Friday, 7 November 2014

How to write your post-break CV

When you're launching yourself back into the market after a long career break, updating your CV can feel daunting, but it's worth taking time and effort as CVs are the most important self-marketing document for your job search. Employers typically receive hundreds of CVs for every advertised job, so yours will need to stand out by being focused on what you can offer and avoiding looking out-of-date.

Start with a profile not a gap

Avoid starting with a job that ended many years ago, looking like you've fallen off the planet since then. Instead open with a profile statement, describing your background and qualifications. State you are returning to work after a [parental] career break. If you are shifting sector/role, you can also state that you are looking for opportunities in [target sector]; otherwise you don't need an objective. You then have the option of including a short 'Key skills & achievements' section, to draw attention to a few highlights. Avoid a laundry list of generic skills (strong team player, highly-motivated, etc) as this won't impress anyone! In the Career history section, clearly state the years of your "[Parental] Career Break" and include any skilled volunteering roles (eg School Governor, Charity Treasurer) - don't hide them in a voluntary work section at the end. For more advice see The CV Gap Barrier post.

Sell your achievements

The point of a CV is to tell others what you are capable of, so they want to talk to you further. It's the time to take credit for what you've achieved.

Base your CV around your relevant achievements and skills, don't just list the duties in your role. Firstly find out what skills, qualifications and experience employers are looking for in the types of role you are seeking. I would do this by reviewing a good number of job descriptions, highlighting the key words and identifying the most common.

Now go back through your work experience, study, volunteering and other personal achievements both before and during your break to find examples that show that you meet these criteria. When giving evidence of a skill, show what you achieved by using the skill and try to quantify your contribution if at all possible.

For each job application, tailor your CV to fit the requirements in the job description, to show that you clearly fit the role. Take this to the level of using their key criteria words in your CV (as the first screen is often now performed automatically by keyword sifting software).

CV Content and Style

  • Appearance:  Use font size 10 or 11 and write in the third person with no pronouns, for example “Reduced the month-end accounting timetable by 3 days”.
  • Structure: Use a clear structure, my recommendation would be: name and contact details top centre, Key skills and achievements, Career history, Education, Other qualifications, Languages (if fluent), Interests (optional). I don't recommend a skills-based CV to try to 'hide' your break - recruiters usually find these irritating as they have to piece together your work history
  • Length:  Keep your CV to 2 sides and aim for about 1,000 words. This means you need to include only the most important pieces of information, so prioritise and leave the rest out.
  • Checking: Make sure the CV looks good on the page, that the formatting is perfect and there are no spelling or grammatical mistakes. Check that you have been consistent in tense with all your verbs. 

To avoid looking out-of-date, DON'T:

  • Use the heading “Curriculum Vitae, as the sifting software can think that is your name. Always have your name as the central heading
  • Include a photo or your date of birth, gender, marital status or details about your children as these have become inappropriate on CVs following discrimination legislation
  • Include your A-Levels, O-levels (GCSEs) or school
  • List bland interests (reading, cinema etc); only include if relevant or impressive (eg. society memberships, triathlons)
  • Give details of references or say "references available on request"


And Finally: If you get stuck, talk it through with a friend or get help from a coach, don't let it delay your job search. Once you are happy with your CV, ask a friend to check it over, to point out any errors and give you marks out of 5 for impact .. and congratulate yourself for getting over another return-to-work hurdle!

Gill Lambert
Women Returners Associate Coach 
Owner of Tailored Career Coaching


  1. I am surprised that you say not to say "references available on request". Why is that? Are you suggesting that we don't mention references at all?

    1. Hi Stash Avalanche
      Thanks for your question. It's important, The reason is that this sentence is redundant these days: employers will obviously want to ask for references before they make a job offer. Putting it on your CV makes you look out of date and takes up room that is better used to demonstrate your capabilities.

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  5. Hi

    I have done my CV but am not confident sending it out to employers. Can anyone on woman returners look at it for me please.

    Kind Regards



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