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When It’s Been More Than a Minute: Job Searching After a Career Break

When It's Been More Than a Minute: Job Searching After a Career Break

Many people take breaks in their careers. Some people quit to take care of their own or others’ mental health issues. Others give up their positions to escape toxic workplace cultures or were let go in rocky economic climates. Perhaps you took off a year to care for an ailing loved one. Or maybe you opted for a hiatus to care for your young children.

These scenarios are not uncommon, especially for women. 37 percent of highly-qualified professional women and 24 percent of men left their careers for longer-than-one-month periods with the intention of returning. A career break typically is defined as between six months and two years.

But when you’re preparing to search for a new job after a career break, you may wonder about how to position yourself as a top candidate. Here, we’ll discuss the most effective strategies to land another job if you have a resume gap.

Foster a Continuing Relationship with Your Former Employer

If you have a positive relationship with your previous workplace, it’s a great idea to build connections during your break. Harvard Business Review suggests it’s much more effective to rehire previous employees who took career breaks.

So, maintain relationships with colleagues and supervisors. Then, if a position came up at your former workplace, you’d be a top candidate. Not only would they understand why you took time off, but they would also know that you were successful in your previous role.

At the same time, these relationships can provide you references or recommendations when you start applying.

Explain Why You Took a Career Break on Your Resume

You may think that it’s a smart idea to hide your career break on your application materials, but this isn’t actually the case. It’s likely that employers will concoct scenarios about why you didn’t work for a certain period if you don’t tell them the truth. So, it’s better to explain why you have a gap in your work history.

In a chronological resume, simply write the dates of your unemployment, followed by an explanation:

April 2020 to January 2021 

I took off this time to care for my young child while her school was closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this period, I retained my skills by volunteering at a local nonprofit in the industry. 

Add the Skills You Fostered During Your Break, or Consider a Skills-Based Resume Format

If you have a career break, both your potential employer – and perhaps even you – can worry about keeping up with your skills. That’s why it’s important to not to let your skills get rusty, even while you’re away from the office. Skill-building looks different for everyone, so consider if volunteering or freelancing could keep you sharp.Add the Skills You Fostered During Your Break, or Consider a Skills-Based Resume Format

However, some career breaks are spurred by bereavement or mental health issues during which you may not be able to work part-time or volunteer. If this is the case, consider a skills-based resume, where you organize your work history by skills headings. This kind of resume emphasizes what you can do, rather than when you did it.

For instance, list the heading: “SUPERVISORY AND MANAGEMENT EXPERIENCE.” Underneath, note all the responsibilities you took on that demonstrates this experience throughout your career. Below that, then, create a new section for your employment history and still mention why you took your career break.

Be Prepared to Discuss Your Career Gap in Your Interview…

Even if you’ve mentioned the reasons behind your career break in your resume, you want to discuss your break in your interview, as well. Your potential employer technically can’t ask you specific questions, especially about your medical history, but even if your career break isn’t discussed, it can still be the elephant in the room if you don’t mention it.

So, be prepared to discuss your career gap early in the interview. Be direct and explicit, instead of stumbling over your words. Get your explanation out of the way early, so you can answer the rest of the questions without hesitation, and without your interviewers’ curiosity about your career break hanging over your head.

…But Don’t Provide Exhaustive Details

It’s a great idea to be honest about your work history, but don’t provide too much detail about your career break. If your interviewer asks you about your career break, answer their question and then redirect their focus back to the position at hand.

If your interview continue to press you about your career break, share an example of when you did work that would make you a strong fit for the position you’re currently seeking. If they won’t quit asking you about your time off from your career, you may want to end the interview early and seek a different position.

You’re More than Your Career Break

As the statistics above prove, many employees take breaks from their careers for one reason or another. This break doesn’t mean that you’ll never work again, or that you’ll have to take a position several rungs down the ladder. Instead, if you address your career break head on and focus on your skills, your employer is likely to view you as a serious candidate. After all, if a company can’t understand that life outside of the office happens, is that a place you’d like to work?


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