Careers advice

How to write a CV for returning to work after a career break (with examples)

It’s not as complex as you might think.

What you’ll learn:

  • Why do you need to mention a career break on your CV?
  • How formatting your CV can mean you don’t need to mention your career break.
  • When do you need to mention a career break on your CV?
  • How to address a career break on your CV, with examples.

Writing a CV is rarely something we do for fun, and the task can seem even more complicated if you’re returning from a lengthy spell away from employment.

However, for one reason or another, many of us take breaks, and then jump back into things. Part of your return to work plan should include sussing out how to include details of your career break on your CV while ensuring you still catch the eye of the hiring manager or recruiter.

Today, we’re going to take a look at when you need to mention a career break on your CV (you might not need to at all), and how to go about doing it.

Why do you need to mention a career break on your CV?

It’s better to address a career break on the CV, rather than leave it ambiguous. These days, it’s very normal for people to take time out of work, perhaps to travel or to care for a loved one. Having a gap in your CV, as long as you can explain it, shouldn’t be a problem.

If you don’t address it in your CV, but the recruiter notices a gap in the years in your employment, they might wonder why you haven’t mentioned it.

Of course, if the leave was for personal or family reasons, you definitely do not need to go into a lot of detail. Simply stating that you were out of work for personal reasons is enough.

Using formatting to distract attention from a career break in your CV

Of course, you only need to address a career break in your CV if it’s going to be obvious to the person reading it. Generally speaking, this will be because there’s a gap in the start and end dates of the different employment headings in the experience section. In some cases, you might be able to get around this by, for example, using years rather than months to show when you worked for an organisation. For example, rather than writing

  • Assistant Cactus Stroker at Ouch My Hand Hurts Inc.: May 2020 - January 2022.
  • Lead Nettle Hugger at Yikes That Stings Inc.: January 2022 - Present.

You could instead write:

  • Assistant Cactus Stroker at Ouch My Hand Hurts Inc.: 2020 - 2022.
  • Lead Nettle Hugger at Yikes That Stings Inc.: 2022 - Present.

When do you need to mention a career break on a CV?

When you're writing a resume for returning to work after a long absence, whether you need to mention the career break (and where you include it) will depend on when it happened.

Here are a few scenarios:

1. If you’re on a career break now

If you’re currently absent from work, and have been for a long period, we recommend you reference this fact in both your personal statement, and the experience section of your CV.

2. You’ve had a career break recently, but have been working for some time

In this instance, you only need to include details of your time away from work in the experience section of your CV (i.e. where you list the details of your previous roles). 

Because you’ve been back in the swing of things for a while, your personal statement should read like any other CV – detailing your skills, strengths and passions around the industry and the role you’re applying for.

Writing a CV can be extra tough if you've had some time away from employment.

3. You had a career break more than 5 years ago

This isn’t a hard and fast rule, and you’ll need to make a judgement call about your career trajectory and experience since you had your career break. 

However, if this was something that happened five or so years ago, there’s a good chance you don’t need to include it at all. Since then you’ll have gained so much valuable experience that it will wipe out any potential concerns from hiring managers or recruiters that you’re playing catchup.

How to address a career break on your CV

This will depend somewhat on why you took a career break.

For example, if you were ill, or caring for someone that was, no one will expect you to have also completed heaps of online courses and learnt eight new languages. That time was about getting yourself, or someone else, through a tough time, and the person reading your CV should understand that (if they don’t, you probably don’t want to work for them anyway).

Whatever the reason for your time off, there are a few things you should try to do when writing about your career break on a CV:

  • Give a brief description of why you weren’t working. Again, there’s no need to go into overly personal details here.
  • Where possible, highlight positive things you were able to achieve during that time.
  • Show why this career break was necessary, or has positioned you better for the job you’re now applying to.

Example 1: A recent career break due to illness

“I have recently taken time away from work to undergo treatment for, and recover from, an illness. This period of time has allowed me to fully regain my fitness and, towards the end of my recovery, I’ve been able to prepare for coming back to work by completing a number of online courses”.

Example 2: Returning from an OE

“I’ve recently taken a career break to do some travelling, spending time in Japan, Korea and Vietnam. As well as learning about these cultures, this gave me a great opportunity to practice my Japanese language skills. This increased understanding of other cultures will help me in this role due to your international client base”.

The above are examples of how to talk about career breaks in the personal statement section of your CV. If you’re including details in your work experience section as well/instead, you’d structure it as you would a previous job description. For example:

Career break - Dates away

  • Why you were away.
  • What you achieved.