Explain a Sabbatical on Your Resume

When applying for jobs, your CV is your story; the window onto your experience, skills, ability and team fit which will be used by the hiring manager to decide if you will receive a call up for a meeting, or a brief but clear ’no, thanks’. Getting the optimum CV is no mean feat, and can be complicated by having a non standard career path to explain positively in just a side or two of A4.

If you have a sabbatical to include in your resume, you may be wondering the best way to - honestly - explain time out of the workforce, in a way that has the recruiters picking up the phone. Here are some tips and resources to get you started.

Phrase it carefully

Even the definition of a sabbatical is disputed, with some using this term only to describe academic pursuits, and many others with a range of broader applications, such as taking time out to travel, be a care-giver, volunteer or expand experience in some other way. Do not use a sabbatical as a cover on your CV for time you would rather not talk about - if you were incarcerated, recovering from medical issues, or struggling to find work following being fired, this is likely to be revealed some other way, and even if you have secured a job, the revelation that you lied in your CV can be disastrous.

That said, if you have a sabbatical in the broadest sense to include in your resume, think about the story you want your overall CV to tell. Describe the main purpose of your sabbatical, your achievements during this period, any new skills you learned - putting detail into your CV is preferable to an unexplained gap, and your cover letter may also mention the positives of your experience if your sabbatical is recent.

If you travelled during your sabbatical, highlight any language proficiency you picked up. If you attended a retreat or learned a new skill, put it in your CV. If you were a family caregiver, detail it alongside the transferable skills you picked up - working with medical professionals to support a loved one could show your ability to manage stakeholders and liaise with varied professional bodies, for example.

Highlight the positives

Whatever story your sabbatical is telling, highlight the positives. A sabbatical can actually be framed to show you as an experienced, curious, enthusiastic team member, willing to try new things and stretch yourself. If you took time out to set up a business, for example, you could choose the ’glass half full’ approach of detailing the simple fact you started a business, it didn’t take off, and now you’d like to re-enter the corporate world. Or, you could put a more optimistic and encouraging slant showing the skills you learned in finance, marketing and people management, the entrepreneurial spirit you developed and the way your new skills and experience can benefit your new employer. This way you show that you remain in control of your choices (you’re not coming back into the workforce as a desperate last gasp measure), and your employer can see the value that the time out gave you.

Advice abounds online about how to tackle the thorny question of time out on a resume, including ideas from those who have already travelled this path and can share their CV stories.

Anticipate the obvious questions

Think through the obvious questions you will be asked if you make it to interview, and try to answer some of them in your CV. What did you learn during your experience, about yourself and any specialist skills? How did you manage the change from full time work to a different structure? If you’re applying for your first position since your sabbatical now, what will you find challenging about returning to work, and how will you overcome that? If you work in a specialised area, how did you keep up with the industry whilst away? What upskilling do you now need?

The likely questions will vary depending on the specific roles you are seeking, but by thinking them through you will be able to minimise any concerns the employer may have as well as giving yourself confidence in your interview abilities.

Don’t rely on a chronological resume

Finally, depending on how your resume looks when you add in details of your sabbatical, you may also want to consider a change to the formatting to highlight your skills and experience rather than a flat chronological run through of positions previously held. If you’re unsure how this format might work for you, try one of the readily available free templates you can find on the internet.

This style can be especially relevant if your sabbatical was not relevant to the field in which you are applying for positions, in which case highlighting your suitable experience up front will help a recruiter see the value in your application. Detail of a sabbatical can then be included in a final paragraph to ensure transparency and encourage discussion at interview.

However you choose to optimise your sabbatical on your resume, remember, your CV is your story, you play the leading role, so you need to be completely confident and satisfied in whatever you finally include.