Guide to a career break in a CV: how to explain it to employers

Updated 1 August 2023

Taking a career break may be a step that helps you re-evaluate your plans and choices. When you decide to return to work, employers may ask why you chose to stop working for this period. Knowing how to explain your career break confidently can help you show that you're a candidate who knows their career goals. In this article, we discuss how to explain a career break in a CV to employers, explain different types of career breaks and answer some frequently asked questions.

What is a career break in a CV?

A career break in a CV is a purposeful leave of absence from work, which recruiters reading your job application usually take note of when reviewing your CV's work experience section. There are various reasons why people take career breaks. When they choose to return to work, employers typically ask about that period in their working life.

Related: How to make the right career move: a step-by-step guide

How to explain a career break to employers

As you prepare for a job interview, it's beneficial to decide how to discuss your career break with employers. Here are some steps that can help you explain this period correctly:

1. Use open and honest communication

When an interviewer asks about the gap in your employment, be honest. Recruiters usually ask about employment gaps to ensure you're ready to return to work. Asking these types of questions also helps them learn about your goals for the future. For example, if you left your previous position to travel the world, they may want to know if you're likely to make that decision again in the near future. Giving honest answers allows you to ensure the objectives of the job you're interviewing for align with your plans.

Related: 10 tips for getting back into work after a career break

2. Explain what you did during your break

If you're comfortable with the reason for your break, explain the reasons for making the decision. This can help the interviewer better understand your viewpoint and why you stopped working for this period. As you're discussing it, focus on activities that they may find beneficial for the role for which you're applying. For example, you might feel that the break allowed you more time to read and engage in self-learning activities.

Related: Taking a career break at 50 (with reasons and tips)

3. Emphasise your skills

After briefly discussing the reason for your career break, focus on demonstrating the skills you strengthened or new abilities you acquired during that time. Redirecting the discussion in a way that allows you to demonstrate your strengths is a positive way to handle questions about your employment gap. As you emphasise the new skills, focus on the abilities that can help you perform tasks in your new job. This also shows that you have prepared for the job and understand the employer's requirements.

Related: 11 activities to consider while taking a break from work

4. Set healthy boundaries

If an interviewer asks follow-up questions about your career break and their questions seem too personal, it's reasonable not to answer them. Here's an example of an answer that may help you set healthy boundaries:

'I decided to take a career break to care for a family member. I prefer not to discuss the reason for my break in more detail. Instead, I'm happy to talk to you about the new skills I've acquired during this time. Although I was on a break, I made sure to keep up to date with industry news, and I regularly participated in webinars and self-learning activities to prepare for returning to work.'

Reasons for taking a career break

People take career breaks for various reasons. Sometimes, they find it helpful to organise their thoughts and have more time to set new, exciting career goals before returning to working in the same profession. In other instances, the break may be due to caring for someone. Here are some reasons for a career break:

Improving the work–life balance

If someone finds it challenging to maintain a healthy work–life balance in their current job, they may decide to take some time off work. This step helps them reduce work-related stress. It also minimises the risk of experiencing burnout.

Related: 15 best jobs for work–life balance (with duties and salary)

Taking care of someone

While taking a career break, people have more time, and their daily schedule is more flexible. This is beneficial if they're taking care of a family member. Some people also decide to take career breaks when they have children and their parental leave ends.

Related: How to mention a career break to raise a family on a CV

Exploring interests and passions

A career break provides an opportunity to spend more time pursuing your passions. For example, some people use this time to travel and learn about other cultures. Experiencing what it's like to live in a different country or city helps to expand your perspective and enables you to gain new experiences in life.

Related: How to present travel on a CV and address employment gaps

Starting a business

A career break may be a suitable time to start a business. Setting up a business usually requires a lot of time, which entrepreneurs spend on creating an offer, setting up a website and reaching customers with various marketing strategies. For example, setting up a launch while on a break from work can help you feel financially secure, as you can return to work if you decide that running a business isn't for you.

Related: How to start a business in 10 straightforward steps

Going back to school

Continuing your education is another valid reason for taking a career break. If you feel that your current job leaves little room for growth, going back to school full time can help you explore new specialisations. For some people, further education also serves as a foundation for transitioning into other industries or changing careers.

Tips for going back to work after a career break

Returning to work after a career break requires learning to present your new skills and adjusting to a new environment. Here are additional tips that might make this transition easier:

Make sure it's the right time

Making sure it's the right time to go back to work helps you avoid taking another career break. It also allows you to apply to many jobs, as some employers may look only for candidates who can commit to pursuing a permanent position. To decide, consider making a pros and cons list. In addition, think about the initial reason that made you take the break and if it's something that no longer requires your full attention.

Related: 11 tips to help to return to work after stress leave

Use a functional CV template

Knowing which CV template to choose helps you present yourself as a suitable and qualified candidate. For example, if your break was longer than a few months, you may want to use a functional template. This CV type emphasises your skills and lets you list your practical abilities before describing your work experience. When an interviewer reads through a functional CV, they can decide if you're a good fit before discovering the gap in your employment.

Related: Functional CV: tips on how to write a good functional CV

Establish a new routine

When you secure a job, focus on establishing a new daily routine that helps you maximise your potential and make sure you arrive at work on time. Start by introducing smaller changes, such as setting your alarm five minutes earlier each day until waking up for work becomes easier. In addition, think about creating a relaxing evening routine that helps you reflect on your accomplishments and prepare for what's to come the next day.

Related: How to create an effective work routine (with tips)

Give yourself and others time to adjust

If you're returning to your previous job after a career break, you may want to focus on reconnecting with your colleagues. Make sure to give yourself and those around you time to adjust to the new situation. In addition to sharing your experiences, remember to ask about any recent changes in their lives. By showing interest, you demonstrate that you want to recreate the healthy work relationships you previously enjoyed. Interacting with your colleagues also allows you to understand their viewpoints better and improves how you collaborate at work.

Explore more articles

  • How to write a training contract CV (with example)
  • What to include in a media CV: a complete guide with tips
  • How to use the best cover letter format (With examples)
  • How to write an accounting graduate cover letter (With template and example)
  • How to write a graduate marketing CV (template and example)
  • How to write a bookkeeper cover letter (plus example)
  • How to write a sales assistant cover letter (no experience)
  • How to Write a Support Worker CV (With Tips)
  • 10 Personal Qualities To Mention in Your CV
  • How to create a care worker CV (With skills and example)
  • How to list certifications on a CV: template and examples
  • How many jobs to list on your CV (guide with examples)