by Michael Cheary
There are many reasons why you might need to take some time away from your career.
But whatever the reason you decided to take a step back, re-entering the workforce and getting your career back on track can seem like a challenge.
We’ve already focussed on how to write the perfect CV after a career break. But underestimate your cover letter at your peril. After all, it’s often the first impression a recruiter will get of your application, and a valuable tool to help get your personality across and put your career break into context.
If you think you know the basics of how to write a cover letter, but want some more tailored advice, look no further. Here’s our cover letter template specifically designed for people looking to return from a career break.
Just here for the template? Click the link below:
Download Career Break Cover Letter Template
Opening the letter
Always play it safe when it comes to the opening paragraph.
Quite simply, the best way to start is with a brief explanation of the position you’re applying for and where you found the vacancy. Name-dropping is fine.
Keep it relevant and to the point. Remember: it should be a short sentence introduction, not a prolonged paragraph.
I wish to apply for the role of Executive PA, currently being advertised on reed.co.uk. Please find enclosed my CV for your consideration.
Second paragraph – Why are you suitable for the job?
After the introductions are out of the way, it’s time to go on the offensive.
Ignore your career gap at this stage and use your previous achievements and/or specific academic or vocational qualifications to help sell your suitability. This will demonstrate that, regardless of the break you’ve taken, you still possess the capability and mindset to undertake the role.
Always make sure your examples are as quantifiable as possible. ‘Increased revenue by x%’, for instance, sounds a lot more impressive than simply stating you ‘Increased revenue’.
Leading with the positives will help show what you can do for the company and ensure your contributions are front of mind before moving on.
As you can see from my attached CV, I have over four years’ experience as a PA, as well as experience in office management. In my previous role as an Executive PA, I worked closely with the managing director, providing administrative support and representing her in any meetings she could not attend. My role also included full diary management, working with a budget of £5,000, and organising training events for upwards of 50 members of staff.
Third paragraph – Explain the gap
The third paragraph is your opportunity to briefly explain the reason for your career break.
However, more important than explaining the gap, you need to define the reason you feel this is the right role for you to return to work.
One of the main objections you’ll face is that recruiters may worry you’re not ready to return. Alleviating these fears will be key for your application to be a success.
At the start of 2008, I had my daughter and took some time out to be with my family. However, she has now started school full-time, and I am ready and determined to resume my career and take up a new challenge.
Fourth/Fifth paragraph – What can you do for the company?
Once you’ve addressed your career gap, use practical examples of how you’ve tried to keep your skills relevant during your time out.
This could include volunteering, work experience or any events you may have attended to broaden your knowledge of the subject. You may also want to include any books you’ve read, courses you’ve undertaken or any other qualifications or experience relevant to the role.
Reinforce your credentials and show you can hit the ground running, and your gap can easily be overcome.
During my professional break I have done my best to refresh my skills and keep up-to-date with the latest industry developments. For example, I’ve recently been working as a voluntary Administrator at a local charity, which has really helped me re-acquaint myself with the sector.
I have also completed a great amount of independent study, in particular completing my Executive PA Diploma, allowing me to expand my knowledge of the subject beyond my previous work experience.
Fifth paragraph – Reiterate
Here’s where you reiterate your interest in the role and why you would be the right fit for the company.
I am confident that I can bring this level of expertise with me to your organisation and help Well Known Company LTD build upon their reputation as one of the brands in the UK. I am available to start immediately.
Closing the letter
To finish the letter, always thank the employer.
Sign off your cover letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ (if you know the name of the hiring manager)/’Yours faithfully’ (if you do not), and your name.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to meeting with you to discuss my application further.
Remember: Just as with our basic cover letter template, this is a template, not a ready-made cover letter. Without tailoring what you write to the role in question, you’ll run the risk of looking underprepared and disinterested, whilst also passing up a key opportunity to really sell yourself.
Never be tempted to try and hide your career gap. Even if you make it to the interview stage, you’ll often easily be found out and run the risk of undermining your entire application.
Remember: taking time out from your career to concentrate on other things is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not a reflection of your work, and many employers are often incredibly understanding when it comes to gaps in employment history.
Place precedence on the positives and assure the employer that you’re ready to return to work, and your career gap shouldn’t prove to be as much of a hindrance as you may think.
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Employment gaps are fairly common. In fact, many of the employers who conduct interviews have had them, according resume and cover letter expert Susan Ireland. The strategy you use to explain gaps on your resume and cover letter is dependent on the length of time and nature of your unemployment.
If you have very brief gaps, such as work breaks of less than two years, you can generally avoid the need for explanation with some fancy resume formatting. A common technique is to use years to show periods of work experience rather than months. If you were unemployed from May 2012 through August 2013, you can avoid making the gap obvious by listing one work experience as running from 2008 to 2012, and the next from 2013 to present. You don't lie or cheat. You simply avoid calling attention to a temporary job break.
Subhead Word Play
Another resume-based strategy is possible if you volunteered, went to school or gained other useful experience while not technically working. On a resume, instead of the subhead "Work Experience," you can label your experience section as "Work History." By doing so, you can ethically point out tangible, skill-building experiences. Military training, vocational training programs and nonprofit volunteer roles are all experiences that can contribute to your progression toward becoming a successful professional in a given industry.
Provide Honest Information
Your cover letter offers a much greater opportunity to explain obvious gaps in employment on your resume. The first key is to explain your gap honestly. You don't need to go overboard or get into personal illnesses or problems. However, it is important to note things such as breaks for family, time away for personal development, brief periods of illness or injury, or going back to school for education. You also want to avoid negative or overly critical reasons such as, "My boss didn't like me," or "The company wasn't a good place to work," as these reflect negatively on your work attitude.
A Concise Approach
Though honesty is important, conciseness is critical to success in mitigating potential damage of your employment gap. For instance, simply state, "I left my career in advertising to go back to school and pursue a passion for journalism. You'll note on my resume, I finished a bachelor's program in just two years." This is brief, pointed and goal-oriented. For a family reason, you could simply say, "You'll note on my resume a brief three-year gap where I stayed at home with my child before returning to my career."
About the Author
Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.
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